In twenty years, when we look back on the console generation that birthed the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and soon the comparably powerful Wii U, we will remember that period as the generation of Unreal Engine 3, when Epic’s C++ based software framework became one of the most widely used foundations for video games in history. Well over one hundred games built on Unreal have hit Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and even the iPhone and Adobe Flash. The games range from the high fantasy of RPGs like Lost Odyssey to games where 50 Cent and G-Unit shoot terrorists.
The winds of change are blowing though, and Epic is increasingly discussing Unreal Engine 4 and the machines it will run on. Unknown machines at that!
Gamasutra ran an extensive interview with Epic CEO Tim Sweeney on Monday. The executive shed some light on the next generation of the Unreal Engine, even offering tantalizing hints about the next round of video game consoles. “We’ve started a behind-closed-doors showing of the engine to developers; this is part of our very early ramp-up cycle,” said Sweeney, “We went through this cycle with Unreal Engine 3 starting in 2003 and 2004. At some point we’ll make public announcements and ramp up to the point where developers are shipping games, but it’s very early right now. We’re aiming very high, and the intended platforms this is aimed at haven’t even been announced.”
Given the fluid, always evolving nature of PCs, it isn’t a very big leap to determine that Sweeney is discussing the Unreal Engine 4 as a platform for development on the next round of game consoles, namely the PlayStation 4 and Xbox 720. Sweeney said that it’s still early to be showing off Unreal Engine 4 to the public, but Epic told the press in March that it hoped to show off the engine to public by the end of 2012. This was just after the engine had been demoed privately for developers at the Game Developers Conference.
Greg Short, CEO of video game market research company EEDAR, said it was likely that the Unreal Engine 4’s public debut would accompany the announcement of a new console, possibly Microsoft’s Durango or Sony’s Orbis.
Though Unreal Engine 4 has been in development since 2003, we still haven’t seen the last juice squeezed out of Unreal Engine 3. Epic’s “Samaritan” demo, pictured above, from 2011 introduced a number of effects and lighting techniques including image-based lighting that can’t be utilized on current consoles. The Unreal Engine’s reign is just beginning it seems.