The Wii U’s Capabilities Are Rubber-Banded Once More
Until we hear from the horse’s mouths–in this case, Nintendo and Epic Games–everything regarding Wii U and future game engines is just guesswork. To reiterate, 100% of what we have right now is speculation. Now, with that acknowledged, and looking at a bit of known data regarding UE4 and generic PC versions of the hardware that will power the next generation, we can ask some questions and infer at least a little about possible answers. What we know for sure is this: Unreal Engine 4 was running on a PC with a single Geforce GTX680, one of, if not the, most powerful graphics cards currently on the market, at GDC. Wii U rumors claim a GPU somewhere in the range between an AMD Radeon 4770 or 6770. While that rumor fluctuates every time the wind changes, we can at least make a few reasonable guesses about whether Unreal Engine 4 will or won’t run on Nintendo’s new system–and then we can ask whether or not it really matters. Read on after the break for a few thoughts on where we might be headed.
The Obvious Questions
1. How close to a Geforce GTX680 will MS and Sony get? We know Unreal Engine 4 WILL run on this, as it was demo’d doing so at GDC. But that’s an expensive chip, and probably will still be expensive in a year. But here’s where it gets interesting for Nintendo: the GTX680 benchmarks show it’s about twice, and sometimes almost 3x, as powerful as the Wii U’s rumored Radeon 6770. So the question is: Does UE4 actually need GTX680 as a baseline or did that card give the PC some “breathing room” to show off with everything turned to max?
2. How flexible an engine is UE4? For example, could the same game run happily and satisfactorily on a weaker GPU by scaling back on things like particles? Knowing that the next generation of consoles will be long–at LEAST 10 years–the engine must scale extremely well, but let’s face it: as time goes on it’ll be scaling up, not down. Would it
3. Unreal Engine 3′s ongoing viability. Many of today’s best looking games run on Unreal Engine 3, and Epic Games has been diligent about improving it as the years have gone on. Few people complain about the graphics of today’s games because, let’s face it–they’re fucking gorgeous. And that’s on hardware that’s more likely than not weaker than Wii U. Assuming the system is, conservatively, 50% more powerful to twice as powerful as PS3 and 360, Unreal Engine 3 games with access to more recent hardware and more memory should look and play better than they ever have. Will it be up to Unreal Engine 4 level? Probably not, but given how few people are complaining about today’s game graphics, will it matter?
4. Code and asset Portability between UE3 and UE4. This generation, there was no official version of Unreal Engine on Wii. Next generation, there is official UE3 support on Wii U, and *might* be official UE4 support on Xbox 420 and PS4. If that’s the case, how feasible will it be for developers to either cross-port their games between versions of the engine or simultaneously co-develop them? It’s a safe bet we’ll continue to see lowish polygon 3D models wrapped in gloriously dense normal maps to create extraordinary detail and fluid performance, so how compatible will these be or how much work will it take to make them so?
5. We already know that Wii U uses an AMD GPU, we just don’t know which kind. It’s a safe bet that Xbox 420 will, given that Xbox 360 does. Rumors are circulating that PS4 will move to AMD for its GPU, though frankly I think this isn’t very likely because it would break any hope of PS3 backward compatibility. Of course, if Sony is really dropping Cell, that’s a moot point. The Unreal Engine 4 demos have so far run on Nvidia GPU’s, most notably the GTX 680, Nvidia’s top-shelf graphics chip. The rough equivalent AMD GPU is the 7950, which trades blows with some give and take against the 680, but is equally expensive.
Whether Unreal Engine 4 will run on any next-gen consoles is an open question, but let’s be honest: as much as Epic says it’s their responsibility to push next-gen hardware specs, it’s also true that they need, from a business perspective, to make sure that their engine will run on whatever hardware MS and Sony put out. If they’re really itching to broaden their market reach, they’ll want to have that engine on all three consoles or, at the very least, make it easy for developers to port assets from Unreal Engine 3 to 4. That notion brings its own questions to the table: if Wii U could only run Unreal Engine 3, and those game assets were easily portable to Unreal Engine 4, would Wii U become the baseline of next generation’s games? If so, would it “hold back” Playstation 4 and Xbox 420 games in the same way as some fans accuse Xbox 360 of “holding back” Playstation 3 games?
If Epic isn’t playing the “big horsepower only” game next-gen–and arguably, they don’t really need to go crazy–they really do need to ensure their engine has compatibility. Whether that means the engine scales well or they optimize the hell out of it is anyone’s guess, but they certainly can’t afford to go PC only and skip console support altogether if MS and/or Sony decide to take a more conservative hardware approach (something Sony, for financial reasons, seems primed to do). Something, somewhere has to give. What? I don’t know. I can see a lot of possibilities and needs, but which ones will ultimately come out on top is anyone’s guess.
What are your thoughts?