Meta is transitioning its support from Unreal Engine 4 to Unreal Engine 5.1 for apps built for the Quest platform. Two of the engine’s headlining features aren’t designed for mobile though, so it’s doubtful we we’ll ever see them on Quest.
In a dev blog post announcing the news, Meta says developers who choose to work with Epic’s game engine should start thinking about using UE5 for their Quest apps. The company isn’t advising devs to upgrade to UE5 if in the middle of a project though; apps based on UE4 can still be distributed to the Meta Quest Store or App Lab.
Still, the clock is ticking. Meta will support critical bug fixes for UE4 until the end of 2023, although devs can access UE4 resources and documentation on Meta’s GitHub repository even after the support is scaled back.
As you’d imagine, Meta says the original 2019 Quest won’t be supported—it’s unceremoniously getting pushed off into the sea—however the company is slated to provide separate binaries for each device soon, which will allow developers targeting Quest 1 an upgrade path. Notably, OpenXR is the only VR API supported by Meta in UE5.
No Nanite or Lumen
Unfortunately, two of the biggest features of Epic’s latest and greatest aren’t coming to the company’s standalone headsets. Released in April 2022, UE5 packs in two new tools called Nanite and Lumen.
Nanite is a virtualized geometry system which uses a new internal mesh format and rendering technology to render pixel scale detail and high object counts.
It essentially works like a continuous Level of Detail (LOD) system that draws detail from the original ‘master’ 3D model. In its developer documentation, Epic Games says Nanite can increase an app’s geometry complexity, higher triangle and objects counts by “multiple orders of magnitude.”
Here’s a look at what Nanite can do for VR games, courtesy of YouTube channel ‘Smart Poly’:
Lumen, the engine’s new dynamic global lighting system, also makes virtual environments look better, as it can use both software and hardware ray tracing for more realistic lighting.
And why not on Quest 2 or Quest Pro? Nanite and Lumen simply aren’t built to work on mobile processors, and don’t support Android at all.
Nanite is currently supported on a host of devices, including PS5, Xbox Series S|X, and PCs with even the most-humble of Maxwell-generation graphics cards. PS4 and Xbox One also support Nanite, albeit experimentally.
Lumen on the other hand is developed for PS5 and Xbox Series S|X, and high-end PCs. Software ray tracing can be done on NVIDIA GeForce GTX-1070 or higher cards, while hardware ray tracing must be on NVIDIA RTX-2000 series or higher, or AMD RX-6000 series or higher. Not even PS4 or Xbox One.
Moreover, Epic says in Lumen’s documentation that there are “no plans to develop a dynamic global illumination system for the mobile renderer. Games using dynamic lighting need to use unshadowed Sky Light on mobile.”
Without direct support from Epic, Meta has little other choice. Granted, many VR creators opt to develop in Unity thanks to its relative simplicity for smaller teams and greater overall market share, meaning more assets and general know-how to go around.