Unreal Engine 4 will be at E3, Epic hopes consoles can keep up

Unreal Engine 4 will include a variety of new processing tools, visual effects and easy-to-use scripting processes, and will be finally revealed to the gaming public at E3 2012.

Unreal Engine 4 will include a variety of new processing tools, visual effects and easy-to-use scripting processes, and will be finally revealed to the gaming public at E3 2012.

A demo for Unreal Engine 4 was shown to representatives of top tech companies during GDC 2012 — partially as an example of what the new toolset will be capable of, but also as a plea for those companies to make their hardware beefy enough to handle it.

In an interview with Wired, Epic's Tim Sweeney explained that the company made a similar plea at last year's GDC, where it showed off the Unreal Engine 3's "Samaritan" demo.

"We used it as an opportunity to make a point to the developers," Sweeney said. "'We want 10 times more power; here's what we can do with it.'"

The UE4 demo runs on a single Nvidia Kepler GTX 680 graphics card, rather than three graphics cards (the typical set up for Unreal demonstrations). The two-and-a-half minute clip shows a knight awakening from his volcanic tomb, and surveying the surrounding lands as an eruption blankets the countryside in lava and ash. The free-floating debris showcases the much improved particle effects of UE4 — an improvement which Epic designer Cliff Bleszinski worries will be overused, much like the bloom lighting of the current Unreal Engine.

"Mark my words," Bleszinski says, "those particles are going to be whored by developers."

UE4 will contain all the visual upgrades you'd expect from a next-gen development toolset, but Sweeney explained that Epic wanted the engine to reduce the amount of man-hours that modern game development requires.

"Call of Duty was a game that a team of a few dozen could develop on PlayStation 2," Sweeney said. "Now Activision has hundreds of people working on Call of Duty for the current-gen consoles. What's supposed to happen in the next generation? Are they going to have 4,000 people?"

To reduce the workload, UE4 will have an improved dynamic lighting system, lessening the amount of pre-rendered lighting effects that need to be programmed. It will effectively remove all rendering time, allowing developers to see their changes in real time as they make them. It will have an improved version of UE3's Kismet scripting tools, which gives designers, artists and other non-programmers an easy-to-use interface for programming object behaviors.

It sounds like a substantial improvement, but it won't pack as much of a punch as Epic hopes if they don't have the gaming hardware to match.

"There is a huge responsibility on the shoulders of our engine team and our studio to drag this industry into the next generation," Bleszinski said. "It is up to Epic, and 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."

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