What is Unreal?

What is Unreal?

In a world surrounded by digital images, it is hard to think back to the late 1970s when Atari was the rage. Atari was leaps and bounds ahead in terms of home entertainment as was the epitome of home entertainment. Today the original Atari Consoles that brought games such as Space Invaders into the living room seems a dated appliance with it 8-bit MOS technology and 128-bytes of Ram. The original consoles are collectors’ items today and they did play a very important role in the foundation of home gaming. Thankfully, however, technology has improved, and we now deal in full HD and terabytes of ram but at the heart of gaming are the game engines.

The Unreal Game Engine

Not so long ago the closest we could get to virtual reality was Disney Animated cartoon. These took weeks, if not months to render and required immense amounts of computer power. During the 1990s home gaming was becoming more lifelike and parts of the same technologies used to create amazing motion pictures were becoming more accessible to games developers. Jim Sweeney was one such games developer who was stepping out and beginning to create computer games and develop what today we call a Game Engine. He has been developing games since the early 1990s and his work on game editing tools began with ZZT in 1991 and Jill of the Jungle in 1992.  It wasn’t until 1995 that Sweeney realised the importance of a games editing solution when working for the forest person shooter game, Unreal. He is claimed as building the engine when he was a programmer using what is by today’s standards a dinosaur of a computer, an IBM Model M.

Unreal becomes Real

In 1996 Unreal was officially licenced and Epic Games started a journey that has seen some of the most amazing games created. When Unreal was licenced, it was some distance ahead of any competitors and Epic Games earned a name for itself as a master game developer. The first edition had unheard of features at the time such as collision detection, the ability to display a vast array of colours and basic texturing. Unreal could integrate with other game development technologies such as UnrealEd that enabled better level management and extended the number of levels in a game considerably allow for levels to mapped as developers went. The 16-bit colour used in Unreal was considered the best in the world in the early days and Epic games were renowned for their landscapes, vistas and skylines that looked as good as real for the time.

Military Use

By the end of the 1990s Unreal was a well-known and well-used game engine and was perhaps the most popular among a variety of similar engines. Unreal continued to develop and improve ad in 2002 Unreal 2 made its way to market. Falling back in its first-person shooter beginnings multi player shooter games were now common. It is therefore no surprise that in 2002 the US army developed a free multiplayer shooter game using the Unreal engine called, simply, America’s Army. Because the game was so realistic it was used as a recruitment tool for the US Army. It was at this time that gaming was becoming the giant industry that it is today, and the Unreal and Epic games were found in almost every home in the developed world.

Unreal 3 and 4

With the release if Unreal 2 in 2002 and with an ever-growing demand for better graphics and more complexity in games Unreal invested heavily in the engine. Game consoles were becoming the latest explosion in the gaming world. A far cry from the Atari console mentioned at the beginning but very much the same concept the Unreal Engine and Epic games were about to enter hyperdrive.  In 2004, after just 18 months of development Unreal 3 was released. It operated on  Unreal Engine 3 only supported Windows, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 platforms, while iOS (first demonstrated with Epic Citadel) and Android were added later in 2010.  The Unreal platform introduced levels of realism that today we take for granted, these included improved destructible environments, soft body dynamics, large crowd simulation.  Unreal 3 would be the mainstay of compute game development until 2014 when Unreal 4 was released.

Unreal 4 was the epitome of game engines and was now a money spinner thanks to a new licencing model. Unreal 4 was not so much a game changer but very much the engine others began to look up to and game developers admired pushing the technology to its limits. Unreal now operated on the widest range of platforms too, that included:


Microsoft Windows


HTC Vive




Oculus Rift




PlayStation VR




Google Daydream








Samsung Gear VR


Nintendo Switch


HoloLens 2


PlayStation 4


PlayStation 5


Xbox One


Xbox Series X


Magic Leap One





When it came to real looking graphics and scenes the go-to was Unreal.

Up to date and beyond

In 2020 it was announced that Unreal 5 would be launched in 2021. Unreal 5 will help produce games that work with the ever-improving games consoles and more powerful gaming machines. It is said that Unreal 5 will give an almost lifelike fully immersed gaming experience like nothing before. With full 4k resolution games will become sharper and with the use of AI technology games will become intuitive.

Unreal is also diversifying its use and in a strange way heading back to its inspirational roots. Being used by TV and Movie production companies Unreal is finding its way into some well-known programs that would not be what they are without the brilliance of Unreal.  Used to create virtual scenes The Mandalorian and Westworld many people are completely unaware that some of the scenes they are watching do not actually exist. Perhaps the greatest claim to fame for Unreal is that it was used in the live action remake of Disney’s The Lion King, not bad for a piece of software that started out as one man and a desire to make games a little but more real.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.