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What To Expect From Unreal Engine 4
A game’s engine has often been compared to the foundation of a house. It provides the stability and layout for the software during development and after it’s been published. Everything a game is stems from its engine, from the physics right down to the graphics and interaction with the environment.
In the world of game design, there are multiple options developers have at their disposal when designing their games. Some choose to build their own engine, some take previous engines and redesign them, and others will buy up development kits for licensed engines.
The latter has proven to be a very popular strategy indeed, as in this past console generation, few engines have enjoyed the widespread success and accessibility of the Unreal Engine 3.
First displayed by Gears of War, Epic Game’s Unreal Engine 3 has since become something of an industry standard, with over 300 titles on all platforms and including games such as Asura’s Wrath and Borderlands.
Since its initial release nine years ago, the engine has shown the great amount of power behind our current console generation. And now, they’re looking to give us the first glimpse into the future of gaming by unveiling the Unreal Engine 4.
First shown at Game Developer’s Conference (GDC) this year, the tech demo was nothing short of impressive. Since then, gamers and industry professionals alike have been exposed to the new engine, and much speculation and interest surrounds it.
But what can we expect to see from the Unreal Engine 4, and what does it mean for gaming moving forward?
One of the engine’s first distinctive features is its use of lighting. Lighting is a much more dynamic element in UE4 than it has been in the past. In the UE4, light will reflect off of objects and change the color of the environment around it in a more realistic fashion. The engine also supports items with internal lighting, allowing them to take on a whole new life of their own and interact with the world around them in a feasible way. Correct shadowing according to light sources is another large part of the engine’s appeal, as the shading and shadows of objects will react to light sources around them according to the angle that the light is hitting them on, such as sunsets and moving light sources. Lens flare within the game also takes on large elements of light, while the environments will also respond to the absence of light by adjusting in a way similar to the human eye.
Another one of the engine’s features is its ability to support an amazing amount of particles. In the demo, we see sparks, snow, and smoke, all seamlessly portrayed with the use of millions of particles that react to the light sources around them and are able to react to both internal and external lighting. This kind of technology with particles could become a very interesting facet in the future as developers build environments surrounding the player.
Destructibility is another large focus of the engine, specifically the realistic nature of destruction and the way items respond to it within the confines of the engine. Using both their revolutionary new lighting techniques and the Nvidia Apex physics library, solid substances will react in a heavy, realistic manner when being destroyed. Exploding objects will emit light appropriately, once again adding another layer of realism to the engine’s capabilities.
The Unreal Engine 4 is also looking to tackle one of the more difficult facets of game design; human faces. While we have made amazing advancements in facial animation and effect, the abundance of waxy features and stiff expressions still prove that we have a long way to go before we reach a point of smooth realism. Developers of the engine have acknowledged this, and say that improving this tech has been a focus of its development. We haven’t seen anything of its capabilities yet, but rest assured, we’ll have more information leading up to the release of new consoles and next-gen games.
Probably the most exciting part of the UE4 is the fact that it has gone out of its way to become much more user-friendly and accessible to the developers sitting at its helm. A majority of the changes made to environments or the character themselves can be made and seen while the game is actively running. Script is easily edited, and a variety of tools will make it much easier to track changes and effects within the game’s environment. Developers at Epic have cited their desire to cut down on development time and allowing the creative teams to have more flexibility with the engine, preventing them from having to refer to coders in a tedious process whenever changes arise.
While we still don’t know many of the fine details, and the Unreal Engine 4 won’t be poking its highly-advanced head out until the next generation of consoles, it’s this first look at its future possibilities that are exciting, to say the least. The team behind the engine has developed it to be able to work with the very powerful machines that the next generation will be, and don’t be surprised to find that it makes its mark on the industry in the same way the Unreal Engine 3 has.