GamesBeat: As far as timing goes, 2021, it would be great to have this now, but it does seem a little late for people who are doing not just launch titles, but titles that are maybe in the second wave. Do you anticipate this would be used more for the middle of the wave of next-generation games?
Sweeney: Fortnite’s going to be on this in 2021. I think you’ll see adoption pretty quickly. A developer can move from Unreal Engine 4 to Unreal Engine 5 with just an upgrade, and not rebuilding their game. This timing is typical. Any game that’s going to ship at launch on the new consoles has been in development for at least the last two years, and probably three. This is the lead-up, what’s necessary to get fully next-generation technology up and running. If you look at the signature games of each previous generation, in the Xbox 360 generation it wasn’t until Gears and similar games began shipping in year two that the full capabilities of the platform were demonstrated.
GamesBeat: How quick is it to move from Unreal Engine 4 to Unreal Engine 5? Is it just as easy as upgrading and then you’re done?
Penwarden: We like to think of it as moving up a couple of minor revisions of the engine. Most developers who stay up to date with Unreal might move from 4.4 to 4.5 and 4.5 to 4.6. This will be about the amount of work it takes to move three or four versions of Unreal Engine 4.
GamesBeat: Is there any reason you haven’t mentioned Xbox Series X yet? Is PlayStation 5 the lead horse for this in some way?
Sweeney: We’ve been working super-closely with Sony for quite a long time on the storage architecture and other elements. It’s been our primary focus. But Unreal Engine 5 will be on all next-generation platforms, and so will Fortnite.
Sony has done an awesome job of architecting a great system here. It’s not just a great GPU, and they didn’t just take the latest PC hardware and upgrade to it, following the path of least resistance. The storage architecture in PlayStation 5 is far ahead of anything that you can buy in any PC for any amount of money right now. It’s great to see that sort of innovation. It’s going to help drive future PCs. They’ll see this thing ship and realize, “Wow, with two SSDs, we’ll have to catch up.”
GamesBeat: So feeding data into this processing beast is a problem they attacked? Is that something this demonstrates?
Sweeney: Right. If you look at previous generations, you had to deal with magnetic disks, the lowest common denominator. You couldn’t count on a lot of bandwidth supporting scenes like this. You had a beautiful scene and a long loading time, and then another beautiful scene. That disrupted the game experience. Our aim for the next generation is nothing but seamless, continuous worlds, and to enable all developers to achieve that. You can have this degree of fidelity going on for as many kilometers and gigabytes as you want.
GamesBeat: Would that still apply in something like a purely cloud game, like an MMO, a persistent universe, as opposed to games that reside on your hardware?
Sweeney: There’s instancing in this geometry. If you have the same rock used a million times, you only need to load it once. There’s really no limit to the scale of the worlds you can build. Even if you say that your game can’t be larger than some number of tens of gigabytes, you can still build something enormously expansive. You see a lot of growth around the genre of continuous open world games, whether they’re online games or single-player experiences.
Every time the hardware improves by an order of magnitude, you see new types of games take off. Battle royale only took off in this generation because you finally had enough processing power and cloud infrastructure to support 100-player game sessions with a massive amount of action. I think we’ll see new genres emerge, single-player and multiplayer, as a result of this technology being made available.
GamesBeat: What’s your best marketing pitch on this one?
Dana Cowley: You’ll be able to create worlds at an unprecedented level of detail and interactivity and scale, and more efficiently than ever. It’s just that simple.
Libreri: The next generation of consoles is going to give developers and consumers a quantum leap in their gaming experience. Unreal Engine 5 is another leap on top of that. It feels like two generations of improvement in quality, because of this new technology we’ve been able to bring to life. The future is very bright for gamers, and anybody using our engine for any application. I’m pretty sure our friend Jon Favreau [executive producer for The Mandalorian, which uses Unreal Engine], when he sees this demo, is going to be asking if he can have it on his movie sets.
Sweeney: It’s pretty fundamental. What you can do with unlimited geometry and vast bandwidth for streaming data, it really uncaps games. You can build anything you want at this point. It’s just a matter of budget and scale and development team. There’s no artificial limit.
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