GDC 2001: Epic shows Unreal II technology

Epic Games showed the latest refinements to one of the most widely recognized 3D graphics engines.

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Today at the Game Developers Conference in San Jose, Calif., Epic Games showed the latest version of its Unreal Engine, which is currently being used to develop at least two new games in the Unreal franchise. Although Epic didn't show actual gameplay from either of these games, it did show some of the new levels and architecture technology that's being used for both. In each case, the results were visually stunning.

One of the key features of the latest version of the Unreal Engine is its ability to push extremely high numbers of polygons onscreen simultaneously. It gives level designers the ability to export 3D models directly from 3DStudio Max, the ubiquitous 3D rendering software program, into a level, without compromising the detail of the 3D model. This allows for previously impossible levels of detail to be rendered in real time. To demonstrate the effect, a 3D tractor was shown, featuring highly authentic detail. The camera was manually panned around the vehicle, and zoomed in close to show all of its working parts. All this was shown in a real-time demo, running off of a GeForce2 Ultra graphics card.

Other examples of the Unreal Engine that were shown related more specifically to the games that Epic is currently developing. One pre-scripted demo featured a futuristic dropship sailing down through the atmosphere, and then flying down a long canyon populated by dinosaur-like creatures. The ship's metallic surfaces and the realistic-looking canyon made this sequence impressive-especially considering the number of peripheral objects such as shrubs in the environment. Though this sequence was completely scripted, allegedly a version of the canyon level will appear in Epic's next Unreal game after Unreal II.

The third sequence that was shown was a swamp-like area with dense foliage. The highly detailed trees and the reflective water gave this level a lot of visual complexity. Another sequence, a high-security futuristic installation, was shown within the actual UnrealEd level editor, which easily lets you build and manipulate 3D levels using an intuitive interface.

The latest version of Epic's level editor is already available to developers who've licensed the Unreal Engine, and will also come packaged with Unreal II. While Unreal II won't be available until later this year, we'll soon have some video footage from the Unreal Engine demos shown at GDC. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, for more information on Unreal II, check out our recent preview of the game.

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