We’ve seen our first PS5 live gameplay demo, and, surprisingly, it didn’t come from a Sony event. Instead, the reveal came from the Summer Game Fest: a periodic series of announcement videos and interviews from The Game Awards host Geoff Keighley. As such, the game on display wasn’t an exclusive Sony series, but instead, a tailor-made demo running on the Unreal Engine 5.
The team from Epic Games joined Keighley to discuss the features of the new game engine in a livestream hosted on YouTube. If the live chat and Twitter were any indication, most users were just as surprised as we were to see a PS5 live gameplay demo. Just yesterday, the Summer Game Fest hosted an announcement for a Tony Hawk Pro Skater remaster, and it seemed like other announcements on the channel would be along similar lines.
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Still, players got a good look at what PS5 gameplay might look like, thanks to a custom-made demo about a young woman with magical powers exploring an ornate tomb. The demo was called “Lumen in the Land of Nanite.” It’s not just a generic fantasy name; the words in the title refer to two major features of Unreal Engine 5.
“Nanite” is a new technology that Unreal Engine 5 uses to render polygonal objects. To put it simply, complex polygons are made up of millions of tiny triangles, and Nanite can render these polygons with remarkable speed and accuracy. The result is more detailed models with less loading time. We saw this on display when the demo’s protagonist examined an elaborate statue all by itself, then advanced into the next room, where there were dozens of identical statues on display. There was no slowdown or visible rendering time, suggesting that the PS5 will be quite efficient at displaying graphics — or at hiding loading times. Likely both.
Next up was “Lumen,” Unreal Engine 5’s lighting technology. This dynamic lighting engine is exactly what it sounds like: a way to let developers place light sources anywhere in a level, and have the environment react realistically, without any slowdown. We saw Lumen on display first when the protagonist made her way through a narrow gap in a canyon. Light streamed in from a crack in the surface, illuminating her immediate surroundings, but anything past the gap was still shrouded in darkness. This by itself wasn’t necessarily impressive; what was impressive was when the devs stopped the demo and moved the light source, so that we could see the environment reacting organically. Watch the video if you can to see the fluid, realistic reactions if you can; it’s hard to describe in print.
Later on, we got a more detailed look at Lumen lighting when the protagonist, while exploring the dark tomb, conjured up a blue ball of light in her hand. As she moved the ball around like a flashlight, we saw how the tomb reacted to the change in both lighting source and color. The ball could also illuminate objects unevenly, such as the aforementioned statues, which thickened at the middle and narrowed at the legs.
What was most striking about the demo, though, was simply that it was live gameplay running on a PS5. That’s something we’ve never seen before, and didn’t really expect to see in a one-off Summer Game Fest announcement with very little fanfare. It’s worth noting, however, that Lumen in the Land of Nanite isn’t a real game, just a way to show off Unreal Engine 5. It may not be representative of how the PS5 performs on titles meant for release.
While watching the demo, I couldn’t help but realize that this kind of demo — an extended gameplay sequence that showed off exactly what the PS5 could do — was exactly the kind of thing I’d expected from the May 7 Xbox Series X gameplay reveal event. It was also exactly the kind of thing that we ultimately didn’t get, contenting ourselves instead with a few seconds of in-game footage in a variety of trailers.
Without institutions like GDC and E3, it’s been an odd year to announce new consoles. Our information comes at sporadic intervals, and it’s never easy to tell whether we’re about to see an enormous reveal or simply a long lecture. (I liked the PS5 hardware event; I know that not many others did.) If there’s a lesson in all this, I suppose it’s to keep an eye on announcements that don’t come directly from
Sony and Microsoft. Some of the most important information about the PS5 and the Xbox Series X may come from unexpected places.