Okay so I only had one shot at that joke… and I’ma gonna take it.

Epic Games has just pushed their 21st release of Unreal Engine 4 since it launched to the public back in March 2014. A lot has changed since then… including one feature that has been lurking pretty much since the beginning: Niagara, the new visual effects editor, is finally available in Early Access!

When I say it is near the beginning – I mean it. Here’s a forum post from about four-and-a-half months after 4.0 launched where some users dug it up with some INI-file changes. The idea is that it will replace Cascade, which has been hanging around since Unreal Engine 3, as the default particle and effects editor. It’s a bit more than I can go into in a news post, but you will want to check out Epic’s GDC 2018 talk to see a ~45-minute demo of the new module. Basically, it’s a visual scripting system for the particle effects, but that doesn’t really explain it too well.

Another major upgrade is that Unreal Engine 4.20 finally uses the C++ compiler that is available in Visual Studio 2017. Previously, to use Visual Studio 2017, users would need to build with the 2015 toolchain. Support for C++ and its standard library is pretty good in Visual Studio 2015 but being able to use the latest features if you want to is always a plus.

Also, Epic is now pushing some of their development branches to GitHub. This allows you to keep up with a specific branch of features, especially if you are the type of studio that maintains their own engine fork and wants to cherry pick certain commits.

As always, Unreal Engine 4 is free to download and use. Royalties do apply for most works created with the engine, based on a small percentage of revenue, but the engine, itself, is free.