Xbox and Epic Games are working together to create a future-proof foundation with Unreal.
Following the reveal, one of the first examples of a next-gen experience for Xbox Series X|S with The Matrix Awakens: An Unreal Engine 5 Experience, we’re excited to share a deeper look at our technical partnership with Epic Games during today’s State of Unreal event. The Coalition’s latest Unreal Engine 5 demo, The Cavern Cinematic Tech Test, shows how cinematic-quality assets – with tens of millions of polygons – can be rendered in real-time, a whopping 100x improvement in detail.
This is the latest in the long history of collaboration with Epic Games and Unreal Engine. In fact, this year we’re celebrating 20 years of Unreal Engine on Xbox, dating back to the release of Unreal Mastery and splinter group in 2002.
We spoke to Kate Rayner, Studio Technical Lead at The Coalition, about her team’s collaboration with Epic Games, development in Unreal Engine 5, and what gamers can expect from next-gen experiences on Xbox Series X|S.
The Cavern Cinematic Test demo
Today, during Epic Games’ State of Unreal presentation, you introduced a new Unreal Engine 5 demo. What can you tell us about what we just saw?
First of all, I have to give credit to the entire team as this was truly a studio-wide effort to create our first ever cinematic in UE5 – as well as our first use of Sequencer – and we had a lot of fun doing it. A few things that we’re really proud of are the facial animations and just the overall quality of the character model.
We were able to take a preliminary version of our next-gen face rig and hire an actor wearing a head cam to capture the performance and work with Cubic Motion to bring it all to life. Coupled with Control Rig, that helped us create someone who looks and moves in a way that’s more realistic than we’ve ever done, and it’s incredibly exciting to think about where we can go next. We also used Chaos Cloth Physics to get a really high level of visual fidelity and we’re extremely happy with the results.
The coolest thing is that we run all of these awesome graphics and animations on an Xbox Series X, so you can only get an idea of the visual fidelity and quality we can create. Demos like this allow us to learn a lot about how UE5 performs, and I think it’s safe to say that we can create some pretty incredible things with this new technology.
The History of Coalition, Xbox and Gears
How will the Unreal Engine 5 affect the future of transmission Franchise in both the immediate and long-term future?
We got access to UE5 very early on and quickly saw the benefits of shifting the development of our future titles to take advantage of the new tools and features that allow for higher quality graphics, larger and more interactive environments, and a host of other aspects that we look forward to UE5.
How has The Coalition contributed to the development of the Unreal Engine over the years?
We’ve had constructive discussions with Epic since The Coalition was formed—before it was called The Coalition—through 2010. During that time, we’ve shared feedback from a AAA perspective for our specific use cases; We’ve also brought pull requests directly into the engine, from bug fixes and optimizations to collaborating to ensure Xbox platform support is as optimal as possible.
Working with UE5
With the full Unreal Engine 5 toolkit coming soon, what are some of the specific tools you’ll be using when creating your next game?
We’re not ready to talk about our next game yet. But we’re excited for things like Lumen and Nanite that opened new doors for us.
You can already see the effect of Nanite in our Cinematic-Tech test, which allows full-quality rendering of film assets in real-time. This means our artists can create assets of tens of millions of polygons, scalable to scenes of billions and billions. The detail is just incredible, more than 100 times what was previously possible. Just looking at the details of the eyeball, the number of vertices and polygons is what would have been an entire character in the previous generation of games.
You also see how we do new things with light. Fully dynamic, real-time global lighting is a long-sought feature, but until now it hasn’t been possible on console. Lumen is a total game changer.
How does your expertise with Unreal Engine benefit other teams within Microsoft who are also using the tools?
We’ve truly been privileged to share our knowledge and best practices with and learn from others at Xbox Game Studios. In addition, we work very closely with the Xbox ATG (Advanced Technology Group), which gives us the opportunity to optimize at the system level.
How long have you been working with UE5?
We’ve been working with UE5 for over a year, since before early access, keeping current with the latest code, experimenting with content, and doing a lot of internal testing. This has enabled us to provide early feedback to Epic as a AAA studio with extensive Xbox and Unreal Engine experience.
What were your first impressions of UE5? Were there any surprises?
At first it was very exciting to get in, everyone at The Coalition jumped in. That’s when we started working on Alpha Point. The biggest surprise for me was how finished the engine was and how easy it was to seamlessly bring UE4 content into UE5.
How was your experience moving from Unreal Engine 4 to Unreal Engine 5?
Overall it went very smoothly, it only took us about two weeks to transition the team. Our entire studio has now switched to UE5. the Alpha Point Demo
Were there any features in UE5 that made the transition smoother or easier for your team?
The architecture of the engine is really quite modular and we adopted plugins as structure to extend the functionality and adapt the engine to our needs. That plugins can contain content – not just code – was a revelation. When we worked with UE4, we made many changes to the engine over time, which made the integration costs higher. Now the integrations are much smoother, the engine is much more modular and allows us to give developers more flexibility.
Can you share some of Unreal Engine’s often-overlooked features? Which aspects would you like to recommend to other developers?
Unreal Insights are worth noting as they allow developers to gather real-time data on anything during the development process. Also, Temporal Super Resolution (TSR) – the ability to render 4k for the cost of rendering at 1080p – is an incredible feature that can sometimes be overlooked.
How did your approach to ideation, experimentation and production change when you moved from UE4 to UE5?
UE5 has quickly increased our iteration time because working within the engine is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get experience. There is no more guesswork. The technology is there, and now we just need to get our content creators up to speed on it.
What is the Alpha Point Demo? What lessons have you learned from its development?
The Alpha Point Demo is our UE5 Early Access demo that includes a technical environment test and a shortened character movie, as well as an early technical test for the big world. It allowed us to get acquainted with the new workflows and technologies and to give Epic feedback for improvements and recommendations.
The Matrix Awakens experience
The coalition was also instrumental in bringing about this The Matrix Awakens: An Unreal Engine 5 Experience on Xbox Series X|S. Describe the significance of this work and its broader impact on the industry?
This is one of the first examples of a next-gen experience that just isn’t possible on the previous gen. It was a tremendous learning experience that showed us exactly where the bar is for next-gen games and the workflow required to create them.
Can you detail the coalition’s involvement in creating this experience?
It’s been a great collaboration with Epic, The Coalition and the Xbox development team to solidify and refine Epic’s vision, first for Xbox Series X and then for Xbox Series S.
Would you describe The Matrix awakens as a success? What are you most proud of?
Absolutely! The fact that we’ve shipped this next-gen experience on Xbox Series S with the same features, including ray tracing, that we have on Xbox Series X at such an incredible level of quality is truly amazing. This collaboration resulted in improvements to the Xbox development software with runtime optimizations, bug fixes, and tool improvements that all developers will benefit from.
With the arrival of Unreal Engine 5, how close are we to game universes that are indistinguishable from reality?
If technology has taught us anything, it’s that we will always see improvements. We’re very close to real-time, lifelike renderings; However, we will never stop and say we’re “done,” and we’ll continue to see game teams working on and refining the medium.
What are you looking forward to most about the launch of UE5?
UE5 allows developers to put down the handcuffs and truly create the content we’ve always dreamed of. No more compromises! It also creates the elimination of friction points in the workflow – with Nanite we no longer have to manually create low-polygon versions of models, and with Lumen we don’t have to see that “the lighting needs to be rebuilt” and wait for the static ones Lighting offline is baked – significantly speeds up the development process.
Thanks for your time, any final thoughts?
Xbox and The Coalition will continue to work with Epic to push the boundaries of what’s possible with modern games. We can’t wait to show you more of the future.