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Review: Unreal engine 4
Real-time, All the Time
A new generation of games is upon us thanks to the Unreal Engine 4 (UE4) by Epic Games, a PCGA promoter member. This engine is the latest in a venerable family that has powered many of the industry’s top AAA titles, including Batman Arkham City, the Bioshock series, and Epic’s own Unreal series. And while every new game engine promises shinier graphics, Unreal Engine 4 truly delivers huge advances that make both the visuals and the actual game development process more interactive and fun. Here’s how:
Realtime Global Illumination
The most visible change in UE4 is the new lighting model, which enables real-time global illumination (GI) for the first time. Picture a room with red carpet, white walls, and sunlight streaming through an open window: GI simulates the red glow the walls inherit as light bounces from surface to surface, filling every nook and cranny along the way. Games have tried to fake this effect in the past, mostly by baking a static image of the lighting onto the surfaces, but this also leads to a completely static environment. The fact that Unreal Engine 4 does all this in real-time is a game changer.
So what does it mean for gamers? Aside from unprecedented visual quality, this new lighting model opens up new gameplay possibilities as developers are able to move away from pre-scripted games and towards fully dynamic environments. Picture a pitch black warehouse in a FPS game. Breaking through a single boarded up window will illuminate not just the immediate area, but now a large swath of land as the indirect light bounces to fill the void and reveal hidden enemies.
The innovation continues with new GPU based particle systems, which can range from a simple handful of sparks up to complex smoke and fire effects consisting of hundreds or thousands of discrete particles. Utilizing the power of your GPU, UE4 can handle scenes with up to one million particles.
And since the engine operates on a unified lighting model, there are new gameplay options as well. Picture the warehouse scene again- you’ve accidentally revealed too many enemies! Just set off a smoke grenade by the window to block some of the light and buy yourself some more time.
Flexible Developer Tools
As impressive as the new graphical features are, the developer tools are arguably the real star of UE4. Developers can preview their games instantly in the editor with full quality, change or debug code in real-time, and even pause everything, switch to an omniscient point of view, and step through game logic as it happens. Even more impressive is the upgraded Kismet visual scripting tool, which allows non-programmers to create a wide variety of behaviors and even simple, but complete games without touching a line of code.
“What the new Kismet means for gamers is the artist’s
vision flows unfiltered to them, because now the artist can
do exactly what they want”
-Mark Rein, VP of Epic Games.
These new tools make the development process far more efficient and intuitive, which delivers a two-fold benefit: better games for the consumers and reduced development costs to the studios. Additionally, the ease of use offers a powerful playground for modders and hobbyist developers- an advantage only the PC platform can offer.
The technology of UE4 is exciting, but the bottom line is games- when will we have this in our hands and what will the experience be like? The first game confirmed to use Unreal Engine 4 is Epic’s own Fortnite for PC. This cooperative sandbox survival game is set in a lush cartoon environment. As for the experience, with today’s consoles at an ancient 6 &7 years old, only PC’s can deliver the muscle to make it reality.
“Next-gen's here. It's been here. It's a high-end PC.”
-Epic Design Director, Cliff Bleszinski at a Comic Con panel on Fortnite.
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