Xbox and Epic Games work together to build a future-ready foundation with Unreal
After introducing 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 as part of today’s “State of Unreal” event. The Coalition’s latest Unreal Engine 5 demo, The Cavern Cinematic Tech Test, shows how film-quality assets, including tens of millions of polygons, can be rendered in real time, a whopping 100x breakthrough in detail.
This is the latest in the long history of collaboration with Epic Games and the Unreal Engine. In fact, this year we celebrate 20 years of the Unreal Engine on Xbox, from the launch of unreal championship and fragmented cell in 2002.
We spoke with Kate Rayner, Studio Technical Director at The Coalition, about her team’s collaboration with Epic Games, development in Unreal Engine 5, and what players can expect from next-gen experiences on Xbox Series X|S.
The Cavern Cinematic Demo
Today you premiered a new Unreal Engine 5 demo during Epic Games’ “State of Unreal” presentation. 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 cinematic in UE5, as well as the first time we used Sequencer, and we had a lot of fun doing it. A couple of things we’re really proud of are the facial animations and the overall quality of the character model.
We were able to use a preview version of our state-of-the-art face rig and hire an actor with a head-mounted camera to capture the performance, and partner with Cubic Motion to bring it to life. That, along with Control Rig, helped us create someone who looks and moves in the most realistic way 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 to a really high level of visual fidelity, and we’re very pleased with the results.
The best part is that we have all these great visuals and animations running on an Xbox Series X, so it just gives you an idea of the visual fidelity and quality that we’re going to be able to create. Demos like this allow us to learn a lot about the performance of UE5, and I think it’s safe to say that we’re going to be able to create some pretty amazing things with this new technology.
The history of Coalition, Xbox and Gears
How will Unreal Engine 5 affect the future of the gears franchise both in the immediate future and in the long term?
We got access to UE5 early on and quickly saw the benefits of moving development on our future titles to utilize the new tools and feature set, which enable higher quality visuals, larger and more interactive environments, and a host of other aspects that are excited about in UE5.
How has The Coalition contributed to the development of the Unreal Engine over the years?
We’ve had constructive conversations with Epic since the founding of The Coalition, before it was called The Coalition, in 2010. Throughout that time, we’ve shared feedback from a AAA perspective for our specific use cases; We’ve also contributed change requests directly to the engine, from bug fixes and optimizations, to helping 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 leveraging to build your next game?
We’re not ready to talk about our next game. But we’re excited about things like Lumen and Nanite, which have opened new doors for us.
You can already see the impact of Nanite in our film technology test, which enables full-quality film assets to be played in real time. This means our artists can create assets with tens of millions of polygons, scalable to scenes with thousands and billions. The details are simply incredible, more than 100 times what was possible before. Just looking at the eyeball detail, the number of vertices and polygons is the equivalent of what a full character would have been in the previous generation of games.
You also see how we are doing new things with light. Fully dynamic real-time global illumination lighting has been a long-sought feature, but until now, it hasn’t been possible on console. Lumen is a total game changer.
How does your experience with Unreal Engine benefit other teams within Microsoft who are also working with the tools?
We have been truly privileged to share our knowledge and best practices with others at Xbox Game Studios and learn from them as well. In addition, we work very closely with Xbox ATG (Advanced Technology Group), which gives us the ability 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 up with the latest code, experimenting with content, and doing a lot of internal testing. This has allowed us to provide early feedback to Epic as a AAA studio with deep Xbox and Unreal Engine experience.
What were your initial impressions of UE5? Were there any surprises?
First, it was very exciting to get access, everyone at The Coalition got on board. It was then that we began the work to create Alpha Point. The biggest surprise for me was how finished the engine was and how easy it was to get content from UE4 to UE5 without any issues.
How was your experience transitioning from Unreal Engine 4 to Unreal Engine 5?
In general, it was very easy, it only took us about two weeks to change the equipment. As of now, our entire studio has transitioned to EU5. the Alpha Point Demo that we showed at GDC last year was originally built in UE4. We ported the demo to UE5 from scratch, and it was pretty smooth. As we built this demo in UE4 with next-gen content and added more and more assets to it, it was really starting to get stuck and run slowly, but once we brought it to UE5, it immediately came to life. We never look back.
Were there any features in UE5 that made the transition smoother or easier for your team?
The architecture of the engine is quite modular, and we have adopted plugins as a framework to extend the functionality and modify the engine as per our needs. Plugins that can contain content, not just code, has been a revelation. When we were working with UE4, we made a lot of changes to the engine over time, so integration costs increased. Now, the integrations are much smoother, the engine is much more modular, and it allows us to give developers more flexibility.
Can you talk about some features of the Unreal Engine that are often overlooked? What are some aspects that you would like to call out to other developers?
Unreal Insights is worth mentioning as it allows developers to collect real-time data on anything during the development process. Also, Temporal Super Resolution (TSR), the ability to render 4k for the cost of rendering 1080p, is an amazing feature that can sometimes be overlooked.
As you moved from EU4 to EU5, how has the way you approach ideation, experimentation and production changed?
UE5 has rapidly increased our iteration time because working within the engine is a what you see is what you get experience. There is no more guesswork. All the technology is there, and now all we have to do is familiarize our content creators with it.
What is the “Alpha Points Demo”? What lessons did you learn from its development?
The Alpha Point demo is our UE5 Early Access demo which includes an environment tech test and a shortened character cinematic and an early large world tech test. It allowed us to become proficient with the new workflows and technology and also provide feedback for improvements and recommendations to Epic.
The Matrix experience awakens
The Coalition was also instrumental in bringing The Matrix Awakens: An Unreal Engine 5 Experience to Xbox Series X|S. Describe the importance of this work and its broader implications for the industry.
This is one of the first examples of a next-gen experience that just isn’t possible on the previous generation. It was a huge learning experience that showed us exactly where the bar is for next-gen games and the workflow required to build them.
Can you detail The Coalition’s involvement in creating this experience?
It was very much a collaboration with Epic, The Coalition, and the Xbox development team to strengthen and refine Epic’s vision, first on Xbox Series X and later on Xbox Series S.
would you describe matrix awake as a success? What are you most proud of?
Absolutely! The fact that we ship this next-gen experience on Xbox Series S with the same features, including ray tracing, that we have on an Xbox Series X at such an incredible level of quality is truly amazing. This collaboration has resulted in improvements to Xbox development software, with runtime optimizations, bug fixes, and tool enhancements that benefit all developers.
With the introduction of Unreal Engine 5, how close are we to having game universes completely indistinguishable from reality?
If technology has taught us anything, it is that we will always continue to see its improvement. We are very close to realistic representations in real time; however, we will never stand still and claim that we are “done”, and will continue to see gaming teams working and refining the medium.
Looking to the future
What are you most looking forward to with the release of UE5?
UE5 allows developers to take off their handcuffs and truly create the content we’ve always dreamed of making. No more compromises! It also creates the removal of sticking points in the workflow: with Nanite we no longer have to manually create low poly model versions, and with Lumen, we no longer have to watch “lighting needs to be rebuilt” and wait for the lighting to work. static offline be re-baked – greatly speeds up the development process.
Thank you very much for your time, any final thoughts?
Xbox and The Coalition will continue to partner with Epic to push the boundaries of what’s possible with modern gaming, and we can’t wait to show you more of the future.