Unreal Engine 5 has just been demoed by makers Epic Games, and the new game engine has more than just one aspect to exclaim about. From graphic enhancements to compatibility and even royalties, Unreal Engine 5 looks to set new benchmarks in terms of how game developers can use it to their benefit. In terms of the new technologies, Unreal Engine 5 focuses on two key elements — geometric precision and dynamic lighting, therefore being well suited to the ray tracing and graphical processing power that new generation consoles and graphics cards are set to bring to upcoming games. With all of this, what would it mean for gamers? Here's what we feel.
Nanite and Lumen
To begin with, Nanite focuses on increasing geometric precision in games. In simpler words, with Unreal Engine 5, new games based on the new game engine will aim at replicating film-grade attention to detail in art fixtures, such as navigating ancient structures or ultra-futuristic platforms — regular features in every game worth its salt. Epic touts "no loss in quality" as one of the key benefits of Unreal Engine 5, which is aimed at helping powerful next generation consoles such as the Sony PlayStation 5 or the Microsoft Xbox Series X realise their true potential.
For game developers, as Epic's press briefing on the matter said, "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, on the other hand, is demoed as a fully dynamic in-game lighting processor, which will now process shadows, and have high precision in breaking down portions of umbra and penumbra in a ray of light that strikes a subject. The engine makes this possible by using inter-reflections in multiple directions, which further takes cues from the new, precise geometric textures to make the graphic replication of light rays as close to reality as possible. While direct light is incrementally improved, the real detail lies in indirect lighting, such as how a cavern is lit up as a result of a single ray of light around the game's protagonist.
All of this is demonstrated in Epic's live demo, 'Lumen in the land of Nanite', which runs on the PlayStation 5 to show just how new games can be impacted as a result of the combination of the Unreal Engine 5 game engine and new generation hardware. To see the live demo video, click here.
Launch timeline and royalties
In what sounds like a bold move, Unreal Engine 5 will forego the first $1 million that a developer makes in terms of royalties. The move may support indie developers significantly, especially in a time of crisis such as now. Like before, Unreal Engine 5's resources still remain free to access for interested developers, increasing the possibility for us to see the rise of a new series akin to Ori, or even bigger productions such as Control.
As Epic has stated, Unreal Engine 5 previews will begin in early 2021, and a full release of the game engine will only happen in late 2021, which is around when the first big titles based on the new engine are expected. To suit developers further, Epic has claimed a "forward compatibility" mode of designing the new game engine, which would allow makers to start creating their games on Unreal Engine 4, and then gradually move forward to Unreal Engine 5 by directly exporting their tools and timelines.