Unreal vs Unity: The winner is…

It’s a question that has been burning in my brain since the release of the free version of Unreal Engine in September of 2014. Ah yes, I remember that time well. At AtomusGames we were busily learning Unity and publishing apps for business applications as fast as we could sell them. I was living in west Texas and managing dev projects with small 3 person teams of developers from all over the globe. Why just 3 developers on a team you ask? Because we believed in decentralized autonomy and with any more than 3 developers it was guaranteed the project would fail due to indecision and unending debate. Interestingly, that turned out to be Unity’s greatest strength, but I’ll get to that.

Suddenly, as if on cue, multiple companies announced they were making their coveted game engines free to the public. Mind. Blown. These were the tools used by some of the biggest names in the biz. Now, suddenly, like magic, they were available to the common developer with the click of a button. Unreal Engine, Lumberyard (CryEngine mostly), and a score of others were just begging me to download and obsess over. Which I did; wholeheartedly.

Experimenting and comparing night after late night. Knowing which one was supreme became the splinter in my brain that drove me to learn every feature and facet, every plugin and mod. Which, of course, is a fools errand. It’s an impossible task that only a mad man would commit to.

Finally, I declared a winner and abandoned Unity for it’s superior usurper. There was clearly no beating Unreal Engine’s pure visual awesomeness and widespread industry adoption. Imho, there is just nothing that can stand up to the production quality of Unreal Engine. If you are building a game or simulation or even a shiny new business app, Unreal Engine is going to deliver the most visually stunning production possible with current technology. Unreal is a heavyweight and Unity is a lightweight. They shouldn’t even be in the same fight.

I made my choice and endeavored to immerse myself in the splendor of Unreal Engine. The learning curve was steep. Very steep. But I persevered for the greater good. I learned to map skeletons and character animations, I learned shaders and texture application, I learned AI navigation and path finding. I painted and sculpted landscapes from digital planes with magnificent god-like strokes. I learned plugin after plugin. And I built an all encompassing GDD for my epic ninja game (I’ll save the details for another story) to keep me on track, complete with DigitalOcean hosted Perforce repository (native to Unreal, but no small task to configure) and AWS-hosted Hansoft project management. But sadly, I had made an unfortunate miscalculation that would eventually bring my vision of self-publishing crashing to the ground.

Ironically, although Unreal Engine is undoubtedly technically superior, it is that exact technical superiority that makes it the WRONG tool for my project. You see, while I was busy exploring the surface of Unreal, I rarely could afford the luxury of having time to drill down deep to the core. I dabbled with C++ without devoting the 100s (or 1000s) of hours required to master it. I tested plugins without obsessing over them like I did with Unreal, and honestly, there are so many features in Unreal that it’s just not possible to master them all, and mastery is what it takes to deliver the stunning visual production promised by Unreal.

So, I’ve dusted off my lightweight Unity and decided that for my fight, it’s the right tool. Ultimately, I’ve learned over the last decade that Unreal Engine is a powerful tool meant for big teams of specialists. But for the hobbyist or aspiring solo-developer or micro-studio, Unity is the winner by default.

That is especially true for the kind of augmented reality projects I’m interested in pursuing. It turns out that the hardware for the compact wearable augmented reality glasses of the near future is yet unable to handle the mega-computing required for high-end Unreal Engine productions. This definitely tips the scales to Unity for me. For now…

Thanks for reading. I hope you gleaned some wisdom from my journey! It’s ok to disagree with my conclusion, in fact I encourage you to share your own journey with me.

-RP Morgan



Unity and Flutter developer interested in creating mixed-reality applications.

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Richard Morgan

Unity and Flutter developer interested in creating mixed-reality applications.