Epic has just unveiled screens of Unreal Engine 4 to the general public, and they're pretty dang stunning. Judging from the screens above (some of which look like a billion wireframe spiderwebs), this engine could put in-game graphics at the same level as CG cinematics - and that's a prospect we're welcoming with open arms.
Wired's Stu Horvath got the inside look at UE4, chatting with Epic’s Tim Sweeney and the ever-popular Cliff Bleszinski about the technical aspects to their biggest project on the horizon. The changes coming with UE4 could very well shape what next-gen consoles will operate on – this kind of graphical power isn’t easily executed, to say the least.
While it might not be at the level of “real life” just yet (Sweeney states that the available hardware will need to be 2,000 times as powerful as it is now for that to happen), UE4 is a massive leap forward for particle effects and environment rendering. Those lava embers and “evil eye” beams you see in the above stills would cripple current engines, but UE4’s capable of generating millions of these light particles without a performance hit.
The lightning tech magic doesn’t end there – instead of the “pre-rendered” light sources of the past, which devopers had to hand-place in each level, UE4 enables “dynamic lightning.” Essentially, this feature will make light sources “aware” of their surroundings: light will bounce off reflective surfaces, water will correctly refract your vision, and shadows will be generated in real-time instead of requiring individual placement. It also removes “bake time,” which is the duration current engines need to process and parse through light sources before it could render them in-game.
UE4 will bring with it Kismet 2, the enhanced version of Unreal Engine 3’s graphics scripting tool. This tool will make programming even easier for novices and more robust for experts – instead of constructing lines upon lines of complicated code, the interface lets you manipulate visual elements using simplified drop-down menus. Now level designers should be able to hand-craft their own visions, instead of relying on programmers to correctly interpret their ideas.
We’re already chomping at the bit to see the UE4 engine in motion, and trying to visualize games using this technology is like candy to the imagination. We’ll have to wait until E3 to see more of UE4, but Horvath summed up his predictions for the engine’s debut nicely: “Fanboys will wet their pants, contrarian analysts will wring their hands, [and] message boards will explode in either fury or collective orgasm…Epic has redefined gaming before, and with Unreal 4 the company is doing it again.”