Why should you worry about Unreal Engine 5? – TechCrunch

Epic recently released the first public version of its Unreal Engine 5, an extensive multi-tool development environment for games and other 3D content … immediately followed by a $ 2 billion investment from Sony and the Lego family. Why does a new version of a game development tool make such a big splash, and why should you worry about it?

First about the software itself. Engines is a general name for the tools developers use to create and manipulate the visuals, sounds, physics and other aspects of a 3D production, whether it’s a game, a movie or something less well defined as an augmented reality experience. .

Not so long ago, you might be able to create your 3D models in one program, animate them in another, create the sounds in yet another, and then do the same for game logic, lighting, physics, and a dozen other aspects of what you build. . Over time, game engines have grown to include more and more of this process in one place, though special tools are often better for a given aspect.

Unreal Engine 5 (often abbreviated to UE5) is the most capable and integrated engine to date that combines advanced graphics and visual design with sound, light, animation and other options.

In particular, the UE5 allows for much-improved graphical accuracy by eliminating the need for developers to separately define how an object illuminates, by replacing a universal lighting engine and the visible level of detail by dynamically scaling down the highest fidelity model. These alone make up a large part of the work of making a game look good; dynamic lighting requires a lot of work to perform, and designers often have to make multiple versions of each object and character with varying degrees of detail.

Screenshot from the Unreal 5 City demo environment.

There are also built-in animation systems and sound designs that are inserted directly into the other parts of the engine so you do not have to bother importing your work from another tool. Special processes are also offered to create compelling human faces and bodies.

So why should you worry about all this?

1. This is what will make “next-gen” games the next generation

One can understandably think from huge, great-looking games like “Horizon: Forbidden West” and “Fire Ring” that “next-generation gaming” is already here. But the capabilities of the UE5 (among other engines under development) have yet to be put to use in a real way. In fact, the games that will use the full features of Unreal 5 have only just been announced as being under development.

What exactly makes a game for the next generation is not easy to say. But it’s not just good graphics. Think of a game where the light is completely dynamic, nothing more than what the player creates – would give a good horror title, right? Or what about a game where the environment can be destroyed or constructed at will, and not just like a bunch of giant dice, but like planks of wood, piles of dirt, sheet metal? A detective story where every single room in a city can enter, every unique person can be questioned?

There are dozens of approaches that are simply not possible with today’s tools, or are too computationally or creatively expensive. Epic has been dead set on these difficulties with UE5.

Screenshots of the unreal development environment.

Image credit: Epic games

It can be hard to imagine that something looks more amazing than the prospects from the aforementioned games, but it goes more into a new generation of games than best-case scenario screenshots. Fluent movement, realistic materials and interactions, and perhaps most importantly freeing up developers to focus on gameplay concepts instead of nuts and bolts to make a large, complex game look acceptable. UE5 is a big step towards doing everything possible, and there will be a marked difference in the near future between games that just look good and games that feel like a completely different generation.

2. But it’s not just games

I want to avoid the M-word (you know what I mean), but the simple truth is that Epic is at the forefront of exploring digital entertainment that is not just games. Concerts (real and virtual), VR / AR features, apps and other things need to be built using a similar toolkit as games.

Just as enhanced developer tools created a proliferation of apps after smartphones became commonplace, these new types of digital experiences need an accessible toolkit to upgrade from the occasional high-cost promo thing (like an AR movie attachment) to something anyone can do. Unreal aims to be a platform that anyone digital entertainment can be built on, and you’ll probably see “powered by Unreal Engine 5” appear on a lot of large and small productions over the next few years.

A simple example is something like Metahuman, Unreal’s tool for creating very realistic characters in the game. Of course, these models could be NPCs in an RPG city, but they could also be virtual doctors in a health app, virtual assistants unique to each user, posable models for artists, realistic pedestrians in simulators, such as robots and self-driving cars learns from. Building virtual people is difficult, and Unreal makes it easy. That kind of shift opens up lots of possibilities.

Nice catalog image, right? Image credit: Epic games

As many industries struggle – and find new freedom – in the process of digitizing their traditional personal processes, UE5 offers a comprehensive set of tools that can help. Do you think Ikea will become virtual for its famous catalogs – if you could do that and save your business millions, would you not? Suddenly, it’s a much more realistic idea than it once was.

It will continue to change virtual production in film and television

“The Mandalorian” proved that virtual production, essentially recording a show inside a giant circular wall of screens, is a real opportunity for prestige media. Since then, many other productions have turned to VP, where Netflix in particular has embraced it to the point where they have funded a huge, rotating set for the next show from the creators of “Dark.”

Much of this is powered by Epic tools, among them the Unreal Engine. The need for a high-fidelity 3D background that can respond in real time to camera movements and other changes (such as parallax or focal length shifts) basically means running a super-sophisticated game on specialized hardware that reproduces a screen on size of an entire cinema.

Although Unity and other more Hollywood-centric companies are also looking to make inroads here, Epic has its foot solidly inside the door and has worked closely with many production houses to advise them and gather feedback. Unreal 5’s enhancements and additions will be extremely beneficial for virtual productions, which in a way are cinematic game environments.

You can bet that virtual production will get a big boost from Unreal 5, which not only improves the quality but also the availability of this rapidly evolving technique.

4. It’s another move in the global chess game against Apple, Valve and others

It can be jarring to think that Epic, which makes Unreal, is the same Epic that makes Fortnite, which is the same Epic that takes on Steam with a hugely subsidized game store, and it’s the same Epic that makes theatrical battles against tyranny in Apple’s App Store Fees. They have a lot of iron in the fire!

One of Unreal Engine’s secret weapons is its freemium model. Any developer can download and use it, and if you end up releasing a commercial product as a game, you only start paying Epic after the first million in revenue or a limited amount in other circumstances. It is very enticing for indie developers who want to minimize upfront costs and simplify their creation process.

This in turn provides a pipeline of new users of Unreal who, if successful, generate passive income that can be reused to subsidize the company’s other efforts. Sure, Fortnite is the big cash cow for now – but with the new “Witcher, Tomb Raider” and “Gears of War” (among a dozen other high-profile titles) games that use the technology, it can bring huge sums of cash to the company.

Epic has used this cross-industry grant method to promote a new business model for game and app distribution, one without burdensome “Apple Tax” or Steam fees, but somewhat less, perhaps even something that has been sacrificed for small developers. It has challenged Steam’s benevolent hegemony in the PC gaming world and established strong ties with people like Nvidia, and now Sony and Lego.

What do they have to do with it? The better the graphics, the more Nvidia graphics cards will be sold; Lego has focused on games and virtual worlds, but clearly believes that there is a revolution that is not yet taking place; Sony has struggled to provide the right tools for developers, and the war with Microsoft is really heating up – if it can buy a strong partnership with Epic, PS5 games can look and play better than Xbox games for various reasons. Epic selects its allies and enemies very consciously.

Everyone is betting on Epic’s horse because it’s well out front. And Epic is betting that the models that revolutionized the world ten years ago will accept a haircut just to be competitive.

In short, you should worry about Unreal 5 because it represents technology that is traditionally limited to games that take a big, conscious step towards the rest of the world and towards you. Even if you do not end up using it yourself, get ready to make your app, CAD process, retail, video chat and everything else a little more epic.

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