Just a couple weeks ago, Epic Games officially revealed the Unreal Engine 5, the latest greatest version of their engine to date.
If you somehow don’t know, Epic Games is the development company responsible for Infinity Blade, Gears of War, and oh, a little known game called Fortnite. These guys are in the big leagues, well above something like Sloto Cash online casino. They are also the developers of the Unreal Engine, a powerful video game development tool.
It’s used by loads of companies and many popular games are built it- or more likely, Unreal Engine 4, specifically. Some of these games include the poplar titles of Batman: Arkham Asylum, Bioshock, Mass Effect, Dishonoured, and Deus Ex.
So what does Epic Games’ greatest and latest edition of their engine bring to the table, and is it worth investing the time and resources to switch over?
Nanite is the name of a new core technology that runs behind the scenes to help render complex geometry. According to the official announcement post, “Nanite virtualized micro polygon geometry frees artists to create as much geometric detail as the eye can see.”
The post (and video demo) goes on to claim that the engine is now capable of rendering billions of polygons without any loss in quality. Nanite is supposed to allow 3d Artists to drop assets into the Engine without the need for Normal Maps or even to bother budgeting their polygons.
Normal Maps are, until now, a vital part of lighting in Game Engines, which I’ll explain more about later.
Lumen is the new lighting technology that’s being implemented in Unreal Engine 5. Now, if you’ve ever worked with Game Engines before, you’ll know that lighting is one of the most processor-intensive and finicky things to get right.
As it turns out, calculating how light bounces, reflects, absorbs, and diffuses across objects before reaching your in-game eyeballs is very complicated. Most game engines use clever “cheats” to fake realistic lighting or else limit how many calculations the computer is allowed to do for light until it stops to prevent itself from catching on fire.
Lumen intends to be a powerful and incredibly realistic light simulation system, capable of handling loads of light sources, reflections, ambient lighting, and shadows. The video demo even claims that the Lumen can handle “Infinite bounces”, but I would hazard a guess that that’s an exaggeration. Still, the sheer quality of dynamic, real-time lighting present in the video is insane.
Unreal Engine Royalties
Obviously, the Epic Games dev team is not doing this for free. For older versions of Unreal, the deal was the access to the engine was free, and even releasing games was free, until your game starting bringing in more than $3,000 in revenue per quarter. Then you had to pay 5% royalties. Per Quarter.
Well, all has changed with their latest announcement. Not only has the Royalty’s been changed for Unreal 5, but also all previous versions too! Now, if you release a game built on a version of the Unreal Engine, all royalties are waived until your game starts earning more than $1,000,000 in gross revenue. That’s incredible!
For comparison, Unreal’s largest competitor, Unity, has a similar licensing plan already, except that the limit on revenue is only(!) $100,000. That means you can earn ten times as much money on your game before you have to hand over a single dime to Epic Games.
With Unreal Engine 5 comes improvements in every sector. Other noteworthy mentions include upgrades to Chaos physics and destruction, Niagara VFX, convolution reverb, and ambisonics rendering. The video demo also showcases improvements to the animation system, particles, and IK.
Is Unreal Engine 5 Right for You?
In other words, should you make the jump into UE5? After all, these features sound amazing!
Well, hold your horses. Yes, these features are impressive and powerful, that can’t be denied. However, I have warning klaxons going off in my head screaming, “Overkill! Overkill!”
IF the features are at the level the developers claim they are, it has yet to be seen whether small indie developers can take advantage of these systems easily.
In fact, these systems may be completely unnecessary for your specific project and will add a lot of back ends, dead weight to your game. It may end up being that Unity or Godot may be more ideal, if for nothing else than being more lightweight to work with.
That being said, the features on display really have me hyped, and I hope they’re as good as Epic Games claims they are. Given the change in the royalties, Unreal Engine 5 may be the most powerful Engine that will be on the market for almost free.