Dec 13, 2021 - Technology

Epic's Matrix demo promises photorealistic video game graphics

Screenshot of gameplay showing a person looking up at towering skyscrapers
The playable city of The Matrix Awakens. Image: Epic Games, Warner Bros.

Epic Games is using an impressive new demo set in the world of The Matrix to promote its business and argue that photorealistic video games are within reach.

Why it matters: Long before Fortnite made Epic the behemoth it is today, the company’s Unreal Engine game development tech greatly influenced how games were made and what they look like.

  • The company’s new demo, dubbed The Matrix Awakens, consists of a non-interactive sequence featuring mostly digital versions of actors Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss, followed by a playable car chase and the opportunity to explore a huge city.
  • It was all made using Epic’s forthcoming Unreal Engine 5, with its narrative written and directed by Matrix architect Lana Wachowski.
  • The demo’s city is a mix of handcrafted assets and procedural generation. Epic designers made the visual assets, drew the city’s perimeter, initial grid and freeway, then set parameters for zoning and traffic flow. The engine then made the playable city, down to placing its thousands of cars and pedestrians as well as all of its traffic lights.

Between the lines: The demo is designed to show what is possible on the newer consoles.

  • The studio had shown a head-turning UE5 demo in mid-2020, but hadn’t released it as a playable build to the public. Doing so this time—the demo is playable for free on the PS5 and Xbox Series consoles—proved it wasn’t using special hardware.
  • Epic’s chief technology officer Kim Libreri told Axios the powerful PS5 and Xbox Series X run the demo well. "There are some things on one console that are better than our other console, but overall it's pretty much the same experience." Getting it to run on the weaker Series S "was a little bit scary," he said, but it runs nicely there, too.

Epic wants Matrix Awakens to show where graphics can go.

  • "We're trying to basically eliminate the uncanny valley of plausibility when it comes to characters and environment," he said, arguing that the graphics of a future metaverse can be more than the cartoonish avatars popular today.

The bottom line: Libreri insists that Awakens isn’t an over-promising trick.

  • He acknowledges that compromises might need to be made to achieve higher framerates’ than the demo’s target of 30.
  • But he also noted that the demo does things like simulating every part of the city at once — even the parts the player can’t see — as exceeding what game developers would need. 
  • "I am absolutely confident we will see games of this fidelity level of running on gen five consoles within this console generation," he said. 

What’s next: Epic will release all of the contents of the demo to developers for free next year, except for the digital versions of the famous actors.

  • That means other creators will be able to build new things in Epic’s Matrix city, minus, officially, the Matrix.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify that Kim Libreri said that the Matrix Awakens demo also works well on the Series S.

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