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Unreal Engine 5 Released in Early Access Form

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Just over a year ago, Epic Games revealed Unreal Engine 5 and some of the advanced technologies it will feature, such as Nanite and Lumen. Today the company not only showed off additional features and changes coming with the next generation of its engine, but even released an Early Access build to enable developers to start experimenting with it. The video embedded below shows off several of these changes, for those interested in what is coming, but perhaps not in working with UE5 directly.

As a refresher, Nanite is a virtualized micropolygon geometry system which enables the engine to work with assets built from millions of polygons. Traditionally such assets would need to be recreated with fewer polygons, possibly building details into normal maps, and with LODs so distant assets do not consume too much performance. With Nanite, however, the engine will handle the millions of triangles per asset without any special conversion, and without the need for LODs. The assets can simply be placed in the world and the engine will handle the rest.

Lumen is a fully dynamic global illumination system that produces believable indirect lighting that will react to changes in direct lighting or geometry. It achieves this without relying on pre-baked lightmaps or having to place reflection captures. Besides improved lighting within games, this will also make some of the work easier for developers and artists, as lights can be placed inside the Unreal Editor and what is shown there will be the same as what is seen by the end-user.

For new features shared today, there is the World Partition system that should prove quite useful to those working on open world games. With this UE5 will automatically divide a map into a grid of cells, and through the editor selected cells can be loaded and unloaded. This way developers do not need to load the entire map to work in one location, reducing the time needed to edit. This is also applied at runtime as well, as only the cells within a certain radius of the player will be streamed in, and that radius can be customized. The One File Per Actor system makes it so changes are applied on actors rather than maps, making collaboration easier as multiple people can work on the same map without needing to worry about if their edits will survive a merge.

Another new feature is Data Layers that has the potential to open up how game worlds change, such as through gameplay or with day-night cycles. As the name suggests, it acts like layers in image and graphic editors, allowing one to turn on and off collections of assets for a single game world. In the demo video, a Dark World version of the setting was created as a separate layer that the player then 'entered' through a specific interaction, triggering all of the additional assets to be streamed in.

Epic Games has also improved animation tools in UE5, which could prove very powerful for artists that have had to use workflows that take them out of the game engine to make changes. Control Rig allows one to quickly make rigs for characters that can be shared with others, and the new Pose Browser treats animations like assets, for saving and applying them. The Full-Body IK solver and Motion Warping features are quite interesting as well, as they enable the engine to dynamically adjust motions without having to rely on multiple animations. One example shown in the video is with the IK solver adapting the rig of the playable character to the ground she is standing on, to make her pose appear more natural. Another has an enemy shift its arm during an attack, reacting to the position and movement of the player. Motion Warping was then used to apply a single vault animation designed for getting over one piece of debris, to work with other objects of different sizes.

Not counting the various UI changes to the editor, the last feature documented in the Epic Games source below is MetaSounds. This system enables developers to have greater control over audio, and to make it more dynamic and data-driven. Audio can be procedurally generated with this to better react to the situation, with the given analogy being a fully programmable material and rendering pipeline.

Another feature mentioned in the demo video and in the AMD source link is Temporal Super Resolution. This will be a standard feature for UE5 and enabled for all GPUs across PC, Xbox Series X/S, and PlayStation 5. In the video it is stated this allows for near 4K levels of detail at the cost of 1080p, and it is described as an anti-aliasing method as well.

The current goal is to have Unreal Engine 5 ready for its full release in early 2022, with additional improvements to performance and quality, as well as new features for creators across multiple industries.



Source: Epic Games and AMD

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