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Building for the Future – Unreal Engine 5 + PS5 & FFVII Remake

by May 16, 2020 2 comments

In my Building for the Future analysis article, I talked a lot about Remake‘s use of upcoming PS5 technology that had been revealed, as well as how playable Red XIII & Party-Selection features exist in a partially completed state, and dug into why that happened and what that might look like for future updates to Remake & the team’s approach for how to deliver the next parts of the story.

The debut demo for Unreal Engine 5 was recently shown off running on a PlayStation 5, and this serves to help highlight some of the things that it’s likely that the Remake team at Square Enix have been working towards for a while. The technology in the demo all create a really tight-knit connection with the things that Mark Cerny spoke about with the PS5 specifically, as well as the technology & developments used in Remake, and what new things the graphics engine is capable of. I’ll present everything in a slightly more condensed overview, so that there isn’t too much of covering the same ground on what I’ve covered in greater detail.

Here’s the footage of the Unreal Engine 5 demo for those who haven’t yet seen it:

Planning A Roadmap for Remake into the Next Generation:

First, let’s look at the Unreal Engine 4 & 5 Timeline

Unreal Engine 4.25 already supports next-generation console platforms from Sony and Microsoft, and Epic is working closely with console manufacturers and dozens of game developers and publishers using Unreal Engine 4 to build next-gen games.

Unreal Engine 5 will be available in preview in early 2021, and in full release late in 2021, supporting next-generation consoles, current-generation consoles, PC, Mac, iOS, and Android.

We’re designing for forward compatibility, so you can get started with next-gen development now in UE4 and move your projects to UE5 when ready.

This forward compatibility allows teams to do development in UE4 and move the projects into UE5 later, which is critical given that Remake covers the entirety of Midgar – but the story will return to Midgar again in the future. It makes sense to not only ensure that the team can adapt Remake‘s previous gen assets over to next gen when they need them in future installments – but also so that when moving Remake itself over to PS5, they could potentially release an update for Remake to use improved next generation-quality assets. This would enable the game to naturally evolve into a title that is on par with other fully next generation games, and not only have higher quality textures & assets near the end of the game’s story. Especially if the development team’s plan is to eventually have the entirety of the original story playable end-to-end, they’d want to be able to complete the whole project without the beginning of the game feeling visually or technologically outdated. They’d no longer have to worry about starting out Remake on previous generation technology like PS4 & UE4 making the long-awaited game look outdated. They would get to maintain their true vision of what fully realizing the realistic world of Final Fantasy VII could be that they started exploring with Advent Children.

The fact that Final Fantasy VII Remake was made with Unreal Engine 4, rather than Square Enix’s own Luminous Studio graphics engine makes even more sense now. It also gives more context to why they’d have initially wanted to pair with CyberConnect2’s Unreal Engine development experience when announcing Remake, but then eventually shift to bring everything in-house. They’d have to do that to enable them to develop other technologies to work in parallel with what Unreal Engine 5 would be building towards in ways that are so deeply connected to everything in the game, that it just wouldn’t be possible with a partnership. By taking things in-house as a first party developer, they’d be allowed a more close working relationship with Unreal Engine’s own internal roadmap to handle next gen graphics updates that are critical to their vision. The Remake team already needs to develop their initial game playable first on PlayStation 4, but know that their final sequel release will come out well into the lifecycle of the PlayStation 5. By using Unreal Engine, any graphics engine updates moving into next generation don’t increase the Remake team’s workload. Instead, the Remake team gets greater freedom that helps to focus their efforts in on other developmental efficiencies & establish proactively ambitious features. The team’s incredible attention to atmosphere and detail will enable them to create Remake & its sequels to even better support & showcase the big pieces of Unreal Engine 5’s potential in a game title that is going to get a huge amount of attention. It’s a fantastic working relationship.

This is exactly what you’d expect to see from a well-thought out, long-term roadmap that would be necessary when remaking the entirety of Final Fantasy VII‘s story beginning-to-end. Maybe it’s not just a coincidence that open world landscape at the beginning of Remake that the bird is flying over looks extremely similar to the future of Unreal Engine 5 on PS5 that the demo character flies out towards – especially poignant since the next part of Remake is the party leaving the city into that barren wilderness.

Remake Opening Unreal Engine 5 Ending

 

The Carefully Focused Team on Remake Makes It All Work:

A few of of Remake‘s directors and leads are introduced and interviewed in the 5-part Inside Final Fantasy VII Remake video series, and there were several other members of the development team interviewed before the game’s release. We usually don’t get the advantage of seeing the people in these roles on most games and other projects. Knowing who they are and what they do helps to not only highlight the important individuals who are tackling these types of major tasks, but the roles that we have been shown align directly to what we’ve seen showcased both in this Unreal Engine 5 demo and in Mark Cerny’s Road to PlayStation 5 talk. As a first-party developer working on one of the most anticipated game titles ever, they’ve almost certainly been deeply involved for a long time – so while it’s still the future to us, it’s a long-established part of the roadmap for the Remake team.

Unreal Engine 5’s Nanite virtualized geometry would largely be something that the Graphics & VFX Director Shintaro Takai would be overseeing, but would also be impacting the work of Masaaki Kazeno as the Character Modelling Director. The lighting that we see with UE5’s Lumen would be something that Iichiro Yamaguchi would be planning for as the game’s Lighting Director. Both of these things would be involved in tandem with Takako Miyake’s role as the game’s Environment Director. Yoshiyuki Soma is the game’s Animation Director, and UE5’s improvements to dynamic and contextual animations match up with little things we see in Remake, and expand the potential of what they could do. We see small moments where all of these things in the current UE4 & PS4 come together that are only split-seconds long, but make things feel real – like when Cloud is running along the catwalk at the start of Chapter 16, he’ll raise his arm to shield his eyes from the massive, blindingly bright lights pointed at the Shinra HQ. All of these things are where we’ll see improvements in the sequels, and even potentially updates into Remake itself.

Cloud bright lights

The technology also ties in with the technology that the game’s Facial Director Akira Iwasawa has talked about for dynamically creating character expressions and lip sync based off of the localized performances by the voice actors. The audio improvements in UE5 with convolution & ambisonics rendering lines up with what their Sound Director Makoto Ise and the updates made to the MASTS sound management system to generate all the game sounds accurately within the digital space – and both of those tie directly into showcasing Sony’s focus on incredibly accurate 3D audio on PS5. All of these things all come together in their individual parts with what Hidekaze Kiyake delivers cinematically as the Cutscene Director to give the cinematic quality that Remake has in spades.

These individuals’ roles and the technology they’re focused on are set up in order to not only maintain the cutting edge quality of all of those things, but to keep pushing them in order to have Remake stand toe-to-toe with the other titles of Next Generation, and potentially to be able to update anything that’s already been released. We already know that future installments will be using the higher quality versions of textures, and moving everything over from UE4 to UE5 in tandem with leveraging the improvements from PS4 to PS5 as seamlessly as possible seems to have been at the core of Square Enix’s development efforts – and already set up to potentially retroactively improve Remake once they’re complete and available.

Remake‘s Current Common Bugs = Expected Bumps in the Road

We know that there are texture-loading bugs in Remake, despite also knowing that high quality textures exist for those assets. After seeing more about how Unreal Engine 5 is working, in tandem with how PS5’s memory management with the SSD works, means that there’s a decent possibility that those issues are artifacts of needing to build for future optimization on PS5 & UE5.

Additionally, multi-channel surround sound is currently missing the center channel audio on Remake, despite the audio tracks themselves still functioning properly. Mark Cerny’s Road to PS5 presentation in March mentioned that their work on 3D Audio had been primarily centered on headphones, and then TV speakers, and after that it would be moving over to surround sound. UE5 also has a number of improvements to make audio samples accurately sound like it’s actually reverberating in the environment where it occurs. If Remake is optimizing their game for 3D Audio, we know that work hadn’t been done on Sony’s end for anything that wasn’t right/left configuration by the time Remake released in April. It also means that quality updates to that will be waiting on Sony’s work, and some graphical bugs are likely going to be tied into UE5.

PS5 Virtual Surround Sound

It stands to reason that these bugs are just another bump along the way to a much, MUCH more impactful update to the game’s total fidelity in the relatively near future where the Next Generation technologies are able to be fully leveraged. Then, those things will go beyond just being long-awaited bug fixes and become deep true improvements to realizing the world of Final Fantasy VII Remake.

The Roadmap into the Future of the Next Generation

At the very least, this lets us know that we likely won’t be seeing anything related to Remake‘s sequels until the team’s had enough time to fully move everything they’re doing over to Unreal Engine 5 – which is meant to be streamlined with full-release coming in late 2021. Insofar as Remake itself, I’d expect that we’d still see some fixes to the current audio and texture assets that come along with the PlayStation 5’s 3D audio & SSD in Holiday of 2020.

The good news is that this helps further clarify what sort of bugs are expected to be here for a while, and differentiate these types of technological issues from the development struggles in the game’s later Chapters – which don’t seem to be waiting on any upcoming technology, but would just need some more development time to complete & polish that work.

We could still get an Update or DLC to complete the changes that had to be made around a playable Red XIII & Party Selection before the release of the PS5 or UE5 – but releasing that is all down to how much time development takes to get all of those things working, tested, and polished. At this point, even the team doing that work itself isn’t a certainty since we don’t truly know if they’re intending to update the content in Remake after-the-fact, but all of this definitely makes that probability far more promising. Given how much work the Remake team is putting in to ensuring that this game stands the test of time through Next Gen while all of the sequels are being made, they clearly want to keep their fans coming back and re-experiencing this world in greater & greater depth as the technology enables them to.

One thing’s certain: Whatever the specifics of Remake‘s future is – it is in extremely good hands.

2 comments

  1. CloudySpade
    #1 CloudySpade 18 May, 2020, 07:07

    lets stay optimistic about world map!

    Reply to this comment
    • X-SOLDIER
      X-SOLDIER Author 18 May, 2020, 18:54

      It definitely seems like one of the key technologies that they were waiting on for the post-Midgar portions of the game, so the timing seems to be working out really well so far!

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