The tech that will power a large portion of next-generation games has received a substantial update, as Epic has just rolled out Unreal Engine 5.1. This update includes a lot of handy tools for developers, including improvements to the Nanite “micropolygon geometry” system. For those unfamiliar, Nanite essentially allows developers to import film-quality assets into games in real time, but until now it could only really be used for static objects. Now, it can be used for more dynamic things like trees that will sway and move in the wind. Epic is also promising UE5 now supports 60fps games with Nanite and their lighting system Lumen.
Other additions include improvements to the World Partition system, which will allow for even larger seamless worlds, the new MassEntity framework which handles large crowds like the ones seen in Epic’s The Matrix Awakens tech demo, and more. You can get the lowdown on some of the more interesting updates to Unreal Engine 5, below.
Lumen, Nanite, and Virtual Shadow Maps updates
"We’ve laid the groundwork for the Lumen dynamic global illumination and reflections system, the Nanite virtualized micropolygon geometry system, and Virtual Shadow Maps (VSM) to support games and experiences running at 60 fps on next-gen consoles and capable PCs, enabling fast-paced competitive games and detailed simulations to run without latency.
Meanwhile, Nanite has also been updated with a Programmable Rasterizer to allow for material-driven animations and deformations via World Position Offset, as well as opacity masks. This exciting development paves the way for artists to use Nanite to program specific objects’ behavior, for example Nanite-based foliage with leaves blowing in the wind."
Enhanced world building tools
"World Partition now supports Large World Coordinates, enabling you to create massive open worlds without loss of precision. Meanwhile, you can enjoy accelerated source control workflows with World Partition, thanks to an improved user experience around managing, filtering, searching, and viewing files and changelists. We’ve also made it easier to find content in the World from within your changelists, and vice versa. In addition, new HLOD (Hierarchical Level of Detail) support for water rendering and streaming means you can create large water bodies with better performance and a smaller memory footprint."
In this release, a number of artificial intelligence (AI) tools introduced in UE 5.0 move out of Experimental status: Smart Objects and State Tree to Production-Ready, and MassEntity to Beta. MassEntity is a gameplay-focused framework for data-oriented calculations that enables you to efficiently populate large-scale worlds and create crowds with tens of thousands of believable AI agents. This release delivers UX improvements, CPU performance gains, and memory usage optimizations. In addition, the MassEntity processors are now automatically multithreaded.
Smart Objects are objects placed in a level that AI Agents and Players can interact with. These objects contain all the information needed for those interactions. Smart Objects have received general stability and workflow improvements that make it more convenient to set up Smart Object Definitions.
State Tree is a general-purpose hierarchical state machine that combines the Selectors from behavior trees with States and Transitions from state machines, enabling you to create highly performant logic that stays flexible and organized. This release includes improved Actor and Blueprint-centric workflows, increased flexibility and modularity, and memory optimizations.
Animation, rigging, and modeling enhancements
"Now in Beta, the Machine Learning (ML) Deformer enables you to create high-fidelity approximations of complex proprietary rigs—or any arbitrary deformation—by using a custom Maya plugin to train a machine learning model, which in turn runs in real time in Unreal Engine. Other character deformation improvements include enhancements to the Deformer Graph Editor for easier graph creation and editing.
Control Rig continues to expand toward fully procedural rigging with many updates to the core framework, including a new Construction Event that enables you to generate rig hierarchies via a graph, and Custom User Events for creating and triggering rig events such as “Snap FK to IK.” With these updates, you can automate rig creation for characters that may have different skeletal proportions and properties.
We’ve also extended Sequencer—Unreal Engine’s multi-track nonlinear animation editor—by adding support for constraints, and by exposing additional functionality through Blueprint and Python scripting. In addition, we’ve refactored the UI/UX for increased stability and extensibility, and to improve animation authoring and editing workflows. Finally, enhancements to geometry tools include new functions for Geometry Scripting, UV Editor improvements to handle more complex assets, and additional mesh editing and creation tools."
While the tech described above will be of most interest to developers, don’t forget, Unreal Engine 5 is free to use for non-commercial fan projects, so there’s nothing stopping you from trying out the new features. You can check out the full patch notes for Unreal Engine 5.1 here.