3D World

Oped: Im­mer­sive Stu­dios

James Bur­rows of Im­mer­sive Stu­dios ex­plores the ex­cit­ing prospects that next-gen gam­ing tech of­fers de­sign­ers and de­vel­op­ers alike

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Why should we be ex­cited about the next-gen gam­ing tech?

“LUMEN IS A DY­NAMIC LIGHT­ING SO­LU­TION, RE­MOV­ING THE NEED TO DE­SIGN LIGHT MAPS AND PREBAKE STATIC LIGHT­ING”

In many ways, 2020 hasn’t been the best year – but luck­ily, even if you live some­where that’s fac­ing new re­stric­tions and longer lock­downs, the gam­ing in­dus­try is here to cheer us all up. The lat­est an­nounce­ments from Epic Games and Sony Plays­ta­tion are real rea­sons to get ex­cited for gamers, game de­sign­ers and de­vel­op­ers alike – and here’s why.

AMAZ­ING GRAPH­ICS

The re­cent demo of Epic’s Un­real En­gine 5 tech­nol­ogy gives us a good idea of what’s to come – and it (lit­er­ally) looks amaz­ing. The qual­ity of the graph­ics (shown on PS5 hard­ware but with the prom­ise that it should be pos­si­ble on Xbox and PC too) is stun­ning with a new dy­namic light­ing sys­tem and highly de­tailed mod­els. This is in part due to the new stan­dard bulk stor­age SSDS which dra­mat­i­cally ac­cel­er­ate real-time ren­der­ing with­out over­load­ing the mem­ory – seen in ac­tion on the Plays­ta­tion 5’s re­cent Ratchet & Clank live game­play demo – and also due to Epic’s new ‘Nan­ite’ sys­tem. This is de­signed to au­to­mat­i­cally cre­ate LOD mod­els of high-end 3D as­sets that are suited to the scene and de­vice, whether that’s a con­sole or smart­phone – mak­ing it eas­ier for creators to build con­tent and de­ploy it across all de­vices with­out hav­ing to cre­ate spe­cial lower LOD mod­els them­selves. This is ex­cit­ing news for in­de­pen­dent game devs, and larger com­pa­nies too.

STEL­LAR LIGHT­ING

An­other key rea­son for the stun­ning vi­su­als comes from a new light­ing sys­tem that Epic dubs ‘Lumen’ – de­signed to cre­ate highly re­al­is­tic en­vi­ron­ments more eas­ily. Lumen is a dy­namic light­ing so­lu­tion that Epic says “im­me­di­ately re­acts to scene and light changes” – re­mov­ing the need to de­sign light maps and prebake static light­ing. This is a big leap for­ward for devs, who will just be able to put a light source into the en­gine and in­stantly see how the game will look on the con­sole.

LIGHT­NING-QUICK LOAD­ING

With the su­per-quick SSDS com­ing as stan­dard in gam­ing con­soles, this ush­ers in a new era of ul­tra-fast load times. Un­real En­gine 5 makes use of this to en­able stream­ing of as­sets as the cam­era moves around the scene, es­sen­tially mean­ing as­sets are loaded just be­fore they are seen. In fact Epic CEO Tim Sweeney goes so far as to say: “The world of load­ing screens is over. The days of geom­e­try pop­ping up in en­vi­ron­ments have ended.” Cer­tainly we’re see­ing the ca­pa­bil­i­ties this ex­tra fast mem­ory gives the PS5 in the afore­men­tioned Ratchet & Clank demo where char­ac­ters warp from one di­men­sion to the next. And while it’s not an ab­so­lutely in­stant tran­si­tion, with around 1.5 sec­onds of paus­ing while the next di­men­sion loads, it’s cer­tainly a mas­sive jump from pre­vi­ous game ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

NEXT-GEN­ER­A­TION IM­PLI­CA­TIONS

So why is this such a big deal? Well, for us and many other dig­i­tal creators, it opens up new and ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties beyond con­sole games, ev­ery­thing from VR ex­pe­ri­ences to spe­cial ef­fects in video con­tent. For ex­am­ple, think of how a VR train­ing sim­u­la­tion for emer­gency or mil­i­tary ser­vices could be en­hanced by Un­real’s Lumen dy­namic light­ing sys­tem – where the en­vi­ron­ment re­sponds in real time to the light be­ing used. This too could al­low en­vi­ron­ment changes on the fly with­out the has­sle of long build and ren­der times, mak­ing train­ing more ef­fi­cient, cost-ef­fec­tive and com­pre­hen­sive. On the other end of the spec­trum, the same the­ory could be ap­plied to some­thing as sim­ple as ar­chi­tec­tural vi­su­al­i­sa­tion or in­te­rior de­sign – where light sources have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on how some­thing is built. And, what’s more, all of this is avail­able within con­sumer tech, which comes with an em­pha­sis on mak­ing it eas­ier for the in­de­pen­dent or sole de­vel­oper to ac­cess th­ese tools. So, in many ways, this new tech is game-chang­ing – and we can’t wait to get our hands on it.

FYI Find out more at weareim­mer­sive.co.uk

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