Epic games announced the first look at Unreal Engine 5, its next-generation game engine designed with features meant to make game worlds more detailed and dynamic. To show off the power of its new game engine, Epic released a real-time tech demo called, “Lumen in the Land of Nanite” which runs live on the PlayStation 5.
Unreal Engine 4 was launched back in 2014 by Epic Games under a subscription model. With the help of which the gaming industry evolved a lot releasing new games that felt very realistic. The game engine since then has been made available for free with its source code being freely available on GitHub. Unreal Engine 4 has powered a lot of popular titles like Batman: Arkham Asylum, Fortnite, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot and more.
On Wednesday, May 13, Epic Games has finally provided the world with its first look at the next-generation Unreal Engine 5 with a Demo running on Sony Playstation 5. With it, the company has said that one of its goals 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.”
The graphics speak for themselves. The demo shows a woman venturing into a rocky cavern and discovering a hidden temple. The demo makes a particular point to highlight how light and objects react dynamically, and the demo ends with a thrilling flight through a crumbling canyon. All of the assets and visuals in the demo are reacting in real-time, meaning the PlayStation 5 is processing the demo as it happens.
“I think a lot of people [will ask], ‘Oh is [the demo] real?’ But you know that demo was grabbed from the back of a PlayStation 5 development kit,” says Epic Games CTO Kim Libreri in an interview with IGN. “An HDMI cable went into a disc recorder and played out real-time — no editing, no tricks, that’s what comes off the box.” Incidentally, Sweeney made clear that the SSD in that devkit is “far ahead” of current high-end PCs.
Epic Games founder and CEO Tim Sweeney explained Unreal Engine 5 is meant “to do things that are absolutely not possible today.” This means offering new levels of photorealism and visuality but also offer these tools in a way that increases the productivity and efficiency of game developers. “Lumen [and Nanite]… are not just order-of-magnitude leaps in visual quality but they’re also greatly simplifying technologies for the artists who build content,” says Sweeney.
The goal, according to Kim Libreri, is to make game worlds as immersive and realistic as modern movies, but where that goal differs from previous game generations is how interactive that realism is. Before we get into specifics, it’s worth remembering that tech demos frequently outperform full games released around the same time. For example, Square Enix’s 2012 Agni’s Philosophy real-time tech demo showed off graphics more similar to 2016’s Final Fantasy XV than the PS4’s 2013 launch titles. This is because tech demos have the advantage of being tailor-made to show off game engines and the hardware running them in their best light. They don’t have to worry about packing in all the assets and other mechanics a full game requires.
Still, it’s hard to ignore a new game engine from the studio behind Fortnite, whose Unreal Engine 4 powers graphical standouts like Dragon Ball FighterZ and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. Especially when it promises real-time environments running on PS5 that would have been pre-rendered just a generation ago. Lumen in the Land of Nanite is about 10 minutes long, and takes us through a series of live benchmarks for UE5 and the PS5 contextualized as a Tomb Raider-esque game. This means caves full of craggy rocks to show off high poly counts, dramatically sunlit chambers to show off the lighting, crumbling cliff faces to show off spatialized audio, a room with thousands of cockroaches that all react to player input, and a particularly stunning flight sequence at the end with an “if you see it, you can go there” promise of real-time rendering even on distant objects.
Interestingly, while the UE5 video says this is “fully dynamic multi-bounce global illumination,” it never mentions ray tracing. Ray tracing is one way to get accurate multi-bounce GI, but there are approximations that can be faster if less accurate. Whether UE5 requires ray tracing for the lighting effects isn’t clear, but we know UE4 already supports ray tracing and PS5 has ray tracing hardware, so that’s not too much of a stretch.
Epic says UE5 won’t release until next year, first as a preview earlier in the year and then as a full release late in 2021. But the company says developers working on titles using UE4 right now will be able to easily transition. “Epic is designing for forward compatibility, so developers can get started with next-gen development now in UE4 and move projects to UE5 when ready,” the company says.
Unreal Engine is one of the most famous Game Engine out their for heavy weight titles, this is because Epic had slightly adjusting the business model for its game engine. Starting in 2015, Epic shifted to a full royalty model, in which it gives out access to Unreal Engine for free but claims 5 percent of all royalties from sales generated by Unreal-powered titles after the first $3,000 in sales.