Epic Games began development of Unreal Engine over 21 years ago as a system for creation of first-person shooter games. Over time, Unreal Engine (UE, now UE4) has evolved to support many other genres, including different types of games and even linear video production such as animated cartoons and 3D VR walkthroughs. It should not be surprising that instructional designers are using it to produce enterprise applications (that is, applications other than games) of virtual reality for eLearning. This article will identify features that make Unreal Engine suited for VR eLearning, and it will suggest a quick way to get started with the game engine.
Why use Unreal Engine for eLearning VR?
Game engines are designed to create virtual worlds and to support realistic simulations. Some game engines provide more advanced features and technology than others. Unreal Engine offers a number of features and other advantages that make it attractive as a way to produce immersive eLearning and virtual reality applications. Here are some of them:
Unreal Engine supports project deployment to multiple platforms including Windows PC, Mac OS X, iOS, Android, AR, VR, Linux, and HTML5, plus head-mounted devices (HMDs) and game consoles. The Unreal Editor itself runs on Windows, OS X, and Linux.
Unreal Engine is free to download and use, with a 5 percent royalty on gross product revenue after the first $3,000 per game, per calendar quarter, from commercial products. There are additional provisions in the EULA for student use, academic institutions, and for companies that prefer to pay an upfront license fee.
Blueprints: Coding not required
Blueprints is a visual scripting system that uses a node-based interface to create elements from within the Unreal Editor. This is an alternative to coding in C++, which is also supported by Unreal Engine.
Photoreal rendering and cinematic editing
Unreal Studio (a separate product, currently offered as a free beta) offers real-time workflows for enterprise applications and provides features that facilitate creation of photoreal visuals, experiences, and interactive applications.
There are numerous other tools and toolsets available for use within Unreal Engine for tasks such as animation, building and editing VR environments, and multi-user (collaborative) editing. See a complete menu of the features here. The 2019 features reel gives an overview of these in use.
But you have to start from the basics
The examples in the features reel are exciting to look at, but they are the product of some advanced skills and often of teams, not individual developers. There is a learning curve with Unreal Engine and while many if not most Unreal Engine creators are self-taught (or taught by peers), it is necessary to begin at the beginning.
Unreal Engine offers a number of tutorial videos, examples, feature examples, and templates on its website, and it is possible to find courses and workshops that will provide you with the fundamentals. As with other game engines, skill development requires the investment of some time. A few hours a day for a few weeks is enough to get most developers to the point of being able to produce useful applications. After that, exposure to—or networking with—other creators pays off.
Start learning with a workshop at DevLearn 2019
To help deal with the learning curve, Michael Sheyahshe is delivering a pre-conference workshop October 22: ”BYOD Build Your First VR Experience with Unreal Engine” at The eLearning Guild’s DevLearn 2019 Conference & Expo In this hands-on experience, you will use Unreal Engine to build and test a functional VR application. In addition to learning about the basic components of a VR world and what to consider when planning a VR app, you will learn:
- How to work within the Unreal Engine IDE or interface
- How to use Unreal Engine’s prebuilt templates
- How to publish your VR app for testing
- How to leverage Unreal Engine’s extensive community and knowledge base
Read the workshop outline for details on the software and hardware you will need to bring to the workshop.
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