Epic Games is formally announcing its Unreal Engine 4 technology today after the close of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the game industry’s big trade show.
Word about the new engine, which is the foundation for the next decade of graphics technology in video games, leaked out earlier in a story by Wired. The new engine is supposed to be a crowing achievement in video game graphics, and it certainly produces amazing images, such as those in this story.
The technology could be the foundation for games which run on future high-end personal computers or next-generation consoles, such as those that Microsoft and Sony are expected to launch in the coming years. The previous generation Unreal Engine 3 came out six years ago for the PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It resulted in a wave of beautiful games across the industry such as Epic’s own Gears of War series.
Epic creates its own games but it also licenses the engine to all comers. It can thus extend its influence throughout the entire video game industry when it comes to high-quality 3D graphics and physics.
The engine includes Kismet 2, a visual scripting editor. It allows artists and developers to edit their code and see the changes appear in a visual way in real-time on a flow chart and in the game itself. That could make artists far more productive than they are today, and it means they won’t have to understand programming code itself in order to see what coding changes will mean for their art work.
The technology can on a single Nvidia GeForce GTX 680 graphics card. That’s the fastest graphics card in the world at this moment, but it is still a consumer technology that you can purchase and add to your gaming PC for about $500.
The image above from Epic’s 153-second Elemental demo shows that the engine can display tons of particles — a million of them — as the demon knight breathes fire out of his nose. You can see a shower of sparks and the effects of light bouncing around a scene — such as light that emerges from behind a cloud of smoke. Below, the image shows high-dynamic range, or the ability to render details in both the bright and the dark sections of a scene.
The key to these 3D animations is that they are dynamic, meaning they can be changed on the fly, and they are real-time, meaning they can produce all sorts of movement and activity across the screen every instant.
In the demo, Epic shows sunlight coming into an old abandoned castle, occupied by a devilish knight with highly realistic textures. The scene has high-dynamic range, where details of the scene are visible in both the dark and lighted areas at the same time. Shadows are realistic, and light bounces off objects and is realistically reflected.
You can see effects such as snow flakes blowing through a gate, or fire obscured by smoke, creating a see-through effect. You can also see the flow of lava as it runs downward. When the demon breathes, you can see fiery particles coming out of its nose.
You can see metallic balls reflect images around them. You can see lens flares as the sun bounces off of bright sources of light. The demo is so good that it will not run on current console hardware such as a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360. It uses the DirectX 11 rendering technology from Microsoft. Check out the video below.