Putting Unreal Engine in the classroom

Putting Unreal Engine in the classroom
James Batchelor

By James Batchelor

September 4th 2014 at 6:01PM

Epic Games' Ray Davis discusses how Unreal Engine 4 can help produce stronger graduates for the games industry

Today, Epic Games has announced that Unreal Engine 4 is now available for free to universities and schools.

That means any academic institutes can have full access to the high-end engine's extensive tools, as well as the complete C++ source code.

Unreal Engine general manager Ray Davis told Develop why this not only means stronger graduates for any games developers looking to hire, but also a better understanding of what games development involves – even at a secondary school level.

Why make Unreal Engine 4 free to schools and universities? What do you hope to achieve with this?

Providing easy access to UE4 to universities and their students most significantly helps students have better opportunities to learn the skills and technology that are important to being a successful game creator. In the long run, this means more talented folks to be hired into the industry and – arguably more importantly – it means more opportunities for great games to be created.

What's history between Unreal Engine and academia? How has it helped students/graduates in the past?

Previously, many academic programs integrated Unreal Development Kit into their courses, which led to some great collaborations and has helped many students kick start their game development careers. In fact, some of the people working at Epic today came from schools that were leveraging UDK in their game development courses.  

Now with access to UE4, students will be able to learn and practice the full spectrum of skills valuable in the industry from art/level creation, gameplay design, as well as programming. This means those students will have an even greater chance of building their development career.

How will universities and their students benefit from Unreal Engine 4?

For universities and students the opportunity to gain access to the same tools being used by veteran game development teams worldwide will help them learn the skills necessary to be successful in the game industry. And since we also provide the entire C++ source code for UE4 as well, it will allow students to see how exactly it’s built and not just how to use it.  

Alongside the engine itself, we also provide many free content samples (including complete projects), documentation, tutorials, and video walkthroughs that are all invaluable learning resources for developer education.

What application is there for Unreal Engine 4 in schools and colleges, for much younger students?

UE4 lets younger students dip their toes in the waters of game development without requiring them to already have learned skills such as programming.

We provide templates and sample content so that you never have to start from scratch, and we augment that further with step by step tutorials and videos to walk budding developers through development concepts at their own pace.

This means games development can be introduced to younger audiences, and can provide opportunities to leverage enthusiasm around gaming to help schools teach core concepts that are even valuable beyond games development.

How will Unreal Engine 4 teach students of any age more about games design?

UE4 scales with developer experience and with our visual tool Blueprints we’re able to introduce students to game development without requiring them to first master programming.

We also provide many complete projects for free with UE4, which is a great way for budding developers to start understanding the basics of how games are put together. What better way to be introduced to the fundamentals of game design is there than to open up a working game project, tweak some logic or content, and iterate on the game in real-time?

There is some criticism among developers that students are being taught how to use premade toolsets rather than how to programme code. Does Unreal Engine do anything to counter this?

With UE4 we also include the entire C++ source code for the engine alongside the premade toolsets, which gives students the best of both worlds. Having a fully working and modern code base to use as a learning resource, either as reference or as a foundation for your own tools, is invaluable for any programmer.  

This gives students a choice of how quickly they want to dive in – if you’re confident then jump right to the guts of the engine and start writing your own new additions, or if you want to ease in then you can work with what’s already there. Some developers may never want to touch the C++ code and that’s perfectly viable with UE4 since entire games can be developed and shipped using only Blueprints.

What advice do you have for academic institutes planning to use Unreal Engine? How is it best used to educate students?

There’s many ways UE4 can be leveraged in academic courses, whether to teach game development directly, or to help teach other overlapping disciplines such as programming.  

To get started, we encourage educators to contact us so they can get access to UE4 and then take a look at what learning and documentation resources we offer today – there’s a lot of great ideas already on how to get started with a curriculum and we’re always open to discussing new ideas with educators.  

We also encourage students to start the conversation with the professors as well – we know quite a few students are already active in our community and we want to help them get UE4 integrated into their programs.