New functions add more flexibility, control and detail to popular engine
Unreal Engine 3 remains the industry's most popular engines and one of its most well-known game technologies full stop - and a raft of improvements unveiled at GDC today proved creator Epic Games wants things to stay that way.
Epic detailed a variety of updates of differing impact, plus a host of new partnerships designed to show the engine's continued improvements.
In a theatre demo to press and developers, the company detailed new vertex lighting functions, plus subtle but eye-catching new rendering capabilities for ribbons and particle lighting.
Meanwhile a new UE3 mesh painting tool now allows the engine's users to paint detail direct onto items in levels (both the placed ones, and the parent items to make change throughout a level).
A spline deformation tool has also been added to UE3 to allow for swift creation of twined and twisted items from a single source asset that is bent into shape. One demo of a train set shown today was built from just one or two source items and reshaped into a long track with bends and curves.
Meanwhile Unreal Facade is a swift tool that allows level designers to effectively draw quick buildings as 3D wireframe boxes, which are then filled in using partly procedural custom mesh.
UE3 is also heavily targeting mobile - Epic VP Rein reminded on the already-announced efforts being made to make UE3 work for iPhone, Palm Pre and the Tegra 2 hardware.
Epic also said the free version of its engine, UDK, has been installed well over 150,000 times by would-be games developers, students, indie teams, prosumers and even professional studios.
Rein hinted that the UDK will also launch for the aforementioned mobile decies that are already proven to run UE3.
Autodesk was also at the showcase to detail its latest activity as part of the Epic Integrated Partners Program.
Specifically, the two have teamed up over the last year to 'streamline game development' via an Unreal FBX importer - this allows artists who are saving data into Autodesk's FBX file formats to, through one click, break down their assets for use into Unreal.
The unity between the two "preserves creative visions by keeping the artists' hands on the assets as soon as possible" said Mary Beth Haggarty, head of games at Autodesk.
Autodesk and Epic have also been working to integrate HumanIK 4.5 to make for better pathfinding and movement via the character movement tool directly in Unreal Engine 3.
A brief demo showed a character with just five animations move realistically from a crawl to walk, and climb using UE3 and HumanIK.
"Imagine when you have a character that can traverse strange ground on their own - this is a godsend for those artists," said Rein.
Finally, GTA creator Dave Jones and was also on hand to show how his latest game, MMO APB, was progressing - since its inception the game has been built with UE3.
It was the game's first live demo in the US and the completely online game is one of the year's most important releases for UE3, said Rein.
"We've developed a lot of technology on top of Unreal that allows for us to create a lot of detail in game" said Jones when showing off the game's detailed but seemingly hugely accessible (and varied) customisation features, all of which came courtesy of Unreal.