May 22, 2022

Unreal Engine 5 Unveiled with Stunning PS5 Demo

Yesterday afternoon, Epic Games gave us the first look at Unreal Engine 5. The next-generation game engine designed to make what we play even more detailed, and bring cinematic quality to gameplay. For the unveiling, Epic released a real-time demo that ran live on PlayStation 5, titled “Lumen in the Land of Nanite.”

The significance of the name comes from the fact that the (fully-playable) demo uses Unreal Engine 5’s two new tools. The first being Lumens, a global illumination feature that dynamically lights the in-game environment. The second is Nanite, a virtualised geometry tool. In layman’s terms Nanite allows creators to import film-quality art and assets into Unreal Engine.

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On the face of it, the demo is stunning, giving an optimistic impression of the potential of next-gen. In the demo we see a woman exploring a crumbling cavern, and discovering what appears to be an ancient temple. The visual fidelity on display is incredibly impressive, in fact when the character first inspects a statue, the detail is practically lifelike. Soon after it’s revealed that there are hundreds of identical statues, each with the same level of detail.

Throughout the demo there’s an almost photorealistic level of detail, as well as examples of the world dynamically reacting to light. This would be admirable as it is, but this demo goes one step further. Everything that happens, does so in real-time, which means the PS5 is processing the demo as it plays out.

A View From the Top

I think a lot of people [will ask], ‘Oh is [the demo] real?’ But you know that demo was grabbed from the back of a PlayStation 5 development kit. An HDMI cable went into a disc recorder and played out real-time — no editing, no tricks, that’s what comes off the box.

Epic Games CTO Kim Libreri in an interview with IGN

One goal, according to Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney, is to offer new levels of photorealism and visuality – while simultaneously increasing productivity and efficiency for game developers. How Kim Libreri sees that goal however, is to make games as immersive and realistic as modern movies. How does that differs from any existing game developer’s goals? By measuring how interactive that realism is.

In Sweeney’s own words Unreal Engine 5 is meant “to do things that are absolutely not possible today.” This refers to the fact that, while a lot of current-gen (and even some older-gen) games are detailed, they’re also static. The demo showed us that Unreal Engine 5 is capable of rendering environment changes in real-time.

So when a rock crumbles, or the player’s torch flickers, it isn’t a pre-rendered cutscene. Instead it’s a high-resolution rock asset moving as a direct result of the player’s actions and real-time processing power. Put simply, the photorealism achieved in static assets currently, will be achieved with interactive ones in next-gen. Or so Libreri and Sweeney would have us believe. It remains to be seen how representative the demo is of next-gen, but either way it’s definitely whet our appetite.

Unreal Engine 5 will be available in a preview format in early 2021, with a full release coming later in the year. It will support current and next-gen consoles, PC, Mac, iOS, and Android.

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