Even the tallest of titans couldn't stand against the tide of free game-making for long. With so many developers turning to Unity to make their own games, and Unity's capabilities improving rapidly, Ye Olde Unreal Engine was starting to look like something of a dinosaur despite being the go-to framework for a great many blockbuster action titles. And now it, too, is free, albeit with one big proviso. While this is primarily big news for devs (more on that below), it does also mean that anyone can now make their own maps for the work-in-progress, community-made Unreal Tournament sequel/remake. Which is currently also free. There's also a new, super-shiny map to try out the next-gen engine with.
First the dev stuff. Previously, if you didn't want to buy a full Unreal license outright (something that tends to be done only by big devs and at a specially-negotiated cost), you could subscribe to one for $19 per month, plus agree to give owners Epic a 5% share of all revenues over $3000 (per project, rather than all of them combined if you made multiple ones). Basically, they've now dropped the subscription, but the 5% clause remains.
For projects that you're certain will only ever be small, this is great news - full, cost-free access to one of the most powerful and fully-featured game engines out there. If there's any chance whatsoever that your game will be a commercial success, you're potentially forking over a ton of money later on, however. For some devs, that's the only way to do it, but it is well worth very strongly considering the options and doing the maths on what might happen if you sold x, y or z copies.
Every 'free' game engine has different costs and options for commercial projects, and some may be a better financial fit for you than others. Do you really need an engine this powerful? Would something cheaper/with more liberal terms do everything you need? Don't rush into Unreal, as massively tempting as it may be. As assorted devs have been twit-wittering today, $3k isn't impossibly hard to come by if the right site, channel, bundle or store sale happens to look your way one day, and then even if similar doesn't happen again you're stuck giving away 5% til kingdom come. Of revenue, not profit; i.e. of any cash over the first $3k that the game brings in. Update: ah, misinterpeted slightly - it's 5% per quarter's revenue. So if in one quarter you earn big you'll owe 5% of any revenue over the first $3k, but if it another quarter your project brings in less than $3k you won't owe Epic anything else.
Though if it's not a game you're making, Epic biz boss Mark Rein has this to say: "Remember: Pay no royalty for UE4 film projects, contracting and consulting projects such as architecture, simulation and visualization."
For anyone who fancies a bit of a fiddle but doesn't intend to make games for a living, this is straight-up good news. PC gaming has a long and rich history of amateur map-making for multiplayer shooters, and now anyone who fancies trying their hand a level for the new, semi-community-made Unreal Tournament alpha can wade in without spending a penny. Tutorials are here.
For people who are strictly players, the new UT's really coming along too, and it's far easier than it was to simply give it a spin. You just need to register an account on the Unreal forums, download the launcher, install the latest build via it and you're away.
There's even a new, high-resolution texture map just released called Outpost 23, and it's a hell of a looker. Lovely lighting, a vaguely Nostromo-like design/colour scheme, and overall this great sense that the set is a model, like old school sci-fi. Really worth checking out, and you can always play against vaguely competent bots if you're a fraidy-pants. The new map is bundled with the latest build of UT.
This is my first time going back to an Unreal Tournament since the last full-blown release. UT3 didn't quite work for me, the style kind of got in the way and it didn't have that fluidity or sense of purity. Very earlys days for this new one, but it's very clearly modelled after UT 2003/4. I'd forgotten how good that felt. The way everything seems to accelerate after a while, as you click into the mindset required. The familiar, responsive weapons. The, oh, Unreal Tournamentiness of it. Old times. Good times. Good old times.
With the doors now flung open to everyone, hopefully we'll see great things from this very soon.