Epic’s “State Of Unreal” Event Was The most Significant Video Game Showcase Since The Release Of Next Gen Console’s

Epic’s “State Of Unreal” Event Was The most Significant Video Game Showcase Since The Released Of Next Gen Console's

Unreal’s History Of Innovation

Just as Unreal Engine 3 represented the 8th generation of consoles, and Unreal Engine 4 represented the 9th generations of consoles, Unreal Engine 5 marks the true start of this new era in video games. For a long time, UE has been the most prolific game engine in the industry and for good reason. Epic’s signature software has helped make games easier to create and lowered the barrier of entry for indie developers and smaller teams around the world.

UE4 was free for everyone, opting to generate revenue through a royalty method. UE4 also introduced “blueprints”. These acted as a substitute for traditional coding and allowed more people to create freely without having to write complex lines of C++. That along with an asset library, slick user interface, and a plethora of tutorials has made learning, creating, and publishing games easier than any other time in history. Now with the release of Unreal Engine 5, Epic games has changed the game once again.

State Of Unreal

On April 5th Epic broadcasted their first “State Of Unreal”, showcasing some of Unreal Engine 5’s new features and officially launching the software for public use. It’s hard to fully articulate how big of a deal the technology shown off during Epic’s most recent presentation was. If everything works as advertised UE5 has the potential to, for the first time since probably the PS2, reduce the amount of time it takes to develop games. It seems like ever since the dawn of “HD”, development times have skyrocketed. From the average consumer’s perspective this might seem odd; after all, shouldn’t new technology make games easier to produce? Well not exactly. While some aspects of game creation have gotten much more streamlined and accessible, the complexity of what is required to pull off modern games has vastly outpaced these advancements. But things may finally be changing.

My Own Background In Game Development

Before we get into exactly what is so revolutionary about Unreal Engine 5, I would like to preface a few things. I graduated from college with 2 video game related degrees, one in 3D Art, and one in Game Design. I have worked on development teams and continue to create my own games on an independent level. Having this background knowledge gives me a decent perspective on the technology shown off. My hope is that I can express some of the more complex intricacies of the engine in a way that the average game fan can understand and appreciate. I am far from an expert on all things related to game development, but I at least understand the fundamentals.

It was frustrating to me, as someone who was blown away by the new UE5 features, to see a significant lack of headlines delving into the presentation. It seems like the only news to permeate the front pages was the “announcement” of a new Tomb Raider title. In actuality this was a foot note at the end of a vastly more interesting presentation. This showcase was possibly the most significant event in games since the next gen consoles released. It demonstrated things that, while invisible to many players, will change the way games are developed going forward.

Should You Care?

Now it’s absolutely not essential that anyone who’s a fan of playing video games needs to understand anything about how they’re developed. However, my hope is that by explaining a little about the technology presented you will be as excited as I am about what it could mean for the future of game creation. There was a lot covered in the presentation’s 37 min runtime, but these are the 4 biggest things that stuck out to me during the showcase.

Key Features Demonstrated

The Lyra Starter Game

Perhaps the single most significant thing presented was Lyra, a starter game that ships with Unreal Engine 5. Lyra is a template for third person shooters. It comes equipped with network functionality and provides an impressively robust framework for people to build off of. While this isn’t something that many AAA developers would find terribly exciting, it could be one of the most important tools provided to small developers or people trying to teach themselves how to make games. On its own the game appears to be relatively feature-complete, at least as far as the bare essentials go. It provides the baseline for a third person multiplayer shooter. Although it should not be understated just how much work it would take to get to a project to this point if you started from nothing.

Environment modelers would have to build the assets for the level. Designers would have to lay it out into a multiplayer map. A character modeler would have to make the avatar. A rigger would have to lay out the virtual bones that let the model move. A props modeler would have to build the weapons that would then have to be connected to the hands of the character using the bones that the rigger had laid out. Coders would have to add all functionality, including movement. Movement that would also have to be facilitated by the animators and mixed together with animation graphs. Particle effects need to be created and net code would need to be written. I could go on and on and on.

Lyra’s Potential Impact

There is a lot of work that goes into getting a game to its bare minimum of baseline of functionality. That’s before any of the work begins on game specific elements. Actual level design, character abilities, game mode variation, any of the other things that players find exciting about games comes after a lot of other work as been done. 

Having a starting point like Lyra allows small teams to get to the more exciting elements of designing their games quicker. It also cuts down the budget required to reach a prototype build, making it easier to iterate and experiment. Students can use Lyra to hone their skills. Allowing them to focus on developing their specific field of study or learning new ones all together. Let’s say you’re a level designer but not a programmer, now you can practice making compelling levels and testing them out with your friends without having to know anything about net code. Conversely if you just want to learn about an element of game creation that you are not currently familiar with you can tear Lyra apart to lean how one of the elements functions and find out what makes it tick. 

The team developing the new Tomb Raider likely won’t find much value in Lyra. However, for millions of people around the world it will make getting started in the industry easier and more accessible than ever before, making it possible for more people to release their creative visions to the world.

Procedural Modeling

One element of modern game development that you may not be aware of is the prevalence of something called procedural modeling. It is basically a way for environmental assets to be built with adjustable variables that allows them to be easily iterated on and changed. For example, lets say you are building a set of stairs. You need the model to have 4 steps, all of which are 1 foot deep, and 6 inches tall. Then a change to the environment requires those dimensions or measurements to also be changed. It may not always be an easy or quick process to adjust the model. These simple changes could require a new asset to be created from scratch.

With procedural modeling you can use a series of formulas that connect to the staircase’s properties. Essentially turning every aspect into an adjustable slider. You need more steps? Just move the slider. This allows you to build a staircase once, then duplicate it for the rest of the project. Only requiring you to simply move the sliders in order to fit your needs.

The problem is that properly building the staircase with those aforementioned formulas is a hard concept to learn and requires expensive software to facilitate. Unreal Engine 5 has a vast array of these procedurally modeled assets already built into its framework. Eliminating the often lengthy first step of having to create something as basic as a staircase. This feature alone being built directly into the Engine should, in theory, vastly reduce development times by eliminating laborious processes that drag out the time it takes to get to the more creative elements of asset creation. 

Photogrammetry On Your Phone (Reality Scan)

Photogrammetry is the process of scanning real world objects into 3D. Its often used to expedite the creation of generic assets such as furniture. This allows the art department to spend more time on unique assets that are specific to their game worlds. However, photogrammetry has traditionally required very expensive equipment to pull off and is really only available to massive companies that can afford the overhead.

Epic is looking to change that with “Reality Scan”. It essentially allows anyone to use their smart phone as a photogrammetry scanner for free. If this works as advertised, it offers a pretty astounding tool that people can use to vastly reduce development time and costs. Eliminating the need to spend resources modeling and texturing everyday assets like chairs and boxes. This essentially grants everyone access to as many free assets as you can find to scan on your phone.

Meta Human

Realistic Character modeling is difficult. It requires at least 2 different expensive pieces of software and access to a pen tablet. Along with skill in an incredibly specific artistic discipline that takes years to master. Small teams may not have the resources available to overcome the barrier of entry that these problems present. With open worlds growing in size, larger teams often spend enormous amounts of development time creating hundreds of NPC faces.

Epic is attempting to provide a solution to both these problems with Meta Human. A character creation tool that allows for industry quality character design to be as easy as possible. Allowing developers to use a system very reminiscent of an RPG character creators. Epic claims that developers can use Meta Human to create a new character within minutes. A developer interview with The Coalition appeared later in the presentation to cooperate this accretion.

In Conclusion

Making games isn’t easy, and these tools don’t magically make everything super simple. It will still take talented people putting in long hours. Developers will still have hard problems to solve. But, Unreal Engine 5 is doing a lot to strip down barriers and give developers more freedom than ever before. Procedural modeling and photogrammetry scanning aren’t as eye catching of headlines as “New Tomb Raider Game Announced,” so I get why it didn’t get as much buzz. However, what was shown off at this presentation is a massive deal. Unreal Engine 5 will have a lasting impact on how this generation of entertainment unfolds.