Get Started with UE4

Editor Basics

A Project is a self-contained unit that holds all the content and code that make up an individual game and coincides with a set of directories on your disk. For example, in the image below the Hierarchy Tree of the Content Browser contains the same directory structure found inside your Project folder on your disk.

Click image for full view.

Although a Project is often referenced by the .uproject file associated with it, they are two separate files that exist alongside each other. The .uproject is a reference file used to create, open, or save a file, whereas the Project contains all of the files and folders associated with it.

You can create any number of different Projects which can all be maintained and developed in parallel. Both the Engine (and Editor) can easily switch between them which will allow you to work on multiple games at once or have several test projects in addition to your main game Project.

In Unreal Editor, the scenes in which you create your game experience are generally referred to as Levels . You can think of a level as a 3D environment into which you place a series of objects and geometry to define the world your players will experience. Any object that is placed in your world, be it a light, a mesh, or a character, is considered to be an Actor. Technically speaking, Actor is a programming class used within the Unreal Engine to define an object that has 3D position, rotation, and scale data. For sake of ease, however, it will be easiest to think of an Actor as any object that can be placed in your levels.

Editor Viewports

The Viewports are your window into the worlds you create in Unreal. They can be navigated just as you would in a game, or can be used in a more schematic design sense as you would for an architectural blueprint. The Unreal Editor viewports contain a variety of tools and visualizers to help you see exactly the data you need.

Editor Modes

The Modes panel contains a selection of various tool modes for the Editor. These change the primary behavior of the Level Editor for a specialized task, such as placing new assets into the world, creating geometry brushes and volumes, painting on meshes, generating foliage, and sculpting landscapes.

Actors & Geometry

At its most basic level, creating levels boils down to placing items in a map inside Unreal Editor. These items may be world geometry, decorations in the form of Brushes, Static Meshes, lights, player starts, weapons, or vehicles. Which items are added when is usually defined by the particular workflow used by the level design team.

Content Browser

The Content Browser is the primary area of the Unreal Editor for creating, importing, organizing, viewing, and modifying content assets within Unreal Editor. It also provides the ability to manage content folders and perform other useful operations on assets, such as renaming, moving, copying, and viewing references. The Content Browser can search for and interact with all assets in the game.


Lighting your scenes is accomplished using Light Actors that act as light sources and contain properties to determine the characteristics of the light, such as:

  • How bright the light is

  • What color the light is

There are also different kinds of lights that emit light in different ways. For example, a standard light bulb emits light in all directions. In Unreal Engine, this is called a point light. In other circumstances, the light emitted is physically limited by making the back of the bulb opaque, such as with a flood light. This would be a spot light. Outdoor lighting from the sun - because it is located so far away - appears to come more from a direction instead of from a single location. To simulate this type of lighting, a directional light is available.

Materials & Shading

A Material is an asset that can be applied to a mesh to control the visual look of the scene. At a high level, it is probably easiest to think of a Material as the "paint" that is applied to an object. But even that can be a little misleading, since a Material literally defines the type of surface from which your object appears to be made. You can define its color, how shiny it is, whether you can see through the object, and much more.

In more technical terms, when light from the scene hits the surface, a Material is used to calculate how that light interacts with that surface. These calculations are done using incoming data that is input to the Material from a variety of images (textures) and math expressions, as well as from various property settings inherent to the Material itself.

Unreal Engine 4 utilizes a physically-based shading model. This means that rather than defining a Material using arbitrary properties (such as Diffuse Color and Specular Power), you instead use properties more easily relatable to the real world. These include Base Color, Metallic, Specular, and Roughness.

Blueprints Visual Scripting

The Blueprints Visual Scripting system in Unreal Engine is a complete gameplay scripting system based on the concept of using a node-based interface to create gameplay elements from within Unreal Editor. As with many common scripting languages, it is used to define object-oriented (OO) classes or objects in the engine. As you use UE4, you'll often find that objects defined using Blueprint are colloquially referred to as just "Blueprints."

This system is extremely flexible and powerful as it provides the ability for designers to use virtually the full range of concepts and tools generally only available to programmers. In addition, Blueprint-specific markup available in Unreal Engine's C++ implementation enables programmers to create baseline systems that can be extended by designers.


Implementing gameplay and modifying the engine are essential aspects of any game project. Unreal Engine gives you the ability to implement gameplay through code or visually using Blueprints or even create a plugin that modifies or extends the engine and editor to add completely custom functionality for designers or artists to use.

Playtest Your Game

Test and debug your levels and gameplay using Unreal Engine's built-in features. Get real-time feedback directly in the editor using Play In Editor mode, and even inspect and manipulate the objects in the game while it is running using Simulate In Editor mode. Make changes to gameplay code, recompile, and update the game during play using Hot Reload.