Unreal Engine 4: Epic to "drag industry into next generation"

Bleszinski says Epic is pushing Microsoft, Sony to "damn near render Avatar in real time"

Unreal Engine 4 was shown to some of Epic's partners behind closed doors at GDC this year, but it's only now that we're starting to get the first taste of what can kind of graphics it'll push. Wired has an interesting look at the next-gen engine, along with beautiful screenshots and comments from Epic.

As Wired puts it, "UE4 represents nothing less than the foundation for the next decade of gaming. It may make Microsoft and Sony rethink how much horsepower they'll need for their new hardware. It will streamline game development, allowing studios to do in 12 months what can take two years or more today. And most important, it will make the videogames that have defined the past decade look like puppet shows."

"They need to damn near render Avatar in real time, because I want it and gamers want it-even if they don't know they want it"

Cliff Bleszinski

Indeed, Epic design director Cliff Bleszinski believes Epic is in the driver's seat when it comes to next-gen. "There is a huge responsibility on the shoulders of our engine team and our studio to drag this industry into the next generation," he said. "It is up to Epic, and [CEO] Tim Sweeney in particular, to motivate Sony and Microsoft not to phone in what these next consoles are going to be. It needs to be a quantum leap. They need to damn near render Avatar in real time, because I want it and gamers want it-even if they don't know they want it."

It's very well possible that Epic has seen the proposed specs of the new consoles from Microsoft and Sony, and the company may be actively pushing the platform holders to make the hardware more powerful. Epic is famously quoted for asking Microsoft to include double the RAM in Xbox 360, costing the company a billion dollars, so there's certainly a track record there.


Wired's description of the engine certainly sounds amazing, but the consoles will need to be able to handle the engine. "...the Epic team has packed all the show-off effects that have flummoxed developers for years: lens flare, bokeh distortion, lava flow, environmental destruction, fire, and detail in landscapes many miles away. Plus, it's breathtakingly photo-realistic-or would be if demon knights were, you know, a real thing," the article states.

We can expect much more on UE4 at E3 next month, when Epic unveils it to the world.

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Latest comments (28)

Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 5 years ago
The next generation is where games are driven by game design and talent - and technology sits in the corner, does its job quietly and invisibly, and shuts up.

Sorry, I don't give a damn about your next-gen graphics features - animated smoke or dominant lighting or whatever. I just want reasonably good-looking graphics, and tools. Tools that put an intuitive UI in front of standard requirements for games, so I can plug and play things with minimal coding. (I've used UDK, and it STILL contains archaic elements from the 90s in this regard.)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Tim Carter on 17th May 2012 4:53pm

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Dan Howdle Head of Content, Existent5 years ago
But gamers DO care, of that I can assure you, and since it is gamers whose money funds the existence of any and all projects, developers need to care too.
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Hugo Trepanier Game Designer, Behaviour Interactive5 years ago
Unfortunately (or not) the truth is that not all gamers care. How many people are playing Angry Birds again? That's right... And also if you look at most Nintendo games you know they they have good style but they're very far from photo-realism in their graphics.

Personally I've always been drawn to high quality graphics, from the 80's onwards in whatever was peak at its time. But if we keep pushing the visual standards the cost will also rise dramatically and I doubt that many companies will see this as a viable business opportunity when they can instead choose to release less risky and simpler titles.

Don't get me wrong though, I'd love to play a game that looks just as real as what I can see with my own eyes in the real world.
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Hyper-real graphics are hugely overrated, in my opinion. I don't particularly care for Epic's particular brand of visual(and literal) bombast or their boring manshoot games, but I suppose it's nice to see somebody pushing the boundaries of what we can do with realtime graphics technology.

Sadly, billions of particles and realtime bokeh does not necessarily make a good or even good-looking game.
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Gamers, from casual to core, care about gameplay over graphics. Graphics get the front seat so often not because it pleases consumers, but because it's easier to advertise graphics than gameplay. Good graphics is not a bad thing in and of itself, but it does have side effects that harm gameplay (increasing budgets for games causes publishers to be more risk averse, increasing poly count per actor makes it harder to fit many actors on screen and increases load time, etc).

I'm with Tim. I use UDK every day, and as a developer I would be more interested in pipeline improvement than pushing graphics even farther to just increase the cost of game development. As a gamer with developer insight and attention paid to the history of game development, I see how the graphics fetish is often a crutch to push sub-par gameplay out with no worries as the screen shots and trailers will guarantee pre-orders. I don't think any of this is really the fault of better graphics or Epic, and I applaud them for what they are choosing to push forward -- but as an industry I wish we would focus more on gameplay and pipeline than the low hanging easy-to-market fruits. So while I don't think this is "bad" with a capital B, it is symbolic of the industry's misplaced priorities and causes my pessimism to flare a bit.
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Dan Howdle Head of Content, Existent5 years ago

Is the Unreal Engine 4 being built to play Angry Birds? Is your average Gears Of War player playing Angry Birds? That three billion people eat bread every day has little bearing on the chocolate industry, and the fact of people eating both is not some dichotomy or torn allegience. They co-exist.

What we're talking about here is core gamers looking for the next big, core experiences, and I can assure you, that audience – the one that makes Call Of Duty a multi-billion dollar franchise – that audience cares about graphics.

Big budget, immersive experiences need to immerse, and they need a lot of horsepower to do it.

As for rising cost, it's this kind of middleware specifically that prevents that from happening.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Dan Howdle on 17th May 2012 5:57pm

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Brian Smith Artist 5 years ago
Gamers do care about graphics, possibly more than a lot of developers do. You only have to sit in on fan forum of the likes of Forza and GT to see gamers nit pick to the Nth degree on graphic issues that aren't even on the radar of current tech.

UDK may be far from perfect but compared with some all in solutions I've used it's one of the better ones. They've been at the forefront of gaming for a while and I'm glad someone is big and brave enough to push and shove manufacturers along the right direction. If it wasn't for them think of all the games that would have been hugely different with half the system ram in the 360.
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Pier Castonguay Programmer 5 years ago
I for one applaud Epic

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Pier Castonguay on 17th May 2012 6:14pm

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robert troughton Managing Director, Coconut Lizard5 years ago
Some blatant self promotion here, but, anyone in the UK or Europe interested in working on this tech, Unreal Engine 4 and Unreal Editor, please get in touch - we need more coders here... you won't find anywhere else in the UK working with this tech.

I can't of course, talk about the tech - I'll just tell you that it is absolutely stunning. Naysayers will be taken aback when they see what this can do - the engine, the editor, the whole package. In the words of that guy off Masterchef, "it's very, very good".
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Kevin Patterson musician 5 years ago
I agree with Epic and the rest of the pro-graphic gamers.

If you think gamers don't care, you would be wrong. The gamers that spend the most tend to care the most it seems. The majority of gamers I know and interact with are hardcore, they do care about next gen performance, and they spend alot on games. If they skimp on performance, many console gamers might go back to PC gaming as their primary platform.

I applaud Epic for keeping up the pressure for the next gen, I am very concerned that MS and Sony are going to skimp on performance and this next gen will be more of a current gen+. The fact this keeps coming up tells me Epic is unhappy with the next gen performance they have been shown thus far.

If console manufacturers think skimping is the way to go, so they can include motion controls inside the box, they are going to learn a painful lesson. Nintendo pulled it off with the Wii because it was fresh and new, but that is no longer the case. Kinect sales are dropping, move sales are doing ok not great. Casual gamers buy a few games and thats it, or they buy really cheap games. Their might be a ton of casual gamers out there, but they aren't the ones that continue to purchase month after month.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Kevin Patterson on 17th May 2012 6:59pm

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Hugo Trepanier Game Designer, Behaviour Interactive5 years ago

Of course I'm not saying Unreal Engine 4 is built for the next Angry Birds or anything of the sorts, just saying that hyper real graphics is not the only future of gaming.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that there are plenty of ways to create stylish games without going for the photo-realism approach.

Often I think the games with the best art direction are those that deviate from the norm. Most titles that shoot for ultra realistic graphics end up looking very similar, especially when they're set in the present urban settings or near future.

I guess I've just seen too many brownish-grey games and a lot of them are made by Epic ;)

Again, don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of UDK games and I'm really looking forward to whatever comes next. But I'll also be very happy to play stylish games that look like Limbo or The Walking Dead, which to me are just as good, or even better in some respects.
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Stuart Pharoah Senior Artist, Electronic Arts5 years ago
"It will streamline game development, allowing studios to do in 12 months what can take two years or more today."... I just can't see it myself. Even using the best middleware to bring it all together, the shear quantity and quality of assets required/expected will be huge.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.5 years ago
After looking at the still images, I can't help but feel more impressed by the Samaritan demo running UE 3.9 than this.
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Well said, Dan. I personally can't wait for the day I have a holodeck. The rest have fun with Angry Birds. ;)
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robert troughton Managing Director, Coconut Lizard5 years ago
@Jim: wait till E3 ... When you see it running, you'll understand.

It's SO hard commenting on these things without breaking NDAs. Believe me, though, when I say that Epic are going to light up people's interest in the next gen :-)
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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 5 years ago
What about the millions of hardcore gamers who play Team Fortress 2, with its now-outdated engine (which still looks great)?

Having an old engine hasn't hurt TF2 one iota.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Tim Carter on 17th May 2012 9:56pm

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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 5 years ago
One more comment from me:

A lot of hardcare gamers really like the gameplay more. But you can't put your finger on gameplay like you can graphics. So when you have great gameplay, with awesome pacing and, yes, even lots of well-placed moments of combat and explosions, with nicely-paced effects - EVEN within now-standard graphics - they transfer their feelings to "THE GRAPHICS!".

They say "Great graphics, man!", when in truth what has blown them away is pacing, combat, the experience, level design, gameplay (even sound design). Because it's easier to *see* the so-called "graphics" than it is to see the gameplay.

This is actually, not a new dynamic. It's the same way that movie goers get enticed by special effects or glamour, when in truth what amazes them is the good acting, directing, well-written story. They are transferring their feelings from something intangible and hard-to-define to something visually easy to see.

Edited 5 times. Last edit by Tim Carter on 17th May 2012 10:13pm

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@Jim: Yes, I hope these images aren't their "Avatar in real-time" proof, because they are nothing special - and no where close to "Avatar"...

I'll say it again: I think "next-gen" is going to have a serious problem, because the (proportional) tech increase that is needed for a REAL visual increase is going to be WAY to expensive to fund in this round of consoles.

Maybe the best we can hope for is a small increase, but a significant improvement in development time (something I seriously doubt will happen - its still going to be 2-3 years for a AAA title, with a huge team).
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 5 years ago
Hmmmmm. I can think of quite a load of games throughout nearly every console cycle I've been a part of where great graphics didn't save a really lousy game. Also, given the huge successes of certain popular "retro" titles that aren't "casual" experiences (Minecraft, anyone?), this foisting of every map bumped and every alias anti-ed is a bit tiring to hear every few weeks.

Besides, other than the great visuals, Avatar REALLY wasn't all that great a film. it looks fantastic and all that, but I felt it like was a John Ford western epic in space meets Brainstorm and A Man Called Horse without as much depth as any of those. I'm saying this and I love much of Jim Cameron's work to death. Ah, well - let the flaming begin...
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Dave Knudson Sr. Technology Manager, Electronic Arts5 years ago
I think Tim Carter nailed it. I've long heard the story of the person in a focus group who fumbled around menus, couldn't figure out how to perform certain game functions, etc and then stated "the graphics suck" when asked what they thought about the game.

There are a lot of ways to use the extra horsepower to make a more compelling experience. It might be rendering improvements, it might be more destructible environments, or it could just be something like allowing more ai racers/traffic in a driving game.

I think in the runup to a console release there is always pixel peeping and excitement over screenshots. However, once the games are out the excitement over the graphics wanes a bit and it gets back to what games are fun to play.
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James Podesta Lead Programmer, SASimulations5 years ago
regardless of how good the engine is at rendering the tech, that kind of photorealistic art is VERY expensive to generate. I'm not sure how much longer companies can afford to take 20+ million dollar gambles. Apart from 3 or 4 franchises that are guaranteed to make their money back, everyone else is running off government grants or shutting down left/right and center because even a successful game doesn't make enough to fund the next title.

Also, IMO, when you get art that good, you can take away 90% of the tech and it still looks like fantastic art because the underlying modelling and texturing work is brilliant.
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robert troughton Managing Director, Coconut Lizard5 years ago
@James: It doesn't have to be so much more expensive, actually... tools and technologies are improving to a point where artists no longer need to spend 80% of their time "optimising"... ask any artist who did 3D work on Playstation and Playstation 2 - much of their time would be spent reducing polygons, squeezing out texture space, creating additional LOD models ... all work that can now be done with tools (such as Simplygon) or with final hardware (DX11, of course, features dynamic tessellation)... so while complexity of scenes go up, artists will hopefully be spending less time optimising every vertex of a model.

Codewise, too, if you think back to just a decade ago, programmers would analyse code at a machine code level squeezing every last cycle out of their code. I know people who nowadays don't even bother optimising their pixel shaders - the functions that are run on every single pixel of the screen (ie. 2million times per frame on a 1920x1080 HD screen). I've seen pixel shaders that are more complicated than the entire code that's run for a single frame of a Commodore 64 game, too - that's pretty amazing.

So yeah, done right, AAA games can be made at a price that will still offer an ROI to the publisher.

That said, I'd still like to see what sort of stuff can come out of the next gen when some developers really do go "to the metal" and optimise every single bit of juice out of a system - but mostly, the people that can afford to do so will be the ones creating engines, such as UE4, that are used across a broad array of games. And from this, everyone who licenses such technology will win.

Sorry for the waffle - in summary, though, while the next-gen will no doubt be more expensive for those who are at the cutting edge, for the majority I doubt it will be - publishers are going to get smart about development costs if for no other reason than that they HAVE to if they're to stay afloat.
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Tameem Antoniades Creative Director & Co-founder, Ninja Theory Ltd5 years ago
Don't undersestimate the time and effort that is spent downsizing assets to get them to fit the limitations of the hardware. That costs money and time, a lot of money and time.
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 5 years ago
I think current generation consoles have reached a plateau in terms of graphics, they can be much better, but now a days I would sacrifice graphics, for larger draw distances, better AI and deeper gameplay mechanics. I think Xenoblade is a good example.

I also belive if the next generation consoles are at least 2 or 3 times better than current generation ones, they can have a significant improvment in graphical horse power since many games also strive to simply attain a stylish look that sets the game apart, like xenoblade, okami, Viewtiful Joe, border lands, No more heroes.

Im fine with graphics maybe twice or 3 times better then current generation consoles, I dont need avatar rendering in games as many striking visuals can be achieved with many tricks. An example is Xenoblade, were you can seeyour caracter walk between blades of grass, plants and butterflies. It looks beautiful, but a closer look reveals the are just flat poligons that always face towards the camera.

Id love avatar type real time graphics rendering. however I think that when designing a game, there are other elements that take center stage. And I believe the step towards avatar type graphics in games will be a natural step foward.

No need to make consoles that cost 600$ or 1000$.

What Epic should be doing is developing a graphics engine that can make avatar like graphics for lower spec machines, since thats what most people have and can afford.
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Peter Dwyer Games Designer/Developer 5 years ago

Perhaps you need to get out from behind your desk once in a while because yes, the average gears player does actually play angry birds. We don't as you seem to think, spend all of our time in front of a TV and not have lives.

While most gamers do care what things look like. They arguably care how they play a hell of a lot more. It's the reason a hard core gamer will queue up for Mario or Zelda. You know you're going to get a hell of a game for your money.

The reason readership of magazines is going down is mainly how out of touch they seem to be with the actual gamers out there. Pushing FPS' and graphically great but, gameplay poor so called AAA titles like that's all anyone should care about. Well guess what! 100% of us have smartphones now and as gamers we use them to game and that means angry birds, game dev story, crayon physics etc. etc.

Get with todays picture please!
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Dan Howdle Head of Content, Existent5 years ago

Despite your insulting opener, thank you for your response.

I think we're talking about two different things here, and there is no reason for our points of view to be at odds. If Angry Birds is the future of gaming, gaming will become filler. Like a biscuit between meals. A distraction, a pastime, but not a hobby. I apologise if I have taken your point wrongly, but what you appear to be saying is that gaming should be demoted to a tiny screen, where the mechanics, mechanics mostly invested in the psychology of random reward, are all there is. The continued success of cinema in the face of television disproves that adequately enough. People want to be immersed.

When someone cites Angry Birds as why the attitude to gaming should change, to me, it's like citing the X-Factor as to why music needs to change. As long as enough people are fed it at the top of a list. If it's at the top of a list, it must be good, right? Take it. Take my 99p. Didn't like it much. Probably won't talk about it. But it was at the top of a list. And other people are talking about it. That equals great.

Poker is my favourite game of all time, so I think there is value in what you say. But.

Core gamers do not want that. Mobile gamers want better mobile experiences. Core gamers want ever more impressive experiences. They want to be wowed. The two types of gaming coexist. I count myself among those who switch; they are not mutually exclusive. But please, all I ask is that you remember what we are talking about here. This news story is about tools which facilitate the ability to create more immersive, less puppet-show gaming experiences, not about pinging beaky ha-ha at the next seemingly immovable set of blocks.

There is room for both, but I do not accept the uptake of Angry Birds, nor any other mobile experience, as a rational argument as to why core gaming should not progress.

Edited 9 times. Last edit by Dan Howdle on 18th May 2012 8:58pm

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Ben Furneaux Principal Designer 5 years ago
The word that sticks out for me is "drag". You don't need to be dragged somewhere you actually want to go.
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Lewis Brown Snr Sourcer/Recruiter, Electronic Arts5 years ago
I was going to make a comment but Dan has basically covered it off for me.......couldnt agree more. I play Angry Birds but that has nothing to do with my time spent on BF3 or Fallout or GOW etc.....They are so different as gaming experiences...
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