Whether it's Borderlands, Sea of Thieves or Gears 5, Epic Games' Unreal Engine 4 powers a lot of games, and it has become a staple in gaming. Now the engine is going for uncharted territory—with the GMC Hummer EV, UE will be featured in a car for the first time. We're used to cars in Unreal Engine, but the logic of using a video game engine in a car may not be immediately apparent.
In a recent interview with Techspot, Scott Martin, Creative Director of User Interface Design at General Motors, explained that the principle behind both is essentially the same. All visual information used by a car's infotainment system, including car imagery, has to be rendered for that specific display. Cars also have user interfaces that work similarly to those in games, and elements such as touch screen functionality. "[...]in terms of software development, the gaming industry has unified these processes, making it easier and quicker for us to do it," Martin says. "The feedback loop is much quicker this time. Take a rendering of a three-quarter view of a vehicle, for example. Any time we needed to change the color or the design of the front fascia (like when a vehicle gets a new grille, headlight, wheel, or the overall design) it would need to be updated. Then we need to re-render all of that data. This process would take a week or two using our old tools. Now with the Unreal Engine and these tools, you can get that done in an hour or two."
General Motors also plans to enhance the visual language of its driver assistance systems with Unreal Engine. What General Motors gets from partnering with Epic isn't so much an engine, as it is video game programming expertise for use in a similar field. It's an interesting and complex topic, but I really can't get over how absolutely gamey the car on the drive mode screen looks. With a background that reminds me of the surface of the moon, and the holo barrier the car seems to drive through when you select a different drive mode, it's obvious driving a Hummer is supposed to give off some video game vibes. I'm thinking Death Stranding. To be fair, the Hummer itself is a car most of us are going to handle exclusively in games, it's not exactly a family car.
A look through the Unreal Engine blog actually reveals a whole host of collaborations between Epic and car manufacturers, including McLaren, truck manufacturer Stania and some slightly unsettling AR for assembly training at BMW that I sincerely hope works without gamification. It's interesting to see processes and tools from video games used somewhere else, just like in data gathering on the coronavirus in EVE Online—it's all good as long as car manufacturers don't take video games as inspiration for their self-driving modes.