Tech demos are always fun, they’re a chance to see new technologies at work for new games to come, and today Epic announced their new version of Unreal Engine with a real-time gameplay demo on the PlayStation 5. Unreal Engine 5 includes a bunch of next-gen graphical features like dynamic global illumination (called, Lumen) and virtualized geometry (called, Nanite). Plus, Epic announced a new scheme for developers that will allow them more freedom financially when it comes to licensing the engine.
“One of our goals in this next generation is to achieve photorealism on par with movie CG and real life, and put it within practical reach of development teams of all sizes through highly productive tools and content libraries,” reads the official blog post on Unreal Engine’s website. There’s a lot of cool stuff to unpack here, but for now, check out the demo in real-time below:
So we’ve finally got a look at what some real next-gen graphics can look like. So far we’ve only had some faux-gameplay trailers from the Xbox Series X gameplay reveal livestream, which in all honesty was a bit lackluster in terms of visual fidelity. However, Unreal Engine 5 seems to completely step it up with jaw-dropping effects running in real-time.
My first gripe is that it’s clearly not running at 60fps, this doesn’t inspire a whole of confidence in the next-gen consoles performance targets, but it is running at 4K at least so 1080p will most likely be able to achieve higher frame rates.
Now onto the juicy stuff. First up we have Lumen, a new technology used in UE5 which renders “diffuse interreflection with infinite bounces and indirect specular reflections in huge, detailed environments, at scales ranging from kilometers to millimeters,” which is basically a fancy way of saying it can react to any scene and light changes immediately with extreme detail, a much more dynamic form of basic global illumination.
This will allow artists and designers to create more dynamic scenes without having to ‘bake in’ any lighting effects, the indirect lighting will adapt accordingly to any scene change like the angle of the sun, or turning on a source of light, or creating a hole in the ceiling. This also saves time for developers as they will no longer have to wait for lightmap renders to be baked in order to edit the environment, essentially reducing time used for experimenting with new lighting setups.
The next big piece of technology shown off was Nanite, also known as Nanite virtualized micropolygon geometry. This fancy bit of tech allows artists to create as much geometric detail as they want, meaning they can import film-quality assets that comprise millions or even billions of polygons directly into Unreal Engine V. Anything such as ZBrush sculpts, photogrammetry scans or even CAD data can be imported with no issues.
Nanite geometry is then streamed and scaled in real-time which eliminates the need for polygon count budgets, polygon memory budgets, or draw count budgets, as there is simply no longer a need to bake these details into maps or even manually author LODs.
They say that there is no loss in quality, and whilst this may be technically true, you can clearly see a faint blurriness on high-quality textures from far away. I could be completely wrong here and maybe my glasses were smudged or something, so what do you guys think? We’ve already seen some of this in dynamic resolution scaling in some games, but now this is being applied to the geometry in a scene rather than just the resolution of textures.
There’s more stuff here to talk about in terms of new and updated technology used in UEV, such as Chaos physics and destruction, Niagara VFX, convolution reverb, and ambisonics rendering. And each of them are exciting in their own way but we felt these were the biggest points to touch on.
Currently, Unreal Engine 5 is slated for launch around late 2021, but a preview build should be available earlier in the year, and will support both next-gen and current-gen consoles as well as PC, Mac, iOS, and Android. Plus, they are implementing features into UE5 to allow for compatibility with UE4 projects, essentially allowing developers to seamlessly transition to the new version without any issues, so they can get started on making next-gen games already.
Interestingly, they pointed out that Fortnite, which currently runs on the Unreal Engine 4, will be transitioning to Unreal Engine 5 when it becomes available as a proof of concept.
Now, probably the most significant change is licensing for developers, as Epic has waived any royalties for the first $1 million made with a game using UE5, allowing anyone to use and create games with the new engine for completely free until they hit that mark, after which will incur 5% royalties. This will undoubtedly pull more interest from developers to use UE5 instead of other engines available, such as Unity which requires you to purchase a license whether your game is successful or not.
Some examples for games using the previous version of Unreal Engine, UE4, (and some possibly even updated to UE5 next year) are Fortnite, Minecraft: Dungeons, Borderlands 3, Final Fantasy VII Remake, Gears 5, Hellblade: Senuas Sacrifice, PlayerUnknowns Battlegrounds, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2, The Outer Worlds, and Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2.
What do you guys think of the new engine? What new features interest you? What games will we see updated to the new engine? How is this going to affect next-gen games? Let us know!