Epic Games presented its State of Unreal keynote at the GDC 2023 (Game Developers Conference), held on Wednesday, revealing its long-term plans for content creation, as well as new tools being used in upcoming games. The nearly eight-hour presentation was streamed live on the company’s YouTube channel, covering updates to Unreal Engine 5.2, a new performance capture system, an Unreal Editor for Fortnite, and more. We also got a fresh look at the Lords of the Fallen reboot, Hexworks’ upcoming dark fantasy soul title, focusing primarily on its high-resolution models and lighting technology, powered by Unreal Engine 5.
With that, here’s a rundown of the biggest announcements from Epic Games’ State of Unreal 2023 presentation:
Unreal Editor for Fortnite
As the name implies, this tool is a unique version of Unreal Engine that allows players to create and publish their work directly in Fortnite – be it new environments, absurd models or gameplay experiences. Running on PC, the app is integrated directly into Fortnite, providing access to over four years of content and resources to play with. It also comes with a “live edit” feature that allows anyone on your team to join your UEFN session, regardless of platform, and collaborate on creations. Additionally, players can import custom assets and animate them, adding extra depth with Unreal Engine 5’s Lumen, the real-time global lighting system.
Unreal Editor for Fortnite comes with a new ‘Verse’ programming language, offering “powerful customization abilities” such as manipulating or chaining devices. Epic Games claims that Verse is being designed as a programming language for the metaverse, with “upcoming features to enable future scalability to vast open worlds,” a press release adds. UEFN is now available on the Epic Games Store as a public beta.
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Developer Ninja Theory is leveraging Unreal Engine’s MetaHuman Animator technology in its upcoming Hellblade II: Senua’s Saga to achieve photorealistic facial expressions on its characters. The tool allows developers to use an iPhone or helmet-mounted stereo camera (HMC) to capture every nuance of the actor’s performance, then transfer all the details and animations to their digital relatives to bring them to life. The tool is set to launch this summer and claims to produce the kind of quality facial animation expected from AAA games and even Hollywood filmmakers (eg Love, Death and Robots).
“With the iPhone you might already have in your pocket and a standard tripod, you can create believable animations for your MetaHumans that will create emotional connections with your audience – even if you don’t consider yourself an animator,” adds a blog post.
Unreal Engine 5.2
Epic Games has partnered with vehicle maker Rivian to create the beautiful Electric Dreams demo as a means to showcase the changes in Unreal Engine 5.2, now available via the Epic Games Launcher and GitHub. In it, a photorealistic Rivian R1T electric truck moves through an overgrown forest while showing off the new Substrate shading system. For the demo, the presenters changed the truck decal to an opal color in order to better demonstrate how light interacts with the surface. The effect is achieved through multiple layers, and the reflection is seen changing live when a layer of dust is added over it.
Unreal Engine 5.2 also introduces Procedural Content Generation Framework (PCG) tools that allow artists to “define rules and parameters to quickly fill expansive, highly detailed spaces” efficiently. Procedural assemblies/models, when dropped onto an existing plain, interact in real-time with other nearby elements, updating their appearance accordingly.
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Lords of the Fallen technical trailer
This new trailer from Hexworks took us on a gothic journey to Skyrest Bridge, one of the first locations in Lords of the Fallen, a rebooted sequel to the 2014 version. The developer claims to have used 3D scans of people to promote a better in-game character customization system – body types, faces and such – as well as using UE5’s Chaos Physics Engine to facilitate movement effects on weapons or clothing. It was interesting to see Hexworks use a Bloodborne-style character to demonstrate this effect – a nice nod to an iconic game.
The Lords of the Fallen trailer touched on the lighting system, which again leverages Unreal’s Lumen GI lighting system to create lighting effects that bounce off surfaces in real-time. In the game, players intermittently travel between two worlds – Axiom, the realm of the living, and Umbral, the realm of the dead, which were created side by side, allowing for seamless switching between them. “It means our artists and designers can ensure these worlds feel inextricably linked, like two sides of the same coin,” stated the narrator.
Creator Economy 2.0
The new Creator Economy 2.0 implies that developers who create and publish islands in Fortnite will benefit monetarily depending on engagement. Epic Games will share 40% of the net revenue collected from the Fortnite item shop – skins, battle passes, etc – with eligible island creators. Interestingly, the phrase seems to suggest that Epic itself is eligible for some payment. “… both islands from independent creators and Epic itself, like Battle Royale.”
Epic Games is combining all of its asset marketplaces — Unreal Engine Marketplace, Sketchfab, Quixel Bridge, and ArtStation Marketplace — under the ‘Fab’ brand. It essentially functions as a one-stop destination for creators to discover, share, buy or sell digital assets in their massive library. Sellers get an 88% revenue share, and the platform offers content ranging from 3D models, VFX, sound, and more. Fab is scheduled to launch later this year, although an alpha version of the Fab plugin is now included in Unreal Editor for Fortnite.