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The Major Players – Unity and Unreal

" What's the difference between Unreal and Unity? In this article, Neil Cullen examines what Unity and Unreal game engines are used for"
© StoryFutures Academy

So far, we’ve established that because they have a shared DNA, we can use the same tools for developing video games and immersive productions. These tools can all be found in Real-Time Game Engines (RTGE).

In the introductory videos, we also discussed that two game engines have risen to prominence in recent years. Those two game engines are Unity and Unreal.

Unreal Engine was first showcased by Epic Games in 1998 and has a long history of powering some of the biggest AAA video games. Initially, Unreal Engine required a lot of specialist knowledge to use. When Unreal first launched, this specialist knowledge was generally contained within large game studios. Unreal Game Engine Logo (c) Epic Games

Unity Engine, developed by Unity Technologies, launched in 2005 at a time when the idea of independent game development was beginning to take hold again. Unity Game Engine Logo (c) Unity

The first video games ever created were built by individuals or small teams. By the time disc-based consoles had risen to prominence during the 1990s however, the independent game development scene had dwindled. It simply was not viable to develop games for contemporary consoles without a large team and a deep knowledge-base.

When Unity was released in the mid 2000s, its goal was to democratise game development and make it easier to independently develop games. And it was successful in achieving that goal. Alongside Microsoft’s XNA game development tools, Unity helped usher in a new era of indie developers that prospered. Key to Unity’s success was automating many of the processes that developers would have normally had to implement manually. Essentially, Unity acted as middleware to take care of the technical set-up and allow for creative production, unhampered by the 1s and 0s of low-level code. Unity also created extensive documentation to explain the engine and lower the barrier for entry. Alongside this accessible documentation, was a strong community for sharing information.

In turn, competition from Unity has forced Unreal to become more accessible over the years. Unreal and Unity now court increasingly similar audiences.

As a hangover from their individual origins however, Unreal is still used more by large teams that require higher-fidelity graphics. On a spectrum from AAA to indie development, Unreal Engine would still sit nearer the AAA end than Unity. For comparison, the “Gears of War” series, with its gritty realistic graphics, would be a typical Unreal Engine product, often included in Epic’s own advertising. Those games were developed by teams made up of hundreds of developers. On the flip side, “Untitled Goose Game” was developed within Unity by a team of four, and was eventually released on the Nintendo Switch after the original PC release. This targeting of mobile platforms by Unity developers leads us to another difference between the engines. Untitled Goose Game
Untitled Goose Game (c) House House

Unity aims to let developers release products for a much wider range of target platforms than Unreal. In particular, Unity targets mobile device development, whereas Unreal does not.

Finally, both use different programming languages for development. Unreal uses C++, the main language used to develop video games for decades. Unity, on the other hand, uses the more accessible C# language.

© StoryFutures Academy
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