Epic Games unveils Unreal Engine 5.4 preview at State of Unreal

Epic Games unveiled its Unreal Engine 5.4 Preview 1 at its annual State of Unreal event at the Game Developers Conference.

The company showed a plethora of visually arresting announcements, unveiling the latest advancements in Unreal Engine technology and innovative collaborations within the gaming industry.

It’s been a year since Epic Games launched Unreal Editor for Fortnite (UEFN) and Creator Economy 2.0
at GDC 2023. That is essentially Epic’s form of professional and user-generated content. Since then, creators have published more than 80,000 UEFN islands, and Epic has paid more than $320 million to creators in the first year of engagement payouts, said Sax Persson, executive vice president at Epic Games, in an interview with GamesBeat. More than 130 million people have played on those islands.

“We took our functionality and extended it at the same time on the economy and made it very simple to to publish and become a professional community inside of an ecosystem,” Persson said.

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Amy Hennig of Skydance revealed Marvel 1943: Rise of Hydra at the Epic Games event at the Game Developers Conference.

The game trailer shows a lot of realistic imagery with amazing human face animations with cinematic scenes. They make you feel like you’re in a movie, said Hennig, onstage at the State of Unreal event with Epic Games CTO Kim Libreri.

Kim Libreri, CTO of Epic Games, hosted State of Unreal

One of the most interesting new features for those creators: Epic Games will enable UEFN (Fortnite Creative) users to generate their own battle royale games as user-generated content.

Epic Games has its own first-party games to push Unreal Engine development forward and ensure it’s battle-tested for creators. It’s time for Fortnite development to move to UEFN and Verse. By the end of 2025, Epic Games will ship the first season of Battle Royale developed entirely in UEFN. That means Fortnite creators will be able to ship battle royale modes in their games.

“The real core of this is that if we can make a world-class game like Fortnite Battle Royale on this infrastructure, then you as a creator will be able to make something that is of triple-A quality, unbelievable imagination, unbelievable spectacle,” said Kim Libreri, CTO of Epic Games, in an interview with GamesBeat.

LEGO Elements in UEFN and Fortnite Creative.

Other highlights were the introduction of Unreal Engine 5.4 Preview 1, the integration of MetaHumans into the Unreal Editor for Fortnite (UEFN), and an expanded partnership with Lego Group to bring Lego elements into Fortnite Creative.

As for Fortnite stats, Epic said that two out of three Fortnite players play user-generated content every week, and 70%-plus play UGC monthly. Those who play UGC can average six islands per week.

Lego Fortnite is about 95 square kilometers and is about 19 times the size of Fortnite Battle Royale Island. Lego Fortnite works across all platforms, including mobile. Kari Vinther of Lego said that in the last 90 years the company has gone from a single simple brick to a beloved brand. It’s bridging digital and physical with survival crafting game Lego Fortnite, and it is integrating Unreal Engine across its full range of digital products.

Unreal Engine 5.4 Preview 1 is set for a full release in late April, setting up a competition for Unity’s update to its game engine, Unity 6, which debuts in preview in May.

Dana Cowley of Epic showed off upcoming games. She was joined by Joel Bylos of Funcom showing off Dune Awakening. Check out his presentation about the cool effects in the video.

Kim Libreri, CTO of Epic Games, said in an interview with GamesBeat that there will be significant improvements in rendering performance and animation capabilities. Notable updates include enhancements to Nanite, such as Nanite Tessellation, allowing for higher visual fidelity without increasing mesh size on disk.

Motion Matching

Motion Matching in Unreal Engine.
Motion Matching in Unreal Engine.

Libreri also unveiled Motion Matching, a feature utilized in Fortnite since its Chapter 5 launch. That brings a more efficient method for character animation. The demo showed extremely realistic motion of a parkour runner in a game demo.

Later this year Epic will also release a free sample learning project that includes over 500 triple-A animations created from high-end motion capture data with the locomotion and traversal dataset used in the keynote demo.

Instead of painstakingly animating the animation, developers can use the tool to make much more fluid motion as characters move through a scene.

“So over the last few years, we’ve been working on implementing Motion Matching, which is shown by this video,” Libreri said. “It is basically a system that, instead of having to set up all the state transitions — which are very, very prescriptive as to what to do in what circumstance within a game — the computer now makes that decision for you. And you end up with really lovely looking fluid, responsive animation for player characters.”

UEFN roadmap for Epic Games

Moreover, the introduction of Multi-Process Cooking promises up to three times faster cooking times, while a new Audio Insights profiling tool empowers sound designers with next-gen audio capabilities. In addition, thanks to extensive battle testing in Lego Fortnite development, devs can now fully animate a game using Control Rig and Sequencer with no round tripping between applications.

“It just continues our tradition of dogfooding. We don’t put [something] out to our customers that we don’t use ourselves,” Libreri said.

The fully in-engine Procedural Content Generation Framework has significant improvements, too. Epic is releasing a PCG Biome creation plugin as a concrete example of a flexible, data-driven tool built with a systemic approach featuring the latest updates.

MetaHuman in Talisman Demo.

MetaHuman, a revolutionary tool for creating realistic digital humans, took center stage in the Unreal Editor for Fortnite (UEFN). Creators now have access to MetaHuman Creator and MetaHuman Animator, enabling the easy creation and animation of high-fidelity NPCs within Fortnite islands. That is starting today.

MetaHuman Creator is a free online application that enables you to produce realistic digital humans that are fully rigged and ready to use in UEFN or Unreal Engine, in minutes.

MetaHuman Animator turns footage captured from an iPhone or stereo head-mounted camera into high-quality facial animation for your MetaHuman. Facial animation created using MetaHuman Animator can be applied to any MetaHuman or any Fortnite character available in UEFN.

The integration of MetaHuman promises to elevate the immersive experiences within the Fortnite universe, as demonstrated in The Talisman demo, showcasing the potential of MetaHuman to transform environments and character interactions.

In addition to MetaHuman, creators can now incorporate dynamic clothing into their projects with the integration of Marvelous Designer and CLO. This collaboration, set to debut in April, offers creators a free one-year license of Marvelous Designer, enabling them to create custom clothing using the UE 5.4 workflow.

Furthermore, Epic Games announced collaborations with Rocket Racing, Fall Guys (two of Epic’s own games), and Lego Group, expanding creative possibilities for Fortnite creators. New creative devices and racetrack templates allow for the construction of Rocket Racing islands, while the addition of Fall Guys assets introduces frantic obstacle courses within Fortnite. Lego Group’s partnership brings iconic Lego elements into Fortnite Creative, providing creators with an extensive array of templates, props, and items to craft unique Lego islands.

Looking ahead, Unreal Engine for Fortnite (UEFN) promises even more enhancements, including a first-person camera, simplified item building, and a new Scene Graph system optimized for dynamic manipulation of game objects. The roadmap for UEFN aims to empower creators with advanced tools and features, paving the way for the development of immersive experiences within the Fortnite metaverse.

Good ground with Unreal Engine.

Epic also showed a technique for layering textures onto scenes with incredibly detailed geometry. You could, for instance, create a section of ground in a landscape with textures that blend together. So it becomes easy to transform the scene, adding features like snow, mud or cobblestones to the ground. The artists can dynamically change the scene with movie-quality visuals with correct shadows.

“It’s a really sophisticated technique that was only usually the domain of the movie business, but now you can do in real time in Unreal Engine,” Libreri said.

The State of Unreal also showcased presentations from leading developers, including Funcom, Natural Motion Games, and Chrono Studio. These presentations highlighted the diverse applications of Unreal Engine technology in crafting immersive gaming experiences, from open-world survival games to arena-based multiplayer titles.

Funcom delved into the mechanics of their open-world survival game Dune: Awakening, inspired by Denis Villeneuve’s record-breaking and critically acclaimed Dune films, which are based on Frank Herbert’s novels. Funcom also shared how two-time Academy Award-winning cinematographer Greig Fraser used Unreal Engine for planning and pre-production on Dune: Part Two, illustrating how storytelling processes behind making films and games continue to merge.

Big games are coming

Talisman environment demo.

Check out the behind-the-scenes video, Dune: Awakening – Creating Worlds, From Book to Film to Game.

And Epic Games shared more about plans to bring the Epic Games Store (EGS) to mobile later this year. EGS will become the first ever game-focused, multi-platform store, and will work across Android, iOS, PC, and macOS. Mobile developers will benefit from the same fair terms on EGS for PC: 88/12 revenue share and the same programs you can leverage to keep 100% of revenue using your own payments for in-app purchases, Epic First Run, and Now On Epic.

Libreri also said Epic Games is collaborating with Hennig, co-creator of Uncharted, on her game at Skybound.

“You’ll see that in our demo that you can pretty much cross the uncanny valley with the toolset and the capabilities that we’re giving customers,” Libreri said.

As for the game from Hennig, Libreri said it will have a fantastic narrative with “awesome action,” and it will test the features of the Unreal Engine pipeline. Libreri thinks it’s one of the best-looking games he has ever seen with amazing characters and visuals.

“Amy Hennig is famous for her story-driven games with characters in the focus. So we wanted to partner up with her and basically put our tools to the scrutiny of her requirements and just see what happens,” Persson said.

Epic Games Store is Coming to iOS and Android.

Natural Motion provided an all-new look at Star Wars: Hunters, the arena-based online multiplayer game coming to Switch, iOS, and Android. Zynga showed how they are using Unreal Engine to craft a triple-A mobile experience both in gameplay and visual fidelity, and to deliver a game that is an authentic expansion of the Star Wars universe.

Chrono Studio revealed a new trailer from Chrono Odyssey, their MMORPG set in the vast open world of Setera, where players will fight various opponents and have a distinct sense of control over battles and progression through a unique time travel mechanic.

Chrono Odyssey, published globally by Kakao Games, will be released for PC and consoles, and the team announced that it is coming to the Epic Games Store.

A vibrant ecosystem of triple-A games, indie games, and creator-made experiences is critical to the success of the open metaverse. Everything Epic shared on stage today—from UE 5.4 and the new Fortnite creator tools to the mind-blowing demos from partners —is in service of this goal, the company said.

Libreri also pointed out that an animated film, War Is Over, built completely in Unreal Engine, won an Oscar for best animated short. That’s another sign of progress for digital creativity.