If you are curious about what the future of real-time graphics and the next gen console will look like, Epic Games just announced Unreal Engine 5 (UE5) with a fantastic demo running on a PlayStation 5, will embarrass many PC games .
A video is worth a million words, so look before we dive into how technically impressive this is. You will probably want to raise the quality to 4K.
If you want to read about it, you can see Epic's full announcement here.
Nanite puts an end to Polygon Budgets
When designing a virtual gaming world, there is one thing you must always keep in mind: performance. Games are designed to run on a wide range of hardware, from $ 2,000 enthusiastic gaming computers to $ 300 consoles. Because of this, games are optimized around polygon numbers, or polycount.
Even all these years later, computers still really suck at drawing polygons. Sure, they are much more powerful than they were a decade ago, and game scenes with millions of polyconts can be knocked out many times per second. But add too many of them, and your game will slowly look like a Powerpoint presentation.
This soft border for polygons is called the polygon budget, and everything displayed on the screen must fit into this budget.
Of course, like all things in the gaming industry, there are hacks to get around this somewhat. Almost every game today uses some form of scaling, or LOD. Things far away from the camera are exchanged for models with lower details. This is usually done fairly smoothly, with four or more different models made in advance. This way you don't have to worry so much that objects far away will be transferred since only the items next to you (that you are actually watching) are reproduced in full quality.
 LOD 0 is the highest resolution model and that is what you will see if you go up close and stick your face next to a rock. If you move away, the engine will replace it for LOD 1, and so on. All these different LODs usually have to be done by the artist in advance, although Unreal Engine 4 has a very good tool for auto-generating them.
But even LOD 0 is not real, full quality network. When an artist works with a stone, for example, they work with nets that have hundreds of times more polygons, often tens of millions for individual objects. Of course, one of these assets would fill a good portion of the polygon budget.
With UE5, Epic Games stated that it has gotten rid of this concept entirely with a new technology called Nanite . The claim is that with Nanite there are no more polygon counting budgets, polygon memory budgets or counting billing budgets; there is no need to bake details on normal maps or manually write LODs; and there is no quality loss. "
In the demonstration, at 2:20, they show what was the real jaw dropper for me. Each triangle is made with a different color, and there are so many of them that it looks static on an old CRT. I had to switch the quality to 4K and full screen video, and even then the YouTube compression algorithm couldn't handle that much detail in motion. In a regular game, we would call this overdraw where you are far enough away from an object that the polygons become unnecessary, and you should adjust your LOD settings because it is usually excessive.
With Nanite, they reveal themselves over that excess. You can embed a complete movie-quality network directly from a 3D modeling program like Zbrush or Maya and not have to worry about LOD levels at all or create an optimized LOD 0 network and bake the extra details in normal maps. The engine handles everything for you, automatically. This leads to insanely realistic games, like the demon, which looks like scenes straight from a Pixar movie. Perfect quality all the time.
Under the hood, it probably uses something similar to LOD levels, since the hardware it runs has not improved so much . They still can't tell your GPU to go and make a billion polygons without it bursting into flames. But it can transform these billions of polygons into something more reasonable, in real time, and only do what is actually important, so that artists can create beautiful scenes with good performance.
Even in practice, you & # 39; I probably still see artists baking giant polycount masks down to something a little more appropriate for Nanite, but the polycount budget seems to be more of a proposition now rather than a rule.
Of course, with massive assets comes massive file sizes – The games of the future will be measured in hundreds of gigabytes. But since you probably won't need to store multiple LOD copies of the same asset on the disk, the problem will not be as serious, and with both next-gen consoles equipped with fast SSDs, loading times are unlikely to suffer.
Lumen Is Next-Gen Lighting
Nanite is already crazy enough, but Lumen manages to take the cake here. Games have had good lighting for a while now, with baked light cards. These are generated (very slowly) in the editor, on the game developer's PC. When running the game on a console, it can use these light maps to significantly accelerate rendering. A balance of disk space for performance.
There is one drawback – it is static. Dynamic lighting, where you can move the lights around, is quite difficult to do. Of course, current gene games can handle it, but with a lot of concessions to be made. It was not until recently, with hardware accelerated ray tracing, that fully dynamic lighting became possible.
With Lumen, Epic Games claims that it has completely replaced the need for static light maps. Lumen is a fully dynamic global lighting system that runs in real time and is probably fast enough to be more fun than a slideshow.
Take a look at 5:15 in the video. The character goes into a dark corridor, and the lighting on her model goes smoothly to match the environment. Then she pulls out a candle, and the statues next to her glow with wonderful metallic reflections. It doesn't have to be a mirror to benefit from reflections – everything reflects light, and by doing so it ensures that environments always look right.
What you end up with is a lighting system that, much like Nanite, removes the headache's performance from developers who worry about how to light their scene properly.
At 05:55 we see an incredibly complex statue consisting of 33 million polygons imported directly from Zbrush. Performed with fully dynamic lighting. Somehow, as if it's magical, the PS5 doesn't burst into flames.
I suspect this uses some form of beam tracing under the hood. Both next-gen consoles – PS5 and Xbox Series X – will be built on AMD's upcoming RDNA 2 architecture, which will have full raytracing support at very fast speeds. According to current rumors, Nvidia's upcoming Ampere range of graphics cards will significantly accelerate raytracing performance, a generational leap over the current RTX cards that can barely run at 60 FPS raytraced scenes.
If powered by raytracing, you can say goodbye to good performance with it on most of the current gene graphics cards. Games will probably need to fall back to the current rendering technology for users with older (or more precisely, now obsolete ) hardware.
Raytracing is really the future, and if it wasn't clear enough already, these next gen consoles are here to prove it. For computer users, it is very good to have features on consoles, as this means that PC games are likely to have these 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 enhancements over UE4. However, they also mention Niagara and Chaos, which are two features already 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 limited to smoke or fire; in the video, they use Niagara to simulate the movements of clouds with bats and beetles spitting along the ground. It is quite impressive and a good addition to the UE5 tool kit.
Chaos is a destruction engine that handles everything that means things are broken. Probably it works very well with the new Nanite technology, apparently without exploding your actual computer. It's pretty cool, take a look:
The only new feature it announces is finally the launch of Epic Online Services. These are designed to compete with Steam, including features such as friends list and presence, lobbies, matchmaking, P2P connectivity, data storage (save games), leaderboards and stats and with voice chat coming later. It announced this a while ago but did not actually make it a reality until now.
Unreal Engine 4 is now free for up to a million dollars in revenue
Currently Epic Games charges 5% royalty for using Unreal, a price well worth it (in my somewhat biased opinion) the best 3D game engine out there. But with retroactive effect on January 1 of this year, UE4 is now completely free to use for the first $ 1,000,000 in revenue, which would make it a much more attractive choice for Indie developers.
It is not clear if this pricing model is the same for UE5, but based on the current direction of Epic Game, this is probably the case. The transition from UE4 to UE5 is supposed to be fairly streamlined, so there shouldn't be much reason not to make the switch.
Source: Epic Games