Starting a Fan Project with UDK
The lauded Unreal engine has long been used to create high-end, visually spectacular games in a variety of genres. It has powered a long list of Games of the Year, including Epic’s own Unreal Tournament series, the Batman Arkham series, Gears of War, and many more.
The power of the Unreal engine is now available for independent developers to create games, with the Unreal Development Kit (UDK). UDK provides you full access to the level editor, matinee, and UnrealScript portions of the engine; in essence, everything except the source code!
Much like this same treatise on Unity, let’s take a look at how to get started making a fan game in UDK!
The first step, of course, is to visit the UDK website, download the latest UDK Beta, and install it on your computer.
Learn the Engine
The first thing, which will likely take some time, is to learn the ins and outs of the Engine. Quite often, developers decide to do this at a trial by fire, learning each system as it is required for their project. I strongly discourage this tactic! There will be some things you need to figure out at each stage, but if you start with an understanding of the engine, how to use each system in general and the editor tools in specific, you stand a much greater chance of completing your project. Those that jump into their project as soon as the engine is installed often burn out when they have to learn the third or fourth system, after dozens of hours in the editor, and with nothing to show for it.
The Unreal Engine Documentation applies to multiple versions of the engine; some articles are only for paid developers (denoted by red links), but those that apply to UDK are available for free. Start by reading the Manual and following allow inside of the editor (dual monitors make this much easier). This will take a few hours, but is the best way to learn the tools. From there, dip into the Component Reference and the Scripting Guide to get the basics of those systems.
Now that you have an understanding of the basics of UDK, its time to start learning how to make cool stuff in it!
I’ve found that watching tutorials and recreating them in my own project is one of the best ways to learn. Hourances is a great resource for UDK developers. The tutorials section in particular covers how to get started using UDK, creating assets, working with the various parts of UDK (UnrealScript, Matinee, the level editor, etc), and then how to put it all together into a cohesive whole.
While some of the more advanced videos will require you to be familiar with UDK, you can build up to those just with the information presented in these videos. I highly recommend that any beginning UDK developer watch through all of the videos (they are on YouTube) from the beginning. Even if you already know the basics of UDK, check out the advanced videos on this site; you will learn something new.
UDK comes with a standardized package of assets, which can be used in any project. Additional assets can be found in various places on the Internet; however, many will require importing, rigging, texturing, or other modification before they are usable.
The Digital Lycaeum aims to be a resource for you, the fan developer. The Downloads link at the top of the page provides access to all of the assets provided from the fan community. The majority of these will have a royalty-free, non-commercial license, although some are free to use in commercial projects as well. If you are fortunate enough to have an artist to develop assets for your project, please consider donating them to the community once your project is released.
Bonus: If you pledged to Shroud of the Avatar at the Developer tier ($450) or higher, you will receive a monthly Unity asset pack that includes in-game art assets and code systems. Although they are developed for and delivered in Unity, the assets themselves can be used in any game engine. These are useable and royalty-free in any project the backer is directly involved in, requiring only that Portalarium be listed in the credits. This is an amazing way to get high-quality assets at a very reasonable price; and this is on top of helping develop a part of the Shroud of the Avatar game and having your name in the credits!
The first pass through your game creation is really creating a proof of concept. You can use placeholder assets, just get it up and running. This is taking everything you’ve learned, applying them to the assets you have acquired, and creating a playable game project.
Getting through this stage can be the hardest part of starting your project; it involves a lot of interconnected systems, and you will likely need to look up information on how to do things at various points. Don’t be discouraged! Fan game developers are a close-knit group, so don’t be afraid to ask questions in the UDK forums.
Here are some tips for your prototype:
- Start small. Creating the city of Britain on your first outing is impractical. Try a single room house and expand outward.
- Ignore the details. You know you want to add sound effects as the players walk through the stream beside their house, but those details can be added later. First, you want to make sure you can create the house, the stream, and the player character.
- Do a systems test. One of the best ways to use the prototype is to plug in some of those things that you know you want in your end project. Simply use the tutorials to recreate these in your sample project. Getting multiple systems working together can be a challenge, but this is something you need to learn how to deal with.
Build a Team
If you are not already part of a team, now is the time to get one. Game development is a huge undertaking, and not one that easily be done alone. Not only is there the need for assets that require specific skills (art, code, music, etc), but there is a staggering amount of work to do in order to pull all of those together into a game!
This is a very basic getting started reference for UDK. Please feel free to add links to other resources, tutorials, and assets in the responses below!