Since 1998 with the release of Unreal, Epic Games has offered its Unreal graphics engine and game development tools as a way for third party game developers to help make their games. Since then, we have seen two more versions of Unreal Engine launched by Epic, along with hundreds of third party games using some versions of the engine. A few years ago, Epic released the Unreal Development Kit (UDK) which allow anyone access to most of Unreal Engine 3 at no cost. This week, Epic Games' Vice-President Mark Rein said that it has seen 1.5 million downloads of UDK since its launch.
It's been six years since Epic released Unreal Engine 3 with the launch of the first Gears of War game. It's high time for a major upgrade. This week at E3 2012, we got to see a behind closed doors (but hands-off) Unreal Engine 4 demo at Epic's meeting room, hosted by Epic's senior technical artist Alan Willard.
You can see the first part of our demo in the video above. It shows a fantasy setting that mixes both snow and lava in a narrative of an ancient Sauron-like supernatural creature coming to life. After the "Elemental" demo, Willard showed off some of the engine's effects. One of them was the full dynamic lighting. The light actually reflects off the surfaces of the walls and ceilings, offering up a far more realistic lighting style.
While the engine obvious looks great, Willard said it will also be easier to make games using UE4. That's due to their improved development tools that will allow people with no programming experience to create game effects. In terms of polygons, Willard told us that UE4 won't need a major boost in that area in order to make detailed character models and textures.
Unreal Engine 4 is officially slated for PCs only at this point (Epic isn't commenting on next generation console plans). If you thought that you would need a super powerful PC to run Unreal Engine 4 games, think again. Willard showed us the small Fragbox from Falcon Northwest that was used to run the demo with just one NVIDIA Geforce GTX 680 running thing in terms of graphics.
Epic has already signed up a number of outside developers for Unreal Engine 4 games (no names yet) and of course Epic is working on its own games with UE4. However, we don't expect we will see any games that will use the new graphics engine until late 2013. Epic also confirmed it will also eventually release a free UDK version of Unreal Engine 4 but it may be a while before that happens.
Based on our live demo, Epic will continue to rule the game graphics and development market for third-party middleware games for some time.
NeoGamr and Neowin's coverage of E3 2012 is sponsored by War Inc. Battle Zone.