Unreal Engine 5 Announced, Impressive Graphics Showcased In PS5 Tech Demo

Epic has announced the latest iteration of the Unreal Engine, and it looks impressive.

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In addition to Fortnite, Epic Games is known for creating the Unreal Engine that is used by studios worldwide to create games, while Disney uses it to help film The Mandalorian. Epic has now announced the next version, Unreal Engine 5, and it has bold ambitions. Unreal Engine 5 looks like a major improvement over Epic's previous engine, with technology that promises to eliminate texture pop-in, assets that can be easily transferred between film and video games, and brilliant fidelity. The footage shown during the demonstration is based on a fully-playable PS5 demo, despite not representing a full game. That has expectations very high for what Unreal Engine 5 is capable of.

Unreal Engine 5 promises to deliver "photorealism on par with movie CG and real life." To showcase the power of the new engine, Epic created a tech demo called "Lumen in the Land of Nanite." The real-time demo, which you can see below, is running on the PlayStation 5.

Two of the "core" technologies in Unreal Engine 5 are showcased in the video, including Nanite and Lumen. The full descriptions for these new technologies is below.

Nanite

"Nanite virtualized micropolygon geometry frees artists to create as much geometric detail as the eye can see. Nanite virtualized geometry means that film-quality source art comprising hundreds of millions or billions of polygons can be imported directly into Unreal Engine--anything from ZBrush sculpts to photogrammetry scans to CAD data--and it just works. Nanite geometry is streamed and scaled in real time so there are no more polygon count budgets, polygon memory budgets, or draw count budgets; there is no need to bake details to normal maps or manually author LODs; and there is no loss in quality."

Lumen

"Lumen is a fully dynamic global Illumination solution that immediately reacts to scene and light changes. The system renders diffuse interreflection with infinite bounces and indirect specular reflections in huge, detailed environments, at scales ranging from kilometers to millimeters. Artists and designers can create more dynamic scenes using Lumen, for example, changing the sun angle for time of day, turning on a flashlight, or blowing a hole in the ceiling, and indirect lighting will adapt accordingly. Lumen erases the need to wait for lightmap bakes to finish and to author light map UVs--a huge time savings when an artist can move a light inside the Unreal Editor and lighting looks the same as when the game is run on console."

Unreal Engine 5 uses the Quixel Megascans library, which includes "film-quality objects" that are rendered with "up to hundreds of millions of polygons." The PS5 tech demo trailer also shows off new physics and destruction elements, as well as what's known as "convolution reverb and ambisonics rendering."

The engine will be available, in a preview state, starting in early 2021 with the full release scheduled for later that year. In addition to the PS5 and Xbox Series X, the engine will support development on PS4 and Xbox One, as well as PC, Mac, iOS, and Android.

While developers wait, they can make use of the recent Unreal Engine 4.25 update, which introduced support for the PS5 and Xbox Series X. Epic said development teams will be able to move from Unreal Engine 4 to Unreal Engine 5 without issues thanks to the next-gen engine's "forward compatibility" design.

Epic's own development teams are going to use Unreal Engine 5 for their games, including Fortnite. The battle royale game will be a launch game for the PS5 and Xbox Series X, with the game set to shift to Unreal Engine 5 in mid-2021. The studio did not say what kinds of graphical upgrades will be available thanks to the new technology, however.

Another key part of Unreal Engine 5 is how Epic is making the engine even more attractive to developers. Starting right now, Epic won't require developers to pay royalties on games made using the Unreal Engine until their game sales pass $1 million in gross revenue. This is a gigantic change because the threshold was previously $3,000 per quarter. The change is retroactive from January 1, 2020, and developers can find more details about this at the official FAQ.

This is just the latest developer-friendly push from Epic. The company's Epic Games Store pays developers a greater share of revenue, giving out 88 percent to game-makers. This move has attracted developers big and small to release their games on the Epic Games Store, the latest example being Activision's Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 and 2 remasters.

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