Epic backs PlayStation 3

Gorgeous real-time demo in LA.

Unreal Engine 3 has quickly established itself as the engine of choice for Xbox 360 developers, but Microsoft will have been left a little worried after its most impressive showing yet at the Sony pre-E3 conference on Monday here in LA.

Presented by Tim Sweeney and NVIDIA, the demonstration showed off the startling capabilities of the new console. We often moan about sci-fi men running down metal corridors these days, but we'd take it all back after this 720p real-time demo full of per-pixel lighting and shading and other things we sort of understand but about which we understand one thing very plainly: they are the truest sign yet of a generational leap.

The demo featured a grisly marine type racing down a hallway with a giant gun, pursued by a bad guy who looked like the bastard offspring of C-3PO and I, Robot. The detail was unbelievable - the armour and metal plating would reflected and looked worn, the facial detail was utterly convincing, and the whole scene could have been introduced as a CG movie without anybody batting an eyelid.

Having shot down his enemy - the muzzle flare effects alone eliciting gasps from the audience, and the explosions making us gulp a little - the guy strolled off and pondered a precipice. At which point the demo switched to a robot's eye view, all interference with a reddish filter and static.

He jumped the guy, and they hurtled down to the platform. The guy managed to hold on to the edge but the robot was soon on top of him, kicking the gun away. At this point we caught a glimpse of the fractured head casing of the robot, molten metal seeping away from his wound. It all culminated in the robot being hauled down and destroyed on the ground below in a swirl of smoke, flying flak and applause from the crowd sitting in front of the screen.

What was doubly impressive though was that on the second runthrough, the Epic guys paused the demo - proving that it was real-time rendering and not just pre-recorded CG video - and flew around looking at things from different angles. Over a balcony you could see the sea bashing against a metal cityscape, all industrial greys and dark browns - as many as you could imagine - and as the Epic guys demonstrated the real-time nature of the demo, pausing to pan around and admire things like the individual fiery expulsions from the cannon muzzle, it took on an even more impressive air.

"Amazingly, we got the first PS3 hardware just two months ago," Sweeney said.

Epic's technology is probably going to sell quite well after this.

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