Epic Games’ impressive Unreal 5 tech demo revealed earlier this week was running on a PS5 development kit. Whether it can also run on Xbox Series X remains a mystery.
“The demo we revealed [on Wednesday] is running on PS5 because that’s been our target platform for this particular experience,” a spokesperson for Epic told Kotaku in an email yesterday. “UE5, with core technologies like Niagara VFX and Chaos physics and destruction – and the newly revealed Nanite virtualized geometry and Lumen dynamic global illumination – is also targeting Xbox Series X.”
When pressed about if the demo was designed specifically for PS5 and couldn’t run on Xbox Series X the spokesperson simply said, “We aren’t running it on XBSX.”
Microsoft has been similarly vague about specifics while clearly wanting people to expect similar performance from their next machine. “The fidelity seen in the Unreal Engine 5 tech demo is something that people can expect for next gen gaming across devices,” a spokesperson for Microsoft told Kotaku in an email. “Developers around the world, including the majority of our 15 Xbox Game Studios teams, are using Unreal Engine to build their future projects. We look forward to partnering with Epic and working closely with Unreal 5 across our development teams when it releases in 2021.”
Epic’s roughly seven minute tech demo called “Lumen in the Land of Nanite” showed a woman traversing ancient ruins full of detailed textures and complex lighting effects. At the very end she even takes flight, zooming through the air as rocks fall and towers crumble, showing just how quickly the world around her could be rendered. And all of it – which Epic says is playable – was captured from a PS5 development kit.
But at no point during the presentation or afterwards did Epic mention the other next-gen console coming this autumn, Xbox Series X. When prompted to compare the PS5’s capabilities to Microsoft’s console during an interview with Geoff Keighley, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney demurred. “We love all our of our babies and we can’t make comparisons or pick favourites,” he said.
Epic is a third-party company that does business with Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo and many more game creators, but their presumed platform agnosticism came off more partisan on Wednesday thanks to their decision to tie their new game engine demo with PlayStation. That decision has sparked valid questions about what the two upcoming rival PlayStation and Xbox consoles are capable of and has spurred a new round of ridiculous one-upmanship between fans of the two companies.
Gif: Epic Games
Sony certainly wants people to watch that demo and assume such graphics are only possible on PS5. Microsoft, meanwhile, is conspicuously noting in their statement to Kotaku that Unreal Engine won’t even be out until 2021, meaning that what’s possible with that engine in that demo, wouldn’t show up on any new console until well after the late 2020 launch of Xbox Series X and PS5. That doesn’t mean the tech demo didn’t show us what the PS5 will be capable of, which leads to that still unanswered question: Can the new Xbox do that, too?
The irony is that many of Microsoft’s upcoming first-party games will be based in Unreal Engine. “Incredible work by the team at Epic @UnrealEngine, many of our XGS studios are using Unreal, like the team at Ninja Theory creating Hellblade II, and are excited to bring these UE5 innovations to life on Xbox Series X,” the head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, wrote on Twitter when the tech demo was revealed.
Aaron Greenberg, the head of Xbox marketing, was even more bullish on what the tech demo showed. “Super impressive and can only imagine what the new Unreal 5 Engine will look like on the world’s most powerful console,” he wrote on Twitter.
On paper, some of the Xbox Series X’s specs are certainly higher, but some, like its SSD speed, are lower. Epic’s Tim Sweeney praised Sony’s PS5 SSD during Wednesday’s demo, saying it even outpaced SSDs for PC. That’s led to questions, also unanswered, about whether the new Xbox’s slower SSD would prevent that Wednesday demo from running or running as well. Both Microsoft and Sony have also taken different approaches to designing their new hardware overall, and it’s impossible to know how the finished products will compare before seeing them in action.
Maybe UE 5’s tech demo hasn’t run on an Xbox Series X because it can’t, or maybe it’s just a sign that on this particular next-gen reveal Epic chose to work more closely with Sony instead of Microsoft.
We will see more of what each of the next-gen consoles is capable of in the coming months, as Sony and Microsoft begin to show off first-party games made to get the most out of their new hardware.