One part of Epic’s new Unreal Engine 5 tech demo that stuck out to me was when the protagonist inches through a narrow passage to enter a cave. It’s the kind of thing I’ve seen hundreds of times this console generation and learned to associate with games buying time while a new section is being loaded in the background. Epic says that wasn’t the case here.
The tech demo was running on PS5 development hardware, and ever since the console was revealed last year, Sony has been touting how its new super fast SSD will drastically shorten load times. The fact that demo still showed someone trying to squish herself between a literal rock and a hard place seemed ominous. According to Epic though, that part of the demo wasn’t stalling. It was a creative choice meant to show-off the new game engine.
“The actual goal of that part was to force the player camera to be really close to the wall to show how much detail there is in the scene,” a spokesperson for Epic told Kotaku in an email. “We were not trying to hide any loading but actually show good looking assets in close-up.”
You know those bits in games where you have to slowly squeeze through a tight gap so the next bit of the level can stream in?
Those are literally load-bearing walls. pic.twitter.com/oxLU0MQ1NA
— Game Maker's Toolkit (@gamemakerstk) April 30, 2019
One of the talking points for UE5 is how much more detailed games can look thanks to its new Nanite tech, which makes it possible to render millions of triangles each with 8K textures attached. In other words the rocks looked real good and Epic wanted to give people a few seconds to appreciate them.
Special projects technical director at Epic, Jeff Farris, elaborated on Twitter saying that the close-up was also meant to show off the new tech’s audio capabilities. In it, the noises created as the protagonist grunts, grabs the rock face, and shimmies through sound different and like they’re emanating from a particular place in the environment. Who knows how well actual next-gen games will be able to make use of these effects, but in the demo they’re extremely convincing.
The Epic spokesperson said a previous version of the demo script pointed out that none of this was a trick meant to hide load times, but those lines were cut in the final edit.