In a recent job listing, Psyonix leaked that Rocket League will be beginning the transition from the outdated Unreal Engine 3 to the more modern Unreal Engine 5.
Here’s a screenshot taken from earlygame.com which leaked the news:
Despite quickly modifying this pos,t it was later confirmed by one of the developers as a long-term project they are working on.
The news of the transition was received with a mix of excitement and concern by the player base. While many were excited by the potential features this could bring to the game, others were worried about it altering fundamental game mechanics.
A Much Needed Facelift
Ever since its release in July of 2015, Rocket League has managed to fill a niche that no other game on the market has been able to replicate. But after 13 years of success, the cracks are beginning to show.
Rocket League as we know it is being run on UE3 which received its last and final update just a few months prior to the release of Rocket League. This means that the developers have been very restricted in the possibilities for the game right from the start because of its being run on an engine that was no longer being supported.
The upgrade to UE5 will not only bring Rocket League into the spotlight visually,then, but it should also come with a few new features to play with.
The Unreal development team posted a demo showcasing some of the features available to their new game engine. This included a better way to render more detailed assets as well as a unique lightning solution, that on its own, would improve the look and feel of any game.
But that is only the tip of the iceberg. UE5 will also allow for other features such as ray tracing to be added to the game to create a more immersive feel to the game. Furthermore, UE5 sh could result in visible performance improvements as a result of it being a more powerful game engine.
But with all these new graphical features it is important that it is implemented correctly. Many high-end and competitive players actually prefer to run the game on the lowest, or “performance”, settings simply because it maximizes framerate while minimizing distractions, or clutter, on the field. For this reason alone, it will be important to have a wide range of graphical options to account for player preference but also taking into account those playing on lower-end PCs
Is Creative Mode on the Horizon?
Graphical and performance optimizations are not the only thing to expect from this update, however. The thing that has both developers and players most excited are all the possibilities for new features to be introduced to the game.
While developers will get more toys to update the look and feel of the game they will also have a lot more tools at their disposal to implement new game modes and features. One of the most requested features from the player base has been for Psyonix to implement a “Creative Mode” that resembles the one found in other Epic Games titles such as Fortnite.
This mode would allow players to create their own custom maps from a list of prefabs that they could share with other players.
Rocket League already has a small but dedicated custom map-making community but it is very intimidating for a player with a good idea to try to figure out how to create their first map. The addition of a “Creative Mode” would allow all players to create and share their ideas easily which is something that has seen a tremendous amount of success in other games such as Fortnite, Minecraft, or Warcraft 3.
I asked one of the brightest minds from the Rocket League map-making community to chime in with his thoughts and this is what he had to say:
Q: Do you think Rocket League will add a Creative Mode to the game along with this new update?
A: I don’t see why they wouldn’t, but it is development overhead without a clear financial incentive other than bolstering interest in the game. It would be a significant effort without a clear benefit.
Mr.Swaggles elaborates on this by comparing it to the release of a new car. If Rocket League wanted to for example make a Tesla in Rocket League, they would hire an artist to create the model for it, they would then put it into the shop and instantly receive money for it with every purchase.
However, with a Creative Mode, these artists would create hundreds of assets for the mode without any guaranteed monetary gain which might be a factor that has deterred Psyonix from proceeding down this path.
Upon further investigation, the Epic Games Store Roadmap lists “Mod Support for Games” as a “Recently Shipped” item back in July of 2020. Despite over a year passing since that post this feature has not yet made it to Rocket League and is only available to a handful of titles.
Whether this is due to technical limitations or financial reasons the key takeaway is that even though with the move to UE5 that a creative mode would certainly be a possibility, players shouldn’t get their hopes up prematurely and instead wait on more information from the developers.
An Uncertain Future
There are a few things that have players worried though, mainly if the transition to a new game engine is going to affect the core mechanics and gameplay in a way that will cause them to have to relearn the game entirely. Rocket League is a physics-based sports game after all, and players have spent thousands of hours developing a feel for how their cars maneuver around the field and how the ball reacts when interacting with different surfaces.
Players such as Lethamyr have voiced their concern by claiming that Psyonix will need to “build everything from the ground up”. And while no one can make any claims with 100% certainty, the Lead Gameplay Engineer Jared Cone at Psyonix revealed at the 2018 Game Developers Conference that Rocket League does not actually use the integrated Unreal physics engine and rather has integrated the open source “Bullet Physics Engine”.
This means that in theory, they should be able to do the exact same thing when working on transitioning the game to UE5 which would result in the physics being close to if not exactly the same as what they are currently.
One feature that has been taken for granted over the past couple of years is the use of third-party mods and applications such as Bakkesmod, Gif Your Game, or RLBot. Many players rely on these tools for several quality of life changes such as to aid with MMR tracking, client side item customization, convenient sharing of highlight clips, and a plethora of training enhancing features such as training pack variance.
These applications will almost certainly be affected by the move to UE5 and it is hard to say when or even if they will become available to players again. It all depends on how difficult it will be for the modders to reintegrate with UE5.
There is a chance that certain features may be lost forever but where there’s a will there’s a way and the modding community has surprised us before. Or maybe Psyonix will have noticed how popular some of these features were and consider implementing them themselves during the transition.
Possible Release Date
The news of such a massive Rocket League update could not have come at a better time. With many players leaving the game and content creators panicking on social media about the decline in viewership, this was most certainly the catalyst the player base needed to keep the hype alive.
Although there is no exact timeline on the project, UE5 itself is scheduled for a full release early 2022 so it is not unreasonable to expect a progress update before then. Until then it is important to take everything with a grain of salt as nothing is certain and there is still a long way to go before a full release.
This is a great time to get your voice heard and let Psyonix know what features players are most excited about potentially seeing in the future. Personally, as a professional coach, the thing at the top of my wishlist is a better replay system that allows for the sharing of replay files across all platforms. This would allow myself and other coaches to better help more players that are looking to get better at the game.
Cone, Jared. It IS Rocket Science! The Physics of Rocket League Detailed. YouTube, GCD, 24 Apr. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=ueEmiDM94IE&ab_channel=GDC.
Games, Epic. “Epic Games Store Roadmap.” Trello, 30 July 2020, 11:15pm, trello.com/b/GXLc34hk/epic-games-store-roadmap.
Kaplis, Brian and Jerome Platteaux, directors. Unreal Engine 5 Revealed! | Next-Gen Real-Time Demo Running on PlayStation 5. YouTube, Unreal Engine, 13 May 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=qC5KtatMcUw.
Lethamyr. “This Is What They’ve Been Working on.” Twitter, 19 Aug. 2021, twitter.com/Lethamyr_RL/status/1428487197490126854.
Mr.Swaggles. “UDK vs UE5.” Rocket League Mapmaking, Discord, 30 Aug. 2021, discord.gg/D9ERPUM4pk. Accessed 30 Aug. 2021.
Science, Rocket. This Update Could Make or Break Rocket League. YouTube, 21 Aug. 2021, www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_UbuSrVrgI&ab_channel=RocketScience.