New Features Abound In Epic's Unreal Engine 4.9 Release

Epic Games has launched the latest installment of the ever popular Unreal Engine. Version 4.9 comes packed with hundreds of updates from Epic, along with nearly 130 upgrades from GitHub's Unreal Engine community. The release notes detailing all of the changes is 70 pages long. Some of the notable changes include upgrades for VR development and improved mobile platform support.

With UE4.9, mobile devices running iOS and Android can now support Dynamic Character Shadows cast from directional light. Epic said this can be done even if the scene has static lighting. Dynamic Point Lights are now supported in mobile, as well. Epic said up to four dynamic point lights can be used for each individual lit object. Dynamic shadows following the light sources are not yet supported on mobile.

Epic has made improvements when working on virtual reality projects; UE 4.9 features built-in support for the latest GearVR SDK, version 0.6.0. This revision should fix some major rendering bugs that were present in 0.5.0, and Epic said it also fixes some hardware compatibility issues. Improvements to the SteamVR plugin for developing on HTC Vive have been added that correct latency issues introduced in UE 4.8 Preview 2+ and other bug fixes.

Unreal Engine 4.9 also introduces motion controller support through a common interface. Currently, HTC Vive controllers are supported, but the company plans to add other devices such as Playstation Move wands in the near future. Using the Motion Controller key abstraction, input from multiple controllers can now be mapped to the same player.

Epic has also made it simple to add position tracking to a character. Simply add the Motion Controller component to a character to make the engine automatically track the position of your controllers. 

With version 4.9 comes experimental DirectX 12 support. Epic's team worked with Microsoft's engineers to add early support for the new API. The company said it is still in experimental stages but is committed to improving the implementation going forward. If you have Windows 10 and wish to try it out, simply add "-DX12" to the command line before running the engine.

With 70 pages of updates, it's impossible to list all of the changes made, but there are several notable changes that should be highlighted:

Full Scene Particle Collision with Mesh Distance Fields enable particles to collide with all of the objects in a scene. This can be used for realistic sparks bouncing off of surfaces or depicting snow buildup over time, for instance.

Area Shadows for stationary lights. With UE 4.9, shadows cast on objects using stationary light sources are no longer limited to sharp edges. You can now control the "Light Source Angle" and the "Source Radius," which will determine how sharp or soft a shadow will appear.

Ambient Occlusion Material Mask can be used to procedurally texture scenes based on lightmass calculations. Epic said this can be used to automatically place weathering and dirt accumulation in a scene.

The Persona animation system has received a few updates, as well. Non-linear animation blending is now supported, and animation blending tress have been improved. Bone-driven Animation Controllers can now be used, which Epic said is great for characters with attached accessories. With this feature a "driver" component is set, and when the animation plays out, "driven" bones will move dynamically with the "driver" bone, without the need for a designated animation.

There are hundreds of other changes and improvements listed in the release notes, so if you are a developer, you might want to sit back and do some reading. Unreal Engine 4.9 is available now, free of charge until your project is a commercial success. 

You can read our recent interview with Epic's James Golding here.

Follow Kevin Carbotte @pumcypuhoy. Follow us @tomshardware, on Facebook and on Google+.

 Kevin Carbotte is a contributing writer for Tom's Hardware who primarily covers VR and AR hardware. He has been writing for us for more than four years. 

  • cats_Paw
    This company has the perfect name.
    VR+Unreal Engine 4.99999+virtualizer.... Im starting to save right now.
  • kewlbootz
    Really excited for the particle collision. This seems like a really exciting year for gaming and development. DX12, new Unreal, and a possible upheaval in the GPU market because of DX12.