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Diamond Partner Q&A: Epic Games' Nick Penwarden discusses the future of Unreal Engine

At GDC 2019, attendees will have the opportunity to interact with an array of sponsors who help fuel the games industry, including our Diamond Partners, whose support plays an integral role to the success of GDC.

To introduce you to our diamond partner Epic Games, and what they'll be showcasing at GDC 2019, we reached out to Nick Penwarden, director of engineering for Unreal Engine at Epic Games, for a quick chat about what's coming up for developers who work in Unreal! 

Would you please introduce yourself and your role at Epic to GDC attendees?

Hi, my name is Nick Penwarden and I am Director of Engineering for UE4 at Epic Games. My role is to oversee all aspects of Unreal Engine development. 

What are you most excited about for the immediate future of Unreal Engine?

My background is in graphics programming so naturally I am excited about real-time ray tracing! Hardware accelerated ray tracing unlocks new techniques and algorithms that will bring us much closer to photorealism in real-time. We’ve done a lot of work this past year to build out an optimized set of ray tracing features including reflections, area shadows, and GI approximations. From games to architectural visualization, I am looking forward to seeing what developers build in Unreal.

I’m also excited to see more Unreal games embrace shipping across multiple platforms so that gamers can enjoy them and play with their friends regardless of which console or mobile device they prefer to play on. The UE4 team has invested a lot of time and effort adding scalability controls and optimizing the engine for all platforms, especially consoles and mobile devices, to make it as easy as possible to ship UE4 games on every supported platform.

You’ve got a long history working in game engines and on Unreal Engine itself, what do you think developers should know about using the Unreal Marketplace to get useful plugins and other components for making games?

I think developers should be able to spend their time focusing on what makes their games fun and unique: the art style, new gameplay mechanics, new technology, or all of the above. That is both the fun part of game development and what gamers will ultimately enjoy.

Using plugins, models, materials, FX, sounds, and other content from the Marketplace gives developers a headstart on doing just that by allowing them to spend less time creating these elements from scratch.

Looking forward, what do you think are some of the most valuable skills for game programmers in the job market, especially for working on games that utilize Unreal?

In my experience, the two most important skills for programmers are problem solving and teamwork. You’ll spend most of your time breaking down complex problems, fixing difficult bugs, and trying to solve novel problems. Being a creative problem solver is really important! Teamwork is also important as you’ll rarely be working alone. When working with a team, you can’t go wrong by being helpful, being humble, and sharing your knowledge. 

Of course, game programmers should know C++, spend some time learning how PC hardware works (CPUs, caches, memory, etc.) to better understand how to write high-performance code, and also learn as much math as you can!

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