Unreal Engine 5 now available in early access for game developers

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The highly-anticipated Unreal Engine 5 is now available in early access for game developers. The engine has a long list of new features to improve visual fidelity, including a new virtualized micropolygon system, a new lighting solution, and a new animation toolset. Epic Games, the makers of Unreal Engine 5, promise “a generational leap in visual fidelity.”

Unreal Engine 5 is expected to ship in early 2022. Epic Games is preparing to ship Fortnite on Unreal Engine 5 across all platforms.

The early access build of Unreal Engine 5 has only been tested on game development workflows, but more features are on the way with its release in early 2022. For now, Epic Games explains that the early access build “offers a chance for game developers to go hands-on with some of our most exciting new features.”

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Nanite

The first feature highlighted by Epic Games is Nanite. It’s a new virtualized micropolygon system that allows games to show “unprecedented amounts of geometric detail.” Nanite streams and processes just the details that people can perceive, which lowers the poly count and draw call constraints in games.

The Unreal Engine YouTube channel shared a behind-the-scenes look at Nanite in a recent video.

Lumen

Lumin is a dynamic global illumination solution. With it, indirect lighting adapts to changes made by direct lighting or geometry. For example, lighting will adapt to a flashlight being turned on or the sun’s angle changing with the time of day.

With Lumen, developers don’t have to author lightmap UVs anymore. They also don’t have to wait for lightmaps to back or place reflection captures. Instead, developers can create and edit lights within Unreal Editor to see the same final lighting that will appear when the game is run.

Making more open worlds

Unreal Engine 5 also has a new World Partition system that changes how levels are managed and streamed. It automatically divides worlds into a grid and streams just the necessary cells. This allows game developers to work on open worlds more quickly.

Because of the new system, game developers can simultaneously work on the same region of a world without getting in each other’s way. It also features Data Layers that allow developers to create different variations of the same world in the same space, such as day and night variants of a map.

Animation

Several tools in Unreal Engine 5 improve the animation process. A tool called Control Rig lets people create rigs and share them across multiple characters. A new Pose Browser can be used to save and apply poses from Sequencer. Developers can also make movement that appears more natural with the new Full-Body IK solver. Lastly, Motion Warping can dynamically adjust a character’s root motion, which allows it to align to different targets with an animation.

MetaSounds

On the audio side of things, Unreal Engine 5 introduces MetaSounds. This is an audio system that gives control over audio DSP graph generation of sound sources. Developers may be familiar with Material Editor. Epic Games explains that MetaSounds brings the benefits of procedural content creation to audio in the same way that the Material Editor brings them to shaders and other features.

Editor workflow

Epic Games also has an update to Unreal Editor that should help people streamline their workflows. It uses more screen real estate and lets people summon and stow the Content Browser. It also now lets you dock any editor tab to the collapsible sidebar.

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