Epic has confirmed that it will be launching the next version of its Unreal Engine later this year, while claiming that consoles are going to have to get a heck of a lot more powerful to keep up.
Speaking at the DICE 2012 summit, Epic founder Tim Sweeney claimed that his company's next-generation gaming engine will require consoles ten times the power of the current generation in order to run at its maximum capabilities.
Basing his figures on an analysis of the 'Samaritan' demo
released last year as an example of how far the current Unreal Engine 3 can be pushed, Sweeney claimed that the engine running at 1920x1080 with everything cranked up to maximum settings would require around 2.5 teraflops of processing power. By contrast, the original Unreal from 1998 required just one gigaflop of power to run at the then-standard resolution of 1024x768.
The comparison to a fourteen-year-old game is interesting, but it's Sweeney's mention of a soon-to-be-seven-year-old console that really caught the crowd's interest. According to Sweeney, Microsoft's Xbox 360 console pushes around 0.25 teraflops. As a result, the next-generation version codenamed 'Loop' will need to be ten times as powerful if it's going to offer a comparable experience to PC gaming.
The Unreal Engine is one of the biggest successes in middleware. While Unreal, its first official outing in a game, wasn't a huge commercial success, the engine on which it was based has been licensed for hundreds of third-party titles on platforms as diverse as the PC, Xbox 360, Nintendo DS and even Apple's iOS devices.
Its fourth generation release has been on the cards for a while now. Back in 2005, Epic vice-president Mark Rein announced that Unreal Engine 4 had been in development since 2003 despite his company having not yet launched Unreal Engine 3. While the third generation engine would appear in 2006's Gears of War, Unreal Engine 4 was revealed by Tim Sweeney to be heading for a 2014 release.
That roadmap has now been revised. Speaking to G4TV
, Rein claimed that Unreal Engine 4 will be unveiled before the end of the year. Whether Rein is referring to a first-party title using the engine, the opening of licensing for third-party exploitation or a simple teaser reveal is, however, unclear.
One thing that will be worrying PC gamers is a rumour from 2008 that Unreal Engine 4 would exclusively target consoles
. Whether Epic plans to release a console version first to be followed by a PC version at a later date is not yet known, with the company keeping quiet on its firm plans for the engine's release.
With each generation of Unreal Engine bringing impressive leaps in quality, however, one thing seems clear: games are set to get seriously pretty, and consoles are going to have to work harder than ever to keep up.