Epic Games announced its new Unreal Engine 5 today and we finally have an idea of what graphics will look like on next generation hardware. The first gameplay footage from Microsoft's Xbox Series X was underwhelming, but the first run of games on new hardware typically is. The nine minutes of footage from Epic, which is running a tech demo on PlayStation 5 hardware, offered our first real glimpse of what may be the future of video game visuals.
The clip features a video game protagonist exploring a cave system then skysurfing through a mountain pass as ruins crumble around her. Epic designed it to showcase two new features of Unreal Engine 5—nanite and lumen. Epic Games says that nanite allows game designers to render an incredible amount of polygons on screen, leading to photo-realistic environments. Lumen is a new lighting engine that renders light and fills space similarly to Nvidia’s RTX tech.
In the demo, the two new technologies add up to a beautiful scene with complicated textures, animation, and lighting. Epic Games is selling these new technologies, and Unreal Engine 5 in general, as tools developers can use to save time in the development process. According to Epic Games, Unreal Engine 5 comes with a suite of tools that allow developers to rely less on hand crafting environments and animations. The demo is gorgeous, but it doesn’t show off the developer’s version of the software and it’s hard to know what the software will look like for its target audience—people making video games.
Unreal Engine is one of the most popular game making tools on the market, but the tech has other interesting applications, like scaring the hell out of people with simulations on The Weather Channel, and creating unsettlingly real "synthetic humans." Any technological breakthroughs that are included in a new Unreal Engine essentially puts that power in the hands of countless creators, who can use it to create something beautiful like very realistic computer rocks, or something deplorable like nonconsensual porn.
Epic Games is releasing a preview build of the new engine in early 2021, followed by a full release later that year. It also announced that Fortnite will be playable on both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 when they launch this holiday.