Unreal Engine 4 is Going to Blow Your Mind

Unreal Engine 4 is Going to Blow Your Mind

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any better…

We’ve all speculated that there is no possible way for the next generation of console games too make a graphical leap as large as the one from the last generation to the current generation, but we forgot to take one thing into account. Epic Games. The company behind the most popular gaming engine ever created, the Unreal Engine, has been hard at work figuring out just exactly how they can tear your brain out of your skull and smash it all over the sidewalk and I think they’re pretty close to narrowing in on a solution.

The successor to the Unreal Engine 3, which has powered a vast majority of this generation’s best looking games including Batman: Arkham City and the entire Mass Effect Trilogy, is in the works and will be more than ready to take on the future generation of consoles. A while back I speculated that our leap forward would not come in the form of graphical upgrades, but rather in how we interact with our digital worlds. Well, after seeing what the Unreal Engine 4 can do, I think it’s safe to say I was dead wrong.

In and interview with Wired.com, Tim Sweeney, Epic Game’s resident graphics genius, spoke to the merits of the Unreal Engine 4, how he envisions its use, and what we need to do to accommodate it.

The long and short of it is that regardless of how good anyone thinks the PlayStation 3 and Xbox360 still look, they are growing hopelessly outdated. For as convenient and affordable as console gaming is, its downfall comes in the form of upgrades. Since the 80’s new consoles have been rolled out every 5-6 years simply to keep up with technological improvements on the PC side and today is no different. Talk to any PC gamer and they are sure to tell you that the game you are loving on your precious console looks lightyears better on their gaming rig and chances are, they’re probably right. But this is no time to delve into the merits of PC vs. console.

The fact is, the people at Epic Games are ambitious and want to revamp the face of gaming as we know it. Current production times on a high-budget game can easily span years, but aside from simply slapping your retinas around with gorgeous character models and environments, UE4 will have far more practical implications that will games to literally flow out of production studios.

At GDC 2011, Epic showed a tech demo called Samaritan, which was built in Unreal Engine 3 but showed what future iterations of the engine would be capable of.

“…the video showcased the rendering power of current high-end hardware, displaying an impressive array of effects, like realistic clothing, lifelike lighting, and highly detailed facial expressions. It took three high-end graphics cards to handle the demand, but it grabbed people’s attention. “We used it as an opportunity to make a point to the developers,” Sweeney says. “‘We want 10 times more power; here’s what we can do with it.’”

“UE4 represents nothing less than the foundation for the next decade of gaming. It may make Microsoft and Sony rethink how much horsepower they’ll need for their new hardware. It will streamline game development, allowing studios to do in 12 months what can take two years or more today. And most important, it will make the videogames that have defined the past decade look like puppet shows.”

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Simply put, Epic wants more power.

As early as last March, Epic was making the case for more power with a demo screened at the 2011 GDC. Called Samaritan and built in Unreal Engine 3 with a new set of specialized plug-ins, the video showcased the rendering power of current high-end hardware, displaying an impressive array of effects, like realistic clothing, lifelike lighting, and highly detailed facial expressions. It took three high-end graphics cards to handle the demand, but it grabbed people’s attention. “We used it as an opportunity to make a point to the developers,” Sweeney says. “‘We want 10 times more power; here’s what we can do with it.’”

And that was merely for a souped-up version of Unreal 3. For Unreal 4, yet another quantum leap in hardware has to happen. Creating a game that operates on a level of fidelity comparable to human vision, Sweeney says, will require hardware at least 2,000 times as powerful as today’s highest-end graphics processors. That kind of super-hi-def experience may be only two or three console generations away, but it hinges on manufacturers moving toward the power levels Sweeney is looking for today. He needs the next generation of consoles to be good.

Now, before you go out and start hailing from the nearest mountain top about how the next generation of consoles are in fact going to be that powerful, stop and think about the companies that produce the consoles. Sony and Microsoft are supposedly going to be dropping new consoles in the next year or two, so it seems a bit late in the development cycle to implement something of this scale, but then again, they could have known about this all along and taken measures to do their best to accommodate the requirements. Unfortunately, it probably isn’t going to be a reality, but those who frequent PC gaming are more than likely going to see the real-world applications of the Unreal Engine 4 long before anyone sitting on their couch will.

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