If you are curious about what the future of real-time graphics and next generation consoles will look like, Epic Games has just announced Unreal Engine 5 (UE5) with an incredible demo, running on a PlayStation 5, which will bring many PC Games to shame.
A video is worth a million words, so take a look before discovering how technically impressive it is. You will probably want to increase the quality up to 4K.
If you want to know more, you can consult Full Epic announcement here.
Nanite ends polygon budgets
When designing a virtual gaming world, there is one thing you should always consider: performance. The games are designed to work on a wide range of hardware, from passionate gaming PCs at $ 2,000 to consoles at $ 300. For this reason, the games are optimized around the number of polygons or the number of polygons.
Even all these years later, computers still really aspire to draw polygons. Admittedly, they are much more powerful than they were ten years ago, and game scenes with millions of poly-accounts can be launched multiple times per second. But add too much and your game will slowly start to look like a PowerPoint presentation.
This soft polygon boundary is known as a polygon budget, and everything rendered on the screen should fit within that budget.
Of course, like all things in the gaming industry, there are tricks to get around this somewhat. Nowadays, almost all games use some form of level of detail scaling, or LOD. Objects far from the camera are replaced by less detailed models. Usually this is done quite easily, with 4 or more different models made in advance. That way, you don’t have to worry so much about distant objects that are over-rendered because only the items right next to you (which you actually look at) are rendered in full quality.
LOD 0 is the highest resolution model and this will be shown to you if you get up close and stick your face next to a rock. If you move away a little, the engine will replace it with LOD 1, and so on. All of these different levels of detail usually need to be created by the artist in advance, although Unreal Engine 4 has a very good tool for automatically generating them.
But even LOD 0 is not the real quality mesh. When an artist works, for example, on a rock, he works with meshes that have hundreds of times more polygons, often tens of millions for unique objects. Of course, only one of these assets would fill a large part of the polygon’s budget.
With UE5, Epic Games is convinced that it has got rid of this concept entirely with a new technology called Nanite. The statement is that with Nanite, there are “no more polygon count budgets, polygon memory budgets or print count budgets; there is no need to copy details to normal maps or manually create detail levels; and there is no loss of quality. “
In the demo, at 2:20, they show what was the real dropper for me. Each triangle is rendered with a different color, and there are so many that it looks like an old CRT. I had to switch the quality to 4K and full screen video, and even then, the YouTube compression algorithm was not able to handle so much detail in motion. In normal play, we would call this an overdraw, where you are far enough from an object that the polygons become unnecessary, and you should change your LOD settings as they are usually excessive.
With Nanite, they revel in excess. You can insert a complete film quality mesh directly from a 3D modeling program like Zbrush or Maya and not have to worry about the LOD level or the creation of an optimized LOD 0 mesh and integrate the additional details in normal cards. The engine handles it all for you, automatically. This leads to incredibly realistic games, like the demo, which look like scenes straight from a Pixar movie. Perfect quality, all the time.
Under the hood, it probably uses something similar to the LOD levels, as the hardware it runs on hasn’t improved much. They still can’t tell your GPU to go render a billion polygons without igniting. But, it can convert these billions of polygons into something more reasonable, in real time, and render only what is really important, allowing artists to create beautiful scenes with great performances.
Although in practice you will likely still see artists preparing gigantic polycount meshes for something a little more suited to Nanite, but the polycount budget seems to be more of a suggestion now than a rule.
Of course, with massive resources, there are huge files – the games of the future will be measured in hundreds of gigabytes. However, since you probably won’t have to store multiple LOD copies of the same asset on disk, the problem won’t be as serious, and with the two next-generation consoles with fast SSDs, load times are unlikely to suffer . .
Lumen is a new generation of lighting
Nanite is already pretty crazy, but Lumen manages to take the cake here. Games have had good lighting for quite some time now, using oven lightmaps. These were generated (very slowly) in the editor, on the game developer’s PC. When the game is running on a console, he can use these lightmaps to speed up rendering considerably. A compromise of disk space for performance.
There is a drawback: it is static. Dynamic lighting, where you can move the lights, is quite difficult to do. Current generation games are of course capable of handling it, but with a lot of concessions to make. It was only recently, with hardware accelerated raytracing, that fully dynamic lighting became possible.
With Lumen, Epic Games claims it has completely replaced the need for static lightmaps. Lumen is a fully dynamic global lighting system that works in real time and is probably fast enough to be more enjoyable than a slideshow.
Take a look at 5:15 in the video. The character enters a dark corridor and the lighting of his model is transformed gently to match the environment. Then she puts out a light, and the statues next to her shine magnificent metallic reflections. It doesn’t have to be a mirror to benefit from reflections – everything reflects light, and doing it that way ensures that environments will always be true to life.
You end up with a lighting system that, like Nanite, removes the headache from the performance of developers concerned with lighting their stage.
He also plays very well with Nanite. At 5:55 a.m., we see an incredibly complex statue, made up of 33 million polygons, imported directly from Zbrush. Rendered with fully dynamic lighting. In a way, as if by magic, the PS5 does not explode.
I suspect it uses some form of raytracing under the hood. The two new generation consoles, the PS5 and the Xbox Series X, will be built on AMD’s next RDNA 2 architecture, which will offer full raytracing support at very fast speeds. According to current rumor, Nvidia’s next Ampere line of graphics cards will dramatically speed up raytracking performance, a generational leap compared to current RTX cards that can barely run raytrack scenes at 60 FPS.
If it is powered by raytracing, you can say goodbye to its excellent performance on most current generation graphics cards. Games will likely have to revert to current rendering techniques for users with older (or, more specifically, now obsolete) hardware.
Raytracing is certainly the future, and if it was not already clear enough, these new generation consoles are there to prove it. For PC users, having features on consoles is a good thing, as it means that PC games will likely benefit from those features as well.
Niagara VFX, Chaos Destruction Engine, Epic Online Services
Nanite and Lumen are the two main features announced today and are already generational improvements over UE4. However, they also mention Niagara and Chaos, two features already available in UE4 that will work well with Nanite and Lumen.
Niagara is a particle system engine that runs on the GPU and handles very complex particle simulations. Particles are not just smoke or fire; in the video, they use Niagara to simulate the movement of bats and beetles clouds rushing along the ground. It’s pretty impressive, and a great addition to the UE5 toolkit.
Chaos is an engine of destruction that manages everything that involves breaking things. Presumably, it works great with the new Nanite technology, apparently without exploding your real computer. It’s pretty cool, take a look:
The only new feature it announces is, finally, the Epic Online Services released. These are designed to compete with Steam, including features such as friend and presence, lobbies, matchmaking, P2P connectivity, data storage (save games), leaderboards, and stats , and with voice chat coming later. He announced it a while ago, but hasn’t ended up making it a reality so far.
Unreal Engine 4 is now free for a million dollars in revenue
Currently, Epic Games charges a 5% fee for using Unreal, a price that is worth it for (in my opinion slightly biased) the best 3D game engine on the market. However, as of January 1 this year, UE4 is now completely free for the first $ 1,000,000 in revenue, which should make it a much more attractive choice for independent developers.
It’s not clear if this pricing model is the same for UE5, but judging by the current management of Epic Game, it probably is. The transition from UE4 to UE5 is supposed to be fairly streamlined, so there should not be many reasons for not making the change.
Source: Epic Games