Game engines are the building blocks of video games.
But Epic Games wants to push them even further – they envision its latest Unreal Engine 5 as a game engine for everyone – AAA studios, solo indie game creators, Hollywood producers, even students looking to try their hand at content creation.
UE5 is the latest iteration of Epic’s Unreal game engine and it promises to allow you to realise “next-generation real-time 3D content and experiences with greater freedom, fidelity and flexibility than ever before”.
TechStorm spoke with Dean Reinhard, Technical Account Manager of Southeast Asia Epic Games over Zoom about UE5 and he said: “Most people will look at it and go ‘wow, it looks amazing!’, which means, we get better quality but the fact is, it used to take huge teams, massive budgets and a lot of time to create that sort of quality. So, what we’ve been working on is more of a platform to make sure that smaller teams and indies can create these high quality looking assets.”
UE5 includes technologies designed for photorealism – like Nanite, a virtualised micropolygon geometry system – one that allows you to create games and experiences with massive amounts of geometric detail.
And then there’s Lumen, a dynamic global illumination solution where lighting adapts automatically to changes in direct lighting geometry.
“Previously, I had to place a few lights in the room to get an artistic perspective of the look that I want now with Lumen, it’s much more realistic to real life.” Dean grins at me over our Zoom interview, “Now, I can put a sun there and the light bounces off the corners more believably. It frees up the artist’s time to make good-looking environments, they don’t need to worry about optimising assets and tweaking materials, it’s designed to just work from that aspect.”
“How do we know what is real?” Keanu Reeves asked in The Matrix Awakens, released last December.
Part-tech demo and part-visual extravaganza, it was meant to showcase what UE5 could do, like merge live-action footage with CGI in an interactive open-world environment.
In it, Epic also showed off its MetaHuman Creator, which can create lifelike human characters in minutes.
Dean said the uses of game engines are not just limited to video games anymore.
“A lot of films are made with Unreal Engine. You might have seen the Mandalorian, there was a huge LED stage. Now, there’s hundreds of them around the world and you’re filming in it. And you need these super realistic environments. And it’s those sorts of industries that’s really pushing the drive for these cinematic qualities. And it’s why with UE5, especially with Nanite in there, we can now use these cinematic assets in games. Whereas previously, we couldn’t. It was just too hard for the machine to process all those polygons and make them look good without spending a lot of time downgrading. The amount of content that goes into making something look realistic and believable, is staggering. There’s so much work to do there.”
According to Epic Games, 48% of next-gen game titles (like Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2) will be powered by Unreal Engine 5.
Fortnite – one of the most popular Battle Royale games in the world – is already running on UE5.
And Crystal Dynamics, the primary developer behind the Tomb Raider series, is the latest studio to announce it is developing a game using Unreal Engine 5, joining others like CD Projekt.
But Unreal Engine 5 is not just for AAA studios – anyone can download the engine for free, putting it in reach of indie game developers or anyone who wants to try their hand at creating.
“Really, what we’re working on is making that barrier to entry as low as possible,” Dean said. “And so, we can get more people to come in and use these professional tools, especially students, working with these professional tools from Day 1. We’re also offering free training across the region so we have instructors who can train people, we train teachers so they have the tools, and we also make virtual machines available for people.”
Brands are also looking at using UE5 as a way to reach out to their audiences.
Lego and Epic Games have teamed up to create a “kid-friendly Lego-themed virtual world”. The project has been pitched as a “place for kids to play” in the metaverse.
When asked about this, Dean said: “Brands want to generate a connection with their community, we don’t need to flash out a banner ad on a website a hundred times to get your attention, they need to provide you with something that’s enjoyable and interesting.”
Epic Games also sees a potential in the metaverse, but Dean said certain issues needed to be ironed out still: “The big part that’s really interesting for people to think about is how we then handle this from an economic standpoint. If I want to purchase something from Fortnite, how do I take it into Roblox or Minecraft? How do I join these different, mini metaverses together? And how do we ensure there’s security for everybody, and persistence, and social and everything else that’s coming into it. There’s a lot of different questions to answer and it’s really great for people to start thinking about these things and thinking about how they can start building a world. Because there’s still a lot to be done.”
Be it graphics or story-telling, we’ve come a long way since the first Tomb Raider game was released back in 1996.
And when asked what’s the one game he would like to see reimagined on Unreal Engine 5, Dean was unequivocal: “I’m a big Witcher fan so I was super excited when they announced that one. That one is probably the biggest but the project we’re working on with Lego is something very very different from any that I’ve seen before. And combining the capabilities of (Lego) with the capabilities with Fortnite, and once we see what the teams do with CD Projekt RED with the Witcher, I think it’s really, really, exciting.”
Same, Dean, same.
*Featured image from Epic Games
By Samantha Chan \ 09:30, 21 April 2022