While most of the bonanza of summer games events have felt a bit rushed, we were pleasantly surprised at the breathing room afforded to titles – and the classic E3 stage vibes – at Ubisoft Forward. This is a games conference we don’t normally cover, but we felt compelled to, given the quality of the games on offer. Many of these also ran on Ubisoft’s own adaptable Snowdrop engine, which was also nice to see on the heels of two major conferences without much of an alternative to the ubiquitous Unreal Engine.
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora was the first title to hit the stage, and it looked surprisingly… like Far Cry. The idea here of course is transplanting that classic Far Cry gameplay, with a big world to explore and bases to conquer, into the Avatar universe depicted in the past and (many) future Avatar movies.
The game looks incredible, and was even captured on a PlayStation 5 – a rarity in an era of “in-engine” and “in-game” trailers that don’t actually name the platform used or necessarily reflect the final product. We reckon the game is running at a 1440p internal resolution, upscaled to 4K using FSR 2 and featuring RT global illumination and motion blur – which is fairly impressive given the world complexity and draw distances involved. It’s hard to imagine this game running on a PS4, that’s for sure.
- 00:00 Overview
- 01:05 Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora
- 15:23 Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown
- 20:22 Skull and Bones
- 23:00 The Crew Motorfest
- 28:08 Assassin’s Creed Mirage
- 33:50 Star Wars Outlaws
- 48:02 Pragmata
The other major title to get screen-time was Star Wars Outlaws, which got a cinematic trailer in the Microsoft show but featured actual gameplay for Forward. Again, we’re looking at another Snowdrop engine title that’s pushing the boundaries in graphical quality – but in a way that feels realistic for current-gen console hardware, with obvious potential for PC improvements beyond this.
For example, the internal resolution looks to be 1440p with FSR 2, and cutscenes are limited to 30fps while gameplay is unlocked up to 60fps. RT global illumination also seems to feature here, perhaps with RT AO to ground objects in the world. Ultrawide support on PC seems likely, given the wide aspect ratio of the gameplay segment, and the presence of motion blur oddities and some artefacts confirms this as proper in-game footage.
Beyond the tech though, the game’s environments, lighting, materials and effects work are all fantastic – nailing the Star Wars aesthetic on the ground and in space. If the game is able to hit its 2024 release window with this level of graphical fidelity, it would be a huge technical achievement.
In case you missed it last week, we also dedicated our weekly Direct to Geoffcon – better known as Summer Game Fest 2023. We won’t rehash every talking point from that mammoth show here, but I thought it would be interesting to highlight some of the biggest reveals from the show – and a growing trend in the gaming industry.
Put simply, the quality demands and long development cycles for modern AAA games has pushed many studios to drop their in-house engines in favour of Epic’s Unreal Engine. That brings with it advantages for developers, but also threatens to extinguish some of the technical creativity we enjoy highlighting in homespun solutions.
During Geoffcon, DF Direct hosts Richard Leadbetter, John Linneman and Alex Battaglia kept tabs on the number of Unreal Engine games – both confirmed and suspected – from the dozens unveiled during the event. The final tally? We reckon that there are at least 20 Unreal Engine titles – in one show! – out of around 40 games title featured in total.
With that many Unreal Engine games in development, any issues common to Unreal have the potential to affect a huge number of future titles, colouring an entire generation – something we’ve already experienced with many recent UE4 releases on PC, which feature many many incidences of shader compilation stutter and traversal stutter that have almost driven Digital Foundry PC reviewer Alex Battaglia to madness. You can draw parallels with plant crops or animal populations – where limited genetic diversity massively expands the potential spread of disease.
- 00:00:00 Introduction
- 00:01:08 News 01: Summer Games Fest 2023 reaction! Prince of Persia, Mortal Kombat 1
- 00:10:48 Path of Exile 2, Exoprimal, Dead by Daylight, Witchfire, Crossfire: Sierra Squad, Remnant 2
- 00:18:22 Sonic Superstars, Lies of P, Sand Land
- 00:27:27 Throne and Liberty, Party Animals, Crash Team Rumble,
- 00:31:51 Alan Wake 2, Space Marine 2, Yes Your Grace, Toxic Commando
- 00:42:42 Baldur’s Gate 3, Palworld, Black Desert Online, LOTR: Return to Moria
- 00:51:44 Final Fantasy 7: Ever Crisis, Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden
- 00:55:51 Like a Dragon Gaiden, Under the Water, Fae Farm
- 01:04:18 King Arthur, Stellaris Nexus, Star Trek Infinite, Lysfanga
- 01:09:47 Immortals of Aveum, Fortnite, Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth
- 01:24:19 Supporter Q1: Will DLSS 3 evolve in the same way DLSS 2 did?
- 01:28:14 Supporter Q2: What’s up with DF getting Diablo 4 code late?
- 01:29:22 Supporter Q3: Is there an ideal frame-rate target for games?
- 01:32:41 Supporter Q4: Do recent PC gaming woes stem from the relative strength of console hardware this generation?
- 01:41:09 Supporter Q5: What old console or graphics technology would you like to see get a few years of active development?
The big takeway beyond UE’s dominance is that there were only a handful of titles using Unity, which was once the engine of choice for indie game development and a true competitor to Unreal elsewhere too. There are no doubt plenty of factors at play here, but my guess is that we’re seeing the results of the 2020 change that saw Unreal Engine become essentially free for developers to use – at least until companies earn $1M in revenue. There’s no doubt that this policy change has made it harder for Unity to compete, and that’s a real shame given how many great games we’ve seen developed on that platform in the past. Snowdrop is the only engine that seems to be on the up, thanks to its high-profile showings in the Ubisoft Forward event, but there’s still a massive gulf between UE and any of its competitors.
The other takeway from Summer Game Fest was that while many of the games looked impressive, the format could be improved. As Rich points out in the Direct, even with a two-hour run-time, when you consider the huge number of games featured and the inclusion of advertising from the likes of Samsung and LG, it hardly gave each game room to breathe.
If you’re a developer working on a title that doesn’t have a big name attached to it, the chances of anyone actually remembering your game after it disappears off-screen in this kind of a show has got to be slim – something that the old multi-day E3 format did a little bit better, even if it had its issues elsewhere.
We closed out Weekly 115 with some insightful supporter questions, with folks asking about the future of DLSS 3 – will it evolve as DLSS 2 did? – our late-running Diablo 4 content, the idea of an “ideal target frame-rate” for games, a potential unspoken cause for recent PC gaming woes and which old console or graphics technology that deserves a few more years of active development.
If you’d like to be the one asking the questions, remember that you can join us at any time – and gain access to our Discord community server, background info on what we’re working on and much more besides.