In his now-legendary GDC 2005 keynote presentation “Heart of a Gamer”, the late and great former Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata once said, “Someday, our games won’t look any better. What will we do then?” He was referring to the inevitable advancements in video game graphics technology that would one day make games look so detailed and realistic, that the only way video games can get better would be through better stories, features, and gameplay.
Earlier today, a tech demo for Unreal Engine 5 was released, showing off footage being played in real-time on a PlayStation 5, and it seems that we’re drawing ever closer to the peak of video game graphics that Satoru Iwata was talking about. With graphics more realistic than ever before, featuring dynamic lighting and the capacity to display cinematic levels of computer-generated 3D images, Unreal Engine 5 is bound to shape the future of both video game graphics and next-gen consoles. It may very well serve as the signal to the start of an era where video games are going to have to find new ways to improve as next-gen graphics approach the ceiling for improvement.
With the veil slowly being lifted on next-gen consoles and video games, we’ve got a lot to look forward to as the Unreal Engine 5 tech demo reveals. Let’s take a deeper look at Unreal Engine 5, and how it’ll affect the development of the games and consoles of the next generation.
The Unreal Engine 5 tech demo comes in the form of a playable demo on the PlayStation 5, called Lumen in the Land of Nanite. The title actually refers to two new technologies revealed for Unreal Engine 5: Lumen, and Nanite, and the game serves to highlight the capabilities of these new technologies.
Lumen is an illumination tool in Unreal Engine 5 that allows for fully dynamic global lighting, and it makes in-game light act just like natural light does. When Lumen the character conjures a ball of light in her hand while exploring a dark, abandoned temple-like structure, the light reflects realistically on all surfaces, even the bugs crawling on the floor. You can also see the beautiful lighting that Lumen (the tool) provides as Lumen (the character) traverses through cliffs on a sunlit desert environment.
While Lumen gives the world light, it’s Nanite that was used to build the world itself. Nanite allows for millions of triangles to be used in the shaping and rendering of in-game environments and assets, with the high polygon count allowing for as much detail as the eye can see. You can see how detailed both the environments and the moving assets are in Lumen in the Land of Nanite, and the demo itself probably amounts to billions of polygons. The single statue shown six minutes into the video accounts for 33 million triangles alone, and anyone who’d dare to do the math for the demo’s polygon count is gonna have to deal with a lot of zeroes.
The Lumen and Nanite technologies allow Unreal Engine 5 to have cinematic levels of graphics power, and even CGI assets used in blockbuster movies could be imported to Unreal Engine 5 without any loss. This means that you can literally take a movie and turn it into a game by putting it into UE5 and programming some controls. That’s insane.
Alongside the tech demo, Epic Games also announced that the full release of Unreal Engine 5 is set for late 2021, and it’ll support next-gen consoles, current-gen consoles, as well as PC, Mac, iOS, and Android. This means that we’ll be seeing Lumen and Nanite not just on our PS5’s or Xbox Series X’s, but also our phones and current consoles.
Unreal Engine 5 is also designed to be forward-compatible, which means that developers can begin their projects in Unreal Engine 4 and move those projects to Unreal Engine 5 once it’s released. This also means that current games created in Unreal Engine 4 can potentially receive ultra high definition remasters on Unreal Engine 5. It’s not just the next-gen games that’ll benefit from UE5, but current and previous-gen games as well.
Epic Games also announced that they’ll be waiving the first $1 million in gross revenue per title, from games created with Unreal Engine 5. With Unreal Engine already available to download and use for free, the waiving of the first million is meant to give developers a budgeting advantage when it comes to picking a video game engine. It’s a noble move by Epic Games, and it’ll surely result in some hit games being made along the way.
If the tech demo and UE5 release details weren’t good news enough, Epic Games also launched their Online Services. Epic Online Services was first announced in December 2018, and it’s powered by the same services that make up the extremely popular game, Fortnite.
Epic Online Services will provide developers with tools for creating online gameplay modes for their video games. This also includes tools to make these online modes cross-play compatible, meaning any game that makes use of Epic Online Services will let players play against or with each other no matter what console they’re using.
Aside from cross-play services, Epic Online Services also provides matchmaking tools, network tools, and cloud-based player data storage, among a long list of other features which you can check out here.
On the surface, the arrival of Unreal Engine 5 looks like just a graphics upgrade, and hey, even on the surface, it’s pretty amazing, but UE5 is just one of the many steps that Epic Games is taking to change the way we play video games. If UE5 and Epic’s recent announcements are anything to go by, the future of gaming is looking bright. Lumen-bright.
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