To really get an understanding of what Unreal Engine 5 means for developers, including any possible issues transitioning from UE4, and how developers could best train staff on the new engine, Gareth Martin, senior programmer at Coconut Lizard, gives us his thoughts.
“I would bet money on there being little difference for developers,” he starts optimistically.
“UE3 to UE4 was a big change, but even then there were a lot of similarities. Gameplay programmers had a lot to adapt to (gameplay code being migrated from Unrealscript to C++ and blueprint), but a lot of the engine was the same under the hood, so engine programmers like myself were quite at home. Moving from UE3 to UE4, the primary upgrade for artists was the move to physically based rendering – which didn’t really affect the basic pipeline of importing meshes and textures and placing them in a level. Materials needed some tweaks or rework (like using roughness instead of specular) but for the most part was the same thing, even if the material editor was flipped right-to-left.
“For UE5, it looks like there’s another big rendering upgrade, but I’ve not seen any rumours of a code overhaul similar to UE4’s removal of unrealscript – so I’d expect that gameplay programmers and engine programmers outside of rendering will see little difference to working in UE4. For artists, I’d expect that importing meshes and textures and creating materials won’t have changed that much either, just higher triangle counts are now allowed in the meshes. I understand that artists often create higher triangle count meshes anyway, only to bake them down into normal maps – they can now just import this higher detail model directly into UE5, without having to make a lower detail mesh and project the higher quality mesh as a normal map. It looks like there may be no need to run lightmass now too, which will be a plus – I don’t think there’s a new tool to learn, just one less thing to do.
“UE4 came with a big visual change to the editor with the move from WxWidgets to Epic’s own Slate for UI – it seems unlikely they’d be replacing Slate, so I’d imagine UE5 will even look similar to UE4.
“My main concern with the upgrade is that Epic have said that UE5 will continue to support platforms that don’t support their new mesh and lighting technologies – I can see that being an absolute pain for developers who have to try and get a game looking reasonable on multiple platforms, some of which are capable of the next generation features and some of which are not. UE4 completely cut support for previous generation platforms – no support for Xbox 360 or PS3, no support for DirectX 9 on PC – if the same is not true for UE5, it could be a huge headache.
“As a parting note, UE4 was originally planned to ship with a realtime lighting technology [SVOGI, pictured below] similar in purpose to what Lumen is in UE5 – but it was abandoned before release because performance was poor, and it didn’t scale to larger scenes. When UE4 was in development, the scene you were greeted with when you loaded the editor wasn’t just an empty platform, it had three shapes on it designed to show off SVOGI realtime lighting – a red cube-like thing that reflected a red tinge onto the surrounding environment, a sphere I think, and a metallic reflective knot that gave us our first taste of what the future would hold – reflections off of a curved surface in real time. Five years later, hardware ray tracing gave us this feature for real, and with UE5, developers should start utilising it en masse. I can’t wait!
“With UE5, I think they’ve created what they always wanted UE4 to be.”