UnrealEngine3 GDC impressions

When we entered the Epic Games meeting room at GDC on Wednesday, we saw some pictures on the way that we thought were either some very detailed artwork or real 3D models of the characters and environments in Epicís next game. Nope. According to what Epic folks told us, we were looking at actual in game screenshots from UnrealEngine3, the next generation game graphics engine from the Cary, NC based developer.

For a while, we didnít believe it. We though those shots of monsters and environments were so realistic, in textures and in lighting, that they couldnít be in game graphics. But when we got to see the UnrealEngine3 tech demo for ourselves (photos and videos of both the tech demo and the wall pictures were banned) we became believers from the start, when we saw a iron gothic building in a slightly ruined state. The scene, which like all the rest of the demo was running on NVIDIAís currently unannounced next-gen graphics card, looked and felt as close to photo-realistic as anything we have ever seen in games. The textures and the level design gave the scene a weight that is truly hard to describe.

Another scene in the demo showed off the lighting and shadow effects with a flying lantern going through a stone castle setting. The textures looked like they had simply taken pictures of a real place, rather than creating it in a computer program. Another demo showed off the gameís shaders and materials which look as impressive as a similar demo shown by Valve Software at last yearís E3. The physics demo was next which showed a lot of interactivity with everything that wasnít tied down able to be moved and manipulated realistically.

The character model demo was next on the UnrealEngine3 demo, which included a dragon-like creature, a small imp like being, a big humanoid like reptile and a massive monster with a big gun on his back. All of them were looking like they were pre-rendered but they were in game and moving. The highest polygon count on the creatures was 6,000. Thatís a lot but the models looked like they were many, many times that amount.

The final demo was of an outdoor setting which showed a peaceful green grass plain with slightly futuristic looking windmills surrounding us. Again, the scene looked close to photo-realistic and the horizon seemed to stretch out beyond what we could see. We also saw some editing tools, including a new level editor that adds a few Crytek like easy-to-make features to the level editor.

So what was the date for when a game with these impressive graphics will hit store shelves? Well, itís going to be a while as Epic has no plans to release a game with UnrealEngine3 until at least early 2006 (although engine licensees might try to do so earlier than that). The demo was impressive and in 2006 the graphics to run them will be available to everyone. Until then, all we have are our memories of what we saw, and that's going to keep us occupied for some time to come.