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E3 2002: Unreal Tech

 

First, a few words from Scarab, one of my team members at the Cabal of Technophiles, on the original Deus Ex engine:

"From a techie's viewpoint, the engine is starting to show its age - there are limitations in the animation system, it doesn't deal with large outdoor scenes as well as it could, it doesn't take advantage of the programmable shaders available on current-generation hardware.. there's a fair amount that's not there.

That said, the Deus Ex version of the Unreal engine is still pretty good, especially for mods requiring a lot of interaction with NPCs. You can crank out a decent small mod in a few months (note the "small" part), and I suspect the DX community will be interested in playing mods for the "old" version for a while even after a newer engine ships."

I (TechImmortal) have little to add to this, except to agree that the Deus Ex version of the game SDK, with its conversational and flag-setting capabilities, makes complex storytelling and game design worthwhile and interesting despite the fact that the original Unreal engine is now somewhat graphically out-of-date. Modding for the original Deus Ex is going to be worthwhile for a long time, and the age of the Unreal engine doesn't get in the way of that.

However, I can treat you to an extensive description of what's coming. Let's remember some of the things most of us didn't like about the Unreal engine - it is dark (although for Deus Ex, this is good), it has a reputation for GPFs, and it comes with no help or instructions - a newbie has to be told where to find all the instructions and excellent tutorials before being able to use it. Let's also remember what we like about it - the powerful scripting capabilities, and its stunning beauty when it first shipped.

I was recently fortunate enough to attend one of the small-group, sit-down Epic demos of the new Unreal engine. This was intended mostly for those looking for an engine to license. There was no NDA, and no one said I couldn't report, so here goes:

It is mind-blowing. Large scenes, high poly-count, all the curves you could want. (I hope this helps with Trestkon's concerns.) Keep in mind that this was a demo, so naturally, they were running this on a high-end machine. (I believe it was a high-end Athlon with a high-end GeForce, and beyond that I don't want to embarrass myself by being wrong about the details). Obviously, our mileage will vary depending on our processor power.

The first part of the demo consisted of a long in-engine cinematic, containing scenes such as a group assault on a fortified location, which really showed off the beautiful animation possible with high-poly-count NPCs, the destruction of a bridge, and a lengthy fistfight at the foot of a waterfall. Lighting and water are splendid, by the way.

The second part of the demo showed off the editor, lipsyncing, and physics. I don't know if the editor comes with help now (I forgot to ask!) but it sure is better laid out, and there appears to be more point-and-click. It doesn't take long to become familiar with where everything is. I don't know what it will be like for newbies, but I think experienced people are really going to like it.

One impressive feature is the layering of textures. One can build up the layers of a landscape texture - paint a rock texture onto the geometry, paint some soil onto that, then paint a scattering of green plants over that (it reminds me of the "hose" function in some paint programs). The engine intelligently responds by rendering only the top layer while keeping track of what you put underneath, so if you added too much soil or too many ferns, just erase! Presto! The layer underneath shows again. Artists are going to love this.

Another impressive feature is the extensive cinematic editor. It's much easier not only to point-and-click your way to setting up motion paths, but the control over details is amazing. One thing they showed us was a man running through shallow water. They simply clicked on his heels to add little water splashes as he ran, and further clicks added the splashing sound. All kinds of details can be added this way. Designers and demo-makers are going to love these features.

The LIPSinc audio-based character lip-syncing is a built-in plugin. I visited their booth, plus saw it demonstrated in the Epic demo. Deus Ex 2 will be using this; I saw the demo of it. While I think some mouth animations look a little odd, the lip-syncing technology is very good, and as everyone has no doubt heard, the new Unreal engine supports highly expressive faces. Since this plug-in is incorporated into the new Unreal engine, I suspect that we, as modders, will have all the conversational capability available to us that we have for Deus Ex 1 - only it will look even nicer, and it will sound nicer, too (Deus Ex 2 is not going to use mp3s for the voices, says Alex Brandon.) I hope this addresses Phasmatis' concerns.

The physics plug-in (Karma) being used by Epic is not the same one (Havok) being used by the Deus Ex 2 team. I saw demos of both, and they are both good, but the quality of the physics (falling bodies, swerving cars, flowing cloth, and so on) very much does seem to depend on the skill of the programmers. If the programmers of the Deus Ex 2 version of the engine do a good job, we'll have some very nice physics to work with. I won't use up space here repeating all the good things that have already been reported about Havok.

See the Epic Unreal engine page for more details on LIPSinc and Karma.

One last nice thing to mention is that the frequent GPFs are presumably a thing of the past. In 3 days of solid demoing, I didn't hear of any GPFs, so I guess that it's at least rare enough not to have happened in front of people!

I hope this preview is helpful, both to modders and gamers.

TechImmortal (and Scarab for the first part)
Cabal of Technophiles













     
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