Key details about Unreal Engine 5.4, plus 'Epic' plans for UEFN and user-generated content in Fortnite

Epic Games just held its annual State of Unreal keynote, showcasing the future of Unreal Enigne and sharing other news related to Fortnite and its business in general. Here are all the major updates announced at the event.

Everything to know about Unreal Engine 5.4, plus 'Epic' plans for UEFN and UGC tools in Fortnite

Unreal Engine 5.4

  • During the State of Unreal livestream at GDC 2024, Epic announced the launch of an early build of UE 5.4 Preview and demonstrated its main features.
  • The engine is expected to become much faster. Using the City demo as an example, the company noted that its own console test showed that render thread time reduced by 50% and GPU time decreased by 25%.

  • Some of the main changes coming to Unreal Engine 5.4 are related to animation, especially the update to the Motion Matching tool, which has now entered the production readiness stage. It is a framework for creating the so-called informed animation by using various poses from a dataset and creating a responsive character movement system.
  • Motion Matching has been used in Fortnite on all characters and across all platforms since the release of Chapter 5 in December 2023. Later this year, Epic will also release a free sample project with over 500 AAA animations based on motion capture.

Motion Matching in UE 5.4

  • Epic significantly improved its Control Rig sequencer, boasting that “for the first time, a full-game production, LEGO Fortnite, was rigged and animated entirely in-engine” with no external tools.
  • Another animation-related feature is Modular Control Rig, allowing developers to create rigs that are ready to be animated on any skeleton instantly.

  • UE 5.4 Preview also includes updates to its Nanite geometry system, such as a new experimental feature called Tessellation, which allows devs to add and modify cracks, bumps, and other rich details at runtime.
  • Another experimental feature is Heterogeneous Volumes for rendering volumetric assets such as fire, smoke, and fluids, while allowing those volumes to cast shadows on solid surfaces and interact with translucent effects such as fog and particles.

Heterogeneous Volumes Rendering in UE 5.4

  • Epic also introduced several updates to its Procedural Content Generation (PCG) framework. One of them is the Biome Core plugin, a data-driven world building tool for biome generation, and the other is the Runtime Hierarchical Generation feature for generating dynamic environments live.

Runtime Hierarchical Generation in UE 5.4

  • Unreal Engine 5.4 Preview will be fully released in late April, just weeks before Epic’s competitor, Unity, launches its Unity 6 preview in May.
  • Some of the new features and tools, including the upgraded MetaHuman system, can also be viewed in the Marvel 1943: Rise of Hydra demo below.

Fortnite is getting more “Epic” with new UGC tools

  • Since the launch of Unreal Editor for Fortnite (UEFN) at GDC 2023, players have published over 80k custom islands for the game, and Epic has paid over $320 million to creators.
  • As part of its UGC plans, the company is now bringing MetaHuman to UEFN. This will allow users to create and animate high-fidelity NPCs using MetaHuman Creator and MetaHuman Animator tools. Thanks to optimization, the size of such character models can be reduced from almost 1GB to around 60MB.
  • The MetaHuman integration is expected to help users create more realistic Fortnite experiences, as opposed to the game’s traditional look and style. Epic showcased the new features in the Talisman demo (see a short clip below).

  • Players will now also be able to create their own LEGO islands using a fresh suite of branded assets and templates available in Fortnite Creative.
  • In other news about UEFN and features coming to it this year, Epic will add more camera and control systems such as the first-person camera. However, it is unclear whether the company has plans to add it to the game outside of the editor.

  • Users will also be able to create fully custom weapons from scratch, work with physically-simulated characters, and dynamically manipulate almost every in-game object. More upcoming features can be seen in the UEFN 2024 roadmap below.

  • Last but not least, Epic plans to make its own content for Fortnite using UEFN. The company will release its first season developed entirely in the editor by the end of 2025.

Epic Games Store and mobile ambitions

  • The company confirmed its plans to release the Epic Games Store on iOS and Android later this year. Mobile developers will enjoy the same 88/12 revenue split.
  • There are not much details about the upcoming launch, but Epic shared a concept image of how its store may look like on mobile.

  • During the keynote, EGS general manager Steve Allison announced that the company will bring along a “selection of third-party parnters.” This could mean that some mobile titles would become exclusive to the mobile version of the Epic Games Store, but this is nothing more than speculation at the moment.
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