Want to see some pretty next-gen graphics running on a next-gen console from Sony? Well Epic Games have got us covered with a tech demo to reveal their next-gen game engine, Unreal Engine 5, showcasing it running in real time on Sony’s PlayStation 5. Their goal is to reach for photorealism on the next generation, and boy does their demo, Lumen in the Land of Nanite, look pretty!
Unreal Engine 5 builds on many of the principles found in Unreal Engine 4, with things like Niagara VFX improvements for particle effects that communicate with one another, Chaos physics and destruction in the environments and for things like cloth motion, animation system enhancements to make character move and interact more naturally, and audio advancements a part of Unreal Engine 4.25, which will happily bridge the generational divide.
However, Unreal Engine 5 brings two new core technologies: Nanite virtualized micropolygon geometry and Lumen, a fully dynamic global illumination solution.
Nanite can be thought of as a more modern form of bump mapping with normal maps, a process by which you can simulate bumps and wrinkles on the surface of an object, helping to reduce the complexity of the geometry needed to render a cobbled street, for example. Nanite truly takes that to the next level, letting UE5 take a scene comprised of billions of polygons and crunch it down to tens of millions instead. The tech demo above uses Epic’s Quixel library of megascan objects – their cinematic versions, and not the typical game versions – and then uses Nanite to process that in real time, rendering polygons down to the size of a single pixel, without needing to create normal maps or LODs. It’s here that the SSDs found in Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 will really come to the fore, letting developers dynamically load in huge environments. How much of an advantage with the PS5’s SSD hold for this though? We don’t know.
Lumen is then a dynamic global illumination system that can handle multiple bounces of light through a scene. This isn’t using hardware ray tracing, and yet there’s the scope for infinite light bounces that mean a single light source can flood an area if it’s bright enough. This is done in real time, meaning artists no longer need to wait for light maps to be baked.
Update: Eurogamer and Digital Foundry were able to speak to Epic prior to the UE5 reveal. In their discussions it was revealed that while the demo supports up to 4K and 30fps, it was largely running around 1440p, using Unreal Engine’s temporal accumulation system to add in detail from the previous frame. This is also a key factor in how they can calculate the Lumen global illumination in real time.
Speaking to GamesIndustry.biz, Epic CTO Kim Libreri explained their vision for the future of games: “We felt that, for too long, games relied on static environments, not dynamic events, and everything felt a little bit pre-canned. So we started to think about what we think a next-gen game is going to be about. And it’s fully destructible environments, fully editable environments, lighting that changes, time of day that changes, and details that look like a movie. This is the culmination of getting that all together in a tech demo that basically sets the ball rolling for all the amazing things we’re gonna put into UE5.”
Unreal Engine 5 will be in preview in early 2021 and fully released in late 2021, supporting both next-generation consoles and current-gen, as well as PC, Mac, iOS and Android. It’s being created in such a way that developers can start work on UE4 and then migrate across to UE5 when it’s ready in mid-2021.