Get up and running with Unreal Engine 4, learn to make a map!

If you've never touched Unreal Engine 4 before, this tutorial is for you! Now that it's free to use, there has never been a better time to start learning it. This tutorial will take you from installing the engine to making your first map.

Getting the Engine
Before anything else, you're going to need to download UE4. Head over to and hit the "Get Unreal" button, then follow the prompts, register an account, and download the launcher. Once you've got that installed, run the launcher.

The launcher is the hub for UE4 content. It's where you can download updates to the editor, read news, peruse tutorials, and download or purchase content from the Marketplace.

To begin with, click on the Library tab. That's where you manage what content you have installed.

Your Library tab will probably look a little bit different because you don't have a version of the engine installed or because a new version is out. The interface has been changing a bit in recent versions, so it's possible it'll be updated by the time you read this.

To begin with, you need to install a version of the engine. It should auto-populate with an option to install the latest version. If not, click the Add Versions button and hit the Install button, then wait. It's a fairly hefty download so it might be a while.

While that's going, there's something else we'll want to grab, too. We want some assets to make our first map with. Browse to the Learn tab and find the Vehicle Game demo. This is a sample project which demonstrates how to make a simple racing game, but more importantly, it comes with some pretty cool free to use assets.

Be aware that this sample might have moved by the time you find this tutorial, as it was listed under the Marketplace just a few weeks ago. Just look for the Vehicle Game demo in the launcher somewhere if it's not under Learn.

Go ahead and hit the download button for it and wait for it to download. Grab lunch or something while the engine and the sample project install, because it's going to be a while.

Launching the Editor
When a download finished, you'll get an alert in the Library tab and an icon by what content just finished. Scroll down to the Vehicle Game demo and you should see an option to "Create Project." This will unpack the demo into a project you can edit. Go ahead and hit that. It'll prompt you for a name and directory to unpack it into, so go ahead and pick something.

Once it's done, you should have an option to open the newly-cloned project under My Projects. Double click on it to launch the editor with that project. It might take a while to open for the first time, so go run a marathon or something and come back.

You should now see this! Although the editor looks complicated, it's fairly intuitive to use. Let's start by hitting the Play button along the top to play the sample game. A Pause and Stop button will appear, which let you quit testing the game whenever you want.

Once you're done playing around, let's look around the scene a little. To look around, right click on the scene and move the mouse around. While holding the right mouse button, you can use WASD to explore the scene. Go ahead and get a feel for the controls.

Since this tutorial is just focused on making a map, I won't go into detail about all the options and controls for the editor since that's a tutorial all in and of itself. First let's see how we can interact with objects in the world.

Find a rock and click on it.

You should see three orthogonal arrows appear. These correspond to the X, Y, and Z axes. Click and drag on one of them to move the rock along that axis. For example, clicking on the up-facing arrow will let you drag the rock up and down.

Now press the E key. This changes the active tool to the rotation tool.

The colored arcs correspond to axes of rotation. Try clicking and dragging on one to rotate the rock.

Now press the R key. This changes the active tool to the scale tool.

This time you'll see four cubes, with one in the center of the three axis-aligned ones. Clicking and dragging on one of the axis cubes will let you stretch the rock along that axis. Doing this with the white center cube lets you resize it.

Now press the W key to get back to the move tool. An easy way to remember which keys correspond to these tools is that they're W, E, and R. In many 3D applications, QWERTY corresponds to the basic 3D tools. UE4 doesn't use all of them, but in most tools, W is move, E is rotate, and R is scale. It's handy to rest three fingers on those keys when you're manipulating objects in the world.

You can also duplicate the rock by pressing Ctrl+W. Try moving the duplicate around and then press the Delete key to get rid of it. Feel free to experiment with some of the objects in the level, and even play the game to see your changes.

Your Own Map
Finally, time to create something of our own! Press Ctrl+N to create a new level. Click on the Default level template.

We now have a blank map. What do you think that game controller icon is? Press Play to find out. Or read on to get it spoiled in the next paragraph.

That's the player spawn location. Feel free to move it wherever you'd like.

The area we've got to work with is pretty small, so click the floor and resize it. Now it's time to put something in the level. In the bottom left corner of the screen is the Content Browser, which has all of the assets imported into your UE4 project. Unfold the Content folder, then Assets, and go into Meshes. This has all of the meshes (3D objects) we can select.

Let's put one of those rocks in. Click on SM_Cliffs and drag it into the scene. Place it wherever you like. Perhaps sink it into the floor a little so you can't see the way it tapers off at the bottom. You might also want to rotate or resize it.

Let's now stop the player from driving off the floor. Grab an SM_CityWall_Trim and drag it in. Pull in a few more and position them around the edge of the map so that the player can't run off the edge.

What we've got looks pretty dark, so let's turn up the environmental light. In the World Outliner at the top right, find the Light Source object and click on it. Its properties should appear in the Details tab below. Turn up the intensity until it looks good.

Now let's do something about the placeholder material on the floor. In the Content Browser, go to Assets > Materials and find M_Sand_Road. Drag it onto the floor.

That's looking a little better. Go back to the Meshes folder and drag in some more objects to spruce up the scene.

You might notice when you test your game a warning informing you that lighting needs to be rebuilt. I won't go into the technical details of what this means, but basically, UE4 bakes lighting data offline to improve the visual fidelity of the game. Whenever you make a change to the scene that invalidates the lightmap, you need to rebuild it.

To rebuild the lighting, click the arrow next to the Build option at the top and click Build Lighting Only. Based on how complex your scene is, this might take a while.

Wrapping Up
That should do it for the basic features of the editor that you need in order to construct a level using existing materials. There's one more thing I'd like to touch on, and that's how to bring content into a new project. You might not want to make a racing game, after all. Quit the editor and go back to the launcher.

This time, rather than opening the VehicleGame demo, launch the engine directly.

Go to the New Project tab and peruse the project templates. Find whichever want you're most interested in, such as the First Person template. Pick a location for the project and hit the Create Project button. Once the project is created, launch the Vehicle Game sample again (note: not the new project you just made!).

Navigate to the Assets folder in the Content Browser, right click, and hit Migrate. This will let you export all of those assets to another project. Choose the Content folder in your new project. Once the content migration completes, then open your new project in the editor. You should now have all of the Vehicle Game assets at your disposal!

Hopefully this tutorial was helpful in getting you up and running with level design in UE4. Feel free to post any questions you have and to share your creations!


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the original sinn
The engine is up and running for free, kinda insane!
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