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Unreal Engine 5 revealed with a Tomb Raider-y tech demo

Epic Games today announced the next major version of their game engine, Unreal Engine 5. Headline features include loads more detail and better dynamic lighting, and improved content streaming that could mean (paired with the right hardware) an end to games being interrupted by levels loading. UE5 won’t launch until next year so we won’t see games built on it for a fair while but they do have a fancy tech demo to show for now. I did initially think it was revealing a new Tomb Raider where Lara becomes a superhero, but nah! Come watch.

Epic revealed Unreal Engine 5 on a livestream with Geoff Keighley. Along with talking tech, they showed a demo running in real time on a PlayStation 5, named Lumen In The Land Of Nanite:

I really did mistake it for a less-gritty direction for Tomb Raider at first. It really is just a tech demo, Epic say. Though they did note Fortnite will shift to Unreal Engine 5 in 2021, mind.

Epic say preview versions of Unreal Engine 5 will be available in early 2021 then it’ll launch in full in late 2021, so I’d expect it might not be 2022 or later until we start seeing many games. They detailed some of the tech in a blog post, which sounds useful for developers and pretty for us.

They have Nanite, a geometry system where 3D bits are “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.” That’s why they’re so proud of the squillions of triangles are in all those statues.

Then there’s Lumen, “a fully dynamic global illumination solution that immediately reacts to scene and light changes.” They explain, “The system renders diffuse interreflection with infinite bounces and indirect specular reflections in huge, detailed environments, at scales ranging from kilometres to millimetres.”

One detail that came out of the livestream is a bit more conditional. Referring to PlayStation 5 tech, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney said that we might see an end to mid-game loading screens.

“The ability of the hardware and the engine to stream in massive ammounts of content as you’re going through a huge environment, I think that’s going to have a much bigger impact on gaming than people are expecting right now. Until this next generation of hardware, previous generation console games had to be built to load data off of a spinning mechanical device, that has its roots in the 1950s,” Sweeney said. He did say that the PS5’s better than even top-end gaming PCs there, but seeing as PC hardware is forever advancing I imagine we’ll catch up soon enough.

“This is going to enable the types of immersion that we only could have dreamed of is in the past,” he continued. “The world of loading screens is over. The days of pop-in and geometry popping up as you’re going through these game environments are ended. The resulting effect is the ability to build games that are fully immersive from start to finish over hundreds of hours of gameplay, if that’s your game.”

Oh la la! You can hear more techchat in Keighley’s stream today:

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Alice O'Connor

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When not writing news, Alice may be found in the sea.

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