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Why it matters: Epic Games revealed that developers are using Unreal Engine in over half of all "announced next-gen" games. The new numbers are slightly higher than the 48 percent that Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney touted at the launch of Unreal Engine 5. Hopefully, this means we will see the volume of high-quality titles increase.
It's hard to believe we are heading into the third year of the new PlayStation and Xbox lifecycles. In years past, this has historically been when console developers hit their strides as they get used to the hardware's capabilities. Typically we have seen a marked increase in performance and volume of games by this time.
Unfortunately, Xbox and PlayStation game production has been comparatively sluggish so far. While next-gen upgrades of last-gen games and shovelware have been plentiful, we have yet to see the high numbers of triple-A and original titles we usually do by this time in the cycle. Hopefully, the >2-percent increased use of Unreal Engine means that developers will finally start cranking out more high-quality titles regardless of which game engine they prefer.
Along with the announcement, Epic Games launched Unreal Engine 5.1 on Tuesday. The update includes tools designed to generate content for the multiverse quickly. Additionally, several of UE5's "pillars" have gotten improvements. The dynamic global illumination lighting system, Lumen, got some optimization, as did UE5's Nanite virtualized micropolygon geometry system. The tweaks to these features should allow developers to hit the 60fps mark on console and PC games more consistently.
"These improvements will enable fast-paced competition [in multiplayer games] and detailed simulations without latency," Epic said.
Unreal developers also added a programmable rasterizer to the Nanite system. Venture Beat notes that his tool will allow studios to perform "material-driven animations and deformations via world position offset." For example, developers can explicitly program objects like flags or foliage to morph and bend based on variable wind settings.
Lumen now supports the Two-Sided Foliage shading model, by gathering lighting from the backface and scattering it through the leaf, attenuated by the material's Subsurface Color.
Unreal's World Partition system also received some quality-of-life changes for developers. World Partition allows studios to create "massive" open-world environments. However, finding specific locations can be challenging, just like in the real world. So Epic added "Large World Coordinates" to allow developers to precisely locate and go to any map point for further editing. This feature was necessary, considering developers can now make maps ranging from 22km to 88,000,000km, although it is still in beta — a max of 21km is still the stable default for now.
Along with the coordinate system, World Partition got a search function with filters so developers can view files and change lists for queried regions. One use case for the feature would be if a dev were working on a section of the map and a colleague wanted to see some previous edits. Searching the change lists or content files by date will reveal the areas of the map that were changed at that time. Selecting the file then jumps to the precise point on the map. It works in reverse too. That is to say, choosing a region on the map reveals the change lists and files for that area.
Unreal Engine 5.1 brings a lot of other enhancements to the table. Epic has highly detailed patch notes on the UE website.