Epic announcements at GDC 2024

And there are quite a few of them.

Karen Moltenbrey

Epic Games wowed the audience that came to hear and see the company’s latest announcements and technology during the annual State of Unreal keynote at GDC. Unreal Engine 5.4 Preview 1 is now available, with overall performance and workflow improvements. Epic detailed many of the new features and updates in the preview version of UE 5.4 as well as those coming to full version of UE 5.4 in the next month or so. They include enhancements to Nanite, an experimental Tessellation feature, software variable rate shading, built-in animation tools, motion matching, and more. Epic also launched Unreal Editor for Fortnite. The audience got a taste of what’s coming in games with eye candy from some developers.

Epic Games
The preview version of Unreal Engine 5.4 is here. (Source: Epic)

What do we think? It seems like only yesterday that GDC attendees visited the Epic Games booth to hear about the latest elements of Gears of War and Unreal Tournament, and of course, the Unreal Engine driving the latest visuals. While those properties and more continued to push Epic’s success, today, Epic is perhaps best known for the widely and wildly popular Fortnite title. Of course, the Unreal Engine has taken on life of its own as it  continues to make a name for itself not only within the gaming world, but outside of it as well. One thing you can say about Epic, they do not slow down. They understand games, and they understand technology. And they are constantly delivering new tools and real-time experiences for a plethora of users and industries.

Epic rolls out UE 5.4 Preview, showcases latest developments

Epic Games held its annual State of Unreal keynote address recently during the Game Developers Conference (GDC) to a packed house and an online audience that drove the attendance numbers even higher. Judging from the reactions of both crowds, they were pleased by what they heard and saw. 

Although Epic’s founder and CEO, Tim Sweeney, traditionally delivers the GDC address, this year it was done by CTO Kim Libreri while Sweeney tended to some business Down Under. Libreri kicked things off with a look at what’s available now and what’s to come—technically and creatively.

Amy Hennig, writer/director from Skydance New Media, provided a look at the studio’s upcoming ensemble adventure game, Marvel 1943: Rise of Hydra, which will be available in 2025. Hennig and two of her colleagues showed off some work from the game, which is set in 1943 during World War II and features some iconic characters including Captain America and Azzuri, the Black Panther of the 1940s.

Hennig notes that to create a really immersive game experience, the characters and environments have to work together harmoniously. “We can’t just drop believable characters into a less convincing world,” she said. “So, we need to start with authentic and densely detailed environments as the setting to our story. And because part of our story is set in 1940s occupied Paris, we needed the world to have a really believable and visceral level of detail and grit.”

 An  essential part of any character, particularly a Marvel hero, is their look, and the characters in Rise of Hydra are brought to life using a MetaHuman process that enables the team to faithfully transform the actors’ performances into digital performances.

At that point, Hennig’s teammates zeroed in on various scenes, while she pointed out that it would have been nearly impossible to achieve imagery this complex and have it run in real time without the new features in Unreal Engine 5.4.

What a compelling, creative way to lead into a technical overview of UE 5.4. The Preview 1 version launched at GDC, with the full release to roll out in late April. UE 5.4 includes major changes in the areas of rendering, character creation and animation, worldbuilding, procedural content generation, motion graphics, modeling, simulation, VFX audio, and more. Within the preview version are significant enhancements to Nanite, including an adaptive tessellation feature and volumetric rendering. There are a number of performance improvements as well, including faster Lumen, shadows, and ray tracing. Variable rate shading for Nanite has been added, and instance culling has been massively improved, as is parallelism in the renderer.

Epic Games
Motion Matching has been added to UE 5.4. (Source: Epic)

The team at Epic also has been hard at work updating its animation systems and authoring tools. Updates to the built-in animation tool set make it easier and faster to rig characters and create animations directly in the engine, without round-tripping to external DCC applications. Also, Motion Matching, which is being used in Fortnite, has been added to 5.4 for quickly animating characters in games. Motion Matching, a simple and efficient way of animating game characters, continuously selects the best animation frame to play from its motion database, and closely matches the current pose of the character as well as its past and future movement. Later in the year, Epic will release a free sample learning project with 500-plus AAA animations generated from high-end mocap data. Moreover, following testing in LEGO Fortnite development, users can fully animate using Control Rig and Sequencer, without exiting to another app.


At GDC 2023, Epic launched Unreal Editor for Fortnite (UEFN) and Creator Economy 2.0, which lets users create and publish experiences directly to the wildly popular Fortnite and earn engagement payouts for their published content, respectively. More than 80,000 reported UEFN islands and $320 million in engagement payouts later, Epic has introduced and previewed new features for UEFN.

Now, users will be able to create high-fidelity NPCs for their Fortnite islands with MetaHuman Creator and animate them with MetaHuman Animator. A free online application, MetaHuman Creator lets users generate realistic digital humans that are fully rigged and ready to use in UEFN or Unreal Engine. Meanwhile, MetaHuman Creator can turn video footage into facial animation for MetaHumans or Fortnite characters in UEFN.

Epic Games
With MetaHuman in UEFN, creators can bring realistic characters, such as the above from a demo called Talisman, into equally realistic environments. (Source: Epic)

Several additional tools and updates are also on tap for UEFN in 2024, including more camera and control systems such as a first-person camera.

Epic also broke the news that in addition to more Epic IP, there will be other licensed IP available to Fortnite creators, one of which is LEGO Elements, available now in Fortnite Creative and UEFN. As a result, creators can construct their own LEGO islands and populate them with LEGO props, templates, and more.

Epic Games Store

Epic also discussed its plans for the Epic Games Store (EGS) to go mobile later this year. It will be a multiplatform store spanning Android, iOS, PC, and macOS.

…and More Creative

As we know, images can speak volumes. Before diving into the technical updates, there was more eye candy to ignite the crowd’s interest, including presentations by Funcom on its open-world Dune: Awakening, Zynga’s Natural Motion Games with a look at the arena-based online multiplayer Star Wars: Hunters, and Chrono Studio showed its new trailer for the upcoming MMORPG Chrono Odyssey.

Attendees were reminded that Unreal Engine is not just a tool for game development. Libreri, who came from the world of cinema from ILM and Lucasfilm, said the gap between  interactive entertainment and cinema is closer today than ever before, pointing out that studios have used UE to deliver more than 800 film and TV projects at this time—with a  45% increase in the number of productions just from last year. That includes the use of the engine by Dune: Part Two cinematographer Greig Fraser for planning and preproduction on that tentpole film.

Indeed, the world of media and entertainment continues to grow and expand, and if the past is any indication, Epic plans to grow and expand its tools alongside it.