Thursday, March 15th, 2018 Posted by Jim Thacker

Epic Games releases Unreal Engine 4.19

Epic Games has released Unreal Engine 4.19, the latest major update to the game engine, adding new live link plugins for Maya and MotionBuilder, support for material layering, and physical units for lights.

Other key changes include updates to landscape LOD rendering and a new proxy LOD system, a new unified framework for authoring augmented reality apps, and further updates to the Sequencer cinematic editor.

As ever, the full changelog is far too long to cover in detail here, so below, we’ve tried to pick out the highlights as they apply to games artists.

New live link plugins for Maya and MotionBuilder, plus support for other animation data
A key change for artists is the updated live link system, which now includes new linking plugins for Maya (shown in the video at the top of the story) and MotionBuilder.

Both plugins establish a live connection from the host application to UE4, enabling artists to make changes to a scene inside their DCC software and see the results in real time inside Unreal Engine.

By default, Unreal Engine ships with compiled binaries of the Maya plugin for Maya 2016+ on Windows only, but you can compile other versions of the plugins from source.

More generally, the live link system is intended to provide a universal interface for streaming animation data into Unreal Engine from external sources, including motion controllers and motion-capture hardware.

Vicon has already taken advantage of the feature in Shōgun 1.2, the next update to its motion-capture software, making it possible for users of its optical mocap systems to stream data directly to UE4.

LOD system: new proxy LODs, improved landscape rendering
Environment artists get an experimental new proxy LOD system – at the minute, it only works with Windows builds – making it possible to produce low-poly LODs with baked materials for multiple meshes.

The system is ultimately intended to form a replacement for the Simplygon LOD system, which requires an external licence to use. Another factor may be Microsoft’s acquisition of Simplygon in 2017.

The landscape LOD system has also been updated to work off screen space occupied rather than distance to the camera, which should make it possible to display more – and more coherent – background detail.

Materials: support for material layering
The release also adds experimental support for material layering. The new Material Layer and Material Layer Blend assets make it possible to stack materials without the need to build sections of the graph by hand.

The workflow is discussed at length in this recording of one of Epic’s recent livestreams.

Other changes include the option to save parameter values to new child or sibling instances of a material in the Material Editor and Material Instance Editor.

Lights: new physically based light units
The lighting system has also been standardised to use real-world units, including candelas and lumens, instead of a mixture of defined and undefined, engine-specific units.

The units used can be edited on a per-light basis, which determines how the engine interprets the light’s Intensity value during lighting calculations.

Animation: share facial animations between characters via curves
Animators get the option to share facial animations between characters by sharing animation curves between meshes, without having any bone transform: the results are shown in the video above.

Workflow improvements include the option to have up to four animation viewports, each with its own display settings for a character; and to pin frequently used animation commands outside menus.

There are also a number of smaller changes, plus updates to cloth and collision physics: you can find the full run-down in the release notes.

Sequencer: workflow updates and smaller improvements
The Sequencer non-linear editor, intended for cinematics and offline content, gets smaller improvements.

Users can now offset the actors controlled by Sequence Transform tracks at runtime, which enables a Level Sequence to be reused in different coordinate spaces.

Workflow changes include the option to copy, paste and duplicate object tracks and their child tracks from the right-click context menu.

Augmented Reality: new unified AR framework for building apps on Android and iOS devices
The AR functionality introduced in Unreal Engine 4.18 has now developed into the Unified Unreal Augmented Reality Framework: a common framework for building AR apps on both Android and iOS devices.

There isn’t much detail in the online documentation yet, but Epic says that the framework includes “functions supporting Alignment, Light Estimation, Pinning, Session State, Trace Results, and Tracking”.

Other changes: temporal upsampling, dynamic resolution, updates to audio for VR
Other changes include support for temporal upscaling: a new, more flexible method for rendering at lower resolution then upscaling the output for display when running a game on lower-powered hardware.

Console developers also get support for dynamic resolution, with Unreal Engine automatically adjusting the render resolution to maintain a target framerate on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Following its major update in UE4.18, the audio toolset gets a new Resonance Audio Plugin, supporting binaural spatialisation, reverberation, sound directivity and ambisonics playback on desktop and mobile.

Other spatialisation plugins can also now import and play back first-order Ambisonics files – among other things, making it possible to create VR experiences where sounds change as the user tilts their head.

Unreal Engine has also been updated to the latest beta (Beta 10) of Valve’s Steam Audio system, intended to provide greater immersion in VR; and the Oculus Audio plugin now supports Android.

And in other VR-related news, UE4 supports HTC’s upcoming Vive Pro: any existing UE4 content that supports SteamVR should automatically be compatible with the headset.

Pricing and availability
Unreal Engine 4.19 is available for 64-bit Windows 7+, macOS 10.12.6+ or Linux. Use of the editor is free, but Epic takes 5% of gross beyond the first $3,000 per quarter for any product you release commercially.

Read a full list of new features in Unreal Engine 4.19 on Epic Games’ blog