Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Release notes done well

In computer industry parlance, Release Notes are a mechanism for communicating change.

A software system typically undergoes a series of development cycles, with the result that, every so often, a new version of the software is released. Each release generally contains a compendium of bug fixes, as well as some number of new features.

For a small piece of software, or for a piece of software that is frequently released, release notes can be boring and mostly inconsequential, simple recitals of bug fixes which are often only of interest to the handful that encountered that particular bug.

For a large and sophisticated piece of software, a long time may have elapsed between releases, and a large team may have been working on the software, and so the scope of the change between releases may be hard, and challenging to communicate.

A common approach is to have a summary listing, embedded with myriad links to details, for example the Linux Kernel release notes tend to follow this format. Another classic example is the Java release notes.

Now, Unreal Engine is a very sophisticated piece of software which is nearing its 25th anniversary.

Unreal Engine 4 was released in 2015. Unreal Engine 5 was released in 2022.

That's a long time, and that's a large piece of software, and so the technical communication challenge is immense.

So it's lovely to see what a stunning job has been done with the Unreal Engine 5 Release Notes.

Although the overall format is very similar to the Linux Kernel release notes, being a single immense listing of changes, each with their own hyperlink to background material with further details, what a difference the presentation makes! The Unreal Engine 5 release notes are lavishly illustrated, with animated GIFs and other illustration techniques throughout.

Of course, this material is not for the novice reader; you have to be prepared to encounter sentences such as

The Shader Complexity view mode shows a heatmap of shader instruction counts per pixel, encompassing all rendered objects. Nanite's existing Material Complexity view mode shows a heatmap of the number of unique materials on Nanite geometry only per 8x8 tile, which is a useful metric for determining material coherency in the Nanite pass.

But my oh my, if this is the sort of stuff that gets you up in the morning, browsing the Unreal Engine 5 documentation will provide many hours of glorious exploration of new and fascinating ways to make computers work magic.

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