Video game developers often talk about immersion – the ability of a title to attract players and create a realistic experience that helps players forget the outside world and its litany of horrors. Fighting orcs in the game sometimes seems a lot better than tackling real world problems, like now, for example. But creating an immersion is not easy. Subtle details like the textures on the backgrounds, the light bouncing around an environment, or even the way a character's foot interacts with the ground, can make a huge difference in ability of a game to suck players into the virtual world.
The new demo video is full of these crucial little details. A game engine is the development environment in which games are created. Unreal Engine has been around since 1998 and since then has powered familiar games, including Star Wars titles, the recent remake of Final Fantasy VII, and even Fortnite. Technology goes beyond games and uses graphics from movies, broadcast events and even renderings of architecture and cars.
The new demo, however, focuses on the role of Unreal Engine 5 in next generation consoles. The video includes a demo that runs live on Playstation 5 hardware. Video game companies can sometimes make demos more impressive than actual gameplay by pre-rendering them rather than rendering them in time real. This is not the case here, however.
Even compared to the current generation console games, which already look quite excellent, the new footage from Unreal Engine 5 looks striking. New Lumen technology enables dynamic mobile lighting, which means that light will bounce off surfaces in the gaming environment to create a realistic effect that creators will not have to code or map rigidly in the first place. So if you direct a flashlight into a dark cave, the light will bounce off the floor and walls, just like in real life. In one scene, a group of bugs reacts in real time with the beam of a flashlight. It’s impressive.
Another new feature called Nanite makes it easier for creators to import digital models into gaming environments. It allows creators to use high-quality models typically aimed at filmmakers who don't have to restore objects in the game in real time as video games do.
Creators typically create digital objects in high-quality design programs such as ZBrush. However, games usually have to reduce the overall quality so that the hardware can actually process them during the game. Different quality versions of the same model have different purposes. When you are far from a statue, the game can offer a very low resolution version. As you get closer, more and more high quality models appear. The new Unreal Engine 5 can take the original file and then render it dynamically without requiring these different versions.
The demo shows a scene made up of over a billion triangles in each image, compressed to 20 million triangles, some of which are only the size of a single pixel. More triangles translate into more detail on the scene, at least in this case.
While Unreal has chosen the PS5 for the demo, the engine will also be fully compatible with the new Xbox Series X. Despite the delays and upheavals linked to the pandemic in the supply chain, we still expect have both consoles start sometime in 2020. Then we'll be on our knees in awesome in-game flashlight technology.