You could be forgiven for thinking that this is a real photograph of a real flat but you would be wrong. It is, in fact, a screenshot taken from a recent Unreal Engine 4 tech demo by 3D artist and level designer Benoît Dereau. Since it’s unveiling at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in 2013, scores of demos have emerged that display the graphical power offered by the latest iteration of the Unreal Engine but none have been as shockingly realistic as this piece of fairly mundane scenery.
The textures, reflections, and lighting on display in this demo – available for download at Dereau’s website – are all incredibly lifelike and, when brought together, are more than the sum of their parts. The walls and ceilings are covered in lush patterns, there’s dynamic sunlight flooding in through the windows, and the textures all have incredibly fine detail; it’s almost as if you could reach out and touch it. In short, it’s impressive. Even when the subject matter is as ordinary as a Parisian flat – or perhaps because it’s such an everyday scene – it’s hard not to be wowed by this demo and the potential for high fidelity graphics in games going forward.
It is just a tech demo however and it’s always hard to tell how representative these showpieces will be of the games of the future. With that in mind, it’s also worth noting that this was the work of a single person, not the legions of artists that work on most big-budget games, and this is a very exciting notion indeed. It means that visuals like these could be replicated by small teams of adventurous indie developers, not just by massive AAA studios backed by huge publishers and staffed by an army of professional developers.
The Unreal Engine 4 has also caused something of a stir over its pricing model. For nineteen U.S. dollars per month and five percent of the gross revenue of any games made using the engine, anyone can have access to it. In comparison, a license for Unity Pro will set you back seventy-five dollars per month and you can’t even get a price for CryEngine Pro without signing a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). This does mean, however, that the company that own and develop the Unreal Engine, Epic Games, stand to gain much more money from those games that do sell well. For example, were I to make a game that grossed one million dollars, I would then owe Epic fifty thousand of those hard earned bucks as opposed to paying only a few thousand for a license up front. The flip side of this deal is that the bar to entry has never been lower. With a little talent and some technical expertise, even someone as skint as I am could scrape together nineteen dollars a month (less than thirteen pounds at the current exchange rate) and start making a game using this powerful software. The potential is astounding.
The featured image is the property of Benoît Dereau and was taken from http://www.benoitdereau.com.