Hi! I'm a Journalism student writing gaming stories with the Hacker Noon Blogging Fellowship!
Image taken from the Unreal Engine Blog
The line between the virtual and the physical is getting delightfully thin. Every year the cutting edge of gaming gets sharper. In just the last year, Microsoft Flight Simulator let us fly over a scale recreation of our planet. Sony’s single-player games showed off incredible facial animations, and Valve’s Half-Life: Alyx set a new standard for virtual reality experiences. Gaming plays host to some of the most advanced technology in the world. And the world has been taking note.
Films and movies have been as reliant on CGI as much as conventional acting for over a decade now. But the Mandalorian went down the path of using Unreal Engine to create a digital backdrop, using the game engine’s ability to make real-time changes to its full effect.
Outside of entertainment, Unity’s been used by Volvo as a way of simulating their car designs for improving safety, streamlining design and even as a tool for machine learning.
One company, Incredibuild, has had a front row seat as Game Engines found new applications to drive. As a company that specialises in providing the tools needed for game developers to accelerate their work, they’ve been working with companies outside of gaming using game engines.
They were able to secure US$140,000,000 in investment thanks to Incredibuild’s revenue increasing by 50% in the last year—something they attribute to their growing non-gaming customer base. One of their customers, INVRSION, makes use of Unreal Engine to offer virtual reality tools for businesses across multiple industries.
That bag is interactive, promise.
Screenshot taken from INVRSION's website
INVRSION uses Unreal Engine to render 3D models of clothes and furniture, something that has become very helpful thanks to the pandemic. After all, not many people could head out to try clothes for themselves or even see clothes outside of pictures on online stores.
When you boil it down, a game is an interactive and dynamic experience that needs to display high-resolution assets while responding to inputs as quickly as possible. The demand for incredible graphics has made it possible for Game Engines to match Hollywood’s conventional green screen effects. Players painstakingly customising 3D models of their characters is not very different from a 3D render of a dress on an online store.
“Developing things without Unreal would take twenty times longer because they need to develop all the infrastructure themselves,” Dori Extermann, Incredibuild’s CTO says.
“[Their] mostly graphical processes, which are very complex, would use 200 different tools if it wasn’t together in Unreal Engine” Tami Mazel Shachar, Incredibuild’s CEO agrees. “It’s because the gaming industry has so much investment with the best developers and the strongest machines.”
"Developing things without Unreal would take twenty times longer"-Dori Extermann
In essence, the gaming industry has created a unique blend of technologies that have been subject to ever-growing demand.
Image taken from Gamesindustry.biz
It’s not just the software that’s useful to companies, though. Game development studios need to be familiar with producing assets and designing great user experiences on top of the programming. “All these kinds of experiences are currently driven by the game development community, and they’re not available in other aspects of C++ development.” explains Dori.
Another reason why Unreal and Unity are so popular outside of gaming also comes down to their age. Both engines have been improved for well over a decade and developed a community of millions of developers which Dori says “drives confidence and drives innovation and knowledge transfer and all these kinds of things.”
Unreal Engine 5’s tech demo
Epic Games have been eager to take advantage of the growth that non-gaming developers bring to Unreal Engine, raising $1 billion last month. Similarly, Unity raised over US$1.3 billion last year when it went public on the stock market. Last quarter, they reported enjoying a 41% higher revenue. Like Incredibuild, Unity has attributed part of its 41% higher revenue to non-gaming customers.
Sony’s Chairman, President and CEO, Kenichiro Yoshida, noted that the investment would benefit both “...creators in gaming and across the digital entertainment industry.”
With Unreal Engine 5 just around the corner, all this money would be going to making that new piece of technology more impressive. “It’s going to change the way things are done today and it’s most due to their internal development in their core engine capabilities”, Dori predicts. Naturally, money going into game engines would only help their developers make more powerful technologies which would, in turn, lead to more advanced games.
We can already see Metahuman, a new technology made by Epic that allows developers to easily create humans in what can only be described as a more powerful character creator. According to Epic, Metahuman is able to create a human model fully rigged for animation in a matter of minutes, a process that a 3D modeler in the video below estimated to take between several hundred to several thousand hours.
“Epic has grown their solution by acquiring companies that give them breadth and width, for example, they have purchased a few companies that allow developers to have access to a lot of assets. Characters, cars, things like that.” Dori says about where Epic has been developing the Unreal Engine. “The kind of acquisitions they are making is to increase the ability to offer an end, to end the holistic solution. And most of this other stuff, they develop internally in their engine.”
Any advance in technology would lead to better games for gamers but developers stand to gain from these investments too.
CD Projekt Red’s studio
Picture taken by P.A.Kowalski
The modern Triple-A game’s growing complexity has seen some studios force their employees to work soul-crushing hours. Two of 2020’s biggest launches, The Last of Us 2 and Cyberpunk 2077 had their developers work overtime and weekends to hit their launch dates.
Incredibuild plans to put their investment to work by expanding what their software is capable of and in doing so, become a “risk policy” for studios, as Dori puts it. When asked if it would help studios manage their crunch, Tami was clear. “I think that with the fact that [Incredibuild] lets you do things more efficiently, in radically shorter terms of time, I think it perfectly fits that.”
The demand for graphics and interactivity at scale among the wider world means that any advances made within the gaming industry will have wider implications outside it. As Tami puts it; “I think that everybody understands that the use of the technology that was developed for gamification is moving to other types of technologies. I think even in pharmaceuticals, in urban planning, in so many other areas.”
"...even in pharmaceuticals, in urban planning, in so many other areas" -Tami Mazel Shachar
Update 25/05/2021: Incredibuild had raised US$140,000,000 instead of US$140,000 in investments. The number has been updated.
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