Epic: making something Unreal

Epic: making something Unreal

Epic: making something Unreal

Samaritan. Not the most obvious name for a tech demo inspired by Blade Runner. But then you see who it’s by. Epic Games, whose Unreal Engine 3 sold many of today’s leading developers a ticket into this hardware generation. Whose Unreal Tournament games, furthermore, with their modding tools and contests, sold gamers tickets to development in general. Whose Unreal Development Kit, which incorporates the tech behind its latest triple-A games, is now handing out tickets for free.

The June UDK update is just the latest chapter in this noble – and of course massively profitable – enterprise, and is a bigger deal than its name suggests. Features include a heavily overhauled foliage editor, the first ever debugger for the Kismet scripting tool, a unified UDK exe for outputting PC and mobile games, the Simplygon mesh reduction tool (which automates mesh optimisation across different tiers of hardware), and a series of one-click lighting templates.

Furthermore, when Epic refers to ‘major memory and performance optimisations’, it’s alluding to all the not-insignificant tweaks that preceded the shipping of Gears Of War 3. Adding to DX11 functionality introduced after GDC, this theoretically makes both Samaritan and Gears-calibre projects possible for UDK users.

The June update should be launching as you read this, giving users time to soak it all up before Epic’s London developer event across July 13-14. Split between a day of lectures and Q&A sessions (for those under NDA for evaluating or licensing UE3), and the Unreal University (offering ‘professional guidance’ to free UDK users), it takes place at De Vere West One and admission is free. Also, it reinforces Epic’s near-governmental role in today’s industry, credentials ranging from the $10 million success of Infinity Blade to headline-grabbing licensing deals with Starbreeze and Lucasarts. Epic VP Mark Rein tells us more.

Edge: Is there a particular message behind this UDK update?
Mark Rein: No, I think the message is a very general one all the time. It’s that Unreal Engine 3 is constantly changing, evolving and improving. We’re adding more functionality, we’re making it easier to develop with. We’re optimising it, moving it to more platforms. Some months we have things that are big and visual: ‘Oh, I can see how that helps me.’ And other months a lot of the changes are under the covers: a fix to something, or an improved way of coding that isn’t so obvious to folks like you and I, who look for the visual cues. But equally important.

E: Does all this evolution make the idea of an Unreal Engine ‘3’ or ‘4’ a bit redundant?
MR: We’ve already built next-generational features into UE3. If you saw Samaritan at GDC this year, that was super-high-end stuff. We didn’t hide the fact that that is our proposal for what next gen should be. And those DX11 features have been in the UDK since just after GDC, so customers have been working with that for several months. We don’t know what the next-gen consoles will be, when they’ll come and how much power they’ll have, or how much of a generational leap there’ll be, so it’s really hard to say. But if the next generation of consoles is the DX11 generation, then UE3 can already do that.

Does it become Unreal Engine 4? Possibly. We just don’t know yet. I think we’ll have a pretty good idea of that in about a year’s time.

E: How fed up are you of being asked about CryEngine?
MR: [laughs] Let’s skip that question. 

I’m very happy with where we are today. We have really great engine technology, the best tools. We’ve explored the future with Samaritan and delivered that technology already today. We’re running on all the best mobile platforms and there’ll be more coming. We have UDK which broadens its availability to virtually anybody at a really great price. It costs you nothing to start working with UDK. Nothing…

Okay, 99 dollars. Next to nothing. For your whole team, no matter how big or small your project is, that’s the whole price. And you don’t even have to pay that until you start collecting money for it. Then you get to keep your first $50,000, and only then do we have a revenue split. So, competitively, I think we’re in a very good shape. There’s other companies out there doing great stuff, but I don’t need to talk about them. I just need to remind people that, you know, we’re still the best.