Unreal has revealed the latest promotional clip for their next generation (most probably targeting PS4 or Xbox 720) iteration of the famous Unreal gaming engine. And it seems to be a nice take-off of Skyrim. The video depicts a slumbering giant waking from rest, picking up his warhammer and exiting his lair out to a world of snowy mountains, à la Bethesda. The music stirs beneath the incredible visuals, low male choral shouts reminiscent of the Dohvakin theme from the fifth Elder Scrolls game. It’s as if Epic had aimed their new engine squarely at Skyrim. Let’s talk a little about the engine – and the hardware it’ll need to work smothly.
Epic Games owns the development and distribution licenses to the Unreal Engine. Unreal Engine 4 (UE4) was being demoed ‘behind closed doors’ back in May 2012. Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games, likened the developer-only demonstrations to a similar cycle that occurred for Unreal Engine 3 around “2003 and 2004”. Given that Gears of War – the first game released on Unreal Engine 3 – came out in November 2006, we may still be a couple of years off seeing UE4 in mainstream use.
It seems, however, that some modern hardware may be able to run Unreal Engine 4 in its currently unpolished state. Nvidia’s Kepler architecture can handle UE4, apparently – even using just a single card. Also known as the 600-series, Kepler is the chip architecture used to develop the latest in Nvidia’s line of high-end 3D graphics cards. So which machines are currently, or planning to feature this?
Because of the fairly extreme graphics requirements – they are the best the market can offer today – we will not see UE4 on ultrabooks or tablets any time soon. In raw computing terms, tablets are still a few generations behind laptops or desktops in graphics power, anyway. There are, however, sleek new laptops that could take on UE4 and come out smelling of roses: among these are the Lenovo Y580 and even Apple’s MacBook with Retina Display. These obviously, constitute the very highest end of current laptop technology, but we’re likely to see their innovation filter down to more budget laptops in due course. If we were to make a back-of-the-envelope sketch of Moore’s Law, currently top-end Nvidia graphics cards should become affordable by the end of 2013, which is probably about the time UE4 will be ready to ship.
In general, Epic Games is looking for a nice, clean ecosystem in which Unreal Engine 4 games can be distributed. “Android is anarchy,” claims Sweeney. “There’s so much variety and so much openness and a lack of cohesive certification process for applications.” Windows RT and Apple’s App Store will, of course, offer a less variety-rich route to market for UE4 games. Over the next year, though, we’ll probably see many current gaming platforms – from consoles to Android – tighten up their certification processes, as User Experience (UX) becomes a focal point for the industry.