Unreal Engine 5 is available today in Early Access, giving game developers a chance to test out and explore some of Epic’s robust game development tools and features for its next-gen engine.
To showcase some new advancements, Epic revealed a new tech demo called Valley of the Ancient. Developers, and anyone else with a free Unreal Engine account, will be able to modify and test it as part of the Unreal Engine 5 Early Access.
Epic revealed the first look at Unreal Engine 5 last year with a real-time tech demo called “Lumen in the Land of Nanite.” The fully playable demo showcased two key features: Lumens, a dynamic global illumination tool; and Nanite, which lets artists import film-industry quality art into Unreal Engine. There’s also MetaHuman Creator, Epic’s advanced character creation tool.
Just as Lumen in the Land of Nanite showcased those two new technologies in Unreal Engine 5, Valley of the Ancient is filled with the tools developers will find in Early Access.
IGN saw an early version of the Valley of the Ancient, which is running on both PS5 and Xbox Series X. As with last year’s demo, both Lumen, the dynamic illumination tool, and Nanite, the advanced graphics tool, were on display in Valley of the Ancient. The demo map was illuminated by the bright sun overhead while the highly-detailed rocky caverns comprising millions of polygons set the stage.
The map was designed using Unreal Engine’s new World Partition system that automatically divides virtual worlds into cells so different developers can work on the same region simultaneously without tripping over one another.
A key focus of today’s presentation was animation. All the animation work seen in Valley of the Ancient was designed in-engine and in real time. Smart tools like Motion Warping can make it so characters organically move and respond to their environment.
As Epic says in its presentation, the project source code for Valley of the Ancient will be released to developers and newcomers alike.
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“We wanted to give somebody a project that shows them how a lot of this stuff works,” says Chance Ivey, senior technical product designer at Epic Games, when asked about releasing Unreal Engine 5 and Valley of Ancient in Early Access. “We really wanted to see how far we can push some of the high-end features for the next-gen consoles. The runtime when we package [this demo] is running at 30fps on PS5 and Xbox Series X.”
Epic’s vice president of engineering Nick Penwarden says most developers will get their first hands-on with Unreal Engine 5 today, but Penwarden stressed that the Early Access build isn’t production-ready. That means you won’t suddenly start seeing games made in Unreal Engine 5 getting released in the coming months.
Instead, this will give devs a chance to begin “really digging into” the new technology and finding out how to leverage them for future games. Some developers, like inXile, have already announced that their next projects will be in Unreal Engine 5.
Unreal Engine 5 will be released in full in early 2022 and there will likely be more updates from the engineers leading up to launch. Epic will also answer developer questions on Inside Unreal, a weekly livestream hosted by the engine dev team.
If you’re interested in trying out Epic’s next-gen game engine, you’ll be able to access it and Valley of the Ancient today with an Unreal Engine account.
Matt T.M. Kim is IGN’s News Editor. You can reach him on Twitter @lawoftd.