A couple of days ago Epic released a video showing a demo for Unreal Engine 5. If you’re reading this then you’ve likely already seen that video, but I wanted to put into words my feelings about such a remarkable demonstration of the future of real-time computer generated graphics and gaming. Of course Epic is known for its astounding demos that demonstrate technologies that while are technically possible, game developers often cannot match due to time/cost constraints or not achieving palatable performance. However, the visuals shown in that demo are so remarkable that I still find it exciting and inspiring to think what is just around the corner.

When I was a child I was blown away by Myst and Riven, games my father played and occasionally let me enjoy too. Although I didn’t have the patience to solve most of the puzzles, I was always amazed by how real everything looked. Playing these games now highlights how far things have come and what the future might hold. The scenery in Epic’s demo looks photo-real - it’s better than many CGI backgrounds in blockbuster films made in the last 5 years, yet rendered in real-time on commodity hardware.

Imagine a new Riven-like game in VR that looks anything close to this demo. No-one would want to go outside after lockdown as their virtual worlds really could be more marvelous than the real one. This is not something I’ve felt has really been tangible before now, but this demo is hard to ignore. Of course, as the scenery looks so good, the character looks a bit rough, but it’s a technical demo so I’m glad they didn’t spend too much time on that. If scenery can be this good, a new set of challenges will reach the top of the list to improve the overall visuals, the way characters move and interact with their surrounds could still be improved a lot. This reminds me of the situation we’ve seen with graphics processing in general - it felt as though we’d reached a point with hardware where it was so good that improvements were hardly noticeable but with real-time ray tracing, things have heated up again as new ground is broken - see Minecraft with RTX for a great example of this.