Unreal, by Epic Games, was a pretty great video game back in 1998, but the impact of the game engine built to make it has been extraordinary. Currently in its fourth generation, the Unreal Engine is responsible for the graphics, physics, lighting, sound, animation, artificial intelligence, networking, streaming, memory management and general development of a huge range of games.
Developers use it in return for five percent of the revenues they make off their games, and you’ve encountered Unreal Engine version 4 if you’ve played Fortnite, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, the Batman: Arkham games or many others across Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and mobile platforms.
It’s so good that it’s starting to show up in Hollywood as a next-level CGI system, responsible for the lion’s share of the dynamic backgrounds and lighting in The Mandalorian series, among other things.
Yesterday, the Unreal Engine team released an extraordinary demo video showing off the capabilities of the next-gen Unreal Engine 5, due to launch in 2021, running on a pre-production PlayStation 5. Titled “Lumen in the Land of Nanite,” the demo video focuses on two improved aspects of the 5th-gen engine.
Its Lumen dynamic lighting system can react to scene, object and light source changes in real time, including reflected light from multiple dynamically moving sources as it bounces off irregular surfaces, creating some very subtle and beautifully realistic illumination effects. Being able to do this stuff in real time means developers can instantly see exactly how things will look as they create motion sequences.
And its Nanite “virtualized micropolygon geometry” system should be a huge leap forward for detailed graphics. It allows developers to import highly detailed photogrammetric models of real-world objects during game development, handling the time-consuming process of turning these things into dynamic game objects. If an object has been built in pretty much any 3D system, including the ones used for movie visual effects, it can be super-quickly dropped into Unreal Engine 5. That’s going to speed up development hugely.
It also allows developers to import objects from the world’s largest photogrammetry library, Quixel, which Epic Games acquired last year. You can pop over to the Quixel website and scroll through thousands upon thousands of fully scanned objects, textures and overlays, including a collection of the very limestone rocks and textures used to build the demo video.
There is a new “Niagra” fluid and particle dynamics system, a new Chaos physics engine, and plenty of upgrades to the sound engine too. But without delving too far into the technology, let’s take a look at the video.
All the elements in the above image combine to create an unnervingly realistic setting for our mystery protagonist as she explores a Tomb Raider-like series of caves and ancient mechanisms. The immersiveness of just this small demo level is incredible, particularly when the developers claim it’s running in real time on effectively the same PlayStation 5 that’ll be released at the end of this year.
It feels like a privilege to have grown up through the infancy of video gaming. I played Space Invaders on the Atari 2600, Donkey Kong on clamshell Nintendos, Karateka on an Apple IIe, Impossible Mission on the Commodore 64, the King’s Quest on PCs with CGA, EGA and then the mighty VGA graphics cards. By the time Doom 2 came along, I was in university, and my friends and I would edit the sound files to make the monsters swear at us. I’ve had every generation of PlayStation, a few Xboxes, a smattering of Nintendo consoles, and I’ve watched gaming grow up from the childlike simplicity of the 80s to the deeply adult photo-realism and complex hundred-plus-hour storytelling today’s games are capable of. At its best, it’s a genuinely moving and involving art form, and it’s great to see it beginning to merge with cinema.
With each generation of gaming, I’ve been thrilled to see how things have advanced, and watching the video below I can’t help but imagine how it would blow the mind of a ten-year-old Loz if he’d seen it. Incredible stuff. Enjoy it on a big screen if you can.
Unreal Engine 5 Revealed! | Next-Gen Real-Time Demo Running on PlayStation 5
Source: Epic Games
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