Unreal Engine 4 Reveal: Gameplay Vs Graphics – What It Means For Next-Gen Gaming
Unreal Engine 4 has been officially revealed by Epic Games, by way of two brand new tech demos. We go through the trailer with a fine comb and discuss what it tells us about next-gen gaming on PC, PS4, and Xbox 720.
Published on Jun 7, 2012
Unreal Engine 4 has received a stunning debut trailer from Epic Games out of E3 2012, and the footage really does give us a glimpse into what the next generation of gaming will look like.
You can watch Epic's Unreal Engine 4 reveal trailer in HD here:
Games developed on PC, PS4 and Xbox 720 that use Unreal Engine 4 will look stunning – that much is a given – but that visual gloss will now, in more ways than ever, feed back into gameplay.
Visuals aside, Unreal Engine 4 also delivers a stunning selection box of new innovations. The mind races over the possibilities of how developers might put these tools to use.
Join us as we go through Epic’s Unreal Engine 4 trailer and discuss what these new features could mean for your gaming experience in the next generation.
Unreal Engine 4 delivers true, real time and dynamic destruction
Many people enjoy destruction in their games - It’s the reason people choose Battlefield 3 over Modern Warfare 3 for one. But no game has really embraced the idea of destruction as an organic, truly integral game mechanic.
What do we mean by that? Well, imagine a game world similar to Battlefield 3’s where yes, buildings can be torn down, cover corroded by gunfire and enemies killed by collapsing houses. Unreal Engine 4 expands on this notion drastically.
In the Unreal Engine 4 tech demo, we can see the central character walking down a crumbling stone corridor. The debris falls in real time and pools around the floor.
In Battlefield 3 – aside from collapsing structures on enemies in specific areas – smaller, individual shards of debris can’t kill foes, be stacked, or walked upon. In fact, most smaller shards disappear. In the Unreal Engine 4 demo however, every grain of collapsing rock stays where it falls and properly impacts on the world.
You could use an RPG to blow up a wall and damage anyone hit by debris, or even tear down rock faces to crate makeshift ramps to reach higher areas, or dig down underground.
How about using debris to fill up lethal pitfalls or raise the floor below you – thereby turning a lethal drop into a safe one? With Unreal Engine 4, this is entirely possible.
Unreal Engine 4 makes malleable materials behave realistically
Here we can see streams of lava flowing realistically, spreading around rocks and pooling in to troughs below. Games that use water in environments and in puzzle solving do this correctly in specific areas where the mechanics are required, such as Uncharted 3’s capsizing cruise liner escape.
But Unreal Engine 4 makes these malleable liquids function properly in real time as standard, so any body of water or soft substance can behave in an organic fashion, regardless of where you are or what you are doing.
How could this mechanic be used in a game? You could use any container to store water in real time and then use it to douse a fire, have your character drink it, or use it to solve puzzles. You can even manipulate and guide liquids in Unreal Engine 4, as we can see here:
In this scene, the lava flows into troughs and is directed to stone glyphs that line the corridor, activating magic within them. This is perfect for an organic puzzle. We can picture a character creating makeshift streams, guiding the lava to switches, pour on enemies or melt ice blocking the way.
Going back to water, you could flood chambers organically, allowing you to swim down great heights, drown foes, and many other uses. This is a huge deal among the Unreal Engine 4 tool set, and one that is sure to set the minds of developers racing.
Unreal Engine 4 delivers real time particle effects that react to your touch
Requiring tons of processing clout from hardware and expertise on behalf of studios, particle effects seem like a tricky thing to master, and few games have really wowed us in this department in recent years, as it’s still something that is growing over time. Once again, Unreal Engine 4 has knocked it out of the park.
In this segment of Epic’s demo trailer, we see a fire orb spewing hundreds, if not thousands of individual particles in real time. Not only does the environment light up in reaction to every single one of those sparks, they react to your touch too.
You can pick that orb up and swing it around, sending a flowing trail of sparks swooping through the air in real time, entirely at your command. Here’s a still of the real time effect in motion.
All of these sparks are moving in real time as the trailer presenter hurls his magic orb around the room. It’s impressive, but this doesn’t have to be restricted to sparks however. It can apply to any particle effect, and this is where things get interesting.
We mentioned pooling liquids and stacking debris earlier, and the same could be said for soil. Digging down, filling gaps, building up – all of this could be achieved organically using this effect, giving you organic construction and destruction the likes of which Red Faction promised, but couldn’t deliver at the time.
Also notice that the sparks nearest the fire orb are glowing brighter, illuminated by the natural light of the orb itself. This could act as a visual indicator when using magic spells, highlighting damage radius – enemies hit by the lighter sparks takes more damage than those entering the darker particles for example.
Unreal Engine 4 delivers dense fogging effects that you can manipulate
Realistic smoke and fog are two effects that developers are only just getting right in this generation. It’s a hard thing to do, but Infinity Ward really nailed it back in Call of Duty 2, using smoke grenades that really did obscure the environment, create ad hoc hiding spots and disorientate enemy AI. Unreal Engine 4 takes this to the next level.
In the Unreal Engine 4 tech demo, we can see the above lava pit emitting a thick plume of smoke. Every so often, fireballs leap up and illuminate the shroud briefly in real time. This could effect next-gen gameplay in a number of ways, as we can see in the image below:
In this shot, the presenter hurls a light orb into a room filled with blue and red smoke, repelling the blinding effects. Now imagine someone throwing down a smoke grenade during a multiplayer game of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, and a member of the other team turning on a flash light to see through it.
Better still – imagine a next-gen Silent Hill game, as the series’ iconic fog rolls in to consume the town in real time, smothering structures and the player. You could then turn on your flashlight, or use other illuminated objects to increase your visibility.
Given that the fog is dynamic, even other variables - such as natural wind and fans - could blow the fog away and make it move around to as the player commands.
Unreal Engine 4’s dynamic lighting is a stealth fan’s dream
The biggest talking point of Epic’s Unreal Engine 4 tech demo is the use of dynamic, real time lighting and the way changes in the environment impact on light sources. This looks incredible, but like everything else on our list, could impact gameplay in a massive way.
Shadows and light go hand in hand with stealth, so imagine a game of Metal Gear Solid, where Snake must stick to shadows to avoid detection. Simple enough, but when said shadows are moving constantly, the game becomes infinitely more tactical.
Or how about creating your own source of darkness? Close a window or smash a light, and suddenly your world is plunged into darkness, entirely organically, and entirely at your whim.
It’s not just darkness either, as Unreal Engine 4 has dynamic lens flare, which could be used to blind enemies, or give flashbangs in shooters a whole new spin. It wouldn’t be a visual filter or trick anymore, your character would actually be blinded temporarily by a tangible, organic light source.
Picture a next-gen Castlevania game where light can be used as a dynamic weapon against vampires and suddenly the importance of the scene above takes on a whole new meaning.
Unreal Engine 4 spells the death of blatantly obvious signposting
If game developers truly want their experience to feel immersive, why do so many of their releases still insist on holding the player’s hand through text-based instructions, radio chatter and HUD markers? Unreal Engine 4 – once again – fixes that issue.
It’s all a question of artistic design and being clever when creating game worlds. For example, picture a next-gen Skyrim sequel running on Unreal Engine 4. It’d probably look something like this:
Pretty neat huh? Now imagine your hero is given a quest in which he must journey to Lava Mountain to defeat an evil bad guy. Looks hard to find with all the mountains and snow in the way right?
Oh, there it is.
Sure, you’d still need a world map to see where you’re going, but with draw distance and visual effects this good, the amount of crap on the HUD and arrows pointing to objectives would be reduced drastically.
EA’s Skate already tried this by plonking a great big world marker at your objective and having it stretch into the sky. It’s a great idea and we’re surprised that more developers haven’t used this mechanic. It’s certainly less intrusive than a messy HUD that’s for sure.
Unreal Engine 4 delivers day/night cycles that give you two very different worlds
We’ve established that lighting is a major hook of the Unreal Engine 4 tech demo. As such, the change between day and night will not only provide a world that looks lighter or darker depending on the time, but one that delivers two very different worlds in terms of artistic direction.
In Epic’s tech demo, the presenter enters the lava filled chamber and shows us how it looks during the day, with lens flare, flickering shadows and more. It looks like this:
The presenter then switches the time of day to night, and turns around to look into the chamber again. Only this time, it looks like this:
The difference is significant, as the lava becomes highlighted, illuminating the chamber naturally and realistically. This could feed into gameplay in a big way, especially in something like Minecraft, where you really do need light sources to find your way around in the dark.
Take this premise, but then throw in Unreal Engine 4’s dynamic lighting, and you could find inventive ways to light the darkness, or to create crumb trails for you to navigate the world during the night.