Epic Games has made public a two-minute movie and a batch of 20 screenshots that illustrate the key new features that have been added to the Unreal engine, including skeletal and facial animation, more-detailed interiors, level-of-detail support, and an outdoor terrain system.
The engine now supports more-detailed characters than in last year's Unreal Tournament. The attached movie shows a character model made up of an impressive 3,700 polygons. The engine is capable of running the depicted warrior through a series of motion-captured martial arts moves and then a close-up series of facial expressions. The engine deforms and blends polygon meshes to create these more realistic movement effects, which should allow for much more expressive 3D characters.
Another feature that should make for exciting changes to the way Unreal-powered games play is the outdoor terrain system. Instead of defining ground terrain polygon by polygon as in the first Unreal game, the new system uses height maps to allow for smoothly rolling terrain that can be modified dynamically for explosions and other effects. This approach has also been seen in games like Halo and Tribes 2. The attached movie shows how the engine smoothly transitions from the natural exteriors to the polygon model-based interiors.
Epic first showed these advances to GameSpot at GDC last March, and it has since been delivering early builds of the new source code to some developers licensing the engine. As Gathering of Developers announced today, Rune, the third-person Viking action game scheduled for release later this fall, will be one of the first games to use the new technology. The latest engine will also be prominently integrated into the single-player sequel to Unreal, which is being developed by Legend Entertainment.