Epic Games wants to make it as easy as possible for developers to transition their projects between console gens and Unreal Engine 4 and Unreal Engine 5.
Next-gen consoles aren't full-on hardware, OS, architecture, or even software resets. Yes, there will be next-gen exclusives, but the PS5 and Xbox Series X are largely carry-overs from last generation in many ways. Both systems were built from the ground-up with extensive backwards compatibility in mind.
Both Sony and Microsoft know it's crucial devs can easily scale and bring over any in-development current-gen projects to next-gen hardware. The Xbox SDK allows devs to make one game that's playable on all platforms, and Sony's PS5 is the "easiest console to develop games for"--Sony's confidence is so high that they're forcing devs to also make any PS4 games submitted for certification after July to be playable on PS5.
Epic's new Unreal Engine 5 was also built with easy scalability in mind.
Epic plans to help this cross-gen transition period along with a flexible, powerful, and most importantly, compatible new Unreal Engine that adds all sorts of nifty next-gen optimizations. There's Nanite, its new geometry render tech that allows native cinematic-quality images to be imported right into scenes, and Lumen, new global illumination technology that pushes the bar for dynamic lighting.
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In a recent Unreal Online Fest 2020 stream, Epic Games outlined their major plans to ensure developers have plenty of time, power, and ease-of-use tools to bring their UE4 games over to UE5, and across to the new generation of console hardware.
Below we've taken some quotes from Epic's engineering team to better illustrate what's on the horizon for the engine and it's support for next-gen consoles:
Epic engineering director Marcus Wassmer
So let's talk about the transition from UE4 to UE5 a little bit.
First off, I want to know that just because we're talking about next-gen, current-gen consoles are still very important. Many titles are going to be cross-gen and mobile is still a great platform. UE5 will continue to support all of these.
The transition from UE4 to UE5 is not a hard break. Your UE4 projects will continue to work in UE5. You can think of it as a lager-than-normal UE4 point-release update.
I want to reiterate that UE4 will fully support next-gen platforms. This means you can upgrade your existing projects on your own schedule without missing out on the console generation shift.
To make sure UE5 is ready to go right from the start, we'll be shipping Fortnite on UE5 on all platforms before the final release later in 2021. So we really encourage projects that'll be shipping after that timeframe to go ahead and move on to UE5 as soon as possible to take full advantage of Nanite, Lumen, and all the other improvements in development efficiencies.
Epic VP of engineering Nick Penwarden
Unreal Engine 4.25 will be ready for next-gen consoles. Throughout the year, we'll be maintaining a branch of 4.25 that we're calling 4.25+, for developers shipping early on next-gen consoles. We're planning to include bug fixes, changes needed to meet certification requirements, and optimizations with a focus on stability, performance, and minimizing API changes so that updates will be safe and easy to integrate.
This Fall, we will be relreasing 4.26, which will include new major features like any other release of Unreal. All of the features that went into 4.25+ as well as larger optimizations and engine changes for next-gen hardware.
Shipping a game on next-generation consoles is the ultimate proof that Unreal is ready for next-gen. We plan to ship Fortnite on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X as soon as they launch so you can rest assured that the engine will be ready.
We integrate the latest engine code to Fortnite roughly every season and any changes we make in Fortnite are immediately reflected in the engine main branch for developers to access. So as we make improvements to get Fortnite ready to ship on next-gen consoles, those changes will also be immediately available to developers.
Unreal Engine 5 will start rolling out to developers in early 2021, but won't be fully optimized and finished until late 2021.