Kim Libreri, Epic Game’s CTO (Chief Technical Officer) recently said that with the rapid advancement of technology, the next generation of consoles should be able to cross the Uncanny Valley. The statement comes after the release of Unreal Engine 4.2 and the remarkable real-time rendering technology to create digital humans.
Epic Games is mostly known for the highly popular Battle Royale Fortnite game nowadays. However, it’s the same company behind the Unreal Engine, which many game developers use to make their games. Even PUBG was made using the Unreal Engine. Epic has made a lot of progress with their technology over the years, and it believes that it’s not long before the Uncanny Valley can be crossed.
For those unfamiliar with the term “Uncanny Valley”, the basic idea behind is that humans or Androids are replicated in the digital realm, mostly in video games. When they’re recreated, you can always tell that there’s a “video game-ness” to them, even if they appear to look very real which results in many people rejecting them or not getting fully immersed into the experience.
Despite the numerous improvements to video game graphics which were possible thanks to really powerful gaming cards, developers haven’t been able to cross the Uncanny Valley. The goal is to produce such high-quality digital humans, that you’ll think you’re watching a movie which will let you feel more involved in the video game and thus, enhance the overall experience.
Libreri told GamesBeat:
“Obviously it would be better. Right now, when we do the demos, to get them to run at 60 frames per second or at VR frame rates, we end up needing a pretty beefy graphics card to render all the hair. But if you have a character that doesn’t need actual individual splines of hair, you can run that on a modern PlayStation or Xbox. When we start to see a next generation or whatever that is, the uncanny valley is going to be crossed in video games.
It’s going to end up being not about your technical expertise to make these things. That technique will become ubiquitous over time. It’s got to be about telling an awesome story where people will want to watch that face get involved and do interesting things.”
Libreri also mentioned the breakthrough they’ve made with Unreal Engine 4.2 and the latest Siren technology they demonstrated. They’ve done the hard part i.e. implementing everything to make Siren work and have included it in the final version of UE 4.2 making it easier for game developers to add all sorts of things for their games.
Siren itself is fascinating as it really shows how far graphics technology has come. The concept behind Siren is that it takes and renders a person in real-time, as shown in the video demo and produces shockingly accurate results. It’s hard to tell that the person in the video above is a humanoid or a real human being.
They use ray-traced ambient occlusion, reflections, and area light shadows alongside raytraced denoising via NVIDIA GameWorks to get the accurate real-time renders. Here’s another example of a scene from the latest Star Wars movie: The Last Jedi remade in Unreal Engine 4.2:
The latest Unreal Engine is really exciting for game developers because it opens up tons of new opportunities for them to make visually impressive and optimized games at the same time. Epic Games have incorporated the same optimizations they made for Fortnite into the engine in order to make it possible for developers to make one game multi-platform.
The next generation of consoles suddenly becomes even more exciting than it already is given the technological breakthroughs the Unreal Engine has made. Although nothing is official, Sony’s dropped several hints that they would likely come out with some news regarding their next generation console sometime in 2021.
That’s only 3 years from now and given the rapid improvements in technology, whether its 3-D graphical rendering or actual raw machine power, we can only imagine what type of hardware and software will be available at the hands of developers come 2021. Libreri also hinted that Siren would make its way over to video games soon enough:
“Almost everybody that has a digital human character in their game is taking advantage of Siren. All the skin shading work we did that was taken into Siren shipped with 4.20. There’s a bunch of stuff that I probably can’t mention yet. As always, the facial animation and facial modeling experts are making their work better and better. I think you’ll see some pretty exciting stuff over the next 12 months. Although there are some pretty—the nice thing is we ship Unreal Engine with the source code. We’re not the only people writing shaders. People have done work themselves with the code. There’s some skin stuff that, as I say, I can’t disclose, but I’ve seen some pretty amazing stuff out there.”
Siren incorporated into video games will give players a much more immersive experience and given that there’s still time before the next generation of consoles come out, there is a lot of potential for improvement. Therefore, it’s highly possible that the Uncanny Valley will be crossed by the time next-gen consoles come out thanks to cutting-edge software and the hardware required to run it.