A Recap of Unreal Engine 5’s Capabilities on Next-Gen Consoles

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Epic Games left gaming fans in awe 2 months ago when they dropped the tech demo showcasing Unreal Engine 5. Called Lumen in the Land of Nanite, it featured the new upcoming Unreal Engine 5 and ran on the new PS5 hardware. Fans were speculating the applications of this new upcoming technology when Epic Games decided to drop another video during Unreal Fest Online 2020.

The gameplay demo looks absolutely stunning and is a treat for the eye with the enhanced graphic quality. However, the main reason behind this beautiful gameplay is not just the PS5 hardware running it, but the core new technologies – Nanite and Lumen, that are also scalable to other devices. The Unreal Engine 5 demo revealed how future games on PS5 (and Xbox Series X) would look like.

The New Nanite Technology

Nanite is a new “virtualized micro polygon geometry” system developed and used in the Unreal Engine 5. Using this new technology the developers can provide cinematic models from Quixel in real-time directly into the engine. Looking at the gameplay we can easily understand the difference between the current-gen and the upcoming next-gen gaming, especially in the geometric detail.

Unreal Engine 5 Demo Screenshot
Unreal Engine 5 Demo gameplay screenshot
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During the Unreal Fest 2020, Marcus Wasser, Engineering Director Epic Games described it as saying:

“Nanite is a next-generation geometry engine that empowers artists to deliver their vision in a way not possible before in a game engine. Nanite allows direct import of cinematic-quality assets that have micro-polygon-level detail […] you can now target assets that have one triangle per pixel. In addition, Nanite supports very large object counts with automatic streaming to keep everything in budget.”

Unreal Engine 5 Hardware Requirements

Lumen in the Land of Nanite was running at 1440p at 30fps. However, Epic Games claim that it can easily run at 60 fps with the new PS5 hardware. This new technology does not put much strain on the GPU hardware. During the demo, the running cost on the GPU was merely 4.5ms and it used only 768MB of RAM. Despite such fewer hardware requirements, Nanite was rendering a huge number of polygons.

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Each scene in a game is made up of millions of tiny texture polygons. There can be millions of texture polygons in an average texture scene of a game. However, Nanite technology can render these images easily without posing much stress on the hardware which allows it to render more number polygons simultaneously. Epic Games have claimed that they can render at least a million triangles on the screen simultaneously with high-quality texture. Another advantage of this next-gen tech is that it can be easily used with other previous-gen Unreal Engine technologies. Developers using UE4 right now can start preparing for UE5 and then port their games directly. One big example is how Fortnite will be switching to UE5 sometime at the end of 2021.

UE5’s Lumen – Next-Gen Global Illumination

Lumen Technology used in Unreal Engine 5
Rendering Using Lumen Technology in Unreal Engine 5 Demo

Nanite is not the only thing Epic Games is bringing with the Unreal Engine 5. They have introduced a new lighting solution- Lumen. This new solution immediately reacts to the on-going scene and environment of the game and changes the light settings accordingly in real-time. This collaborates in giving the gameplay a sort of look which we only see in the cinematic trailers of games. More specifically, Lumen is meant to be a refined global illumination solution.

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Lumen is going to help improve the gameplay in a lot of game which has quick scene changes and where light intensity can vary with every scene. One fine example would be the Tomb Raider series. Most of the game series’ settings take place in deep forests, caves, and tomb-like environments where the light intensity changes every quickly. With this new technology, gamers would be able to experience such games which much gameplay and graphics quality.

Current-Gen Problems With Lumen and Nanite

Though the UE5 demo looks stunning, these new technologies are far from ready. Epic Games admitted that there are certain hiccups to Nanite technology. They told their audience that Nanite still can’t render translucent objects like tree leaves, grass, human hair, etc. Another problem regarding Nanite is that game sizes can skyrocket due to the use of high and original texture and mesh packages used for cinematic experiences. Ryan Shah, an existing Unreal Engine developer admitted to the problem when asked by WccfTech news.

The huge game size can be a matter of concern for Epic Games since not everyone can afford to download such huge games especially the ones with a problem of data-cap. In recent times, the game sizes for upcoming games have continued to increase extensively on the promise of delivering better gameplay and graphic quality. However, with sizes over 200GB+ in recent titles (CoD Modern Warfare) would a huge blow to the fans who would never be able to play or download such huge games. This is a serious concern for Epic Games, however, they have said that they will get ahead of this problem eventually.

Latest Updates and Conclusion

Unreal Engine 5 Demo Gameplay

Despite its drawbacks, Epic Games Unreal Engine 5 managed to make its way to the cover of the last month’s Edge Magzine. In an interview regarding the magazine, Kim Liberori, Cheif Technical Officer, Epic Games, said, “I honestly think that what we’ve done is made it so that when Unreal Engine 5 is usable, especially for detail – if that’s important to your game, detail and photorealism, I think it sort of makes it look like another console generation click ahead.”

Fortnite is famous for its battle royal setting and dominated the gaming market back in 2017-2018. Now, that Fornite is also coming to PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X during the Holidays (October-November) 2020, it would have a significant improvement in visuals by using the new Unreal Engine 5. We also have a bunch of other great looking current-gen franchises like Final Fantasy 7 Remake, whose future installments would benefit from the jump to UE5.

Epic Games still has plenty of time to straighten out the errors related to the new technology. Moreover, despite a few adjustments, there is no denying that with the new Unreal Engine 5, the future of game development looks bright.

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