Epic: making something Unreal

E: Saying no names, then, a certain other engine maker [it’s Crytek, folks] has made a lot of noise about its potential for movie-making middleware. Is that a distraction?

MR: Well, we actually have customers that have used our technology in those areas. Customers can use our technology for whatever they want. I think our games have the best cinematics of any games out there. I’ve been playing Gears Of War 3 and the only thing stopping that looking like a movie is that the Xbox 360, running in realtime, is not the same as a giant render farm capable of spending minutes on a frame. We have to do 30 frames per second. But the tools are certainly capable of doing that, and if we can turn up the detail to what you’ve seen in Samaritan, I’ve not seen anyone else do anything that looks even that good.

Are movies a focus are for us? Our focus is more on games and game technologies. But within our games we have some movies. And we’ve made our TV commercials with our technology in the past. I think that’s just a natural thing you develop as part of the game-making process. We had ‘em first and I think we have ‘em best.

E: Regarding the PC, obviously consoles are getting a bit old now…
MR: Aww, we love our consoles.

E: But is there any subtle work being done to exploit the power of PCs a bit more? Maybe encourage developers to adopt higher-quality pipelines?
MR: There’s no question that we make it easy for people to do. It’s their decision what they do with it. I like to say that we supply the paints and you do the painting. How far games decide to go is really an artist-level decision. Samaritan is the highest-end benchmark of any 3D graphics engine thus far this year, in terms of producing amazing visuals and extrapolating all the power of the modern PC. It’s beyond what people can even afford today. So the tools are there, the techniques are there. 

We did a lot of R&D for Samaritan, it didn’t just pop up in a week or two. We’ve researched the best and most efficient pipelines to deliver that level of technology, and we’re constantly sharing that with our customers. So it’s just a matter of how the individual decides to tackle to problem. It’s a business, artistic and emotional decision. We empower those decisions.

And if you see what people are doing with UDK, we have some really amazing stuff that people have done on PC with UDK that kind of shocked and awed me a bit. We regularly have this internal list – and we’re going to externalise it pretty soon – of just cool stuff that people have built in UDK. And a lot of people, especially since GDC, have actually gravitated in that direction.

E: Including Hawken, presumably.
MR: Yeah, it’s extremely impressive and we’ve given them a lot of advice on the business side of things. And they work closely with our guys in the forums. We like those guys and we’re really trying to help them, which is something that we do for all our licensees. If they come to us and need help with the business, we’re definitely a big cheerleader for those games. But these guys have done a perfectly good job of making the world their oyster, and they have so many opportunities that they don’t need our help, whereas a lot of the smaller guys don’t have the experience. Or if they don’t have as bankable an idea, maybe we can help them.

E: There was a bit of brouhaha amid the Android community when you identified file size as a reason for not supporting the platform more.
MR: Are you serious? Do you own an iPad? I suggest you go to iTunes and look at all the top-selling games, and figure out how many of those are over 50mb. It’s most of them. Infinity Blade is now close to 800megs, and it’s one of the best-selling mobile games of all time. If you want to make great triple-A content, that’s something they’ll need to get over. And Google is fixing that – it’s not a long-term issue; I understand it’s not that far away. But it’s just one of the things that makes the Android marketplace not as mature as the App Store.

E: The disparity between tiers of hardware is another. Are you still unhappy with that?
MR: There are just so many different devices on Android that making a game for that is similar to making games for PCs. You just have to work round the uniqueness of the different hardware and devices, and on top of that the different carriers. You have to deal with all the stuff they put on the phones. They have so much software running on the phone, even on the exact same hardware that can play the game fine with someone else.

There are challenges and opportunities. It’s not the worst thing ever. And when a developer goes so crazy with their content that it exceeds the limits, we deal with it here so that most developers don’t have to. We come up with ways to do the different texture formats, optimise for different CPUs and GPUs, and we deliver that as part of the platform to licensees. Their job is to stay within reasonable content guidelines so their games don’t perform badly. That’s just what you deal with in making games, and we deal with that all over the place.

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