Last night on Spike's GameTrailers TV, Epic Games showed off Unreal Engine 4, the next generation of its industry-standard game engine, for the first time. You can watch the impressive "Elemental" demo above, with its heavily armored knight that awakens in a mountainside castle once a long-dormant volcano erupts. According to Epic, the demo is running on a single currently available consumer-level graphics card, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 680.
Real-time dynamic global illumination: Lighting looks much more realistic, taking into account every light source (such as a blinding noonday sun or lava's soft reddish glow) and surface (like dull stone or a gleaming, reflective statue) and calculating a scene's appearance on the fly.
Environmental and particle effects: Whether it's a raging bonfire, the tiny sparks leaping from it, or the thick smoke billowing off it, the vast increase in the possible number of particles will allow for better-looking effects in both obvious and subtle ways.
On-the-fly development iteration: Developers will be able to spend much more time making tweaks instead of waiting for code to re-compile every time they do, which is better for their productivity and, ultimately, for the games themselves.
Don't expect to play games that look like this anytime soon, though. While the next Xbox and/or the next PlayStation may launch by the end of 2013, Epic expects developers to stick with Unreal Engine 3 for early games in the next console generation, and then use Unreal Engine 4 for their next projects. "It makes sense to just stay with [UE3], do higher-resolution textures, increase their polygon budget, increase the number of characters on screen and things like that," said Willard.
After seeing this, we think the next generation can't get here quickly enough.
Schools and universities have free, unlimited access to Unreal Engine 4 now, thanks to Epic Games. These organizations need only to visit Epic's dedicated page for access for their staff and students.
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