Last month Epic Games gave us an early taste of what we can expect from the next generation of gaming with “Lumen in the Land of Nanite,” a stunning real-time Unreal Engine 5 demo running on PlayStation 5 hardware. The demo looked incredible, downright photorealistic at times, but according to Epic, the demo wasn’t the hardware-busting beast you might expect. In fact, according to Epic’s VP of engineering Nick Penwarden, the demo didn’t require significatntly more GPU power than Fortnite...
I can say that the GPU time spent rendering geometry in our UE5 demo is similar to the geometry rendering budget for Fortnite running at 60fps on consoles.
Now, of course, geometry rendering isn’t the only thing the GPU does, so the Unreal Engine 5 demo is probably more taxing than Fortnite overall, but still, it seems like we’re moving into an era where the power of your graphics card isn’t the be-all, end-all. Notably, UE5 features Nanite, a “virtualized micropolygon geometry” system that essentially allows developers to import film-quality models and assets into games in real time, taking the load off the GPU as long as you have a speedy solid-state-drive.
Nanite virtualized micropolygon geometry frees artists to create as much geometric detail as the eye can see. Nanite virtualized geometry means that film-quality source art comprising hundreds of millions or billions of polygons can be imported directly into Unreal Engine—anything from ZBrush sculpts to photogrammetry scans to CAD data—and it just works. Nanite geometry is streamed and scaled in real time so there are no more polygon count budgets, polygon memory budgets, or draw count budgets; there is no need to bake details to normal maps or manually author LODs; and there is no loss in quality.
What do you think? Is the era of GPU supremacy coming to an end or will they always be important?