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Epic Games revealed the new Unreal Engine 5 with a stunning PlayStation 5 demo, and it’s a massive relief to game developers. These are our honest thoughts in the most layman’s language.

In a demo dubbed “Lumen in the land of Nanite,” Epic revealed the power of Unreal Engine 5 (UE5) running live on a PlayStation 5 hardware. The 8-plus minutes long video shows a character exploring some caves and ruins, revealing an incredible level of detail with dynamic lighting and shadows.

The goal of Epic Games, according to their blog, “is to achieve photorealism on par with movie CG and real life, and put it within practical reach of development teams of all sizes through highly productive tools and content libraries.” And they did it. For a moment, you would think it is a scene from a top-grossing cinema. Think of tomb raider.

However, it might be hard to appreciate the concepts and leaps UE5 brings to the gaming community if you’re not a game developer or graphics professional. In this article, we will try to explain everything you need to know about the Unreal Engine 5.

Unreal Engine powers most video games in the world, such as Fortnite and PUGB. It runs on most platforms, including consoles, PC, Android, and IOS. UE5 is an upgrade to Unreal Engine 4, which powers most of the current video games. The primary beneficiaries of UE5 are the next-generation consoles, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X.

What makes Unreal Engine 5 so good?

Nanite

Nanite is the main technology behind UE5. It’s a fully virtualized geometry that allows artists to import film-quality source art comprised of hundreds of millions of polygons directly to the Unreal Engine without optimizing them to hit higher frame rates. Nanite can then stream and scale the geometry in real-time, so you won’t be concerned over poly counts, memory, or draw call budgets.

This means to the game developer that you no longer have to optimize geometry game engines or fake tessellations on objects anymore. Instead, an artist can focus on creating better visuals with realistic and large worlds.

The ability to import film-quality source art, such as ZBrush sculpts, without optimization, makes developers’ lives easier, saving significantly on time and costs.

Nanite renders a large number of triangles (polygons) very quickly, so many triangles that some can be the size of a pixel. In a part of the video, there is a room with a statue that Epic says it was imported directly from ZBrush, comprising of over 33 million triangles. And there are about 500 such statues in the room, which leads to over 16 billion triangles.

The high triangle count gives the scenes in a game the cinematic, photo-realistic, and lifelike appearance without the need for baking of normal maps.

Lumen

Another concept of UE5 is Lumen, a truly dynamic global illumination with multi-bounce lighting. Developers need not bake lighting in the game worlds anymore, as Lumen dynamically does everything for you. For instance, on the introduction of a flashlight or blowing a hole on the ceiling, the engine automatically reacts to the scene and light changes.

The demo best shows Lumen in action when the character walks with a light, and each illuminated scene shows bugs scattering all over, powered by Niagra simulation. The moving bounce lighting triggers real-time reactions from the UE5 scenes, so you don’t have to bake all of the stuff or do any ray tracing.

PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are the biggest beneficiaries of UE5 because of their improvements in storage bandwidth with the migration to ultra-fast solid-state drives. The larger, detailed world maps with real-time automation require high-speed storage to achieve faster load times. Developers can then leverage more resources on creating more realistic visuals for an immersive gaming experience.

Zero Royalties for the First $1 Million In-Game Revenue

Epic Games is making the Unreal Engine more accessible to developers of all kinds of needs. You can now download and use the engine royalty-free until your in-game revenue hit $1 million in gross revenue. If your game doesn’t hit the $1 million thresholds, then Unreal Engine will be totally free.

Epic Games used to claim 5 percent of all royalties for games running on the Unreal Engine after the first $3,000 sales. With the new policy introduced, developers can keep all the revenue if their games fail to penetrate the market. From January 1st, 2020, Epic will claim 5 percent after your unreal-powered game hits a million in royalties.

Epic Online Services are also free to use in simple multiplatform SDK. The services allow developers to introduce achievements, leaderboards, lobbies, accounts, amongst other features to their players. Epic Games built the game management tool to operate Fortnite, and it now opens it to all developers in a simple SDK. The SDK works all platforms, including consoles, PC, IOS, and Android.

Why You Don’t Need to Be Excited Yet

While the Lumen in the land of Nanite demo turns out to be a quantum leap in the gaming arena, there is more to it than meets the eye. First, it’s a tech demo, which means Epic Games have leveraged every resource, high-end hardware, and features to showcase the limits of the UE5 engine.

That doesn’t mean every game developer will go to that extra mile. There’s a high chance you’ll see games running on the UE5 engine, but the visual quality and animation are nowhere near the PS5 demo. Plus, UE5 will downscale to maintain compatibility with older generation platforms and also support other non-console platforms such as IOS and Android.

Unreal Engine 5 will be released in late 2021. Games such as Fortnite will run on Unreal Engine 4 on the next-generation console and later move to UE5 in 2021. And with artists and game developers having to familiarize themselves with the new engine, there is still a lot of time until UE5 gets to the consumer level.
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