Anyone can make a game. You know that full well: some 2D thing in Flash or using the Adventure Game Studio, maybe even something in 3D with the Unity engine. But you’ll never make a game using a state-of-the art graphics engine, unless you can raise tens, perhaps even hundreds of thousands of dollars, right?
Above: Something this pretty once cost big money
As of last month, wrong. Now, anyone can take and use the Unreal 3 engine for free. That’s the technology that powers BioShock, Batman: Arkham Asylum and, er, Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust; now available to you for no-pennies.
Epic’s decision to make the Unreal Development Kit (UDK) publicly available in this way is something that’s going to shake up the industry, offering modders and amateur or low-budgeted game makers the kind of tools they’ve only had sad, money-related fantasies about previously. It’s not quite as good as it sounds, because you can only have it for nothing if your game isn’t going to be sold, but for mods, indie and academic projects, it’s a dream come true. As well as not having to lay out any cash on the UDK yourself, anyone can play your creation for free, without having to purchase a host game such as Unreal Tournament 3.
Above: Unreal Tournament 3 in action
If you do want to make a commercial game, you’ll need to cough up $99. This is nothing. While Epic don’t like to reveal just how much they used to sell the engine for, unconfirmed rumor and speculation puts it around the $750,000 mark, if you don’t want to pay them a share of any future revenue. So until now it wasn’t an option unless you were pretty sure of financial success, or both rich and mad. The catch is that Epic want 25% of your revenue if you earn more than $5,000 from a commercial game made with the UDK, so potentially they could really clean up. It sounds frightening, but for some people it’s going to be a whole lot more palatable than raising a ton of cash up front.
In any case, the UDK gives you the tools to create and implement animations, sounds, textures, networking, physics, lighting, terrain and even cinematics. It’s a complete, high-end game studio and it’s yours for nothing. It doesn’t include assets such as UT3’s textures or character models, alas, so you’ll need to create your own with Photoshop, 3DS Max et al, or procure some elsewhere.
Above: Tripwire's Killing Floor
David Hensley, art Director at Tripwire Interactive, creators of Killing Floor, is confident that this rethink of the UDK is a good thing. “I think there are a lot of lucky modders out there,” he says. “This is something that was just not possible in the past. Making the Unreal SDK free ultimately gets an up-to-date version of UE3 into many more hands then before. This will lead to more people having experience with Unreal, learning it in school, and working with game engines in general, which will give studios a better pool of talent they can pull from. It gives everyone a chance to make a commercial or non-commercial game without worrying about paying for the engine licence.”