Unreal Engine 4 illuminates next-gen at E3

Microsoft and Sony may not be talking about next-gen just yet, but Epic is demonstrating it with UE4

It's looking more and more likely that next year's E3 will be all about next-gen, with new consoles from Microsoft and/or Sony being unveiled for a likely holiday 2013 launch. Publishers are saving new IP for the next round of hardware, and as usual, Epic Games' Unreal technology is going to power many new titles for the next-gen systems. Today at E3 we got our first glimpse of what next-gen could look like with Unreal Engine 4.

During the demonstration led by Alan Willard, senior technical artist and designer, Epic showed off highly detailed environments in a fantasy RPG type setting. The key to how beautiful every object, character and landscape looked is the new engine's special illumination techniques. You don't quite realize how crucial lighting in a video game can be until you see how it literally affects every pixel in a scene.

Without a doubt, illumination appears to be the differentiator (at least in this demo) for what Epic is envisioning with next-gen graphics. Every object and every material in an environment is rendered with surfaces that have varying degrees of reflection and the light bouncing off one object will affect every other object. The more specular something is, the more light will bounce off it and change how the rest of the environment around it looks. Even something like a red carpet on the floor will produce a more subtle reflection on a room.


Epic displayed a room with over a million particles in it alone, and everything is fully dynamic, so as a spherical object, for example, is moved around an environment the lighting conditions will automatically change depending on where it's placed.

Epic also demonstrated an interesting lighting feature that replicates the effect of a human being's eye adapting to a dark room after being in the light. It's a subtle touch and shows how lighting in certain conditions can add to the realism. It's certainly easy to imagine being in a dark dungeon with very little light and no torch in an RPG - and this would render that type of environment quite nicely.

Of course, the key for Epic and developers looking to create next-gen games is the ease of use and speed at which changes can be made in Unreal Engine 4. With improvements to the toolset, event graph, construction script and more, Willard emphasized that iteration time on a project is "incredibly fast."

Epic showed how everything is running in real-time in the editor and designers can literally play the game and make changes to it in the editor at the same time. You can make changes to the source code, script changes and more all while actually running the game. And then when the code is done compiling, you'll see the changes you made take place in-game right away.

In a Q&A near the end of the presentation, Willard stressed that Epic is still waiting on the final specs on next-gen hardware from Microsoft and Sony, so we can't assume that what we saw is representative of what games will look like on the next consoles, but it is what Epic is pushing for. Additionally, Epic noted that UE4 will be fairly scalable for PCs of differing power, and interestingly when Willard was asked about the possibility of UE4 technology scaling down to mobile platforms, he answered, "Scaling down to mobile is an interesting question - will it be down?"

Clearly, Epic is big on mobile and the technology in smartphones and tablets iterates at a much, much faster pace than consoles. Judging by Infinity Blade and how good Unreal tech already looks on iOS, Epic is definitely prepared for that future too.

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Latest comments (5)

Kevin Patterson musician 5 years ago
I love Epic's enthusiasm for next gen, I just hope MS and Sony listen and make the machines that can actually play this demo (and Samaritan). Ubisoft's Watch Dogs, Square's next gen demo, Star Wars 1313, and Unreal Engine 4's demo are all very exciting, if MS or Sony comes out next E3 with a machine that can't do these demos justice, there will be much disappointment.

I hope MS and Sony are watching and taking note. For some reason it sort of feels like these companies are releasing these demos and saying "look what we can do MS and Sony, make the machine that lets this happen", almost like they are dragging them into making the proper next gen machine.
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Ian Brown IT Developer / IT Infrastructure 5 years ago
I always love the Unreal tech demo's, i remember looking at the UE2 demo of the guy talking with facial animations. Never afraid to push the envelope, yet making an engine that works on decent hardware. Can't wait for new consoles but if Sony & MS keep dragging their feet I'll be getting new hardware for my PC again. Visuals aren't everything in a game but they do count towards a great experience.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 5 years ago
If you can't pick up and manipulate all those beautifully lit objects, I;m not too impressed. Still, I like what I've seen. That said, the first developer to use this engine who puts those stupid "dot" shadows in their game is going to get a finger-wagging from me. That's something I don't want to see in a new-gen game at all unless it's a 2D game or something similarly "retro".
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Dominic Jakube Student 5 years ago
The unreal 4 and Sqeenix's Luminous final fantasy demo are amazing but any CG artist will tell you its harder to do humans or animals like dogs than inaminate objects like suits of armour so I wouls say the sqares is more impressive also I would say they did a great job of avoiding the “uncanny valley” in the FF demo.

Hopefully Sqeenix will at least let games like the next Deus-Ex and Just Cause titles that they own and publish to use it if they dont licsence it out like Epic.

Either way both these demo’s are either running on $5,000+ pc’s ,pc clusters or workstations and not representative of what your next $500 console will be capable of.The Star Wars 1313 or Ubi Watch Dogs demos are a much more realistic glimpse of future games and even then only if Sony/MS are willing to make a considerable loss per unit at luanch.
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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd5 years ago
Just what we need, another massive tech leap. Cause the two dozen studios who went out of business due to rising dev costs this gen weren't enough. Sometimes I wonder if Epic won't rest until the entirety of gaming boils down to them and the few big companies who can afford to license their engine.
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