Epic Games have unveiled Unreal Engine 5, the next iteration of their popular software development kit.
The trailer, released this morning on social media, shows a lengthy real-time demo that spotlights two new systems — Lumen and Nanite.
Lumen is a new system for dynamic global illumination. Its job is calculating how light should look from any source, and how that light falls over in-game terrain. How does it bounce around the room? Which surfaces will reflect light and which won’t? According to Epic, Lumen calculates it all, on the fly, in real-time. Developers and artists don’t need to bake lightmaps directly into the world, which will be a huge time saver if it pans out.
Nanite is a new way for Unreal Engine to render in-world geometry. It does this the way we’ve been rendering things for years — with lots and lots of tiny triangles. Nanite is capable of rendering hundreds of billions of triangles in real-time. This allows artists to drop film-quality assets directly from sculpting software like ZBrush directly into their project without having to tweak it, optimise it, or create LOD’s to hit ensure their game can still hit a solid frame rate.
Together, these two systems create a demo that is eyepopping to say the least. These are visuals that are far and away more detailed than anything seen in the current generation.
What’s that mean for me?
Epic says that this particular demo is running in real-time on the forthcoming PlayStation 5 hardware. This has massively boosted confidence in Sony’s mysterious new machine. Xbox fans should not be disheartened — the Xbox Series X boasts similar spec to the PS5. That means visuals of this caliber will be available across both platforms in UE5.
It’s important to remember that this is a demo created by the team who knows Unreal Engine 5 best. Of course they can create actual sorcery with its features because they know them inside and out. Several software engineers we’ve spoken to this morning remember similar demo materials for Unreal Engine 4 that they felt that wound up being a bit misleading. For example, we still don’t know how it’s going to scale in terms of memory, or SSD throughput speeds.
What we’re saying is take everything Epic says with a grain of salt until developers outside their studio can get their hands on this new SDK. If devs of any stripe, particularly indies, can achieve visuals of this quality in UE5 then it really will be a brave new world of game development. Until then, what we have are the exciting possibilities of a new hardware generation.