Wednesday, May 13th, 2020 Posted by Jim Thacker

Epic Games unveils Unreal Engine 5

Epic Games has posted its first preview of Unreal Engine 5, the next-generation release of the game engine and real-time rendering system, which is due to ship next year.

Its demo, Lumen in the Land of Nanite, runs in real time on the upcoming PlayStation 5, and shows off two key features of Unreal Engine 5: virtualised geometry and dynamic global illumination.

The former enables the engine to process raw high-resolution source geometry, streaming it into a level and scaling it in real time: something that Epic claims will end the need for conventional geometry budgets.

And in separate – but equally significant news – the firm has also raised the earnings threshold above which it charges royalties on games created with Unreal Engine, from $3,000/quarter to $1 million.

New virtualised geometry system lets artists import high-res source assets without conversion
The Lumen in the Land of Nanite demo – a narrated recording of which can be seen above – shows a female character navigating her way through an underground environment, breaking out into the world above.

As the title suggests, it shows off two key features of Unreal Engine 5: Nanite, its new virtualised micropolygon geometry system, and Lumen, its new dynamic global illumination system.

Nanite geometry is streamed into the engine on demand and scaled losslessly, removing – or at least reducing – the need for manual preparation tasks like baking normal maps or authoring LODs.

The end of polygon count budgets as we know them?
According to Epic, that makes it possible to use “film-quality source art” – anything from high-res ZBrush sculpts to raw scan data – directly inside Unreal Engine.

In the case of the Lumen demo, literal film-quality data was used: the cinematic versions of Megascans assets were used to create rocky environment.

The engine then reduces around one billion triangles of source geometry to 20 million drawn triangles per frame: some so small that they render as single pixels.

The demo also shows a 33-million-triangle sculpt of a statue imported directly from ZBrush and instanced 500 times within the environment.

In a blog post, Epic claims that this means “no more polygon count budgets, polygon memory budgets, or draw count budgets … and no loss in quality”.

Dynamic global illumination with support for infinite light bounces
The other major new feature shown in the demo is Lumen, the new dynamic global illumination system.

According to Epic, it “renders diffuse interreflection with infinite bounces and indirect specular reflections in huge, detailed environments, at scales ranging from kilometers to millimeters”.

Again, it should reduce the need for manual preparation tasks – in this case, baking light maps – and increase interactivity: one neat part of the demo shows a swarm of bugs driven by Niagara, Unreal Engine’s new particle toolset, reacting to the beam of the character’s flashlight.

Should run in real time on a mid-to-high end content creation workstation
The demo runs in real time on the upcoming PlayStation 5.

By content creation standards, its hardware specs are fairly achievable – a 3.5GHz eight-core CPU, a GPU with FP32 compute capability of 10.28 Tflops, and 16GB of GDDR6 system RAM – so for offline rendering, we’d expect similar performance on a mid-to-high-end DCC workstation.

System requirements and availability
Unreal Engine 5 is due in preview in “early 2021” and as a stable release later in the year.

The current release, Unreal Engine 4.25, is available for 64-bit Windows, macOS and Linux. Use of the editor is free, as is rendering non-interactive content.

For games developed with the engine, Epic takes 5% of the gross royalties after the first $1 million generated by a title. The new royalty threshold is being applied retroactively from 1 January 2020.

Read more about the upcoming features in Unreal Engine 5 on Epic Games’ blog