Epic showcases Unreal Engine 4's dynamic lighting, fast iteration capabilities

At E3 this week, Epic Games gave select media outlets a closer look at Unreal Engine 4 -- the company's bid to power the next generation of video game graphics.
As the game industry's biggest players showed off their upcoming games for the current console cycle this week, Gears of War developer Epic Games was looking to the future, showing Unreal Engine 4 to select media outlets -- including Gamasutra -- during E3. UE4 is Cary, NC-based Epic's key to the next-generation of video game graphics. If the widespread adaptation of this generation's UE3 is any indication, this new engine will serve as the foundation for many games across many platforms, from Epic as well as external engine licensees. Epic senior technical artist Alan Willard spent much of the time during his presentation exhibiting the engine's full realtime dynamic global illumination capabilities. The engine supports fully emissive surfaces, with objects able to change the kind of light they can emit. Particle effects during the demo were impressive. [See a UE4 developer walkthrough on GameTrailers' Youtube channel.] Thanks to support for GPU particles, UE4 displayed in one room over 1 million particles, each being affected by an emissive sphere controlled by Willard. Willard showed another room that exhibited how particles were affected by light. When the room was darkened, you could see large particles. Turn on a flashlight, and it reveals countless smaller, reflective pieces of virtual dust.
Other features of UE4 include glossy specular reflection, full-shadowed and -lit subsurface-scattering, a fully-deferred renderer, per-pixel lens flare, full eye adaptation (simulating when you walk from a dark room to a bright outdoors) and other improvements.
For game developers, Epic has taken steps in UE4 to streamline the development process. Halfway through his technical presentation, Willard showed that he had been inside the editor the whole time, demonstrating that developers can instantly switch between tools and the engine's immersive mode, which should substantially reduce iteration time. The user interface is more flexible in UE4 as well, with dockable modules. As revealed last month, it implements the visual scripting editor Kismet 2, allowing even non-programmers to build interactive scenes by converting code that determines in-game objects' behaviors into interactive flowcharts with pull-down menus. This is next-generation technology, but Willard confirmed that the demo shown was running on an off-the-shelf, high-end graphics card, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 680 (it retails for $500-$600). For Epic's cinematic demonstration of UE4, click here.

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