Unreal Engine 5: Can games rival movie CG, real life?

Screenshot from Unreal Engine 5 demo

Unreal. Did you watch Epic Games‘ breathtaking reveal of Unreal Engine 5 today? Then that was probably what you kept muttering to yourself.

Epic’s goal in this generation is, well, epic. The creator of Fortnite, Unreal, and Gears of War wants nothing less than photorealism in video games that will be on par with movie computer graphics and real life. “Lumen in the Land of Nanite,” a real-time Unreal Engine 5 demo running live on PlayStation 5, shows this goal is within reach. Thanks to two new core technologies: Nanite and Lumen.

Meet Nanite and Lumen

“I don’t have to be constrained to do a game where the world has to be static. And I’m able to iterate it a lot faster,” said Epic Games Special Projects Art Director Jerome Platteaux while discussing the demo. Platteaux, incidentally, was a digital artist for “The Avengers” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”.

Screenshot from Unreal Engine 5 demo

Nanite virtualized micropolygon geometry frees artists to create as much geometric detail as the eye can see.

“The artists wouldn’t have to be concerned over poly counts, draw calls, or memory. We could directly use film quality assets and bring them straight into the engine,” said Epic Games Technical Director of Graphics Brian Karis, who introduced the demo with Platteaux.

Meanwhile, Lumen is a fully dynamic global illumination solution that immediately reacts to scene and light changes.

With these technologies, Epic Games aims to free creators. So they can reach the highest level of real-time rendering detail in the next generation of games and beyond.

Next generation of games

To build large scenes with Nanite geometry technology, Epic’s team made heavy use of the Quixel Megascans library, which provides film-quality objects up to hundreds of millions of polygons. To support vastly larger and more detailed scenes than previous generations, PlayStation 5 provides a dramatic increase in storage bandwidth.

The “Lumen in the Land of Nanite” also showcases existing engine systems such as Chaos physics and destruction, Niagara VFX, convolution reverb, and ambisonics rendering.

Unreal Engine 5 will be available in preview in early 2021. It will be in full release late in 2021, supporting next-generation consoles, current-generation consoles, PC, Mac, iOS, and Android.

Starting today, game developers can download and use Unreal Engine for free as always. Moreover, royalties are waived on the first US$1 million in gross revenue per title. The new Unreal Engine license terms are retroactive to January 1, 2020.

Face it: the next generation of games will be epic!