Epic has just announced some new procedural tools headed to Unreal Engine 5.2, the next build of the ever-popular game engine. These allow game developers to build out game worlds with a small sample of hand-crafted models, leaving the rest to Unreal Engine 5 to procedurally generate.
Epic's VP of engineering, Nick Penwarden, calls the feature "pretty cool" as it gets a round of applause at Epic's State of Unreal event, and that seems bang on the money. It is pretty cool as you watch a game world pop into existence or a landscape moulded in real-time.
In the stream, we see a designer pop a large rock formation into the centre of a creek bed, and logs automatically connect this to the surrounding environment.
"The cool thing is it communicates with other nearby procedural elements in the scene, like the creek bed," Penwarden says. "A designer comes by and wants to direct the player to drive to the left, Jacob [the Epic developer controlling the stream] can simply move the assembly to the right and everything updates to accommodate that change."
Move the rock formation back, and it goes back to the way it was originally. Though not exactly. It's similar, but as it's procedurally generated the log is in a slightly different position.
"So we started by hand crafting that original part of the level to set the visuals and art direction for the entire piece. Then built out procedural tools that allowed the team to create a much larger play space much more quickly."
UE5 procedural tools"
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The same procedural tools allow for larger sweeping changes to the game world, including mass deforestation and reforestation in quick succession.
It's an impressive feature, not the least bit because Penwarden explains the 4km by 4km play space is made from a 200m by 200m square hand-built by a developer. The rest is made up by Unreal.
The whole demonstration was also running in real-time on an Intel Core i9 13900K and an Nvidia RTX 4090.
These features are headed to Unreal Engine in version 5.2, and Epic has announced that a preview of the new engine is now available. Certainly something that could be a big time saver for developers in the right hands.