DF Direct Weekly on the Unreal Engine 5 revolution

March 27, 2023
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The latest DF Direct Weekly has arrived, with the Digital Foundry team discussing the big news from GDC – and not much is going to top Epic’s various announcements in its latest State of Unreal. Kicking off with a beautiful UE5.2 tech demo showcasing the latest features of the engine, Epic delivered a range of impressive announcements, from sophisticated facial motion capture delivered via nothing more than a smartphone to a creator-led revolution for Fortnite. In the Direct we also spend some time talking about Nvidia’s latest announcements via its own GTC event – with a path-traced version of Cyberpunk 2077 just weeks away from release.

Looking at Epic’s starter – a demo showing the Rivian R1T electric truck travelling through a rich jungle – what we were essentially seeing was a major upgrade to Unreal Engine 5 that seemingly addresses comprehensively our main concerns about the engine. Put simply, while its prior tech demos did a fantastic job in showcasing the generational leap in fidelity delivered via its Nanite micro-geometry system, there were always concerns about how limited the nature of that geometry could be. Good for city blocks and imposing mountain terrain – yes – but what about more naturalistic environments and especially foliage?

Fortnite’s transition to Unreal Engine 5 put some of those fears to rest with Nanite foliage in clear effect, but this tech demo was something else. Also impressive were the upgrades to procedural generation, likely one of the big asks from game developers. The creation of massively detailed open worlds has leant on proceduralism for quite some time now – the Horizon games from Guerrilla have some remarkable systems in place – and this seems to work on similar principles, intelligently creating worlds that react to ‘hand-drawn’ elements and can be customised by the developer.

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