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Epic shows off 'the first next-gen game demo' - First details

Unreal Engine 4 showcase to appear at E3

Epic Games has released the first images and details on its next-gen Unreal Engine 4 demo shown off behind closed doors earlier this year.

The demo, which the Gears of War publisher has previously called its "love letter to hardware manufacturers", is described for the first time in a US Wired article.

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The publication describes the stunning interactive scene as "the first title of the next generation", and Epic apparently created it in less than 3 months with just 14 engineers.

"Like so many games, the demo begins with what's known as a cinematic, a noninteractive scene meant to wow players with all the punch of a blockbuster movie trailer," Wired recalls.

"In this case, it's as if H. R. Giger and George R. R. Martin took peyote together. And had a baby. And that baby had a fever dream. But it's not just empty spectacle-it's a crystal ball. Every pixel is spent on visual effects that are impossible in today's games because of hardware limitations.

"But those limitations could be overcome: In an impressive departure from the usual practice of such demos, this one is running on a single consumer-level graphics card-Nvidia's new Kepler GTX 680."

The next scene is described as the one Epic was hoping would "singe the eyeballs" of the likes of Sony and Microsoft, who it's admitted in the past it's pushing to make next-gen consoles as powerful as possible.

"A heavily armored demon knight sits frozen to his throne in a ruined mountain fortress. As he awakens, lava begins to flow around him and flames engulf the world. A magma vent spews a column of smoke and smoldering embers. He stands, sending up showers of sparks that dance, fall out of focus, and fade into ash.

"The knight hefts a massive hammer that glows with an inner fire. As he stalks down an empty corridor, a deep rumble sounds and masonry falls from the ceiling-this is no mountain but a volcano on the verge of eruption.

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"When the knight steps outside, we see a range of snow-capped peaks in the far-off distance, rendered in stunning clarity. Behind him the volcano belches black smoke, while burning embers mix with swirling snowflakes."

In previous engines, it's noted, one floating ember is enough to slow performance considerably. With Unreal Engine 4 there can be millions of such particles, and Epic design director Cliff Bleszinski reckons game developers will rinse them on next-gen consoles. "Mark my words," Bleszinski said, "those particles are going to be whored by developers."

The scripted side of the Unreal Engine 4 demo is simply the beginning, Wired adds, and Epic's senior technical artist, Alan Willard soon took to the controls to start actually playing it.

"At this point the view switches to that disembodied first-person perspective made so ubiquitous by shooting games like the Call of Duty franchise and Epic's own influential Unreal titles," it describes.

"Willard maneuvers his avatar into a dimly lit room where a flashlight turns on, revealing eddies of dust-thousands of floating particles that were invisible until exposed. In another room, globes of various sizes float in the air.

"Willard rolls a light-emanating orb along the floor (think of a spherical flashlight that rolls like a bowling ball) and beams of light wobble and change direction, illuminating parts of the room and revealing the clusters of floating spheres with a kind of strobe effect.

"At first it all seems perfectly familiar: 'Well, yeah,' you think, 'that's how they'd act in the real world. What's the big deal?' But it is a big deal: This is stuff that videogames have never been able to simulate-the effects simply aren't possible on today's consoles."

UE4 introduces dynamic lighting, the article confirms, with every light in a scene bouncing off every surface, creating accurate reflections.

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Epic's also hoping to help swell the bloat of next-gen game development with new tools that promise shortened production pipelines and lower production costs. How? First of all UE4 removes the lengthy 'bake time' currently required to render changes made to lighting elements in a game. Secondly, Epic's working on a new version of its scripting engine, Kismet, which better converts tedious lines of code into an interactive flowchart, complete with pulldown menus.

However, despite UE4 being very much the firm's next-gen vehicle, it's previously said predecessor Unreal Engine 3 is "probably the way to go" for launch games on next-generation consoles, due to its ability to power visuals such as those seen in the stunning Samaritan demo "right now".

We bet, like us, you can't wait to see this in action - and there's not long to go. Wired states that Epic plans to publicly show off Unreal Engine 4 in June. What happens in June? E3. See you soon...

Hit the link for more next-gen Unreal Engine 4 screenshots from the demo.

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