Subject: General Tech | October 19, 2014 - 11:20 PM | Scott Michaud
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Subject: General Tech | July 17, 2014 - 05:16 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: open-source, open source, fbx, epic games, Blender
Blender, probably the most popular, open source 3D creation suite (sorry Wings!), was given a healthy donation of $13,500 USD by Epic Games. According to the tweet from Ton Roosendaal, Chairman of the Blender Foundation, this is intended to support FBX development, which is becoming the industry standard method of importing and exporting 3D models, skeletons, animations, and so forth. It is also for "epic-game-style navigation controls" (not sure what this is -- Unreal Editor-style controls maybe??)
EpicGames donates 10k euro (13.5k usd) to Blender Development Fund. Is support for more FBX work + epic-game-style nagivation controls. #b3d
— Ton Roosendaal (@tonroosendaal) July 5, 2014
FBX support would definitely be a welcome area of development. It exists, but not at the level of other 3D applications, because those could link directly to Autodesk's library. The format is owned by Autodesk after they acquired Kaydara in 2006. Its closed-source SDK was put under a license that was incompatible with Blender and its public documentation was non-existent. Since then, the Blender community has been working on reverse-engineered support. They have come a long way, the exporting from Blender and importing into Unreal Engine 4 is apparently reasonable, today. Of course, with Epic's focus on the indie developer, $13,500 seems like a good investment to help it continue.
Beyond its status as the default import format into Unreal Engine 4.x, FBX is also standard in many different modeling applications. While it is fairly easy to move around most base, polygonal geometry (and UVs to properly apply materials to them) from suite to suite, the same cannot be said for animation data, and so forth. FBX was designed to be a single pipeline for all of that.
Hopefully, Blender can become a first-class citizen.
Subject: General Tech | May 8, 2014 - 03:04 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: gaming, unreal engine 4, Unreal Tournament, kick ass, epic games
The only way Epic could have excited gamers more than the announcement that Unreal Tournament is coming back is to announce that it is utterly free with no DLC or pay-to-win ... which is exactly what they did! It will be built on Unreal Engine 4, the one you can license at $19 a month and will be designed from the ground up to be moddable and eventually there will be a marketplace where modders can trade, sell or give away their work. Polygon wasn't given any hint of a release date but this news is so exciting it almost makes you forget UT3 ever existed!
Of course you don't have to wait to join in on some classic UT2K4 action, just head to the Gaming Forum and see when the Fragging Frogs will be playing next.
"Developer Epic Games revealed today that the multiplayer shooter's next incarnation — in development in Unreal Engine 4 for Linux, Mac and Windows PC and called simply Unreal Tournament — will be free, moddable and collaboratively developed with fans."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Sci-Fi Contest Winners @ Hack a Day
- Microsoft is developing a smartwatch to rival Samsung, Sony and Apple @ The Inquirer
- Whoops! Nvidia lets slip Q1 earnings early – and they're solid @ The Register
- HP's virtual cloud-based Z Workstation packs Nvidia Grid K2 graphics @ The Inquirer
- FCC MUST protect net neutrality to preserve AMERICA, say Google et al @ The Register
Subject: General Tech, Mobile | April 27, 2014 - 01:50 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: unreal engine 4, ue4, epic games
Epic Games has just incremented the minor version number of their popular engine by releasing Unreal Engine 4.1 to all subscribers. While the dot-zero was available privately for quite some time, it was made public barely a month ago. Its headlining feature is a few extra platforms: Linux, SteamOS, Xbox One, and Playstation 4. Each of these are included in the 19$ per month and 5-percent royalty agreement -- excluding outside fees, such as those required to become a registered developer with Sony and/or Microsoft, obviously.
You will also need a capable Windows PC to deploy a game to Playstation 4, Xbox One, Linux, or SteamOS... "for now". This implies that development on other platforms is being considered. Development from OSX seems likely, as does Linux, but creating games on an Xbox One or Playstation 4 seems a bit far-fetched. Who knows though? If any company has good enough relationships with Sony and Microsoft to make it happen, it would be Epic.
— Ray Davis (@EpicRayD) April 25, 2014
I am guessing... Dreamcast support is a "no". It was not that ahead-of-the-curve.
The actual update notes are just shy of 7000 words and about 20 pages long, so platforms are not everything. Epic has been adding a lot of content and templates to the engine and their marketplace, including the Elemental demo first seen at E3 2012. The editor was also updated with numerous improvements, such as better FBX importing (FBX is a cross-application 3d file format).
Also, it is available now.
Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | March 19, 2014 - 08:15 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: unreal engine 4, gdc 14, GDC, epic games
Game developers, from indie to the gigantic, can now access Unreal Engine 4 with a $19/month subscription (plus 5% of revenue from resulting sales). This is a much different model from UDK, which was free to develop games with their precompiled builds until commercial release, where an upfront fee and 25% royalty is then applied. For Unreal Engine 4, however, this $19 monthly fee also gives you full C++ source code access (which I have wondered about since the announcement that Unrealscript no longer exists).
Of course, the Unreal Engine 3-based UDK is still available (and just recently updated).
This is definitely interesting and, I believe, a response to publishers doubling-down on developing their own engines. EA has basically sworn off engines outside of their own Frostbite and Ingite technologies. Ubisoft has only announced or released three games based on Unreal Engine since 2011; Activision has announced or released seven in that time, three of which were in that first year. Epic Games has always been very friendly to smaller developers and, with the rise of the internet, it is becoming much easier for indie developers to release content through Steam or even their own website. These developers now have a "AAA" engine, which I think almost anyone would agree that Unreal Engine 4 is, with an affordable license (and full source access).
Speaking of full source access, licensees can access the engine at Epic's GitHub. While a top-five publisher might hesitate to share fixes and patches, the army of smaller developers might share and share-alike. This could lead to Unreal Engine 4 acquiring its own features rapidly. Epic highlights their Oculus VR, Linux and Steam OS, and native HTML5 initiatives but, given community support, there could be pushes into unofficial support for Mantle, TrueAudio, or other technologies. Who knows?
A sister announcement, albeit a much smaller one, is that Unreal Engine 4 is now part of NVIDIA's GameWorks initiative. This integrates various NVIDIA SDKs, such as PhysX, into the engine. The press release quote from Tim Sweeney is as follows:
Epic developed Unreal Engine 4 on NVIDIA hardware, and it looks and runs best on GeForce.
Another brief mention is that Unreal Engine 4 will have expanded support for Android.
Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | March 12, 2014 - 09:17 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: GDC, gdc 14, mozilla, epic games, unreal engine 4
Today, Mozilla teases Unreal Engine 4 running in Firefox, ahead of GDC.
Both Mozilla and Epic will have demos in their booths on the conference floor.
Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Graphics Cards, Systems | May 23, 2013 - 06:40 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: xbox one, xbox, unreal engine, ps4, playstation 4, epic games
Unreal Engine 4 was presented at the PlayStation 4 announcement conference through a new Elemental Demo. We noted how the quality seemed to have dropped in the eight months following E3 while the demo was being ported to the console hardware. The most noticeable differences were in the severely reduced particle counts and the non-existent fine lighting details; of course, Epic pumped the contrast in the PS4 version which masked the lack of complexity as if it were a stylistic choice.
Still, the demo was clearly weakened. The immediate reaction was to assume that Epic Games simply did not have enough time to optimize the demo for the hardware. That is true to some extent, but there are theoretical limits on how much performance you can push out of hardware at 100% perfect utilization.
Now that we know both the PS4 and, recently, the Xbox One: it is time to dissect more carefully.
A recent LinkedIn post from EA Executive VP and CTO, Rajat Taneja, claims that the Xbox One and PS4 are a generation ahead of highest-end PC on the market. While there are many ways to interpret that statement, in terms of raw performance that statement is not valid.
As of our current knowledge, the PlayStation 4 contains an eight core AMD "Jaguar" CPU with an AMD GPU containing 18 GCN compute units, consisting of a total of 1152 shader units. Without knowing driving frequencies, this chip should be slightly faster than the Xbox One's 768 shader units within 12 GCN compute units. The PS4 claims their system has a total theoretical 2 teraFLOPs of performance and the Xbox One would almost definitely be slightly behind that.
Back in 2011, the Samaritan Demo was created by Epic Games to persuade console manufacturers. This demo was how Epic considered the next generation of consoles to perform. They said, back in 2011, that this demo would theoretically require 2.5 teraFLOPs of performance for 30FPS at true 1080p; ultimately their demo ran on the PC with a single GTX 680, approximately 3.09 teraFLOPs.
This required performance, (again) approximately 2.5 teraFLOPs, is higher than what is theoretically possible for the consoles, which is less than 2 teraFLOPs. The PC may have more overhead than consoles, but the PS4 and Xbox One would be too slow even with zero overhead.
Now, of course, this does not account for reducing quality where it will be the least noticeable and other cheats. Developers are able to reduce particle counts and texture resolutions in barely-noticeable places; they are also able to render below 1080p or even below 720p, as was the norm for our current console generation, to save performance for more important things. Perhaps developers might even use different algorithms which achieve the same, or better, quality for less computation at the expense of more sensitivity to RAM, bandwidth, or what-have-you.
But, in the end, Epic Games did not get the ~2.5 teraFLOPs they originally hoped for when they created the Samaritan Demo. This likely explains, at least in part, why the Elemental Demo looked a little sad at Sony's press conference: it was a little FLOP.
Update, 5/24/2013: Mark Rein of Epic Games responds to the statement made by Rajat Taneja of EA. While we do not know his opinion on consoles... we know his opinion on EA's opinion:
— Mark Rein (@MarkRein) May 23, 2013
Subject: Editorial, General Tech | April 10, 2012 - 10:45 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: piracy, epic games, bulletstorm
Mike Capps of Epic Games, among many other developers and publishers, completely misses the point about piracy. No-one can control piracy, they can only control factors which influence it -- but controlling those factors is meaningless if sales are sacrificed in the process. No-one gets paid by not being pirated; people get paid by making sales.
Frequent readers of my editorials are probably well aware that I am quite vocal about many topics including piracy, the consumables model of art, censorship, and used content sales. I take a very mathematical approach to a lot of complicated topics. Unfortunately, a lot of what is considered common truths is based on fundamentally invalid statistics. It gives me a lot to write about.
Mike Capps of Epic Games was interviewed by GameSpot during PAX East and at some point in the discussion the topic floated across Bulletstorm. On the topic of its lower-than-expected sales, Capps added that the PC version was adversely affected by piracy.
Piracy gnashing its teeth?
Similar statements have been made for countless other games at countless other times. Each of those statements makes a subtle but gigantic mistake in formulating the problem: piracy is not something which does, piracy is something which is. Piracy does not affect your sales, but whatever affected piracy might also affect sales in one way or another.
The intuition is that sales decrease as piracy increases and vice versa. That assumption is nullified by counter-example: do not release a product. Piracy and sales, if you do not release a game, will trend in the same direction: to zero. It is now obvious that sales and piracy do not always inversely correlate.
As Mike Capps also stated in the interview, Bulletstorm had a very rough launch and lifespan on the PC. Bulletstorm required for Games for Windows Live, encrypted its settings, and did other things to earn a reputation since launch as a bad console port to the PC. Customers complained about the experience on the PC which fueled an inferno of uncertainty and doubt for potential buyers.
Being pirated is not losing a sale, but losing a customer before their purchase is.
I was personally on the fence about Bulletstorm and this negative word-of-mouth lead me to ignore the title. I did not purchase the game, I did not pirate the game; I ignored the game. Perhaps those who pirated your title did so because they were interested, became discouraged, but were not discouraged enough to avoid giving it a chance with piracy?
What I am saying is -- piracy cannot reduce your sales (it cannot do anything, it is a measurement), but perhaps whatever combination of factors reduced your sales may also have increased your piracy?
Piracy is an important measurement to consider -- but it, like sales, is just that, a measurement, nothing more. Strive to increase your sales -- keep an eye on your piracy figures to learn valuable information -- but always exclusively strive to increase your sales. It is the measurement that will pay your bills.
There are few people in the gaming industry that you simply must pay attention to when they speak. One of them is John Carmack, founder of id Software and a friend of the site, creator of Doom. Another is Epic Games' Tim Sweeney, another pioneer in the field of computer graphics that brought us the magic of Unreal before bringing the rest of the gaming industry the Unreal Engine.
At DICE 2012, a trade show for game developers to demo their wares and learn from each other, Sweeney gave a talk on the future of computing hardware and its future. (You can see the source of my information and slides here at Gamespot.) Many pundits, media and even developers have brought up the idea that the next console generation that we know is coming will be the last - we will have reached the point in our computing capacity that gamers and designers will be comfortable with the quality and realism provided. Forever.
Think about that a moment; has anything ever appeared so obviously crazy? Yet, in a world where gaming has seemed to regress into the handheld spaces of iPhone and iPad, many would have you believe that it is indeed the case. Companies like NVIDIA and AMD that spend billions of dollars developing new high-powered graphics technologies would simply NOT do so anymore and instead focus only on low power. Actually...that is kind of happening with NVIDIA Tegra and AMD's move to APUs, but both claim that the development of leading graphics technology is what allows them to feed the low end - the sub-$100 graphics cards, SoC for phones and tablets and more.
Sweeney started the discussion by teaching everyone a little about human anatomy.
The human eye has been studied quite extensively and the amount of information we know about it would likely surprise. With 120 million monochrome receptors and 5M color, the eye and brain are able to do what even our most advanced cameras are unable to.