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Something magical happened in Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress 2016. A huge announcement was made by Samsung, showing the future of mobile games and mobile VR. Samsung obviously became the headliner of the event, showing some amazing products and technologies, including a powerful demo called ProtoStar.
This real-time demo ProtoStar was developed by Epic Games with the help of Unreal Engine 4 and Vulkan API. In a short feature-rich video the developers managed to show some of the biggest features, most mobile game developers, working with 3d, could only dream of a couple of years ago. including dynamic planar reflections; full GPU particle support on mobile; Some of the biggest highlights are temporal anti-aliasing (TAA); high-quality ASTC texture compression; full scene dynamic cascaded shadows; chromatic aberration; mobile dynamic light refraction; filmictonemapping; improved mobile static reflections; high-quality mobile depth of field.
Probably the most talked about feature of the demo is the Vulkan API support, which actually gave Epic an opportunity to run thousands of dynamic objects onscreen without any hiccups or FPS drops. Vulkan in Unreal Engine 4 gives developers more control on mobile tile-based graphics processors, allowing for very thin and fast graphics drivers, with minimal overhead. Vulkan’s separate debug layer can help developers to check their code faster and find the fixes for issues.
The idea behind Vulkan is a really, really robust increase in CPU performance. That allows us to render many, many more objects on the screen of the mobile device than we could in the past. When we think about higher levels of interactivity, more dynamic moving objects, more things on screen that are not static – that are actually reactive to the touch and to the viewer, that was the capability of the device that we were certain above all else we needed to take advantage of.
Wyeth Johnson, Lead Technical Artist at Epic Games
We wanted to set a new bar for real time graphics on mobile with ProtoStar. We want to stay in the chip, we don’t want to go out to RAM all the time. Vulkan has in the API support to actually keep the rendering in the GPU and making it really fast.
Niklas Smedberg, Senior Graphics Programmer at Epic Games, said:
The new industry-standard Vulkan API brings key elements of high-end console graphics technology to mobile devices, and Samsung is leading the way with the amazing new Galaxy S7. As the first engine supporting Vulkan, Unreal Engine 4 provides a solid foundation for developers joining in the mobile graphics revolution.
Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games
We’ve seen some impressive technical demos from Epic Games before (Epic Zen Garden is probably our favourite), but rarely did any of them make any big splash on the market. Unity remained the king of this segment and we’re not sure that Epic’s new tech can really change this balance. There are some other changes though, which can really make a difference for UE4 in the mobile space. We’re talking about VR of course.
Samsung’s presentation in Barcelona had a surprise visit from Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who took the stage to talk a little bit about his vision of VR. He’s obviously one of the biggest supporters of Samsung’s Gear VR, which is kind of based on Facebook’s Oculus Rift technology. Zuckerberg was very positive about VR, considering it a long-term technology, which will “change the way you work and communicate.”
Just like Unity’s Sylvio Drouin, Zuckerberg believes VR will become a huge part of our everyday life and serve as an amazing source for memories conservation. For example, Facebook’s CEO wants to film his daughter’s first steps using virtual reality technology (like Samsung’s Galaxy 360 Camera).
Going back about 10 years, most of what we shared and experienced was text. And then it was photos. And now we’re entering into a world where that’s video. But pretty soon we’re going to live in a world where everyone has the power to share and experience whole scenes as if you’re right there in person. There are lots of other challenges that we need to solve to create great VR experiences. Facebook, with Oculus, are committed to this for the long term. VR is going to be the most social platform. Gear VR is by far the best mobile VR experience. And that’s because it combines the best hardware, from Samsung, with the best software – from Facebook, with Oculus.
Mark Zuckerber, CEO of Facebook
So far, the VR market is small. Zuckerberg mentioned that there are more than 200 games and apps available for the Gear VR in the Oculus store. It’s nothing if you compare it to mobile apps, but it’s a start. With more powerful hardware and software we could in fact have a playable game on a mobile which could rival PS4-games in terms of visuals. We’ll have to wait and see, but it sure seems likely.
ARM believes that mobiles will become as powerful as consoles in 2017. Let’s hope this will open up new possibilities for game developers, who want to create really visually impressive products for VR and mobile.
And if the hardware will be powerful enough it might mean that Unreal Engine 4 can finally become a real platform for mobile development and especially mobile VR-experiences creation. It’s already boasting a very impressive render, it’s got tons of visualisation tools and beautiful set of instruments for gameplay creation. What it needed so far was a more powerful hardware platform to run all those features. Let’s hope Samsung’s Galaxy S7 will become one of those phones to help UE4 move to a better position in the mobile space.