Epic showed a preview of their new graphics engine, the Unreal 4 Engine, at the Game Developers Conference 2012 (GDC). The preview demonstrates the new engine’s impressive abilities to render lighting, particle effects and more. This is all expected… after all, it is the new Unreal engine. More importantly though, Epic is working towards multiple agendas with this engine. The obvious one is to make the next generation of game consoles massive graphics power houses. The other, more subtle but perhaps more important agenda, is that they are trying to improve the workflow of game development by adding features to the engine that require less manual prerendering work by the developers. This could be a huge stride in game development since the major problem with producing AAA titles in this day and age requires hundreds of developers working around the clock to pump out a sequel within 1 to 2 years.
“Call of Duty was a game that a team of a few dozen could develop on PlayStation 2,” Founder Tim Sweeney said. “Now Activision has hundreds of people working on Call of Duty for the current-gen consoles. What’s supposed to happen in the next generation? Are they going to have 4,000 people?”
One of the most noticeable improvements is UE4‘s particle effects. Epic Games Design Director Cliff Bleszinski predicts that the new features for particles will be used extensively by developers in the same manner the bloom effect was used previously.
“Mark my words,” Bleszinski says, “those particles are going to be whored by developers.”
The demo was running on the Nvidia Kepler GTX 680, a $600 graphics card. A graphics card that costs almost as much as the PS3 at launch. This indicates that Sony and Microsoft‘s next gen consoles will need to have substantial graphical horsepower to run such an engine properly. Nintendo’s Wii U has already pretty much been counted out of the next gen console race in terms of its graphical abilities.
“There is a huge responsibility on the shoulders of our engine team and our studio to drag this industry into the next generation,” Bleszinski said. “It is up to Epic, and Tim Sweeney in particular, to motivate Sony and Microsoft not to phone in what these next consoles are going to be. It needs to be a quantum leap. They need to damn near render Avatar in real time, because I want it and gamers want it — even if they don’t know they want it.”
Mega franchises are already lining up to use the UE4… including Infinity Ward‘s next game, Call of Duty ModernWarfare 4. Currently, only the PC has been officially announced by Epic to support the UE4… That means both Microsoft and Sony need to make sure their machines are up to spec or else they risk losing out on huge titles. In any case, we will all find out soon, since E3 is next month…