It's all about those beautiful triangles
In recent years, gamers have been left in awe at the graphical changes made to the vast majority of games on the market - but maybe it's gotten to that stage where stunning visuals just don't seem to be a wow factor when you're deciding on which new game to add to your library.
However, a recent demo from Epic Games, showcasing the Unreal Engine 5, has certainly turned a lot of heads. UE5 will play a big part in the next-gen console life cycle, and from what we've seen in the nine-minute video from Epic this week, you should definitely be excited for what's to come.
The 'Lumen in the Land of Nanite' real-time demo, captured on the PlayStation 5, has given gamers a glimpse of what to expect from the next line-up of titles being made with Unreal Engine tech - with UE5 available in preview from early 2021 and in full release later in the year. The latest game engine will support next-generation consoles as well as current-generation consoles, PC, Mac, iOS and Android.
Speaking to The Verge, Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney said: "The graphics speak for themselves. And Epic has always pushed the bleeding edge of what’s possible".
He added: "Our goal isn’t just to bring more features to developers. The hardest problem in game development right now is building high quality games takes enormous time and cost. So we want to make developers’ lives easier and more productive."
On the official Unreal Engine site, Epic states: "Nanite virtualized micropolygon geometry frees artists to create as much geometric detail as the eye can see. Nanite virtualized geometry means that film-quality source art comprising hundreds of millions or billions of polygons can be imported directly into Unreal Engine - anything from ZBrush sculpts to photogrammetry scans to CAD data - and it just works.
"Nanite geometry is streamed and scaled in real time so there are no more polygon count budgets, polygon memory budgets, or draw count budgets; there is no need to bake details to normal maps or manually author LODs; and there is no loss in quality. Lumen is a fully dynamic global illumination solution that immediately reacts to scene and light changes.
"The system renders diffuse interreflection with infinite bounces and indirect specular reflections in huge, detailed environments, at scales ranging from kilometers to millimeters. Artists and designers can create more dynamic scenes using Lumen, for example, changing the sun angle for time of day, turning on a flashlight, or blowing a hole in the ceiling, and indirect lighting will adapt accordingly.
"Lumen erases the need to wait for lightmap bakes to finish and to author light map UVs - a huge time savings when an artist can move a light inside the Unreal Editor and lighting looks the same as when the game is run on console. Numerous teams and technologies have come together to enable this leap in quality.
"To build large scenes with Nanite geometry technology, the team made heavy use of the Quixel Megascans library, which provides film-quality objects up to hundreds of millions of polygons. To support vastly larger and more detailed scenes than previous generations, PlayStation 5 provides a dramatic increase in storage bandwidth.
"The demo also showcases existing engine systems such as Chaos physics and destruction, Niagara VFX, convolution reverb, and ambisonics rendering."
During the real-time demo, Epic's Technical Director of Graphics Brian Karis, and Special Projects Art Director Jerome Platteaux, discussed the Nanite technology and how much data is being used in what will be very detailed game worlds.
"Much of what you see was built with Quixel Megascan assets," explains Brian in the demo. "But instead of using the game versions, we use the cinematic versions which would typically only be used in film. There are around a million triangles each, and thanks to virtual texturing, they all use 8K textures as well.
"Nanite can render an insane number of triangles very quickly. There are over a billion triangles of source geometry in each frame, that Nanite crunches down losslessly to around 20 million drawn triangles."
A statue of an ancient warrior in the demo, created and imported straight from ZBrush, is a staggering 33 million triangles - so it goes to show you just how much this engine can handle.
But it's not just the imagery that's being given a nice boost as Epic has been working its magic on audio too.
"We've made some great additions to our audio system as well," says Brian. "Convolution Reverb allows us to measure reverberation characteristics of real spaces. Like actual caves that we sampled, and reproduce them in virtual spaces.
"Sound field rendering allows us to record, and play back, spatialized audio. All of this adds up to a more immersive experience."
We don't know about you, but we're hyped to see what games will look like with this kind of tech when the PS5 and Xbox Series X are up and running!