The Unreal Engine 5 Early Access Preview is here!

May 28, 2021

So it's finally here! The Unreal Engine 5 Preview and I need to admit: it's beautiful. It runs so quick and is buttery smooth. The announcement post is here. UE5 brings many welcome updates such as Nanite and Lumen and an entirely new editor UI, which is more than welcome. I'll break down some of this.


Nanite is some new voodoo magic that even I don't fully understand. It basically allows you to utilise cinema assets, involving millions of polygons. Epic calls it a virtualized micropolygon geometry system, whatever that means. It virtualises the asset's geometry and only shows the things you can see. We've had systems like this before which do standard Occlusion Culling but Nanite is, basically, that on steroids.

I haven't looked into it much myself but I assume it works as, whereas Occlusion Culling still renders the whole object you're looking at, even offscreen if you're looking at part of it, Nanite only renders the polygons you can see of that object. If that makes sense. This allows hundreds of highly detailed models to be in view without dropping frames.


So we know what global illumination is, Lumen is that but on steroids, like Nanite to Occlusion Culling. This one is a bit more simple to explain. Basically, it allows real-time changes to global illumination with lighting on geometry. Lumen no longer requires you to use reflection captures or wait for lightmaps to update. I can't think of a better explanation right now so here's a great screenshot:

The new Editor UI

Daaamn, she is sleek now. The content browser can be shown by using the toggle in the bottom right or a button combo (Left Ctrl and Space Bar). The majority of windows are now dockable using tabs inside the main window rather than the old method of each one being at the very top bar of the screen and having their own top bar menu (such as File, Edit, Window and Tools) so no more having to switch back to the main window because File is missing an option you need.

It feels very CryEngine-like but more clean and intuitive.

The UE5 Editor UI

The UE5 Editor UI

The free real estate of the UE5 Editor

The free real estate of the UE5 Editor

Look at all of that free real estate. One of the focal points was for the editor to make better use of screen space so no more big, blocky buttons around the screen. It's so clean.


Now, this is awesome, a brand new way of making audio! I haven't read into this too much as I'm not an audio guy but epic says it is a high-performance system that offers complete control over audio DSP graph generation of sound sources letting you manage all aspects of audio rendering to drive next-generation procedural audio experiences. This allows audio to be programmatic using blueprints and be more data-driven.

New Open World tools

A lot of systems involving large open-world creation have been majorly upgraded with a One File Per Actor system which allows better work in a team. It works by, as it says creates One File Per Actor. Initially, all actors were grouped together in a map file so people couldn't work on the same map at the same time, Unreal would lock it and not unlock it until you finish editing it, but now you can edit the same map with friends! Now for the hard part of finding some friends!

Another new feature is Data Layers. This allows you to create multiple versions of the same level. This is pretty cool, and something I may take a look at, as it allows you to, for example, majorly change the map and store them as different layers.

Valley of the Ancient

Valley of the Ancient is a free demo released by Epic. It's a highly detailed project that I haven't been able to test yet as you'll need to make sure you have plenty of storage as it takes up a whopping 100GB! It's still downloading as I type this. My internet speed is bad, send help.

Just remember: don't convert a project you care about. That'd be a bit silly.

As much as I want to, I won't be moving any projects over, other than Nightfire, as I have automated builds setup on my git server and, I bet you can guess, the frameworks to do this doesn't exist for UE5 yet.

I've been working with Unreal for years and have many other posts on it. You'll see more posts at the bottom of this page and in the sidebar. A couple of suggestions are Compiling Unreal Engine 4 from source on Windows and Linux and Improving UE4 Shader Compile Times.

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