From the incredible visuals of the 1998 game Unreal to the photorealistic sophistication of Unreal Engine 5, Epic Games' journey seems to tell the story of an entire industry. With the latest update, the Unreal Engine has not only raised the bar, it has democratized digital hyperrealism. Small development studios and independent filmmakers now have the ability to create astonishingly realistic digital worlds with never-before-seen ease.
We take a look at the demos of Unrecord, and find ourselves wondering: is this really a game or are we watching a live shot? The line between real and virtual has never been thinner.
Epic Games' epic journey
In 1998, when most of us were still fascinated by the "pixels" and rough polygons of video games, Epic Games dropped a bomb on the gaming world: the Unreal Engine. This graphics engine gave birth to Unreal, a first-person shooter that revolutionized the industry with cutting-edge visual effects, smarter characters, and UnrealScript, a scripting language that broke new ground in game design.
IlThe New York Times he wrote it shortly after the game's release: "This world isn't unreal. It's hyper-real." More than a judgment it was a prophecy.
Unreal: a milestone in photorealism
Even today, looking back, Unreal's graphics are impressive. But if we compare it to later iterations of the Unreal Engine, how Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory (Unreal Engine 2), Batman: Arkham Knight (Unreal Engine 3) e Observer (Unreal Engine 4), we realize how much the industry has progressed.
And then, in 2022, it arrived Unreal Engine 5. This update allowed games to feature graphics so realistic that they decisively, perhaps irreversibly, blur the lines between gaming and reality.
Nanite: the beating heart of hyperrealism
nanite is probably the real "ace" up Unreal Engine's sleeve. This system allows games to display extremely high fidelity images without suffering from performance issues. Basically, every object in a video game is made up of millions of small triangles. The more detailed the object, the more computing power is needed to render it.
Nanite automates this process, dynamically adjusting the resolution of 3D models as you move through the game, showing high-resolution detail up close and simplifying objects as they move further away, all without the need for manual pre-configuration by developers.
Lumen: when light becomes real
But having detailed objects is not enough. The light must appear natural, otherwise what photorealism is it? Unreal Engine 5 uses a system called Lumen. Its main function is to automatically calculate how light from a source (such as the sun, or a lamp) would naturally illuminate an environment in real time.
Procedural Content Generation: The Magic Behind Scenarios
Another great innovation is the generation of procedural content. This tool automatically populates a world with models based on parameters selected by the developer. So if you want to build a game set in a forest, you no longer have to manually design every single aspect of the environment. This tool does everything by itself, saving you time and resources.
Once upon a time, creating a photorealistic digital world was only possible for large game studios with huge budgets. With the advent of platforms like Unreal Engine, even smaller teams can compete. This is why independent games are becoming more and more popular as the lines between reality and gaming become blurred.
A trend that shows no signs of slowing down. And it promises to be extraordinary.