So the Unreal 5 tech demo just launched on a PS5 with some exciting announcements for developers and artists alike. This blog post shares some early thoughts and discussion points about the new features and content. Ok, so what is new to UE5 and what sets this game engine apart from its rivals? Well, first of all, let's discuss the newly created feature named Nanite.
Nanite is a mesh optimisation tool. Based on the information we have currently, it seems to update meshes in real-time by compressing geometry into something called a micro-polygon, which are tiny triangles used to make up in-game meshes. I am assuming that the micro-polygons are used for the higher-resolution detail at close range and that the further you are away from a mesh in the 3D world, the fewer triangles there will be. I suppose it will work similar to current LOD's but have a much smoother transition in comparison. The micro-polygons will also eliminate the need for displacement and normal maps as it provides the depth and detail on the models surface via actual geometry which is super exciting.
It looks like Epic Games have been preparing Nanite for some time. In 2019 Epic Games announced that they had partnered up with Quixel. If you're not familiar with Quixel, it is a company that specialises in the production of manga scans, using a process called photogrammetry to create high-resolution models for V-Effects within television and film. However, in the past, for these models to be used effectively within video games they would need to be retopologize, this is the time-consuming process of lowering the mesh count combined with creating textures to display surface detail, Nanite seems to element the need for retopology and as well as the additional textures such as normal maps. The partnership between Epic Games and Quixel means that users of Unreal Engine will get access to Quixels mega library.
Nanite supports massive 8k texture and mesh sizes; providing additional surface detail combined. One thing to consider is the size of video game files, the increased texture and mesh sizes will undoubtedly add to overall games file sizes, so if you do have slow download speeds, expect to be waiting a while! Nextgen consoles will also need to address storage space and speed of access; all them files need to stored somewhere! Epic Games within there first look tech demo and blog have stated that...
To support vastly larger and more detailed scenes than previous generations, PlayStation 5 provides a dramatic increase in storage bandwidth.
However next-generation consoles will still need a considerable amount of stage space on them, and this needs to be fast otherwise players are going to run into all sort of problems such slower load speeds and longer download times.
Nanite looks impressive but don't get your hopes up for actual game characters; these models will still need to be retopologize; this is because of the way our animation systems work. Currently, animated characters require rigs that act as muscle and bone; in order for these to work effectively, they need smoother mesh types and clean topology. Nanite seems like it will only be used for static objects or hard surface objects that do not require any mesh deformation.
Another announcement within the first look video was Lumen which is a lighting system that allows for an infinite number of light bounces, working with indirect specular reflections. Usually, specular reflection within video games are evaluated with specular maps and camera angles, unreal seems to have developed a system that is not dependent on these which should enable artists to create more dynamically lite scenes. I have speculated for a number of years that visualisation works will soon move to computer game engines, I think Unreal Engine 5 certainly takes huge steps towards this and that we expect to see even more visualisation works being created with it.
Overall Epic Games seem to be targeting a lot of there content towards the next-generation console, within there first look video and posts. I will be interested to see follow up announcements about other feature that UE5 will have, I certainly think that what has been shown already sets UE5 apart from its rivals and could pave the way for next-generation games.