Early access to Unreal Engine 5 is available for game developers

It was last June, when Epic Games released the first look of Unreal Engine 5. The demo was a short 9-minute movie, Lumen in the Land of Nanite, originally made for the PlayStation 5. We were simply awestruck by the visuals made with Nanite virtualized micro-polygon geometry. Nanite virtualized geometry means that film-quality source art comprising hundreds of millions or billions of polygons can be imported directly into Unreal Engine. There is a fully dynamic global illumination tool called Lumen that immediately reacts to scene and light changes and lets creators create more dynamic scenes. Epic’s VP of Engineering Nick Penwarden said the demo hit 1440p 30 FPS on the PlayStation 5 with dynamic resolution scaling enabled. The sweet spot for gaming resolution is between 1080p and 4K.

Recently, Epic Games announced the availability of Early Access to Unreal Engine 5. The full Unreal Engine 5 with improvements is expected to ship in early 2022. Epic says that this Early Access version is intended for game developers. Although it is not production-ready, game developers can start testing features and prototyping their next games. Unreal Engine 5 Early Access supports the same platforms as UE4 but Nanite and Lumen are currently supported only on next-gen consoles and Windows. The tools are under development that will help users simplify the high-poly geometry imported for Nanite to use on other platforms. Epic has made Early Access version backward-compatible with Unreal Engine 4.26.

The new features in UE5 Early Access have been showcased in ‘Valley of the Ancient’ sample project. The 100 GB project is available for free download. The minimum system requirements are an Nvidia GTX 1080 or AMD RX Vega 64 graphics card or higher, with 8 GB of VRAM and 32 GB of system RAM to run the full demo. For 30 FPS, Epic recommends a 12-core CPU at 3.4 GHz, with an Nvidia RTX 2080 or AMD Radeon 5700 XT graphics card or higher, and 64 GB of system RAM. They also ran the demo successfully on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X consoles at full performance.

Some of the new features showcased in the video are:

  • Nanite

Nanite is a virtualized micropolygon geometry system that enables you to create games with massive amounts of geometric detail, eliminating time-consuming and tedious work such as baking details to normal maps or manually authoring LODs.

Imagine directly importing film-quality source art comprised of millions of polygons—anything from ZBrush sculpts to photogrammetry scans—and placing them millions of times, all while maintaining a real-time frame rate, and without any noticeable loss of fidelity. Impossible? Not any more!

  • Lumen

Next up is Lumen, a fully dynamic global illumination solution. With Lumen, you can create dynamic, believable scenes where indirect lighting adapts on the fly to changes to direct lighting or geometry—for example, changing the sun’s angle with the time of day, turning on a flashlight, or opening an exterior door.

With Lumen, you no longer have to author lightmap UVs, wait for lightmaps to bake, or place reflection captures; you can simply create and edit lights inside the Unreal Editor and see the same final lighting as when the game is run on console.

  • Open worlds

We’re on an ongoing mission to make the creation of open worlds faster, easier, and more collaborative for teams of all sizes. Today, you can try out some of the steps that will take us there.

First up, there’s a new World Partition system that automatically divides the world into a grid and streams the necessary cells when required. Then, there’s a new One File Per Actor system that makes collaboration easier—you and your team members can now work simultaneously on the same region of the same World without treading on each other’s toes.

Finally, Data Layers let you create different variations of the same World—such as daytime and nighttime versions, or specific datasets that are enabled through gameplay—as layers that exist in the same space.

  • Animation

Constantly stepping outside of Unreal Engine to create or edit animation is time-consuming and painful, and a barrier to iteration. That’s why in Unreal Engine 5, we’re expanding and enhancing our animation toolset to let you author incredibly detailed characters right in context.

Artist-friendly tools like Control Rig enable you to quickly create rigs and share them across multiple characters; pose them in Sequencer, and use the new Pose Browser to save and apply the poses as assets; and use the new Full-Body IK solver to easily create natural movement. Meanwhile, Motion Warping enables you to dynamically adjust a character’s root motion to align to different targets—for example, vaulting over walls of different heights—with a single animation.

  • MetaSounds

Ever wish you had the same amount of control and flexibility when authoring your audio experiences as you have with your look development? With UE5, we’re introducing a fundamentally new way of making audio. MetaSounds is a high-performance system that offers complete control over audio DSP graph generation of sound sources, letting you manage all aspects of audio rendering to drive next-generation procedural audio experiences.

MetaSounds is analogous to a fully programmable material and rendering pipeline, bringing all the benefits of procedural content creation to audio that the Material Editor brings to shaders: dynamic data-driven assets, the ability to map game parameters to sound playback, huge workflow improvements, and much more.

For details of all the new features, see the UE5 Early Access Release Notes.

MAWI United GmbH has shared a video showing the birch forest biome recreated in Unreal Engine 5. The birch forest map runs on an RTX 2080 at 30 FPS and looks marvelous.

Last week, for a deeper understanding of Unreal Engine 5 Early Access, Epic kicked off a series of in-depth presentations on their weekly livestream, Inside Unreal. The Epic team discussed how Nanite was used in the sample project ‘Valley of the Ancient’ in the latest episode.

Here’s the full UE5 Early Access livestream schedule:
05/27 – Welcome To Unreal Engine 5 Early Access
06/03 – Nanite
06/10 – Lumen
06/17 – World Partition, Data Layers, and One File Per Actor
06/24 – Motion Warping and Full-Body IK
07/15 – MegaAssemblies
07/22 – Metasounds and Quartz
07/29 – Game Feature Plugins

You can look forward to future episodes in this livestream series covering additional key features including Lumen, World Partition, MetaSounds, and more.