Unreal Engine 4.20 is here and the latest version of the recent Develop Award-winning game engine is concentrating on enhancements for mobile titles, along with improvements for Switch, in order to further its ambitions for a truly cross-platform future for gaming.
Speaking to MCV, Marc Petit, general manager of Unreal Engine Enterprise at Epic Games enthused about the possibilities for mobile development: “We’re seeing the mobile platform growing in capabilities and we think it's ready to go further, so we're improving our support for mobile, whether that’s for games or AR.”
In terms of potential, two key areas stand out for Petit: “Connected games and cross-play, as exemplified by Fortnite. We're seeing a lot of high-end mobile games, starting two years ago in Korea with Lineage 2, and much of the market in China is all about what I call triple-A mobile.”
In order to continue that push of ‘triple-A mobile’ Epic is bringing over 100 mobile optimisations to developers. At the top of that list are enhancements for improved Android debugging, mobile landscapes, and occlusion queries on mobile – with both software and hardware support – to boost graphics performance.
Petit tells us that “the improvements you see are battle-tested in our products” more specifically in Fortnite. So does the game push the engine forward, or does the engine pull the game?
“When we do content, we do it because we want it to be successful, but we also do it as a way to move forward the technology, the industry, so the pioneering of cross-play [in Fortnite] was always very intentional. We also saw that you could run the same game on PC and console at 60fps. When we say something we do it and show it, rather than tell other people to do it.”
With the improvements in mobile and cross-platform development, Epic is hoping that many more company’s consider mobile versions of their games, and are able to develop those themselves:
“We do a lot of content explaining to people how you do these things, and now developers are thinking about mobile ports of their games, rather than outsourcing it to a third party. Keep it in house, do it themselves, which means they can think about crossplay, which a year ago was not even a thought.”
With Switch continuing to grow, and with the recent release of Fortnite on the platform, it’s not surprising to see the Engine also put improvements for Nintendo’s hybrid console front and centre.
Performance and memory improvement are numerous for the device. With support for dynamic resolution and temporal upsampling, better texture compression and backbuffer support for 1080p while in docked mode. Epic have also added low latency frame syncing for controller input and many other fixes.
Petit feels that with Switch the company is now “in the zone” on performance when asked whether the Switch has much more to give developers. “There's always improvement that can be made, but we're seeing so many people shipping so many titles on Unreal… we worked proactively with Nintendo on a lot of launch titles, and we're seeing a lot of success, it's just a great product.”
And with gaming hardware architectures settling around PC or mobile architecture the company can now come to “a great solution very quickly” with new hardware platforms.
Elsewhere the much-anticipated new Niagara VFX editor is available in early access form. The tool will eventually replace the current Cascade editor, though there’s no pressure to switch over immediately Petit tells us: We're not pushing anybody there, we're not forcing people to move.”
“We're labelling it an experiment, there's some improvements to make, and we’re doing that based on feedback, out into the open. From Cascade we know there's going to be a learning curve but the capabilities more than justify that. We expect people to run some small projects in 4.20, and then come to it in full maybe in 4.21,” Petit explains.
There’s lots, lots more in 4.20, including a new cinematic depth-of-field method, more believable human characters, the Proxy LOD tool moves to ‘production-ready’ status, plus lots and lot more, check out the new features in full.