There's a new trend in video game development. Game studios, even large ones, are binning their own bespoke engines and moving to Unreal Engine instead. We've seen it with CDPR and The Witcher, we've seen it with Crystal Dynamics and Tomb Raider, and now it's happening to another huge franchise: Halo.
343 Industries, the beleagured steward of the franchise, faced a lot of criticism upon the initial reveal of Halo Infinite, largely over its graphics. Despite significant improvements up to and beyond the game's launch, it's clear that the game didn't live up to expectations and now the developer is 'all but starting from scratch' on the next Halo game, with at least 95 developers fired and a switch to Unreal Engine 5 planned - according to a Bloomberg report.
It's this story that dominates this week's Digital Foundry Direct discussions, with John Linneman, Alex Battaglia and special guest Sam Machkovech expressing their views on the matter.
In my view, it's a tragedy, both for the developers involved and the Slipspace Engine that powered Halo Infinite. The demise of in-house engines necessarily means a loss in variety when it comes to rendering techniques, art styles and more, and even contributes to issues like the Stutter Struggle epidemic - our term for the shader compilation stutters that plagued PC games, most frequently Unreal Engine 4 releases, over the past few years. It also puts a lot of power into the hands of Unreal Engine creators Epic, who have done well to push graphical rendering techniques forward over the years but (understandably) have their own preferences for how games ought to play, ought to look and ought to be developed.
Bespoke engines have the latitude to do something different, emphasise graphical techniques, features or development styles that better suit an individual team or specific player base, but it seems that they also represent an often unacceptable risk for developers and publishers who have to justify the extra time and money to create, maintain and train new hires on an in-house engine. It's the maintenance side of things that appears to often be the stumbling block, with the talented developers of games as disparate as Halo Infinite, Counter-Strike Global Offensive and Cyberpunk 2077 struggling to fix long-standing bugs or add much-requested features due to messy, spaghettified codebases, the legacy of years or even decades of in-house engine development.
In this sense, switching to Unreal Engine 5 allows for a clean break, a chance to get rid of the legacy cruft and start again from a sturdy foundation - I just hope that it doesn't stifle ambition or lead to a generation of bland, cookie-cutter game graphics. Hi-Fi Rush is a great counter-example of what you can do to subvert the look of an Unreal Engine game and end up with something special, so fingers crossed other developers are taking notice.
- 00:00:00 Introduction
- 00:01:53 News 01: Halo developer suffers layoffs, switching to UE5?
- 00:17:37 News 02: Major live service games cancelled
- 00:27:11 News 03: DLSS 3 added to Cyberpunk 2077, Dying Light 2
- 00:36:21 News 04: The Witcher 3 gets RT performance boosts
- 00:43:11 News 05: Goldeneye launches on Xbox, Switch
- 00:53:56 News 06: PS5 beta firmware adds 1440p VRR support
- 01:05:04 DF Supporter Q1: Sam, you called the RTX 4090 a bargain. What other bargains do you recommend?
- 01:09:04 DF Supporter Q2: Have you tested copying the shader cache from one PC to another to eliminate shader stutter?
- 01:10:08 DF Supporter Q3: Could Square Enix be in financial trouble after Forspoken’s poor reception?
- 01:13:51 DF Supporter Q4: With PS VR2 pre-orders reportedly lower than expected, could the VR2 go the way of the Vita?
- 01:18:58 DF Supporter Q5: Do you think that it is safe to move to Windows 11 on a gaming rig?
Elsewhere in the show, Alex, John and Sam discuss the recent cancellation of live service games - which seem destined to either make huge amounts of money or die off almost immediately - and in more positive news, the RT improvements to The Witcher 3 and the addition of DLSS 3 to Cyberpunk and Dying Light 2.
We've recently covered the Goldeneye 007 Xbox and Switch releases in full, so let's move onto the final news item this week: a new PS5 beta firmware that adds VRR to 1440p - it was previously only available at 1080p or 4K. This makes a ton of sense, given the number of gaming monitors that hit that 1440p 120Hz+ VRR spec. The update also adds Discord voice calls to PS5, ensuring you don't need to get a headset that supports simultaneous Bluetooth (to mobile Discord) and 2.4GHz (to PS5) to chat with friends cross-platform. There are some other changes discussed too, with the theme seemingly being quality of life improvements that don't radically change the experience but do bring the PS5 user experience closer to the high bar set by the final iteration of the PS4 OS.
We had some great supporter questions too, discussing PS VR2 pre-orders, testing copying the shader cache from one PC to another - a kind of manual Shader Butler?! - and how the RTX 4090 is a 'bargain' according to Sam. Moreover, is Windows 11 actually 'safe' for gaming these days - or is Windows 10 still the way to go?
I won't spoil the answers to these questions, but I will mention that you can submit your own questions for us to answer in the Direct by joining the DF Patreon. It helps support the work we do and gets you access to a really lovely community of like-minded folks on the Discord. So: join us!
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