In 2023, it’s hard for small game developers to make a difference, but the French game company Drama’s first-person shooter Unrecord, which has a bodycam style and was made in the first person, has taken the internet by storm over the past week. The first gameplay sample looked too real to be true, and a lot of angry people were quick to call it a fake.
One of the developers showed an in-engine video that showed that it’s not. But it’s still hard to believe how real Unrecord looks, and there’s a very good reason for that.
The demo was shared by Alexandre Spindler, who is a programmer and co-director of Unrecord. You can see it up top. If the movements were smoother, it would be easy to convince someone that this is real footage. That’s what a lot of people thought after seeing the show.
The creator of another game, Paranormal Tales, a bodycam-style horror game set to come out in 2023, says that viewpoint is what makes the difference. “Over the past few years, footage from body cams has become more and more common… It has given us, as developers, a lot more information to look through to figure out where the camera should be and how it should move.”
According to Velvetiere Media that it is doing a lot of hard work for Unrecord. This kind of body camera footage is only shown when it’s real. And people have seen way too much of it, especially in the U.S.
The way a bodycam moves is one thing, but the quality of the footage it takes is also important. The person who made Paranormal Tales said, “We’re trying to keep the video quality similar to what you’d see from a real body camera. This means a layer of textured noise from a lower-quality sensor and a little fish-eye to make the shot look wider.”
It seems like Unrecord went all the way with that idea. There is a lot of shine around the brightest parts of the scene and the angle of view is very fish-eye. Because a real bodycam only has a small range of brightness, the sky always looks totally white when you look up.
But the encoding flaws are what sell Unrecord more than anything else. It’s important to remember that Unrecord went popular on Twitter, which is known for having low-quality videos.
Since Unrecord is already trying to look like a low-quality camera, this makes it look even more real. If you download the high-quality demo, it’s much more clear that this is a game and not a real recording.
Even if you can see the flaws in high-quality video, there’s a skill to covering a game in dirt to make it more like real life. But that only works if the assets and lighting are of good quality, which is where Unreal Engine 5 comes in.
The Unreal Engine 5 Difference
We haven’t seen a lot of games made with Unreal Engine 5, but I’ve talked about its promise before. Lumen is a big part of why the new engine is so good, and I think that’s what gives Unrecord its photorealistic look.
Lumen is a ray tracing system that runs on software, in case you didn’t know. Software-based ray tracing is usually not as good as ray tracing done with special accelerators on graphics cards, but Lumen was made to make software-based ray tracing faster. It blends ray tracing with more traditional ways of lighting in a very efficient way. That’s why Fortnite with Lumen can run at 60 frames per second (fps) on current-gen systems.
I asked the creator of Unrecord for more information, but I’d be surprised if the game didn’t use Lumen in some way. And the difference is the lighting. With Unreal Engine, it’s easy to find high-quality assets—one creator says the demo was made with assets from the Unreal Marketplace—so the lighting and camera are what make a scene look real.
The Paranormal Tales team says that putting all your attention on photorealism can pay off. “We’re relying a lot on the tools that came with the engine, and we’re learning how to use them to their fullest potential. We’ve spent a lot more time learning about real lighting settings and recreating them in Lumen. This has helped us make a game that looks more like the real world.
The team also said that a lack of artificial intelligence (AI) and a “constrained environment” were important to keeping performance at a high level with such high visual fidelity. We don’t know much about Unrecord, but based on the first trailer, it doesn’t look like it has a huge scope either.
The team behind Paranormal Tales says that Unreal Engine 5 is “a change of the guard” compared to the previous version because it gives them better tools to make photorealistic graphics. “Things that have caused us trouble in the past have been completely thrown out and replaced with things that are simpler and better built.”
Since the “technical debt” has been paid off, the new engine seems to be a good choice for quickly getting games up and running. The Paranormal Tales team says that only time will tell how well the new features hold up over the years, but for now, Unreal Engine 5 seems better for creation than the later versions of Unreal Engine 4.
When Realism Matters
Between Paranormal Tales and Unrecord, it’s clear that a new wave of developers is using a new viewpoint that leads to more photorealistic results. As games start to get more realistic, it’s an exciting time for PC images, but it also brings up a clear worry. And Unrecord showed that to its fullest.
A trained eye can still tell when something is a game, but Unrecord looks good enough that, with a lot of Twitter compression, it was able to trick a lot of players into thinking it was real footage when it wasn’t. I don’t have to explain why that could be a problem, especially given that Unrecord is about a lost record.
There is a lot of talk about that subject, and the developer has written a FAQ to try to explain its position. It’s true that this level of reality can be hard to deal with, but it doesn’t look like the Unrecord development team is responsible for any of that.
It shouldn’t take attention away from the work that smaller companies are doing to make games look more realistic. With a leaner, meaner engine that gives creators tools like Lumen, as well as a unique point of view and a large market of high-quality assets, games are becoming much more realistic.