This is the moment I've been waiting for in computing graphics.
Unreal Engine 5
Unreal Engine 5 was revealed on May 13, 2020, supporting all existing systems including the next-generation consoles PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S. Work on the engine started about two years prior to its announcement. It was released in early access on May 26, 2021, with expected full launch in early 2022.
One of its major features is Nanite, an engine that allows for high-detailed photographic source material to be imported into games. The Nanite virtualized geometry technology allows Epic to take advantage of its past acquisition of Quixel, the world's largest photogrammetry library as of 2019.
The goal of Unreal Engine 5 was to make it as easy as possible for developers to create detailed game worlds without having to spend excessive time on creating new detailed assets. Nanite can import nearly any other pre-existing three-dimension representation of objects and environments, including ZBrush and CAD models, enabling the use of film-quality assets. Nanite automatically handles the levels of detail (LODs) of these imported objects appropriate to the target platform and draw distance, a task that an artist would have had to perform otherwise.
Lumen is another component described as a "fully dynamic global illumination solution that immediately reacts to scene and light changes". Lumen eliminates the need for artists and developers to craft a lightmap for a given scene, but instead calculates light reflections and shadows on the fly, thus allowing for real-time behavior of light sources.
Niagra and Chaos
Additional components include Niagara for fluid and particle dynamics and Chaos for a physics engine.
With potentially tens of billions of polygons present on a single screen at 4K resolution, Epic also developed the Unreal Engine 5 to take advantage of the upcoming high-speed storage solutions with the next-generation console hardware that will use a mix of RAM and custom solid-state drives.
Lumen in the Land of Nanite
Epic had worked closely with Sony in optimizing Unreal Engine 5 for the PlayStation 5, with Epic collaborating with Sony on the console's storage architecture. To demonstrate the ease of creating a detailed world with minimal effort, the May 2020 reveal of the engine showcased a demo called "Lumen in the Land of Nanite" running on a PlayStation 5 that was built mostly by pulling assets from the Quixel library and using the Nanite, Lumen, and other Unreal Engine 5 components to create a photorealistic cave setting that could be explored.
Epic affirmed that Unreal Engine 5 would be fully supported on the Xbox Series X as well, but had been focused on the PlayStation 5 during the announcement as a result of their work with Sony in the years prior. Epic plans to use Fortnite as a testbed for Unreal Engine 5 to showcase what the engine can do to the industry, with the game brought to use Unreal Engine 5 in December 2021.
Ninja Theory's Senua's Saga: Hellblade II will also be one of the first games to use Unreal Engine 5.
The Matrix Awakens, a tie-in experience ahead of the release of The Matrix Resurrections, was developed by Epic to be a further demonstration of Unreal Engine 5 along with other technology that they had acquired over 2020 and 2021, including their MetaHuman Creator developed and integrated into Unreal Engine 5 with technology from 3Lateral, Cubic Motion, and Quixel.
Additional features planned for Unreal Engine 5 come from Epic's acquisitions and partnerships. The MetaHuman Creator is a project based on technology from three companies acquired by Epic, 3Lateral, Cubic Motion, and Quixel, to allow developers to quickly create realistic human characters that can then be exported for use within Unreal.
Through partnership with Cesium, Epic plans to offer a free plugin to provide 3D geospatial data for Unreal users, allowing them to recreate any part of the mapped surface of Earth. Epic will include RealityCapture, a product it acquired with its acquisition of Capturing Reality that can generate 3D models of any object from a collection of photographs taken of it from multiple angles, and the various middleware tools offered by Epic Game Tools.
Unreal Engine 5 will retain the current royalty model, with developers returning 5% of gross revenues to Epic Games, though this fee is forgiven for those that release their games on the Epic Games Store. Further, Epic announced alongside Unreal Engine 5 that they will not take any fee from games using any version of Unreal Engine for the first US$1 million in gross revenue, retroactive to January 1, 2020