Epic’s Unreal Engine has always remained at the forefront of modern rendering techniques and technology for decades at this point now. Whether it’s smoothing out jagged edges of surfaces in 90s games like Unreal Tournament, or implementing ray-tracing for realistic lighting in Unreal Engine 4, Epic’s software development offerings have remained at the cutting edge of real-time graphics. After a fair bit of anticipation and excitement, we finally have the latest iteration of the engine – the Unreal Engine 5 which is now available to all developers to use in their games.
Unsurprisingly, the engine features a bevy of graphical bells and whistles that when used smartly, can result in games that don’t look too different from real life. But most importantly, Unreal Engine 5 is also bringing some major changes to how development works – which can have a huge impact on the games industry as a whole. After all, it isn’t for nothing that AAA developers are ditching their in-house engines for Unreal Engine 5 for their upcoming projects.
Of course, we are no game developers here at GamingBolt, but there are a few points that we will be discussing today that could change how developers go about creating their games.
The biggest change is definitely tight-knitted support for high-speed storage. You see, with both current-gen consoles sporting high-speed PCI e 4.0 SSDs – it’s not going to be long before SSD storage becomes the standard for all gaming platforms going forward. In addition to providing faster loading times, this evolution will also bring about a major change in how games are rendered. Basically, most last-gen games would try to fit any and all assets that might be required within the next few seconds of gameplay for a smooth experience since importing an asset from a hard drive to memory would take time, and cause stutters.
With SSDs boasting markedly higher transfer speeds and consoles, in particular, having extra communication channels between their components – developers don’t need to worry too much about cramming all these assets into system memory when a game is loading up. Even if a required asset isn’t currently present in memory, it can be near-instantly loaded up without any noticeable stutters in gameplay. Epic has confirmed that Unreal Engine 5 will be making full use of this technology, and we have seen astonishing results in tech demos like Lumen in the Land of Nanite and The Matrix Awakens. Just imagine how this could lead to smoother workflows for open-world games, as compared to the current scenario where developers have to build intricate streaming systems to keep a high level of macro-detail while sustaining a large scope for the open-world.
Aiding developers in this pursuit is Nanite, which is another one of Unreal Engine 5’s cornerstone rendering techniques. Lumen is basically a smart technique that aims to optimize how a scene is constructed. Unlike last-gen games that utilized a multitude systems and behind-the-scenes tricks for LoD swapping and saving up on precious resources like half-rating animations and what have you, developers can essentially flag texture meshes and geometry with Nanite – and then the engine will smartly render scenes within a specificied target cost, as it tries to maintain a high level of detail for textures and assets that contribute the most to any given scene. The best part is that Nanite will alter all these variables on the fly – freeing up developers to focus on other important things than scrambling their heads on the technical side of things. It’s just scratching the surface of what opportunities Nanite can provide for game development.
Another revolutionary and developer-friendly tool that Unreal Engine 5 is bringing to the table is the MetaHuman toolbox, which is basically a simplified but still powerful NPC generator. Much like how you would create a custom character in an RPG, the MetaHuman toolbox is a sophisticated version that allows developers to quickly create NPCs for their games. The MetaHuman toolbox features an impressive variety of hair, skin colors, clothes, and other variables that can quickly create these human characters with a high level of visual fidelity and impressive features like hair physics and what have you. Additionally, Unreal Engine 5 also offers options to rig these characters for animating them. Suffice to say, the advancements brought about by the MetaHuman toolbox would definitely shave off a lot of time for developers wanting to fill their game worlds with a ton of NPCs.
And we should also talk about photogrammetry for a brief minute. Photogrammetry is a technique that we are seeing popping in more and more games as of late, and it’s a technique that can boast great results when used smartly. The process entails capturing multiple pictures of real-life surfaces, extracting the textures from the photos, and wrapping them all around geometric surfaces in the engine. Ninja Theory is making extensive use of this technique for its upcoming Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2, and suffice to say – it looks really impressive. Of course, having a streamlined pipeline for implementing photogrammetry in real-time frees up artists to work on original content rather than trying to replicate hundreds of commonly occurring textures.
This leads us very nicely into our next point – flexibility of use. While Unreal Engine 5’s extensive toolset and organized workflows are perfect for massive projects and team sizes ranging in the dozens, the engine has also proven to be popular amongst indie developers. We are seeing smaller game studios like Game Science and Clout Games coming out with very ambitious games like Black Myth: Wukong and ILL respectively. Similarly, you can also find countless fan demos and projects on the internet that are all built on UE5 – which indicates that the engine could end up being a vital factor in reviving interest in the AA market.
Additionally, there are a ton of technologies like Lumen, hardware-accelerated ray-tracing, and whatnot – and we could talk about them at length – but all of them share a recurring theme of making development smoother and more focused all around. Unreal Engine 5’s suite of visual features is basically enabling developers to focus on what matters the most – the game design. Of course, it’s not that the developers are completely free from having to tend to technical restrictions (that’s always going to be the case) but Unreal Engine 5 is certainly reducing that strain to what we believe to be a minimum. As such, we are already seeing games that leverage this technology boast a gorgeous level of detail on a macro level while having an unparalleled level of scale. More so, some of these ambitious projects are even being helmed by teams consisting of only a handful of people.
Sure, Unreal Engine 5 might not technically change the games industry as we know it – but its advancements will certainly benefit studios and could also bring about a resurgence of the AA market – leading to experiences that are more in number and hopefully, better in quality.
The signs are looking positive.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.
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