It has begun. The slow spooling up of the marketing engines for both the new console generation, and Epic’s powerhouse-of-an-engine Unreal 4. It’s undoubtedly going to be a cornerstone on which a huge swathe of third person shooters are going to be made, and probably a new Batman game or two. So when the first screens in the new engine hit, it’s much more of a Thing than you might think.
The shots come courtesy of Wired, who also have an extensive interview with both Cliff Bleszinski and Tim Sweeney, talking about not only their new engine, but its place within the infrastructure of the next Playstation and Xbox systems. Interestingly, they’re urging for more power to be strapped in whatever ergonomically designed black and white cases the new consoles are going to come in. The quote, specifically, is ‘we want 10 times more power; here’s what we can do with it.’
And here is what they can do with it; giant, crumbling castles riddled with flames and sparks wandering in the updraft. More technically, there’s advanced depth of field and lighting at play, making the whole thing look incredibly cinematic, in a way that isn’t directing the camera and making sure you only see what’s going to make you shout ‘awesome’ at the screen. It’s an aesthetic that’s saturated with visual fidelity, and the concept that it’ll run on anything but the most advanced of current hardware is unreasonable.
The boast that’s been in sneaked under all the pretty graphics and scowling demon knights is that Sweeny is claiming that they’re going to combat the situation where ‘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?’. Swelling development costs are what is forcing publishers like EA and Activision hunker down and stick to what works, their Call of Duty’s and Battlefields. The problem is this means there’s less opportunity for moderately successful games, and more riskier projects.
Sweeny is trying to fix this by making Unreal 4 something that cuts both development costs and needless work. Their dynamic lighting engine means that you don’t have to customise every mote and particle, instead just letting the engine handle it. Similarly, they’re letting you see your work in real time, as you work on it, which should make iteration and evolution of both your game and your environment a much smoother and more importantly speedy process.
The demo itself was running on the new nVidia Keplar GTX 680, which, while certainly at the higher end of the scale, is a consumer level card, and something that’s going to be more than affordable within the near future. Even with that being the case, though, it’s highly doubtful that the next generation of consoles is going to have anything even close to the 680, as that’s only just coming to market, and it is going to be a tad on the expensive side. With both Playstation and Xbox consoles selling at a loss, bumping up prices with a top end graphics card might not be an option.
There’s a temptation to shrug that off, because the PC is always going to be able to handle the higher end of options. The problem is that for the past half a decade, the graphics race has been hampered by the ability of the consoles, with titles that are cross platform being held back to the slowest member, and the slowest member is never the PC. So while Unreal 4 is looking gorgeous and spectacular, if half the features that get it that way aren’t going to be implemented because the new consoles can’t handle them, it’ll forever remain a tech demo.
So let’s just hope that Epic can convince Sony and Microsoft to splurge on the hardware end, so that we can all enjoy something that looks a little like what Epic have mocked up to show off their impressive new engine.