Epic Games releases Unreal Engine 4.22
Output from Unreal Engine 4.22’s hybrid ray tracing/rasterization system. The implementation, which runs on Nvidia’s RTX GPUs, makes UE4 the first major commercial game engine to support real-time ray tracing.
Epic Games has released Unreal Engine 4.22, the latest update to the game engine, adding a much-anticipated new feature: support for real-time ray tracing via Nvidia’s RTX graphics cards.
Other significant new features for artists include animation sharing, intended to reduce set-up time for crowds; and new virtual production features, including support for OpenColorIO and GPU video decoding.
Support for real-time ray tracing on Nvidia’s RTX GPUs
The headline feature in Unreal Engine 4.22 is undoubtedly support for real-time ray tracing.
The latter is a work in progress – the entire toolset is officially still in early access – but already supports soft area shadows for all UE4 light types, soft ambient occlusion and translucent reflection and refraction.
The release makes UE4 the first major commercial game engine to support real-time ray tracing: similar functionality is due in Unity later this year, while CryEngine will have its own hardware-agnostic version.
Character work: new Animation Sharing plugin and Skeletal Mesh Reduction Tool
Animators get a new Animation Sharing plugin, intended to reduce the amount of set-up work required when creating crowds of actors.
It’s based on UE4’s existing Master-Pose Component system: you can see a detailed explanation of how it works, including a summary flowchart, in Epic Games’ online documentation.
There is also a new Skeletal Mesh Reduction Tool, for generating LOD versions of rigged characters.
Visual effects: OpenColorIO, GPU video decoding and updates to Composure
Artists using Unreal Engine for visual effects get support for OpenColorIO colour-management standard, plus support for GPU-accelerated decoding of H.264 video streams.
Composure, Unreal Engine’s built-in compositing toolset has also been updated.
New features include the option to use materials to drive layer blending, and readymade render passes for chroma keying, greenscreen despilling and tonemapping.
Composure also now supports offline compositing workflows, enabling users to export renders of selected Unreal Engine objects for compositing in external applications like Nuke or After Effects.
Sequencer: better integration with Composure, new mocap recording functionality
Integration between Composure and Sequencer, UE4’s cinematics editor, has also been improved, with the option to drag compositing layers directly into Sequencer, each one coming in on a separate track.
The update also adds Take Recorder, an extended version of the existing Sequence Recorder geared towards virtual production work.
Rather than simply recording character animation from gameplay, users can also now record animation data being streamed to a character directly from a mocap system, or via the Live Link to other DCC software.
Niagara: ‘completely rewritten’ collision system
Niagara, the next-gen visual effects editor introduced in Unreal Engine 4.20, also gets an update, including a new interfaces for vector field data and curl noise, and support for deterministic random number generation.
Niagara collisions have also been “completely rewritten to support ray-trace-based CPU collisions, CPU+GPU analytical plane collisions, GPU scene depth, and distance field collisions”.
Support for multi-user editing now in early access
There is also an experimental new multi-user editing feature, intended to enable multiple artists or level designers to work collaboratively in a shared editing session.
Changes made to a project by one user are mirrored to other users in the session in real time, with users having the choice to apply the changes to their local copy of the project on exiting.
External developer Glassbox Technologies recently announced a similar third-party toolset, which also supports Maya and Unity as well as Unreal Engine.
Other changes: Live Coding and reduced build times
New features in Unreal Engine 4.22 aimed at programmers rather than artists include Live Coding, which makes it possible to modify C++ code and see the changes in the editor or a running game without reloading.
Build times have also been reduced – Epic claims that full builds are now up to 30% faster, and incremental builds up to 340% faster.
The release also adds new features to the audio toolset, along with the usual set of platform updates and performance improvements. You can find a full list of changes via the link below.
Pricing and system requirements
Unreal Engine 4.22 is available for 64-bit Windows 10, macOS 10.14 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.