Unreal Engine 4 is a complete game engine; it is very expansive and can be overwhelming to a complete beginner.
Common question is:
"Where do I even begin?"
The following crash course is an overview of what you need to know right now to get started with UE4. It is perfect for those who have never used and are very intimated by Unreal Engine - but need a quick to the point overview to begin using this game engine.
So the focus of this tutorial is to show you the essentials to getting started with UE4 as quickly as possible; to give you a broad overview of "where and how to begin".
If you are interested in more methodical and step-by-step approach to learning Unreal Engine 4, then I recommend "UE4 Fundamentals" guide.
In this tutorial guide you will learn:
Unreal Engine 4 is free to use. So let's download and install it.
Go to www.unrealengine.com and click on "Get Unreal" icon on the top right of the website:
You will need to create a log-in and register to access Unreal Engine 4:
Before you can use the game engine, you have to download and install Unreal Engine/Epic Games Launcher.
Unreal Engine Launcher is very important. It is a portal through which you download and launch any Unreal Engine version you want. Through this portal, you also create new projects, manage your projects and download Marketplace Content.
So go ahead download and install "Epic Games Launcher" file:
After installation, you should now have "Unreal Engine 4" or "Epic Games Launcher" shortcut on your desktop, double click to open it:
Click over to Library tab and under Engine Version click on the plus icon. Using the drop down menu, choose which Unreal Engine version you want to download and install. Choose the newest/latest version to download:
Downloading and installation will take a bit of time, but once it is done, you now will have Unreal Engine 4 on your computer - ready to use.
In order to start Unreal Engine 4 editor you will have to:
Let's create our first project.
In "Unreal Engine/Epic Games Launcher" left click on "Launch Unreal Engine version" button on top left:
Switch tab to "New Project" and choose Blueprint instead of C++. Blueprint is a very powerful visual scripting language and you won't have deal with any C++ code.
Once you get more advanced with UE4 you can learn C++ programming. But to keep things simple, begin with Blueprint. It will do most of the functionality you will ever need to start with - especially if you are a level designer or a game environment artist.
Choose a game template to use. You can choose FPS, third-person or any other available templates:
Next, choose the following:
Select a location for your project to be stored. I choose to store all of my Unreal projects on a different drive other than my main C drive.
Name your project and click on Create Project:
This will launch the Unreal Engine editor and open your newly created project.
Once you created a project, you will see it show up in Unreal Engine Launcher under the Library tab:
To open already created projects, double click on the icon within the Library tab or right click on the thumbnail and choose Open:
During project creation, make sure to enable "With Starter Content" option to have a set of UE4 assets to be available with your project:
This will include a series of Static Meshes, materials and effects that you can use to construct a simple environment with:
After launching the editor for the first time, go to Edit > Editor Preferences:
Under Loading & Saving and Auto-Save section, choose to Disable Auto-Save:
Now, this option is a personal preference. I disable auto-save functionality because I like to control when I save my work. But, this is a very useful function to keep enabled, if you want.
If you choose to keep Auto-Save enabled, set how often you want the editor to automatically save your work and how often to warn you about when it is saving:
As in any game engine/level editor you can create, save and open maps. The file extension for UE4 maps is .umap.
As you launch a project, you will have a default level/map open automatically. Depending on the type of game template you chose, this starter map will vary. This is a default starter map for FPS Shooter Template:
You can change starter default map to any other map. To update this go to Edit > Project Settings:
Under Maps and Modes and Default Maps you will have an option to switch to Game Default Map and Editor Startup Map:
Start a New Map:
To start a new blank map without any actors go to File > New Level:
Choose between Default and Empty Level:
Empty Level will be a blank map without anything in it:
But to get things started quicker, choose a Default Level.
Default template gives you few necessary actors to start with such as a ground plane, light source (Directional Light and Skylight), player start, skysphere and atmospheric fog:
To save any level you are currently working on, go to File > Save As:
Choose a folder to store your map in, name it and choose Save:
Make sure that all of your maps and any content that you save are inside the Content folder of your project. Do not save anything outside the Content folder. You can organize your maps better by creating a new folder inside the Content folder and naming it Maps:
To open any existing/saved level, go to File > Open Level:
Navigate into the folder where the map is saved and click Open:
There are two types of viewports: perspective and orthographic.
Perspective is the real world view. It is how your level looks from the point of view of the player inside the game:
You could also enable perspective viewport as a wireframe, unlit and other various other developer modes.
Orthographic view is the schematic wireframe grid view. You will have a front, side and top views:
Perspective is going to be your primary view through which you work and construct your map.
Switch to 2x2 view of the editor by restoring the perspective viewport. Click on "Maximize/Restore this viewport" icon:
You will now have all 4 views on the screen at the same time. Maximize any viewport to full window by clicking on the "Maximize/Restore this viewport" icon again:
Use the following hot keys to quickly switch to any orthographic viewport:
Let's switch back to perspective view.
Game mode will show you how the environment will look during gameplay. All editor actors become hidden. Press G for Game Mode.
Real time mode will display animated and real time effects such as materials and particles. Press Ctrl + R for real-time mode.
Pressing F11 will maximize the active viewport to fill the entire screen. This is something I use a lot.
You can change the perspective viewport to use different view modes, such as Unlit, Wireframe, Detail Lighting and other.
Use the drop down menu to choose:
Each view mode has its own hot key. For beginners, keep your perspective viewport to Lit (Alt+4).
There are other handful of options under Show and Arrow drop down menu; including Realtime, Game Mode and Full View/Immersive Mode:
But the ones we just covered are enough to get you started.
Let's cover the essentials for navigating each viewport.
Few hot key abbreviations we'll be using:
Navigating In Perspective Viewport:
The main navigation key combination you will use the most is:
If you want to disable holding the Right Mouse Button as you press WASD keys to navigate, go to Edit > Editor Preferences:
Under Viewports and Flight Camera Control Type, choose "Use WASD for Camera Controls" from drop down menu:
The rest of most common ways to navigate inside perspective viewport are:
Perspective View Camera Speed:
When you are navigating around in perspective viewport, the camera speed at which you look around can be adjusted. To change the viewport camera speed, use the slider to lower number (slower) or higher number (faster):
Navigating In Orthographic Viewport:
Navigation in orthographic viewports is a lot simpler.
In UE4, any object that you place in the world is called an actor. So we'll use actor and object interchangeably as they mean the same thing.
Very basic functions are selecting, deselecting and removing objects:
After you select any object in the viewport you will see a move/rotate/scale gizmo appear:
To move/rotate/scale the selected object, left-click and drag on the appropriate transformation handle within that gizmo:
If you don't see the transformation gizmo, press G key to disable game mode.
Placing objects is covered in a later section of this Crash Course Guide.
Each object in UE4 can be moved along 2 types of coordinate systems - world or local. Most of the time you will be working with World coordinate system as you construct your environment. But there will be time when you'll need to work with object's Local coordinate system.
World coordinate applies to the entire world and XYZ direction does not change.
Local coordinate applies to the individual object. It ignores the universal XYZ position of the world.
Click on the World/Local icon within the viewport to cycle between World and Local:
To see how this works follow these steps:
Each object/actor you select will have a set of properties to adjust. Select an object and take a look at the Details panel on the lower right hand side to see that actor's settings:
Depending on the type of actor you select, these settings will be different. For example if you select a Point Light, you can change color, light intensity and radius.
You can also open additional Details panels by going to Window > Details > Details 2, 3 or 4:
Content Browser is the content management system in UE4 and you will be using it a lot:
Through the Content Browser you will:
Use the folder structure to look into any folder and find the assets you are looking for:
You can create new folders to better organize your assets:
Look for specific asset type by using the Filters drop down menu:
Use the search to look for a name of the asset you are looking for:
To search and to filter the entire directory of your project, make sure to select the Content Folder. This way you are searching everything within that folder.
Static Meshes are 3d models and will make up the majority of your level construction.
There are 3 ways you will have access to Static Meshes:
To use Static Meshes inside your level you will have to use the Content Browser. Look through the Content folder and any subfolder for the Static Mesh you need:
You can also filter by Static Mesh only:
2 most common ways to insert Static Meshes into your level. Left-click and drag from the Content Browser into your level:
Select the Static Mesh in the Content Browser and inside perspective viewport, Right-Click and choose Place Actor:
By default, all meshes inserted into your level are static objects. Meaning they are fastest to render, they will use static baked in lighting and cannot be interacted with. This will be most of your Static Meshes:
If you want a dynamic Static Mesh that can be used as an intractable object, use dynamic lighting/shadow then switch this mesh to Movable:
Static Mesh Editor is the universal menu to edit any given mesh. All changes will apply to every instance of that Static Mesh that is already placed or will be placed within your level.
To access Static Mesh Editor, double click on the Static Mesh from the Content Browser:
Some of the properties inside Static Mesh Editor include Lightmap Settings, Level of Detail, Collision and Import.
"When you do change Static Mesh Editor settings and when do you change Static Mesh settings through the Details panel?"
Let me give you a basic workflow of using Static Mesh Editor and Static Mesh Details panel:
Grid snapping is one of the most important aspects of constructing worlds. You want every BSP brush and Static Mesh you place inside your level to snap together like a set of Legos.
Grid snapping is enabled by default. To enable/disable grid snaps left-click on the move, rotate and scale snaps icon within the viewport:
You have 3 type of grid snapping options - move, rotate and scale.
Use the drop down menu to set the size of each grid type and at what values you want them to snap to.
Move snap sizes:
Rotate snap degrees:
Scale snap values:
Move snap grid option will be one of the most important ones. Move grid spacing starts at 1 and goes to 5, 10, 50, 100, 500, 1000, 5000, 10000:
Shortcut key to changing move grid spacing are the bracket keys .
Begin with grid spacing of 10, 50 or 100 as you construct the level. Switch to lower grid snaps of 1 and 5 for more precise detail work.
BSP brushes are the most basic building blocks of a level. They are simple geometric shapes that are created inside the UE4 editor.
So before you start detailing, lighting or using Static Meshes; BSP brushes will be your first go to for blocking in and prototyping a level.
Strength of using BSP brushes come from the ability to modify their shape as you work so you can iterate and test your level.
As you use BSP brushes to block in your map, you will focus on the following:
The main key with BSP brushes is to create a shell of your level and to prototype how the level looks and plays before inserting any Static Meshes, working on any detailing or lighting.
You will then begin to replace all of the brushes with Static Meshes and detail your world.
Basic BSP brush workflow is to Add and Subtract them from your level.
To include your first BSP brush, use the Place Mode Panel (Shift+1) and switch to BSP tab:
You can choose from a set of various geometric shapes such as a Box, Cylinder, Stairs or Sphere:
Left click and drag a brush shape that you want into your perspective viewport:
In perspective viewport, select the brush and use the Spacebar to cycle between move/rotate/scale transformation gizmos. Anytime you move these brushes within the level, they will automatically update:
Selecting any BSP brush will enable the Details panel for that brush:
Through this Details panel you can adjust various settings for that brush. Such as changing brush type from additive to subtractive, changing the size of the brush and managing materials placed onto that brush:
Once you have added a brush into your level, you can subtract from it.
To subtract from already placed/added brushes re-drag a BSP brush and in the details panel change it to subtract function:
Then drag the subtractive brush over the additive brush and where these brushes overlap, that geometry will be removed:
The fastest way to change BSP brush shape is to use Geometry Editing mode (Shift+5):
You can then select vertices, edges and faces of any BSP brush and quickly modify their appearance:
So instead of changing the size of the brush via Details panel, you have faster iteration and control of the brush by using Geometry Editing (Shift+5).
Select the BSP brush, press Shift+5 for Geometry Editing mode and left-click to select any component (vertices, faces or edges).
Now just drag that component and the brush will change the shape to what you want:
Few important considerations:
Most commonly asked question about BSP brushes vs Static Meshes is:
"How much BSP should be used in the final level compared to Static Meshes?"
Final level should contain as little BSP as you can get away with. It is very common to have 100% all Static Meshes. But 90/10, 80/20 or 70/30 rations of Static Meshes to BSP are also acceptable.
Your map can contain BSP brushes but their use should be minimized as much as possible.
Remember, BSP brushes are great for beginning stages to block in your layout, to prototype and gameplay test your map. But then, Static Meshes should be used to replace BSP brushes.
Static Meshes replacing BSP:
Scale and proportion is probably one of the most important elements when building levels in UE4 or any other game engine.
Everything you create must stay true to correct player scale and proportion. Nothing destroys the illusion of your level faster than disproportionate game world.
4 keys to build everything to correct scale and proportion:
In Unreal Engine 4, base character scale to start with is:
Important note about scale and proportion is, it's always relevant to the game you are working on. 180uu height for a character is a starting point, but for a specific game and its world these values might be different. Always reference the world to the character scale that is going to be used in your game.
Character scale can be a simple box or a skeletal mesh that contains the same dimensions as the player character in the game.
Create a BSP brush with the following player scale dimensions:
Insert a skeletal mesh reference from the Epic's Content Folder. Go to Content Browser and under View Options enable "Show Engine Content":
Select Engine Content folder and filter by Skeletal Mesh:
Use the TutorialTPP skeletal mesh character as a starting point for your scale. This character is slightly more than 180 units in height, so scale this down using the Details panel on Z axis down to .94:
Download Epic Game's free low poly skeletal mesh character from the Marketplace under Characters and Animation category:
If you creating or working on a game, check to see what scale and dimension the game uses and provided character mesh as a reference.
If you are creating a stand-alone game environment without any gameplay, then use 180uu/cm height as the character guide.
Insert one of these options into your map throughout the entire environment to judge scale and proportion as you build. Once you have a layout and everything is proportionately correct, you can delete these character references from your level.
Player start defines where a character player will spawn from inside the level. Every environment should have at least one player start.
If you are creating a stand-alone game environment that doesn't require player participation, then you probably won't need one. Although, it is a good habit to always insert one player start into your level.
To insert a player start, go to Place Mode (Shift+1), switch to Basic:
Left Mouse Click and drag Player Start from the menu right into your level:
Another common way to insert is Right Click inside perspective viewport, choose Place Actor > Player Start:
Directional Light is a light actor used for lighting exterior environments. Think of a Directional Light as a sunlight or moonlight:
You only need one of these inside your map and it will light your entire world (as a sun would).
Place a Directional Light by going to Place Mode (Shift+1), switch to Lights tab:
Left Mouse Click and Drag Directional Light into perspective viewport:
Rotate (E) the Directional Light inside your level to point the direction and angle you want:
Select the Directional Light and in Details panel change these two initial properties:
Point Lights and Spot Lights are most used lights for interiors or specific areas within a level. Both of these lights would be coming from a physical source such as a lamp or a street light.
To place Point Light or Spot Light into your level, go to Place Mode (Shift+1), switch to Lights tab:
Left Mouse Click and Drag a Point Light or a Spot Light into perspective viewport of your level.
After inserting the Point Light, select it and in Details panel start with the following properties:
After inserting the Spot Light, select it and in Details panel start with the following properties:
All the properties you change will be visible in perspective viewport.
World Outliner will list all actors/objects within your level. It is located on upper right hand side of the editor:
If you do not see it, go to Window > World Outliner:
Using the World Outliner, you can search for any actors inside the level:
You can double click on any actor from World Outliner to center the viewport on that object:
And, you can organize your scene better by using folders:
And visibility option:
You can play test your level as a character inside the game right from the editor. In perspective viewport, Right Click where you would like to spawn from and choose Play From Here:
To use a Player Start as a spawning location, click on Play icon at the top toolbar:
For additional options use the drop down menu and choose how you want to Play Test your level; such as "Selected Viewport", Mobile Preview or New Editor Window:
To start with, use Right Click and Play From Here as well as Play icon options.
Depending on which template being used for the project, how you spawn inside the level will vary.
Spawning inside the level with FPS Shooter Template:
Spawning inside the level with Third Person Template:
Last option you will need to know as a beginner is how to build your map.
Build function renders and bakes lighting information, builds geometry, generates lightmaps and shadow maps, builds level of detail and generates navigation paths.
You will find the Build icon within the top toolbar:
What you currently see inside the perspective viewport is not what the level actually looks like. It is close, but not final.
You have to Build to see final lighting and geometry results.
There are 4 quality options to choose from prior to Build:
Preview is used for quick builds and during most of the level construction. Switch to Production when you are ready to finalize your level. Production Build will take the longest and will produce the best visual quality result.
And last, you can choose what aspect of your level you want to Build. Use a drop down menu and select:
You would start with Building on Preview when you need to see updated and quick results of your lighting. This allows continuing working without a lot of waiting. Once you begin to near the end of the level creation or you need to see how your environment looks with higher visual quality - switch to High or Production. Final Build All should always be set to Production.
Marketplace and Learn sections can be found inside the Unreal Engine Launcher:
Through Marketplace you can purchase and download Static Meshes, characters, animations, sounds, particle effects etc. All of these can be used to help you construct game environments without you having to create these assets on your own:
Through Learn section you can download free game engine samples and game examples. You can use these to reverse engineer how they were created to help you understand what you would need to do yourself:
Here are two recommended premium tutorial guides for Unreal Engine 4:
UE4 The Corridor Project: this is a bit more intermediate tutorial guide in which you construct a game environment with provided custom Static Meshes, then light it, post-process it and create a fly-through video to show it off. An in-depth guide for putting together an environment from start-to-finish. Click here for more info...
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