Unreal Engine 3 walkthrough
Unreal Engine 3 and willy waving
Mark Rein – Vice President, Epic
Notable amongst the delegates here at EIEF was a brash and outspoken Canadian going by the name of Mark Rein… He has to be one of the true characters of the games industry, speaking his mind, in the nicest way possible and pleasingly cutting through all the hype and bluff that you normally hear at these events. A busy and popular man, getting to meet him was a task in itself and only trapping him in a corner and throwing copies of Unreal 2 at him until he agreed to talk to us seemed to do the trick with Mark taking us on a tour of Unreal Engine 3.
The Unreal Engine 3 is the culmination of roughly three years of development work and is still evolving now. There’s always something to tweak or adjust, or a new feature to add in. But one of the tenets of UE3 is ease of use. Mark took us on a drive around a highly complex city, with detail everywhere. Cobbled streets, intricate brickwork, arches, gables… stone buffets, telegraph poles, flapping birds, lapping water… this city has it all and is rendered in fantastic detail. Flicking between the fully rendered version and wireframe, it soon becomes clear that the UE3 is doing something rather special to keep all this running at decent framerates.
Leaving his motor he’s been cruising around in, Mark takes us on a walk through a beautifully rendered subterranean hall, with every arch filled with hovering cubes, each displaying a different texture. And this is where he reveals the trickery behind the engine. Simply put, UE3 makes full use of Shader Model 3, allowing complex looking textures to be overlaid onto simple polygon shapes to give the illusion of complex 3D shapes when the reality is really a far simpler and less GPU intensive shape.
Using something called parallax bump-mapping, Mark showed how a texture can be made to appear 3 dimensional, when in reality its actually a flat thing in the game world. The Unreal Engine 3 has all the tools for creating these textures built in, meaning that artists can create something stunning with the minimum intervention from a programmer. The advantage here is that an artists imagination is directly transferred into the game, rather than a programmers interpretation of the artists original idea. This will greatly speed up development time and reduce costs (hopefully) for making games, whilst not cutting any corners on the game’s presentation.
Mark showed us several cubes, all hovering and spinning in mid air, each with a different texture that realistically reacted to the changing light as it span by on it’s cube and even as our viewing angle changed. Moving on along another corridor, Mark showed us cubes with animated textures, rippling waves such as those we’d seen outside in the city, another with water lapping over cobbles and all created purely by artists using the UE3 tools. Again, switching to a wireframe view, Mark showed us that the cubes were really just smooth 3D cubes and it was purely the SM3 effects on the textures that gave the impression of 3D surfaces… the louver door one was particularly impressive, especially given the sheer depth of the 3D effect between the louvers.