Epic Games Releases Unreal Engine 4.11

Subject: General Tech | March 31, 2016 - 02:52 PM |
Tagged: epic games, unreal engine, unreal engine 4

It has been in preview since December, but Epic Games has finally released Unreal Engine 4.11 for developers to create awesome things with. This version focused on performance and the features that were added for Paragon, which entered early access two weeks ago. DirectX 12 is still considered experimental, and Vulkan is missing officially (although John Alcatraz has a tutorial to add it to Unreal Engine built from source), but the rendering back-end has received significant changes to accommodate the new graphics APIs in the future.

epicgames-2015-paragon-hair3.jpg

The three features that I'm most interested in, apart from free performance, are lighting channels, capsule shadows, and improved building of static light. Light channels are very difficult to implement in a deferred renderer, but Epic managed. This means that you can have dynamic lights only affect certain objects in the scene, either for performance, if enough lights are ignored to justify the cost of the channels themselves, or for special effects, like making a specific object stand out in a scene. They also added new shading models for eyes, hair, skin, and cloth, and added a bunch of interesting audio features.

Unreal Engine 4.11 is available now from Epic's Launcher. It's free to use, but Epic takes a royalty on certain revenues.

Source: Epic Games

Realistic Landscapes in Unreal Engine 4

Subject: General Tech | March 29, 2016 - 01:55 PM |
Tagged: unreal engine, epic games, art by rens

This work was featured on Unreal Engine's GDC sizzle video as "Photogrammetry", but I've only just now found out where it came from. The creator, Rense de Boer, goes by the consistent online branding of Art by Rens. He worked at DICE from 2011 through 2014, working on the Battlefield franchise, and now he seems to be doing his own thing.

The environment work is stunning. The snow, slightly thawed and refrozen, covers the rocks and leaves in a way that looks absolutely real. Some of the rocks look partially moss-covered, with the plant seemingly breaking it down, and coming up through the cracks. There's only so many ways that I can describe it, but it's definitely worth a look. He targets four Titan-class video cards, but he's aiming for 4K.

epic-2016-artbyrens-leaves.jpg

He hasn't announced any product yet, so we're not really sure why he's doing it. He did receive a grant from Epic Games, though. I'm not sure exactly how much, just that $500,000 USD was split 30 ways, but not uniformly (some received more than others).

Source: Art by Rens

MWC 16: Epic Games Unveils ProtoStar Demo on Galaxy S7

Subject: Mobile, Shows and Expos | February 21, 2016 - 05:14 PM |
Tagged: Samsung, epic games, unreal engine 4, vulkan, galaxy s7, MWC, mwc 16

Mobile World Congress starts with a big bang... ... ... :3

Okay, not really; it starts with the formation of a star, which happens on a continual basis across the universe. I won't let facts get in the way of a pun, though.

As for the demo, it is powered by Unreal Engine 4 and runs on a Samsung Galaxy S7 with the Vulkan API. The setting seems to be some sort of futuristic laboratory that combines objects until it builds up into a star. It is bright and vibrant, with many particles, full-scene anti-aliasing, reflections, and other visual effects. The exact resolution when running on the phone was never stated, but the YouTube video was running at 1080p30, and the on-stage demo looked fairly high resolution, too.

epicgames-2016-mwc-vulkan-protostar.jpg

Epic Games lists the features they added to mobile builds of Unreal Engine 4 for this demo:

  • Dynamic planar reflections
  • “Full” GPU particle support, which includes vector fields.
  • Temporal Anti-Alising, which blends neighboring frames to smooth jaggies in motion.
  • ASTC texture compression (created by ARM and AMD for OpenGL and OpenGL ES)
  • Full scene dynamic cascaded shadows
  • Chromatic aberration
  • Dynamic light refraction
  • Filmic tonemapping curve, which scales frames rendered in HDR to a presentable light range
  • Improved static reflections
  • High-quality depth of field
  • Vulkan API for thousands of onscreen, independent objects.

The company has not stated which version of Unreal Engine 4 will receive these updates. I doubt that it will land in 4.11, which is planned for March, but they tend to release a full dot-version every one to three months. They also have early previews for those who wish to try it early, some compiled leading up to launch, and others that need to be built from GitHub.

Source: Epic Games

Unreal Editor for Unreal Engine 4 in VR

Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | February 4, 2016 - 07:47 PM |
Tagged: GDC, gdc 2016, epic games, ue4, VR, vive vr

Epic Games released Unreal Engine 4 at GDC two years ago, and removed its subscription fee at the next year's show. This year, one of the things that they will show is Unreal Editor in VR with the HTC Vive. Using the system's motion controllers, you will be able to move objects and access UI panels in the virtual environment. They open the video declaring that this is not an experimental project.

epicgames-2016-tim-vr.jpg

Without using this technology, it's hard to comment on its usability. It definitely looks interesting, and might be useful for VR experiences. You can see what your experience will look like as you create it, and you probably even save a bit of time in rapid iteration by not continuously wearing and removing the equipment. I wonder how precise it will be though, since the laser pointers and objects seemed to snap and jitter a bit. That said, it might be just as precise and, even still, it only really matters how it looks and behaves, and it shouldn't even prevent minor tweaks after the fact anyway.

Epic Games expects to discuss the release plans at the show.

Source: Epic Games

GDC 2016 Sessions Are Up and DirectX 12 / Vulkan Are There

Subject: General Tech | January 20, 2016 - 07:06 PM |
Tagged: vulkan, ue4, nvidia, Intel, gdc 2016, GDC, epic games, DirectX 12, Codemasters, arm, amd

The 30th Game Developers Conference (GDC) will take place on March 14th through March 18th, with the expo itself starting on March 16th. The sessions have been published at some point, with DX12 and Vulkan prominently featured. While the technologies have not been adopted as quickly as advertised, the direction is definitely forward. In fact, NVIDIA, Khronos Group, and Valve have just finished hosting a developer day for Vulkan. It is coming.

gdc-2016-logo.png

One interesting session will be hosted by Codemasters and Intel, which discusses bringing the F1 2015 engine to DirectX 12. It will highlight a few features they implemented, such as voxel based raytracing using conservative rasterization, which overestimates the size of individual triangles so you don't get edge effects on pixels that are partially influenced by an edge that cuts through a tiny, but not negligible, portion of them. Sites like Game Debate (Update: Whoops, forgot the link) wonder if these features will be patched in to older titles, like F1 2015, or if they're just R&D for future games.

Another keynote will discuss bringing Vulkan to mobile through Unreal Engine 4. This one will be hosted by ARM and Epic Games. Mobile processors have quite a few cores, albeit ones that are slower at single-threaded tasks, and decent GPUs. Being able to keep them loaded will bring their gaming potential up closer to the GPU's theoretical performance, which has surpassed both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, sometimes by a factor of 2 or more.

Many (most?) slide decks and video recordings are available for free after the fact, but we can't really know which ones ahead of time. It should be an interesting year, though.

Source: GDC

Shadow Complex Remastered Released for PC... Free

Subject: General Tech | December 4, 2015 - 09:22 PM |
Tagged: shadow complex, pc gaming, epic games, chair games

At the Video Game Awards, Epic Games announced that the Xbox Live Arcade (Xbox 360) title, Shadow Complex, has been remastered for the PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. Moreover, it is available on the Epic Games Launcher for free. Some sites are reporting that it's only free for a limited time, but one of the community managers at Epic Games said that it was, in fact, free forever. If you're interested, open the Epic Games launcher and download it so it's available to play whenever you get a handful of hours free. No rush, though.

epic-2015-shadow-complex.png

While it's been about six years since I played it, Shadow Complex was fun. Chair Games set out to make a Metroid-like side-scroller (apart from a couple of sections) with secrets and items that could only be accessed by backtracking with later equipment. The story was fine.

Shadow Complex Remastered has fairly light system requirements, too.

Minimum:

  • Windows 7 / Windows 8.x / Windows 10
  • Intel Core 2 Duo (or AMD Equivalent)
  • 2GB System RAM
  • NVIDIA GeForce 7800 / AMD Radeon HD 4600 / Intel HD 4000
  • 512MB Video RAM
  • DirectX 9.0c

Recommended:

  • Windows 7 / Windows 8.x / Windows 10
  • Intel Core i5 / AMD A4 APU
  • 4GB System RAM
  • NVIDIA GT 540 / AMD Radeon HD 5550
  • 1GB Video RAM
  • DirectX 11

Of course, while you've downloaded the Epic Games Luancher, you might also consider downloading Unreal Tournament. Also, if you're a creative type, Unreal Engine 4 is available for free on the launcher too (although royalties are due if you start making money with it).

Source: Chair Games

Epic Games Releases Unreal Engine 4.9

Subject: General Tech | September 1, 2015 - 04:24 PM |
Tagged: unreal engine 4, unreal engine, ue4.9, ue4, epic games, dx12

For an engine that was released in late-March, 2014, Epic has been updating it frequently. Unreal Engine 4.9 is, as the number suggests, the tenth release (including 4.0) in just 17 months, which is less than two months per release on average. Each release is fairly sizable, too. This one has about 232 pages of release notes, plus a page and a half of credits, and includes changes for basically every system that I can think of.

The two most interesting features, for me, are Area Shadows and Full Scene Particle Collision.

Area Shadows simulates lights that are physically big and relatively close. At the edges of a shadow, the object that casts the shadow are blocking part of the light. Wherever that shadow falls will be partially lit by the fraction of the light that can see it. As that shadow position gets further back from the shadow caster, it gets larger.

pcper-2015-softshadows.png

On paper, you can calculate this by drawing rays from either edge of each shadow-casting light to either edge of each shadow-casting object, continued to the objects that receive the shadows. If both sides of the light can see the receiver? No shadows. If both sides of the light cannot see the receiver? That light is blocked, which is a shadow. If some percent of a uniform light can see the receiver, then it will be shadowed by 100% minus that percentage. This is costly to do, unless neither the light nor any of the affected objects move. In that case, you can just store the result, which is how “static lighting” works.

Another interesting feature is Full Scene Particle Collision with Distance Fields. While GPU-computed particles, which is required for extremely high particle counts, collide already, distance fields allow them to collide with objects off screen. Since the user will likely be able to move the camera, this will allow for longer simulations as the user cannot cause it to glitch out by, well, playing the game. It requires SM 5.0 though, which limits it to higher end GPUs.

epic-2015-ue4-dx12.jpg

This is also the first release to support DirectX 12. That said, when I used a preview build, I noticed a net-negative performance with my 9000 draw call (which is a lot) map on my GeForce GTX 670. Epic calls it “experimental” for a reason, and I expect that a lot of work must be done to deliver tasks from an existing engine to the new, queue-based system. I will try it again just in case something changed from the preview builds. I mean, I know something did -- it had a different command line parameter before.

UPDATE (Sept 1st, 10pm ET): An interesting question was raised in the comments that we feel could be a good aside for the news post.

Anonymous asked: I don't have any experience with game engines. I am curious as to how much of a change there is for the game developer with the switch from DX11 to DX12. It seems like the engine would hide the underlying graphics APIs. If you are using one of these engines, do you actually have to work directly with DX, OpenGL, or whatever the game engine is based on? With moving to DX12 or Vulcan, how much is this going to change the actual game engine API?

Modern, cross-platform game engines are basically an API and a set of tools atop it.

For instance, I could want the current time in seconds to a very high precision. As an engine developer, I would make a function -- let's call it "GetTimeSeconds()". If the engine is running on Windows, this would likely be ((PerformanceCounter - Initial) / PerformanceFrequency) where PerformanceCounter is grabbed from QueryPerformanceCounter() and PerformanceFrequency is grabbed from QueryPerformanceFrequency(). If the engine is running on Web standards, this would be window.performance.now() * 1000, because it is provided in milliseconds.

Regardless of where GetTimeSeconds() pulls its data from, the engine's tools and the rest of its API would use GetTimeSeconds() -- unless the developer is low on performance or development time and made a block of platform-dependent junk in the middle of everything else.

The same is true for rendering. The engines should abstract all the graphics API stuff unless you need to do something specific. There is usually even a translation for the shader code, be it an intermediate language (or visual/flowchart representation) that's transpiled into HLSL and GLSL, or written in HLSL and transpiled into GLSL (eventually SPIR-V?).

One issue is that DX12 and Vulkan are very different from DX11 and OpenGL. Fundamentally. The latter says "here's the GPU, bind all the attributes you need and call draw" while the former says "make little command messages and put it in the appropriate pipe".

Now, for people who license an engine like Unity and Unreal, they probably won't need to touch that stuff. They'll just make objects and place them in the level using the engine developer's tools, and occasionally call various parts of the engine API that they need.

Devs with a larger budget might want to dive in and tweak stuff themselves, though.

Unreal Engine 4.9 is now available. It is free to use until your revenue falls under royalty clauses.

Source: Epic Games

GDC 15: PhysX Is Now Shared Source to UE4 Developers

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Shows and Expos | March 4, 2015 - 05:52 PM |
Tagged: GDC, gdc 15, nvidia, epic games, ue4, unreal engine 4, PhysX, apex

NVIDIA and Epic Games have just announced that Unreal Engine 4 developers can view and modify the source of PhysX. This also includes the source for APEX, which is NVIDIA's cloth and destruction library. It does not include any of the other libraries that are under the GameWorks banner, but Unreal Engine 4 does not use them anyway.

epic-ue4-nvidia-physx.jpg

This might even mean that good developers can write their own support for third-party platforms, like OpenCL. That would probably be a painful process, but it should be possible now. Of course, that support would only extend to their personal title, and anyone who they share their branch with.

If you are having trouble finding it, you will need to switch to a branch that has been updated to PhysX 3.3.3 with source, which is currently just “Master”. “Promoted” and earlier seem to be back at PhysX 3.3.2, which is still binary-only. It will probably take a few months to trickle down to an official release. If you are still unable to find it, even though you are on the “Master” branch, the path to NVIDIA's source code is: “Unreal Engine/Engine/Source/ThirdParty/PhysX/”. From there you can check out the various subdirectories for PhysX and APEX.

NVIDIA will be monitoring pull requests sent to that area of Unreal Engine. Enhancements might make it back upstream to PhysX proper, which would then be included in future versions of Unreal Engine and anywhere else that PhysX is used.

In other news, Unreal Engine 4 is now free of its subscription. The only time Epic will ask for money is when you ship a game and royalties are due. This is currently 5% of gross revenue, with the first $3000 (per product, per calendar quarter) exempt. This means that you can make legitimately free (no price, no ads, no subscription, no microtransactions, no Skylander figurines, etc.) game in UE4 for free now!

Source: Epic Games

Epic Games Announces "Unreal Dev Grants"

Subject: General Tech | February 21, 2015 - 07:00 AM |
Tagged: unreal engine 4, unreal engine, epic games

On Thursday, Tim Sweeney joined the Unreal Engine 4 Twitch Broadcast to announce “Unreal Dev Grants”. In short, Epic Games have set aside 5 million dollars to pass out in increments of five thousand ($5000 USD) to fifty thousand dollars ($50,000 USD), with no strings attached. If you are doing something cool in, with, or involving Unreal Engine 4, you are eligible and can use the money in any way. You keep all your “intellectual property” and equity, and you do not even have any accountability requirements.

epic-ue4-dev-grants.jpg

It's free money that you can apply for, or they will even approach you with if they see you doing something awesome (you can even nominate other people's projects). The only “catch” is that your work needs to be relevant to Unreal Engine. From there, it could be anything from congratulating an awesome pull request for the engine on GitHub, to giving an indie (or even AAA) game a little bit of a financial boost. Tim Sweeney was telling stories about mowing lawns for the $3000 it took for him to launch ZZT. He mowed lawns so you don't have to.

For more information, or to nominate yourself or someone else, check out their website.

Source: Epic Games

Unreal Engine 4.5 Recently Released

Subject: General Tech | October 19, 2014 - 11:20 PM |
Tagged: unreal engine 4, epic games

Epic Games released Unreal Engine 4.5 last Tuesday, and it is one of their largest releases since launch. While most point-releases occur on a four-to-six week schedule, this one took about nine weeks.

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The headlining feature from the press release is Ray Traced Distance Field Soft Shadows. In the real world, lights have an actual size. A light bulb is not an infinitesimal point, it fills up your hand when you grab it (when it is off and cooled to roughly room temperature, of course). If a surface can see a light, it is lit by it. If the surface cannot see the light, it is not lit by it, which looks like it is covered in shadow. If a light is big enough that part of it lights a part of a surface, but part of it is blocked, you get "soft shadows".

Ray Traced Distance Field Soft Shadows is a dynamic effect, which means that it can update over time. This is very useful if, for instance, the object that is casting a shadow gets blown up by a rocket launcher or, less entertainingly, the sun sets. The effect is also particularly quick, with scenes rendering in just a couple of milliseconds (you get about 16ms to hit 60 FPS). This is faster than cascaded shadow maps (a method to generate shadows that is optimized for shadows near the camera) in benchmarks listed at Epic's documentation.

epic-ue45-sss.png

Unreal Engine 4.5 has also updated Subsurface Scattering. I am not exactly sure what is different, because Unreal Engine 4 had SSS for quite some time now, but they changed something. This technique is useful to create realistic skin, but is also very useful for oceans, ice, and wax.

Although Ray Traced Distance Field Soft Shadows and Screen-Space Subsurface Scattering are the most interesting feature to write about, I would consider C++ Hot Reload to be the most important feature of this version. To explain it, I will need to first describe how Unreal Engine 4 is designed. When you subscribe, you are given source code access to the engine on GitHub; alternatively, you can download the Unreal Engine Launcher, which allows you to manage canonical builds of Unreal Engine. When a version of the engine is run, it will open a project in Unreal Editor. These projects could be programmed either in C++ or Epic's flowchart-based scripting system, "Blueprints". Complete games could be made in Blueprints, and developers are encouraged to do so, but they are often used for simple objects (lights and elevators), modifications of complex objects, and rapid prototyping.

epic-ue45-hotreload.png

Rapid prototyping is the key part of my explanation. Remember how there is "engine code" that, when compiled, opens an editor to run "game code" for any given project? Despite the E3 2012 demo, many changes in a project's C++ source require the editor to be shut down and reloaded when game code is compiled. This led people to use Blueprints as a prototyping tool, not because of its logical, visual layout, but because you could manipulate objects several times in just a couple of minutes and without closing the editor. Now C++ is said to be a first-class citizen in this regard (unfortunately I have not had time to test this). As long as you are not modifying the engine's code, just the C++ code associated with your project, your changes should be possible while remaining in editor.

epic-ue45-umg.png

Also updated, and finally supported by default, is Unreal Motion Graphics (UMG). UMG is a UI platform that is built upon Slate, which itself is the main UI platform for Unreal Engine 4 (Unreal Editor, for instance, is created with Slate). Basically, it extends Slate and includes a Flash Professional-like editor for it, complete with styles, animations, and scaling for high-DPI devices.

Because I am not in the DirectX 12 private beta, I am unsure whether that branch has been updated. Microsoft has announced that it was based on Unreal Engine 4.4. They have not said anything publicly since, at least not regarding that.

Unreal Engine 4.5 is available now for subscribers through GitHub or the Unreal Engine Launcher.

Source: Epic Games