Getting started with Unreal Engine 5

Five tips to hit the ground running with Epic's epic engine
21/9/2022

So you're thinking about making a game? Clearly, you've done a bit of research and decided that Unreal Engine is the creation tool for you. So congrats on making the choice. Unreal is not only the most advanced realtime 3D creation tool in the world, but it's also unusually user friendly. As intimidating as all the bells and whistles might seem, we're here to show you that getting started with Unreal Engine 5 is far from an impossible task.

One of the key benefits of using Unreal Engine is that you don't need to know any code. Sure, it might help you achieve a more polished final product, but there are hundreds of quality games out there that were made by folks without a line of code to their name.

Before throwing yourself in, it's a good idea to arm yourself with a little insider knowledge. Although Unreal Engine makes it easy for amateur game designers to do what they love, you'll be as well to know how to hit the ground running.

Read on for our top five tips for using Unreal Engine.

Take advantage of the Epic Developer Community

This is a big one, folks. Sure, you could struggle and go it alone, battling with the user interface to create a single pixel over the course of several weeks, or you could just do a tutorial and be able to create stunning backgrounds and detailed characters in mere hours.

There's no shortage of tutorials on YouTube and across the web, but why go any further than the official Epic Developer Community? We're assuming you're here to create games, but the tutorials range from architectural tools to filmmaking techniques. What's more, it's all free.

The best way to start is by trialling one of the sample projects. These handy and hands-on tutorials show you how to create various different elements of your game, along with animation and responsiveness. From there, you can explore Q&A pages, watch community tutorials, and one day maybe, even share what you've learned with the rest of the forum.

There's also a wealth of information in the Knowledge Base, a virtual library full of glossaries, documents, tech notes, and FAQs.

Learn the lingo

The beginner tutorials are a good starting point, but if you develop a burning question or encounter an irritating roadblock, you may want to ask something more specific. As with all creation tools, Unreal Engine has its own expansive glossary of terms, and it can help to become familiar with them at an early stage.

Did you know, for example, that an Actor is the name for any object that can be placed into a level? It's a catch-all term for things like cameras, player spawn points, and static mesh. When you add functionality to the Actor, this is called a Component, which is something that by definition can't exist without an Actor. These terms are just an illustration of the many hundreds that may crop up during your time with Unreal Engine, but fortunately an entire Glossary of Terms is at your disposal.

Use Blueprints if you're not confident in your coding

Remember how we said you don't even need to know code to succeed with Unreal Engine? We weren't lying. There's an entire interface built for people just like you. It's called Blueprints Visual Scripting, and it's a revolutionary little tool that allows anyone to bring their ideas to life.

Don't feel you have to head straight into the code, launch Unreal Engine and choose a template, making sure the slider on the left-hand side of the screen is set to BLUEPRINT, rather than C++. You'll then want to work your way down these options, so here's how we would optimise it for beginners:

First, select Desktop for Target Platform, then Maximum for Quality Preset. Next, you'll want to uncheck Starter Content in order to create a blank canvas, and uncheck Ray Tracing because, let's face it, we're not there yet. All that's left to do is click Create and you're well on your way.

Learn your interface like the back of your hand

As friendly as the interface is, if you're a true beginner it's still going to seem a little impenetrable. The UI is split into various panels, each enabling you to do a different thing. Although many tutorials and sample projects will go through this, we figured it might be nice to have a go-to guide for panel definitions.

Toolbar: You know what a toolbar is, don't be silly. Along here you'll find the most basic of options. The Modes dropdown allows you to switch between tools like Landscape, Place, and Foliage, and it's how you'll let the engine know what you're trying to do. You've also got the preview buttons, which will allow you to press play and watch your creation do its thing.

Viewport: This is where you see your project, one of the bonuses of using a real-time development tool. Because you're not relying on code just yet, you can click and place, move and reshape, and do almost anything you like in that wonderful window into your game.

World Outliner: This is sort of like the Layers tool on Photoshop. It lets you view, at a glance, all the objects currently in your level. These can easily be navigated by searching or filtering by type.

Details Menu: All your objects will have an array of properties that can be easily viewed in this interface. Simply click on the object and shift your gaze over here for a detailed description of any settings or components that have been applied. From here, you can change them up, delete them, or simply keep tabs.

Keep things organised

Think of Unreal Engine like a cutlery drawer for a moment (no, seriously, bear with us). If you just chuck everything in – the peeler, the knives, the whisk – whenever you open it up, they'll all come rattling out and you'll spend ages sifting through trying to find what you need. So before we allow the drawer to slip into anarchy let's put a little drawer divider in there and keep everything in its rightful place. It'll save time and your sanity for just a small investment.

When you begin creating asset files, you will come to thank yourself further down the road if you clearly label and file each of them appropriately. If your game characters have lots of outfits, for example, keep them all within the files of the appropriate character. If your level contains both commercial and residential buildings, keep that merchandise out of your NPC home files. It speaks for itself, but it's easy to get carried away and forget. Our advice is: don't.  

You're now hopefully in a position where you can place your first Actor in your world. From there begins a journey all the way to a full-blown game, so keep up the hard work and don't be afraid to ask questions of the enormous community at your disposal.

Download Unreal Engine 5 today, and start crafting your own worlds.

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