Unreal Engine 5: Next-Gen Just Got Serious

All gamers have known for a long time that 2020 is going to be a huge year when it comes to the future of video gaming. With both Sony and Microsoft releasing brand-new consoles this year, they’re about to lay the foundations of what gaming will look like for the next five years or more. As great as the current era of gaming has been and still is, we reached the maximum limit of what the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are capable of in terms of speed and power a long time ago. We’re ready to take the next step forward, and now it’s almost here. 

After months of hype, we’re finally beginning to find out what the next consoles are going to look and feel like. Sony is keeping its cards close to its chest so far (aside from showing us what their controller looks like, which hasn’t gone down well with everybody), but Microsoft has started giving us some of the technical specifications of the Xbox Series X. For the technically literate, everything sounds very promising. There’s more storage space, more speed, more power, ray tracing, and a whole host of other attractive features and facilities – but it’s one thing to hear about these things, and another thing to see them in action.

Getting the launch of these new consoles right has never been more critical for the major manufacturers. They’re no longer just competing against each other – they also have the game streaming services owned by Google, Apple, and Nvidia to worry about. All of those services have replicated the same model of offering games to players as online slots websites use to provide their content. You don’t need to own a gaming cabinet to play UK slots – you just need to have access to a website, and an internet connection to play with. Whether it’s through a phone or a laptop, the site connects you to online slots held on a server elsewhere and allows you to play. The model makes incredible amounts of money for the gambling industry, and now we’re seeing other gaming companies trying to make their money the same way. If you have Google Stadia, you don’t need to own a console to play a leading video game. That means that the new consoles have to be better than ever before. Based on the preview of Unreal Engine 5 that happened a few days ago, they just might have managed it. 

Unreal Engine is a product of Epic Games. You might have heard of them before – they’re the company responsible for the creation of the world-conquering ‘Fortnite’ game. The Unreal Engine is the building block of many of the most successful games that have been released in the past two decades. If you can become proficient in coding using the Unreal Engine, you can make any genre of game imaginable, and you can rely on the engine for stable, fluent gameplay. Increasingly it’s the engine used to make most big-name games, and it’s so versatile that it’s also been used for other purposes. Realtors and letting companies have used Unreal Engine in the past to allow for virtual tours of properties for sale or rental. Architects have used Unreal Engine to try out building designs before committing to creating them. As great as the creations that Unreal Engine 4 has brought us over the years might be, Unreal Engine 5 – coded for next-gen consoles only – is something else entirely. 

Epic Games used a developer’s kit version of the forthcoming PlayStation 5 to show off the capabilities of Unreal Engine 5- and when they took to the internet to demonstrate the engine’s abilities, their demonstration made the world’s jaw drop. The company has made a demo called ‘Lumen in the Land of Nanite’ to show off the capabilities of their new system, and it’s immediately clear that when the first set of games for the PlayStation 5 arrive, they’re going to have graphics, unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. What’s particularly exciting is that the Xbox Series X is generally believed to have greater hardware capabilities than the PlayStation 5. If this is what can be achieved on the new PlayStation, we can only dream about what the new Xbox might be able to do if it’s pushed to its limit.

The strange name of Epic’s demo game is taken from two of their new showcase features; ‘Nanite’ and ‘Lumen.’ Lumen, as the name suggests, is all about light. It’s a dynamic light simulator that allows for the most realistic lighting in video games, so lifelike that even the shadows it casts are accurate down to the level of individual pixels. Nanite, on the other hand, is all about geometry. The worlds created by Unreal Engine 5 will be made up of tiny triangles no larger than a pixel, each of which can be individually edited and animated to behave differently to the triangles around it. The central character in the game is composed of billions of individual triangles created by Nanite, and the game world she inhabits is made up of hundreds of billions more. The demo is so convincing that Epic has felt the need to point out that they haven’t used any editing or trickery to put together their promotional video – all of the footage comes from the game being played in real-time. 

Although this technology is mind-blowing, it won’t be available immediately. Epic is a little way off being able to make the engine available to other developers, so when the first few games for the new consoles arrive, they’ll mostly have been put together using the most recent (and final) build of Unreal Engine 4. At present, Epic hopes to be able to release the fifth edition of the ground-breaking platform sometime in 2021. To further entice developers into using it – not that they’ll need much encouragement after seeing this – the company will waive the first million dollars in royalties it would otherwise have been due from other developers using their creation. Having all the money ‘Fortnite’ has made in the bank makes it easier for them to do that, but it’s a nice touch all the same. 

Video games have never looked so good, and after seeing this demo, we’re even more eager to see the next era of gaming begin.