Epic Games has officially released version 4.11 of its Unreal Engine, and it claims to have unlocked significant performance gains on multi-core processors as well as adding shading and shadow improvements.
Although only a point release for the engine, Unreal Engine 4.11 brings with it a long list of improvements
. The msot exciting for the majority of the audience, though, will be the announcement of significant performance gains over previous releases. Much of this comes from an improved threading architecture which has improved scaling across multiple processor cores, allowing those with many-core systems to put their chips to better use. Cloth simulation has been tweaked to be faster, garbage collection can be carried out on clusters rather than individual objects, and animation benefits from multiple worker threads, includes a fast-copy optimisation in the compiler, and the option to bake in additive animations for a three-fold performance improvement.
Performance improvements aren't the only reason for developers to upgrade to Unreal Engine 4.11, though: Epic has also added a physically-based shading model for improved realism of hair, eyes, skin, and cloth; capsule shadows offer a new high-performance soft-shadow option; particles are now rendered using the same depth-of-field setting as other objects; dithered opacity masks can emulate translucent surfaces; cross-fading between different levels of detail (LOD) can be dithered to make the transition less jarring; the hierarchical LOD system has been dramatically improved for those users with a Simplygon licence; and characters can now use a self-contained and simple physics simulation dubbed Anim Dynamics.
The 4.11 release of the engine also includes improvements to DirectX 12 support, boosting performance and reducing memory footprint while also enabling experimental support for DirectX 12 on the Xbox One console. OS X users will also see a switch from OpenGL to Metal as the primary graphics application programming interface (API) for software targeting OS X.
Epic's latest release also includes improvements for games running on virtual reality (VR) headsets, including instanced stereo rendering which draws the visuals for both eyes simultaously and, the company claims, drops CPU time by around 14 per cent and GPU time by around 7 per cent - though at the cost of the loss of a small number of as-yet unsupported rendering features. The engine also gains improvements for the head-mounted display camera system and stereo layers, the latter of which allows quads with textures to be fed directly to the VR's compositor for less distortion to user interface elements - supported on the Oculus Rift at launch and other headsets in the near future. The audio system also supports 3D spatialisation for stereo assets, a 'sound focus' setting and raycast-based sound occlusion for more realistic sounds.
The Unreal Engine 4.11 update is available to download now, but it will be some time before games built on the latest features appear for end-users.