At GDC 2015, Epic Games affirmed that the future of interactive 3D demands realistic rendering powered by a physically-based rendering (PBR) pipeline.
Demonstrating this notion were two key Unreal Engine 4 projects: Thief in the Shadows, a VR collaboration with Weta Digital based on The Hobbit films, and Epic’s own Kite real-time open-world demo.
The former is a cinematic experience in which the viewer faces off with the infamous dragon Smaug. The GDC-exclusive demo was optimised for Nvidia GTX Titan X and was shown using the Oculus Crescent Bay headset.
The latter experience was on the other end of the spectrum from a creative and emotional standpoint. In the cinematic used to show off the demo, which also runs on the Titan X, a boy pursues his stray kite, chasing it over hills and through streams, as a touching score augments the peaks and valleys of his journey.
Tim Sweeney introduced the Kite demo in his session: “Every year, Epic’s engine developers get together with Nvidia engineers, and we have a summit to figure out what is just on the verge of becoming possible with the combination of GPUs and software. These efforts have led to past Epic tech demos, such as Elemental and Infiltrator. We’re in a new world now. This year, we assembled a team and asked them, ‘What does Unreal Engine mean to you today?’”
The Kite demo, taking place across more than 250 square kilometres of terrain, is their answer.
“Everything in the Kite demo is running in real-time in Unreal Engine 4 at 30fps,” said Kim Libreri, CTO of Epic Games. “In addition to our new open-world features, you’re seeing fully dynamic direct and indirect illumination, cinematic quality depth of field and motion blur, PBR photo-modelled assets and procedural asset placement.”
The boy’s face has more than 500 sculpted blendshapes, all blended in real-time. This level of fidelity, combined with new techniques and photometric sampling of real world data, is all part of Unreal Engine 4’s pipeline. Epic plans to release the assets in the Marketplace with the launch of Unreal Engine 4.8.
As Sweeney noted, what the creators saw when they built the Kite demo is a microcosm of what Epic sees for the game industry: Now is the revolution, a time to try new things and experiment with new technology.
Epic is leaning into its philosophy that with Unreal Engine 4 developers get everything so they can build anything, and in that lies the power to stand apart.