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So Many Graphics: Epic Reveals Unreal Engine 4

A monstrous fiery hell demon, huh? If only someone would design a game around one of these.

Hey, you there. Yes, you! Do you have eyes? Do you enjoy looking at things? Well then, your precious peepers might’ve crossed paths with Epic’s Unreal Engine – for instance, in every game ever. Eyes, though, are perhaps the most treacherous of all face real estate tenants. They sight a new object of affection, cause your heart to palpitate and your mouth to transform into a sloppy stew of saliva, and then – five minutes later – it’s all old hat. Fortunately, then, there are always new graphics, as Epic explained…

Wired got to sit in on a special demo of the new tech, and it apparently drew quite a few “oooos” and “aaaaahs” from the crowd. The demo – which, as is always the case with these things, is not necessarily indicative of an upcoming game – featured a heavily armored demon knight stirring from his volcano fortress as lava surged all around. And the whole thing was completely playable running on an in-room machine powered by a single Nvidia Kepler GTX 680.

Apparently, the resulting torrent of particles would’ve caused any other engine to sputter, choke, and long for the heyday of text adventures, but this one can do millions without breaking a sweat. Environmental destruction, long-distance detail, natural-looking movement for fluids like lava, and general photorealism are also major focuses. So basically, this has more graphics than you can count – even if you use your hands and toes.

This bit, however, might be even more important:

“‘Call of Duty was a game that a team of a few dozen could develop on PlayStation 2,’ Sweeney says. ‘Now Activision has hundreds of people working on Call of Duty for the current-gen consoles. What’s supposed to happen in the next generation? Are they going to have 4,000 people?’ To combat the bloat, Sweeney has stuffed UE4 with tools that promise shortened production pipelines and lower production costs… It will streamline game development, allowing studios to do in 12 months what can take two years or more today.”

Given that sustainability of these things has been a constant worry since Sony and Microsoft’s previous, now ancient consoleboxes launched, that’s a pretty big deal. It’s also incredibly big talk, so all eyes are now on Epic to back it up.

Admittedly, there are other worries as well. The new shots – while nice – aren’t really impressive in a jaw-dropping, “I have to show this to everyone I know” sense. I imagine it’s all much more impressive in motion, but frankly, last year’s “Samaritan” Unreal Engine 3 demo almost looks more immediately impressive to me.

Then again, modern videogame graphics have sort of hit a bar in terms of general beauty, and hoisting oneself noticeably above it has become an exercise in grunting, straining attrition. I suppose that’s another reason why these things don’t wow me as much as they used to: most “photorealistic” games look solid, at the very least. There aren’t really giant gulfs between mid-range and top-of-the-line titles anymore. It’s all simply – as I said earlier – normal.

I wonder, though: is that such a bad thing? Me, I mostly want to play games and avoid feeling like I just lost an up-close-and-personal staring contest with a cactus. I’m definitely not calling for a halt to progress, but it won’t be the end of my world if graphical leaps continue to be incredibly gradual instead of almost unbelievably pronounced, ala the Good Old Days.

For now, though, why not judge for yourself? There are a bunch of Unreal Engine 4 screens through the Wired link.

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Nathan Grayson

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