Unreal Engine 4 Will Make the Next Generation of Games Look Utterly Mind-Blowing

Illustration for article titled Unreal Engine 4 Will Make the Next Generation of Games Look Utterly Mind-Blowing

If you've loved the look of a big-budget game in the recent years, there's a really good chance that it was built on Epic Games' Unreal Engine 3. Titles like Batman: Arkham City to Infinity Blade II all relied on the software suite to create astounding visuals. As good as current-generation Unreal 3 games look, the ones that follow them are going to make them look like kindergarten drawings.

The first look at images created by Unreal 4 show up in a Wired article that features Epic mastermind Tim Sweeney talking about the power he wants to see in the next generation of gaming machines:

As early as last March, Epic was making the case for more power with a demo screened at the 2011 GDC. Called Samaritan and built in Unreal Engine 3 with a new set of specialized plug-ins, the video showcased the rendering power of current high-end hardware, displaying an impressive array of effects, like realistic clothing, lifelike lighting, and highly detailed facial expressions. It took three high-end graphics cards to handle the demand, but it grabbed people's attention. "We used it as an opportunity to make a point to the developers," Sweeney says. "‘We want 10 times more power; here's what we can do with it.

And that was merely for a souped-up version of Unreal 3. For Unreal 4, yet another quantum leap in hardware has to happen. Creating a game that operates on a level of fidelity comparable to human vision, Sweeney says, will require hardware at least 2,000 times as powerful as today's highest-end graphics processors. That kind of super-hi-def experience may be only two or three console generations away, but it hinges on manufacturers moving toward the power levels Sweeney is looking for today. He needs the next generation of consoles to be good.

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The article goes on to say that some of what was shown in Epic's Samaritan demo last year--made with a modified Unreal 3 foundation—will be baked into Unreal 4. That includes next-level particle effects that, according to Cliff Bleszinski, "are going to be whored by developers." Nice mouth, Cliff.

The Imagination Engine: Why Next-Gen Video Games Will Rock Your World [Wired]

Illustration for article titled Unreal Engine 4 Will Make the Next Generation of Games Look Utterly Mind-Blowing
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Illustration for article titled Unreal Engine 4 Will Make the Next Generation of Games Look Utterly Mind-Blowing

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DISCUSSION

Is it just me, or does this look like some ghetto CG intro to Diablo on PS1 or something? I'm not really very impressed from these screenshots, but I'm sure it's neat in motion ... probably ...

"That kind of super-hi-def experience may be only two or three console generations away, but it hinges on manufacturers moving toward the power levels Sweeney is looking for today. He needs the next generation of consoles to be good."

But do all gamers? Do all developers? Don't get me wrong, I'm all for better graphics, but this doesn't happen in a vacuum. These choices will have major ramifications beyond what Sweeney "needs."

There are a lot of developers that are still struggling to keep up with costs this gen, let alone on a future system. Do gamers want Gears of War 4, complete with bigger visual spectacle? Sure. But they'll see less original IPs, and less risks taken on creative new ideas. I honestly think we've already reached a point where gamers are more interested in gameplay quality, and art design over particle effects.

It's possible it'll play out the same as this gen, which isn't necessarily a great thing. Lots of studios closing down. Lots of homogenization. Lots of draconian measures taken to extract more money from consumers. And the developers who don't want to bet the future of their entire studio on making a Call of Duty clone will put out games on Wii U and handheld that are original and creative.

The race to the top is not without drawbacks. Why are Sony and Microsoft needing to be pushed in the first place? Vita had a slow launch and people are calling for a price cut, despite the system being absolutely worth the price asked. 3DS had a slow start and needed a price cut. Sony had a slow start on PS3 and needed major price cuts.

Sweeney's "needs" are not the whole story. I'd personally rather have game companies stay in business, have more games, have more creativity, cut back on price eventually in ways consumers can see, than push particle effects to the max level for Gears 4 with expensive next gen systems released during the aftermath of a recession. Basically, Sweeney's neck is not on the line here, it's Sony and Microsoft. He can push them to bet big and he'll get to reap the benefits.

It'll be interesting to see how this plays out. I'm excited to see next gen graphics, but the answer does not simply always have to be "more, more, more."