Unity vs Unreal Engine 4

I implemented two medium-sized projects, one in Unreal Engine 4 and one in Unity 5.

Unfortunately these were both for clients, so I can’t talk about any specifics.  I do, however, want to give some general thoughts on the comparison between them.

Pros and Cons:

  • Unreal Engine 4 seems to have a lot more advanced features.  But I didn’t personally use any of these advanced features.  They didn’t seem easy to use.
  • Unity 5 was much more intuitive for me to use.
  • The Unity 5 asset store was so much nicer to use.  I could buy an asset and import it into my game with a couple of clicks.  With UE4 it seemed so much more difficult.
  • UE4’s VR support simply didn’t work on a Mac.  This sucked because my artists all use Macs.   More annoyingly, it didn’t say why it didn’t work, it just simply disabled the Preview In VR button, giving no reason.   And the reasons were written up in an Internal bug report (UE-11247 apparently) that the UE4 developers constantly refer to, but users aren’t actually allowed to view or see the status of!
  • I much preferred having a managed language (C# or javascript) in Unity than the C++ support in UE4.  Mistakes in C++ code meant crashing the whole app.  It also led to long compile times.   But a mistake in C# meant just having an exception and the app being able to easily recover from it.
  • I tried really hard to get on with UE4’s Blueprint, which is basically a visual “programming” language.  But implementing in a fairly simply mathematical formula would result in 20+ nodes.  Implementing a simple polynomial like  $latex  y = 3x^2 + 2x + 5 $  was incredibly painful in dragging out nodes for each operation.

Blueprint quickly becomes a mess. This is a random example from the web.

  • UE4’s blueprints become particularly annoying when users are asking questions about them.  They’ll paste a screenshot of their blueprint saying that they have a problem.  Someone else then has to try to decipher what is going on from a screenshot, with really no easy way to reproduce.  Users who want to copy a blueprint have to do so manually, node by node..
    I would really love for UE4 to mix in a scripting language, like Javascript.
  • UE4 has lots of cool features, but they are really difficult to just use.  For example, it has a lot of support for adding grass.  You can just paint grass onto your terrain..  except that you can’t because you don’t have any actual grass assets by default.
    The official UE4 tutorials say that to add grass, you should import the whole 6.4 GB Open World Demo Collection to your project!
    But then, even that isn’t enough because it doesn’t have any actual grass materials!  You have to then create your own grass material which is quite a long process.  This was really typical of my experience with UE4.  Why not just have a single ‘grass’ asset that could be instantly used, and then let the user tweak it in more complicated ways if they want to later on?
    Compare this to Unity.  You go to: Assets > Import Package > Terrain Assets  click on the tree or grass that you want, and that’s it.  You can then start painting with that tree or grass immediately.  If you later want to make your own trees, it comes with a tree editor, built in!
  • Unity’s support for Android was much better than UE4’s.
  • UE4 taxed my system a lot more than Unity.  For my beefy desktop, that was no problem.  But the artists had Mac laptops that really struggled.
  • I really like Unity’s GameObject plus Component approach.  Basically, you make a fairly generic GameObject that is in your scene, and then you attach multiple components to it.  For example, if you want a button, your button GameObject would have a mesh, a material, a renderer (to draw the material on the mesh), a hit box (to know when the user presses it) and presumably some custom script component that runs when you hit it.
    And because your custom scripts are written in C# or javascript, you get lovely automatically introspection on the class variables, and any variables are automatically added to the GUI!

Overall, I guess I’ve become a unity fanboy.  Which is a shame, because I started with UE4 and I really wanted to like it.  I have been with UE4 for 2 years, and was a paying sponsor for a year.

I feel that the trouble is their different audiences.  UE4 is obviously targeted towards much larger studios, who want advanced features and don’t care about built in assets etc.  Unity on the other hand is targeted towards Indie developers who want to make quick prototypes and cheap products easily.

This has resulted into a sort of stigma against Unity projects, because there is a glut of rubbish games produced by novices in Unity.  Unity charges about $1,500 per developer to remove the start-up Unity splashscreen, resulting in most indie developers not paying that fee.  Only the good games which sell well can afford to remove that splashscreen.

The result being that if you start up a random indie game on steam greenlight, for example, and see the Unity splashscreen, you know that the game is unlikely to be that good.  Hence a stigma.


Logistic Regression and Regularization

Tons has been written about regularization, but I wanted to see it for myself to try to get an intuitive feel for it.

I loaded a dataset from google into python (a set of images of letters) and implemented a double for-loop to run a logistic regression with different test data sizes, and different regularization parameters.  (The value shown in the graph is actually 1/regularization ).


def doLogisticRegression(trainsize, regularizer):
    fitmodel = linear_model.LogisticRegression(C=regularizer)
    train_datasubset = train_dataset[0:trainsize,:,:].reshape(trainsize, -1)
    x = fitmodel.fit(train_dataset[0:trainsize,:,:].reshape(trainsize, -1),
    return [fitmodel.score(train_datasubset, train_labels[0:trainsize]),
            fitmodel.score(valid_dataset.reshape(valid_dataset.shape[0], -1), valid_labels)
trainsizes = [50,200,300,400,500,600,700,800,900,1000,2000,3000,4000,5000, 10000, 50000, 100000, 200000];
color = 0
plots = []
for regularizer in [1, 0.1, 0.01, 0.001]:
    results = np.array([doLogisticRegression(x, regularizer) for x in trainsizes])
    dashedplot = plt.plot(trainsizes, results[:,1], '--', label=("r:" + str(regularizer)))
    plt.plot(trainsizes, results[:,0], c=dashedplot[0].get_color(), label=("r:" + str(regularizer)))
plt.legend(loc='best', handles=plots)

The result is very interesting. The solid line is the training set accuracy, and the dashed line is the validation set accuracy. The vertical axis is the accuracy rate (percentage of images recognized as the correct letter) and the horizontal axis is the number of training examples.

graph of accuracy against training set for logistic regression

Image to letter recognition accuracy against training size, for various values of r = 1/regularization_factor.  Solid line is training set accuracy, dotted line is validation set accuracy.

First, I find it fascinating that purely a logistic regression can produce an accuracy of recognizing letters at 82%. If you added in spell checking, and ran this over an image, you could probably get a pretty decent OCR system, from purely an logistical regression.

Second, it’s interesting to see the effect of the regularization term. At less than about 500 training examples, the regularization term only hurts the algorithm. (A value of 1 means no regularization). At about 500 training examples though, the strong regularization (really helps). As the number of training examples increases, regularization makes less and less of an impact, and everything converges at around 200,000 training samples.

It’s quite clear at this point, at 200,000 training samples, that we are unlikely to get more improvements with more training samples.

A good rule of thumb that I’ve read is that you need approximately 50 training samples per feature. Since we have 28×28 = 784 features, this would be at 40,000 training samples which is actually only a couple of percent from our peak performance at 200,000 training samples (which is 2000000/784=2551 training samples per feature).

At this point, we could state fairly confidently that we need to improve the model if we want to improve performance.

Stochastic Gradient Descent

I reran with the same data but with stochastic gradient descent (batch size 128) and no regularization.  The accuracy (after 9000 runs) on the validation set was about the same as the best case with the logistic regression (81%), but took only a fraction of the time to run.  It took just a few minutes to run, verses a few hours for the logistic regression.

Stochastic Gradient Descent with 1 hidden layer

I added a hidden layer (of size 1024) and reran. The accuracy was only marginally better (84%).  Doubling the number of runs increased this accuracy to 86%.



Exploiting internal neural network symmetries

Neural networks have many internal symmetries.  A symmetry is an operation that you can apply to the weights such that for all inputs the outputs are the same.

The trivial symmetry is the identity. If you multiply all the weights in a neural network by 1, then the output remains unchanged.

We can also move nodes around by swapping the weight in any hidden layer.  For example:


But what other symmetries are there?  How is this useful?

Well, by itself, it’s not.  But let’s get hand-wavy.  Let’s say that we are using a ReLU activation function.  What this means is that at our hidden node, if the final value is greater than 0, then the output at that node is the same value.  if it’s negative, then the output is 0.

Let’s hand wave like crazy, and consider only the case where the node is activated (i.e the total value going into node is >=0).  The output is equal to the input, and in this region it is linear.

So, ignoring the non-linear case, we can find an interesting symmetry.  We can project to the basis   [1,1]/\sqrt{2} and [1,-1]/\sqrt{2}.  Or in pictures:


So, ignoring the non-linearity at the hidden layer, we find that we can actually weights in a more interesting fashion.

Now, what can we do with this?

Honestly, I’m not sure.  One idea I had is if you’ve optimized a neural net and reached the peak that your training set can give you, you could apply this swap operation to random nodes and retrain and see if it helps.  The effect is that you’re leaving the weights the same, but changing when the node activates.  Hopefully I’ll have a better idea later.