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EPIC and Unreal Story

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    EPIC and Unreal Story

    Virtual Recruitment
    The Internet has long been a hot breeding ground for fans of 3D action games, and Epic knew it. So when it started fleshing out the team for the game, it was only logical to turn to the cyber realm. For instance, the man hired for the game's artificial intelligence was well-known for his famous Reaper Bots add-on for Quake (the program adds realistic computer-controlled human opponents to the multiplayer game). Rein remembers that he was on the Internet IRC chat at a hotel in Europe when he first heard of Reaper Bots. "Some users said during the chat, 'Hey Mark, have you seen the Reaper Bots?' I hadn't, but I downloaded them and was addicted. For me, it was the perfect way to practice for multiplayer.
    Epic had to tell the world that a new era for the company was about to begin. Pinball tables and carrot-munching jackrabbits need not apply.


    So the next day, I found the phone number of Steve Polge who created them, called him, and he was hired within a month as our artificial intelligence guy."

    Other employees would be hired in a similar fashion, usually based on their previous work published on the Internet. At the same time, this process of hiring the best of the Internet would lead to a development team scattered all over the world. Schmalz and his core group of artists would be branded as Digital Extremes and remain in Canada, but everyone else was all over the map - from the Netherlands to the US to Canada to France. As the team started to ramp up, members would communicate via e-mail and phone to discuss their vision for the game. Just as the team was growing, the game was turning into Epic's largest project ever in terms of resources and investment. It deserved a huge push and Epic knew it - Epic had to tell the world that a new era for the company was about to begin. Pinball tables and carrot-munching jackrabbits need not apply.

    Mark Rein
    The Hype Begins
    Mark Rein, Epic's VP of marketing and former president of id Software, knew the team had something special brewing. He wanted to show the world what was in development and chose the 1996 Electronic Entertainment Expo as the venue. So, in a suite at the Marriott in Marina Del Ray, CA, Rein, Sweeney, Schmalz, and Bleszinski premiered the game technology. Promoting the use of the MMX processor from Intel for enhanced visual effects on a computer monitor that sat near an open window with palm trees swaying in the background, they demonstrated the technology to the press and a select group of industry insiders. Although there wasn't much of a game to be shown, the visuals were very impressive - colored lights illuminated the environment and blended with each other. And the editor shown by Bleszinski was truly revolutionary, making level-building virtually a point-and-click process. These demos would continue for the next two years as Rein and PR manager Craig Lafferty churned out more and more buzz and hype about the game.

    The Name of the Game
    But what would the game be called? The developers fought forever about names, going through a number of options including Sin and Dark Earth - ironic, considering the fact that two PC games have since taken those names. Finally, "Everyone gave up," says Schmalz, and they settled on the pompous name Unreal. In retrospect, the name couldn't have been better - it was cocky, memorable, and indicative of the team's confidence that it was pushing into uncharted territory.

    The first big wave of public interest in Unreal came in late 1996 when PC Gamer ran the first preview of the game.
    Eventually, in early 1997, Epic would give the biggest demo possible to none other than Microsoft CEO Bill Gates.


    Epic basked in the glow of the publicity, but promoting its new title at such an early stage proved to be a double-edged sword. The developers were creating incredible expectations for Unreal and building the hype to pressure-cooker levels. According to Rein, it was a necessary evil. "To attract publisher interest, it was necessary for little Epic MegaGames to go out and show off its technology," he says, recalling the initial PR blitz. "If we hadn't done that, our deal would have been half of what it is. The good thing is that we always had these expectations standing over our shoulders keeping us honest, but the bad thing is that we showed our cards to the world ahead of time."

    Bill Gates requested, and was granted, a secret meeting with the creators of Unreal.
    The 51 Billion Dollar Demo
    Showing their cards to the world ahead of time would present a number of intriguing demo experiences for the Unreal team members. They had potentially revolutionary graphics technology at their fingertips and everyone wanted to see it - from the biggest software publishers in the industry down to cult-heroes such as John Carmack and John Romero. Eventually, in early 1997, Epic would give the biggest demo possible, to none other than Microsoft CEO Bill Gates.

    This top-secret meeting - never before revealed to the public - took place inside the Microsoft compound in Redmond, WA. Rein and Sweeney met with Gates and a number of his leading developers to show them what they were doing with Unreal. After Sweeney discussed the technology and Rein ran a demo of the game, they sat down with Gates one-on-one to discuss their work. "He was really very gracious and complementary of the game," remembers Rein. For Sweeney, "Showing Unreal to Bill Gates was a very cool experience, and it drove home the point that if you work very hard for many years and strive to be one of the best in your field, you really can get there and see some great opportunities."

    By the time the team had demonstrated the game to Gates, Unreal didn't have a chance of becoming a Microsoft product. That honor had already been bestowed on GT Interactive, who signed a multimillion dollar deal for the game in mid-1996. Based on Epic's huge investment in Unreal - self-funding it for over a year and a half - signing a publishing deal was a necessary step toward finishing the game. "At some point we probably would have run out of money to develop Unreal had we not signed a deal," says Rein. "It was a huge project - our biggest ever in terms of time, money, and human resources."

    Just how did GTI get the rights to Unreal? In mid-1996, Jim Perkins, then president of software publisher FormGen, visited Rein at his house outside of Toronto, Ontario, and saw Unreal.
    "Based on the engine and Epic's vision, I believed it had triple A potential"
    - Ron Chaimowitz,
    GT Interactive chairman and CEO

    (FormGen was later acquired by GT Interactive, and Perkins now serves as senior VP, artists and repertoire.) Perkins recalls, "The Unreal game system and editor totally blew me away - it was gorgeous and well ahead of anything I'd seen before in terms of beauty, speed, and ease-of-use." Remembering when he first demonstrated the product to Perkins, Rein says, "He told me point blank, 'We really want this game, and we are going to give you the best deal you can get.' That was on a Monday, and on Wednesday, we signed a tentative deal with them for Unreal."
    The first shot of a level called Bluff Eversmoking. This level, including the Manta creature, made it into the final game.
    Although the deal was quickly closed, Rein recalls that, "We actually had one publisher offer us more money than GT for Unreal, but we were more comfortable working with GT - it owned the genre at that time with games like Doom, Quake, Duke Nukem 3D, and even Spear of Destiny."

    At GT Interactive, chairman and CEO Ron Chaimowitz first saw Unreal back in 1996. "Based on the engine and Epic's vision, I believed it had triple A potential," he explains. "The graphics, expertise of the team, and the promise to have an editor by which anyone could easily design their own levels appealed to GT." So the deal was struck for Unreal, even though the game had just barely begun hard-core development. As Chaimowitz said - the vision was there, but now that vision had to be made into a reality.

    Virtual Development
    Gradually, the Unreal team had grown from the core group of three in Rockville, MD, to what eventually totaled a dozen-plus developers spread out all over the world. While Sweeney worked on the engine and editor in Maryland, Bleszinski designed levels from his home base in California, and Schmalz worked with his team at Digital Extremes on art, design, and scripting in Canada. The level designers and technical specialists were even more spread out on the globe - some from places as far away as the Netherlands. Although this "virtual development" team worked well together, its face-to-face contact was extremely limited. For instance, Dave Carter, the Chicago-based lead animator for Unreal, was hired completely over the Internet on the strength of a single animation demo. "Believe it or not," Schmalz remembers, "I didn't meet Dave [in person] until we had worked together for two straight years."

    "Believe it or not, I didn't meet [lead animator] Dave Carter until we had worked together for two straight years."
    - James Schmalz

    While the concept of creating a topnotch, blockbuster game with a virtual development team was appealing to Epic and Digital Extremes, it would prove onerous once the project kicked into full gear. "At the start, it wasn't too bad because we all did our separate things," says Schmalz. "But once the team really built up - during the last year or so of development - we realized that the coordination was too hard with more than a dozen people working at different locations around the globe. When I'd be going to bed in Canada, someone in Europe would just be waking up."

    Third Time's a Charm
    Almost inevitably, progress on the game began to slow. The virtual development scheme was a primary culprit, but other factors also contributed to Unreal's now-legendary delays. As previously mentioned, the fragile work of designing a game based on an unfinished piece of technology was cumbersome and time-consuming. "It's truly the toughest thing for a developer to do," says Rein. "How do you design a monster for a level that isn't even in the game yet?" asks Bleszinski. "It was very frustrating, but also a learning process for everyone involved."

    A castle level created for the game, but never used in the final version.
    This learning process would lead to much wasted effort. A perfect example was the team's work to create rich visual textures for the levels, similar to the Riven-esque environment it had originally envisioned. "We started off by just taking digital pictures of textures such as rock and stone and using them, but we were pretty wrong about that working," recalls Bleszinski. "We ended up using those as a base but had to do lots of modifications to them so they would look good in the engine." In the end, over 5,000 textures were created for the game. Only about half of them were ever used.

    The high standards of the Epic team would also cause delays. "The rule was that only the coolest stuff gets in," says Bleszinski. "If there was a creature that wasn't as good as some of the other ones, it was out. Theoretically, we could have made two or three games out of all the content we created. We just wanted the best stuff in there."

    Finally, the game's technical innovations took longer than expected to complete, particularly the scripted, in-game cut-scenes that would eventually produce Unreal's spookiest moments. These dramatic interludes - such as the early level scene where the lights suddenly cut out, the music changes, and Skaarj warriors leap from the darkness and attack the bewildered player - are what truly separates Unreal from its competition. "[This type of] drama is really tough to do," says Bleszinski, "because you have to account for all the possibilities. For instance, if a Nali Alien is scripted to get killed by a Skaarj, you must account for all the possibilities - what if the player goes and stands between them, or what if he kills the Nali before the Skaarj gets to him? I think everyone underestimates how difficult it is to program those elements into a game."

    part II

    The Pressure Mounts
    Not surprisingly, publisher GT Interactive was growing increasingly concerned about the game's long development cycle. The software publishing giant had risked a great deal of money on Unreal, and the pressure was mounting for Epic to stay on a schedule. As Bleszinski remembers, "[They] wanted me to give them a time estimate for how long it would take to create a map from start to finish - they wanted to chart it all out for us. But it's not that easy. A painter can't tell you how long it is going to take him to do a painting, and designing levels for Unreal is a lot more than just throwing ten enemies in a room and asking the player to mow them down."

    Although GT's Ron Chaimowitz is now mum on the subject of delays, he agrees that "any time a title takes longer than anticipated to complete, there are frustrations."
    "People think we worked on it for four years, and that isn't true. People think that we were two years late, and that isn't true either."
    - Mark Rein

    According to the entire Epic team, GT was extremely supportive of its decision to continue working on the game until it was the product it envisioned - or at least close to it. Sweeney sums it up by stating, "We took lots of heat for our release date slips, which totaled over a year, but ultimately gamers are happier having a good game late rather than a bad game on time."

    A Victim of Exaggeration?
    Even though the missed released dates were much-discussed in the industry (Wired magazine officially dubbed it "vaporware"), Rein is quick to point out that rumors of Unreal's delay have been greatly exaggerated. "Unreal turned into a kind of urban myth. People think we worked on it for four years, and that isn't true; People think that we were two years late, and that isn't true either."

    A test image of the dragon created by James Schmalz, which was later dropped from the game.
    The truth is that when GT signed the deal for Unreal, Sweeney was happy to guarantee a ship date of April 1997. But as we now know, April came and went without Unreal. With the game already more than two months late, the Unreal team showed up at the 1997 Electronic Entertainment Expo to exhibit Unreal in GT Interactive's booth. Most of the attendees expected the game to be nearly finished. It wasn't. As Bleszinski remembers, "After E3 last year, we took a lot of heat. People started to doubt the team and wondered what was happening with the game. We looked at the online coverage, and the press had a lot of valid points. We didn't show very much artificial intelligence, and the levels looked too much like mazes and didn't have anything memorable in them. We took that feedback to heart."

    The simple reality was that Unreal was not yet ready for prime time. As Bleszinski puts it, "If we had made our original ship date, Unreal wouldn't be the cool game it is today."

    The Maple Leaf Convergence
    Flash back to April, 1997. With the first release date having come and gone, it was decided that the developers must work together in the same office. So, from France, California, Alabama, the Netherlands, and a host of other locales, the entire Unreal development team packed up and moved. They boarded planes destined for Toronto, Canada, and reassembled at the Waterloo, Ontario, offices of Digital Extremes. It was an unexpected move for most of the developers - after all, they planned to be finished by this time. Little did they know that almost a year would pass before they would return home.

    The move was tough but inevitable. "Unreal was a learning experience for Epic, and they came to realize that virtual offices don't work," says Chaimowitz. "In the final stages of creating any product, teams must be tightly synchronized.
    "It was basically work, sleep, and more work for the whole year."
    - James Schmalz

    Having all the contributors together benefited the final development process." Although the team agreed that the convergence was the best thing for the game, it wasn't the best thing for their personal lives. Bleszinski felt the move to Canada, coupled with the missed release dates, was a doubly hard blow. "It was really difficult to keep setting these dates for release and then not make the deadline. We were displaced up in Canada, so we'd call back to our friends and say, 'Don't worry, just a few more weeks guys!' The reality of it was that we weren't just a few more weeks away and we kept missing our release dates time and again."

    As the Unreal development team converged in Canada, progress on the game began to accelerate.
    The dynamics of the move to Canada were intensified by the fact that despite having worked together for years, many of the developers had never met face-to-face. Suddenly, e-mail pals were physically sitting beside each other, working on a game that was late and under past-deadline pressure to be released. "Maybe it helped that we had to relocate everyone because we were sacrificing ourselves to be together with the team," suggests Rein. "We knew we had something special, and we didn't want to lose that."

    Although the team would go out and play the occasional game of pool or basketball - it even went paintballing once - working 80-odd hours a week didn't leave much time for socializing. The pressure was on, and as Schmalz recalls, "It was basically work, sleep, and more work for the whole year." But would they do it again? Bleszinski thinks so. "I hate to say it, but I would do it all again if this much was at stake."

    The Scalpel Comes Out
    Tensions remained high in Canada as the developers worked around the clock with flaky technology and the high standard of cutting any element that didn't live up to its maximum potential. It was at this point that the team members decided their initial vision for the game was simply too grand. The Unreal universe was a vast playground of indoor and outdoor settings, but it was unrealistically expansive. "We realized that the game was far too big - it would take too long to play," Mark Rein recollects. "So, we trimmed levels and decided to concentrate on the 30-odd levels that we wanted to put in the game. It's no different than a movie editor who has to cut down a movie to a certain amount of time. We had to focus the game to get it done."

    "Fan pages are an amazing phenomenon, and to be honest, a great morale booster for development teams."
    - Cliff Bleszinski

    So, out came the digital scissors. Entire levels were scrapped only months before completion, and various creatures were axed as well, including a fire-breathing dragon. What started out as a Minotaur was refined to the point that it morphed into the sleek Krall creature. And a pterodactyl-esque monster was cut from the game because it just didn't live up to the "cool" standard established by the developers.

    Deep Internet Roots

    Another level that was never used in the game, this screenshot was dubbed the "Shot That Would Not Die" by the development team as it appeared in almost every Unreal preview at the time.
    All the content cutting and scrapping of so much hard work was discouraging. But from day one, a huge Internet fan base believed in Unreal and helped the team to maintain faith in its project when things got tough. Two Unreal fan sites on the Internet, and UnrealNation, constantly supported the title and tracked it throughout its development. "They believed in what we were doing," says Bleszinski. "Whenever the team was a little doubtful, we visited some of the online chatrooms and tons of people would pump us up and tell us how they are really looking forward to playing the game. These fan pages are an amazing phenomenon, and to be honest, a great morale booster for development teams."

    Reality on the Horizon
    As 1998 began, the end of the development process was finally in sight. The technology was stable, and the content was starting to meet the standards of "coolness" set forth by the Unreal team. And for its part, GT Interactive - despite having waited a year beyond the original release date - continued to support the team's effort. "GT was very patient with us, and they knew Unreal was worth doing right. They saw constant improvement in the game," says Rein. But as the team moved into their ninth month in Canada, exhaustion was setting in. The developers were working seven days a week and considered themselves lucky if they got four or five hours of sleep a night. What kept them going? "We knew we were capable of doing a number one game - we had the tools and the team to do it," remembers Schmalz. "It was within our grasp, and we were approaching it - that's what kept us going."

    "We sat around for an hour and just said 'Wow, we're done.' We laughed. We reminisced, but not for too long - we all wanted to get to bed. It was finally over."
    - James Schmalz

    In early April, a major milestone was reached. Amazingly, it wasn't some new graphics technology or cool editor feature - it was the fact that the developers were now playing Unreal deathmatch more than Quake II. The game was almost finished, and more importantly, it was fun, and everyone was into it. So much so that the Digital Extremes offices in Waterloo were descending into new levels of untidiness. In one corner, roughly 500 cans of Mountain Dew picked up on a spur-of-the-moment supermarket run had been crafted into a real live "mountain of dew" by the team. As development progressed and the caffeine was consumed, this "mountain" grew into an Everest-like mound.

    By the time the Computer Game Developers' Conference rolled around in early May, Epic was quietly telling the press that Unreal would hit US shelves by Memorial Day weekend. At the Digital Extremes offices, the final touches were being put in place - the music was synched, the textures were buffed, and the gameplay tweaked. Unreal was at long last becoming a reality.

    On May 18th, 1998, the task was complete - Unreal was done. It was 6:00 a.m. when the team finally decided that the gold master was finished. They gave it to Mark Rein, who immediately jumped on a plane to Baltimore to hand deliver the gold master for final compatibility tests. Back in Canada, the team couldn't believe the journey was over. "It was a really strange and weird feeling when we finally finished the game," reflects Schmalz. "We sat around for an hour and just said 'Wow, we're done.' Then I pulled out some of the really old stuff - old versions of the editor and the first demo I did with those mechs and the castle, and we said 'Wow, we've come a long way, haven't we?' We laughed. We reminisced, but not for too long - we all wanted to get to bed. It was finally over."

    This image marks the first time the Unreal team could play deathmatch against each other, shortly after moving to Canada.
    The Unreal team members parted company after one of the most exhausting years of their lives. Bleszinski's flight back to California was scheduled to depart just six short hours after the game was completed. A bit later, the rest of the team members would also leave their Canadian stomping grounds, finally heading back to their homes around the globe. They remember their time together, or as Tim Sweeney put it, they remember the one thing they can - namely, "Work." After everyone left, it took a full two days to clean the Digital Extremes Office. It still smells a little funny today.

    Reality Rises
    Unreal was finally a reality. Press releases from GT said it all in the first line: "Unreal Is Real! No, it's not a dream, it's real." Not surprisingly, GT worked at a breakneck pace to duplicate the game and get it onto store shelves as quickly as possible. The anticipation was so high that some stores on the east coast actually sent trucks to GT Interactive's warehouse to pick up the first copies as soon as they rolled off the production line. Even though these stores had already paid for shipping, they wanted to be the first to deliver the game to consumers.

    Meanwhile, the developers anxiously awaited the reaction to the game from both consumers and the press. Unlike other major games, the press had not been provided with preview versions of Unreal, so the team had no idea how it would be received. Early reports were favorable, and within days of its release, Unreal received high marks in its first reviews.

    "Unreal lived up to its hype and that's saying something, although I wish the Unreal guys had deepened the simulation a bit and stretched the limits of what people expect from a 3D shooter a little more."
    - Warren Spector

    But the feedback that mattered most to Epic and Digital Extremes came from the players themselves. The fans that had supported Epic along the way - especially those on the Internet - were expecting an immersive gaming experience, and they weren't disappointed. Players were astounded by the rich visual tapestry unfolding on their computer screens - the scintillating environments draped in deep textures, spectacular lighting, and stunning effects, including waterfalls, water, fire, and smoke. Unreal's engine had delivered.

    And in single-player mode, at least, so did its gameplay. The devil was truly in the details - details such as letting players unearth new secrets by using a flashlight in a dark corridor or letting them seed the ground with a special plant that would grow in real time and improve their health. In short, they could play creatively and have a real impact on their environment. The bot system designed by Steven Polge created realistic multiplayer opponents for players to practice against. The dynamic music, written by Alexander Brandon and Michiel van den Bos, broke new ground by setting the mood with deeply moving rhythms. Epic had succeeded in creating its real-time Riven.

    Unreal's release had everyone jumping for joy.
    Which is not to say that Unreal is perfect. As Warren Spector, the famed developer of System Shock and Ultima Underworld puts it, "Unreal lived up to its hype and that's saying something, although I wish the Unreal guys had deepened the simulation a bit and stretched the limits of what people expect from a 3D shooter a little more." This same sentiment has been echoed by others. Though not without fault, Unreal is truly a step in the right direction. In many ways, it has opened the door to the next level of single-player action gaming.

    Multiplayer, however, is another story. Early reviews in the United States took the game to task for its Internet multiplayer gameplay, an element that even Epic admits wasn't the best it could have been. Nonetheless, Rein thinks some of the criticism is overblown, considering the depth (or lack thereof) of multiplayer in other 3D action games. "I think the reviewers are being a bit hypocritical about the multiplayer," he says. "Look at the other 3D action games that initially shipped with much less multiplayer than us. They weren't slammed. But we put it out there, and we deserve whatever flak we get. We are going to fix it all."

    The Net Effect
    These early multiplayer bumps notwithstanding, Unreal has another major strength that should be particularly relevant to the Internet. It is one of the most highly customizable games ever released. Because of this feature, Epic believes the game will have a very long life. "It was a conscious decision from day one to let users customize the engine. It's very open-ended," explains Rein. "The customizability will not just help the game stay alive, but help it grow into a whole community of users." At the same time, Sweeney's scripting system, UnrealScript, is something he thinks will make a big difference to future games. "UnrealScript is going to change the way games are made. Now a programmer can express concepts such as, for a monster, 'When I'm attacking a player, run forward two seconds, fire my weapon, find a new attack spot, run to it and evaluate, and create a new attack strategy.' No one else has ever done that."

    "As the online community learns more about building levels, we will see complete online worlds spanning hundreds or even thousands of levels, interwoven by teleporters."
    - Tim Sweeney

    Sweeney is also extremely excited about Unreal's rapidly-growing Internet community. "There will be lots of interesting things happening on the Internet with Unreal over the next year," he says. "Unreal defines a web style of traversal, where players can go between servers by walking through teleporters, [automatically] downloading any new content they need - levels, textures, scripts, and so on. As the online community learns more about building levels, we will see complete online worlds spanning hundreds or even thousands of levels, interwoven by teleporters. New kinds of games will evolve out of the Unreal community, whether they are sci-fi or even role-playing." The possibilities are intriguing.

    New 3D Standard?
    Thanks to its red-hot technology, Epic has currently licensed the Unreal engine to over a dozen developers. MicroProse will use the technology to bring the aliens of X-COM to life in X-COM: Alliance. And Warren Spector is working on a new game called Deus Ex for Ion Storm and Eidos that will use the Unreal engine to take players through a virtual White House as well as other locations.

    Why use the Unreal technology? Spector is to the point: "Unreal offered the best overall package of any 3D engine out there. The editor is second to none. Is it a dream tool? Yeah, I'd have to say it is. The powerful scripting and editing lets me cut back on the number of programmers I need so I can hire more designers."

    3D Realms dumped the Quake II engine in favor of Unreal for its upcoming release Duke Nukem Forever.
    But perhaps the biggest endorsement of the Unreal engine comes from 3D Realms. In mid-June, the company shocked the industry by announcing that its upcoming release Duke Nukem Forever - already in production for nearly a year using id Software's Quake technology - would immediately switch to the Unreal engine. Why? "We simply felt Unreal was a better fit for us at the moment and for what we wanted to do," explains George Broussard of 3D Realms. Epic's Rein attributed the sudden switch to the importance of tools. "3D Realms now has an incredible set of tools at its fingertips to help create the next Duke Nukem game," he says. Without question, the decision to move the next Duke Nukem game to the Unreal technology (a deal hammered out between the two companies in just four days) was a major coup for Epic. Almost overnight, the Unreal engine has become the hottest piece of technology in the industry.

    "Unreal offered the best overall package of any 3D engine out there. The editor is second to none. Is it a dream tool? Yeah, I'd have to say it is."
    - Warren Spector

    Though the technology has been licensed to other games, the announcements have not yet been made by their publishers. (Rein insists there are already at least 15 Unreal deals signed, though only a handful have been announced.) Does the inevitable competition between Unreal-based games worry designers like Spector? "Not at all," he says. "Execution is everything. It's like a contractor worrying about the fact he's using a saw, hammer, nails, wood, and paint to build a house. You can still build a lot of different houses with the same tools."

    As for GT Interactive, it will be building a variety of Unreal houses themselves. The first will be Wheel of Time, developed by Legend Entertainment. Slated for 1999, Wheel of Time matches the Unreal engine with Robert Jordan's incredibly rich role-playing game universe. But that's not all. According to Chaimowitz, "The Unreal engine will be employed in the [next] title from Oddworld Inhabitants, [which will] follow Abe's Exxodus." Oddworld fans, rejoice!

    GT Interactive has announced a new Oddworld game based on the Unreal engine.
    The Ultimate Extension: The Level Pack
    Although licensing has now become a significant part of Epic's business model, the company will continue to make its own products as well. The core Unreal team will be reunited to create an Unreal level pack for release this holiday season, in addition to the Unreal editor that will ship as a separate product in the fall. Although a level pack usually brings to mind a few new levels, a new monster, and a leftover gun scrapped from the first game, Schmalz says Epic's idea is different. "A level pack should be an expanded experience," he says. "It should do something new and take the best of Unreal and make it even better. We want to make some new kinds of deathmatch games and different experiences."

    Although Epic is extremely mum about the details of the pack - perhaps because it doesn't want to go through the pain of having an over-hyped product again - Rein says, "Steve Polge will be doing lots of things with his bots and AI in the level pack. Some of the materials for the level pack exist now. Let me just say this: Unreal had to fit on one CD, and there were many areas that were too big and too detailed to be a part of the first game." It's rumored that the level pack will be multiplayer focused (Rein believes that most people who buy level packs already play online), and according to the development team, the idea of adding bots to the single-player experience is a distinct possibility.

    Breaching a New Reality?
    Beyond the Unreal add-on pack, the next obvious question is, what about a sequel? Concepts for the sequel are already in circulation, and GT Interactive will be the likely publisher. Chaimowitz says, "Our agreement with Epic is for Unreal and an option for a sequel, which takes us through 2000."

    While not yet official, the potential of a sequel is tantalizing - perhaps to the developers most of all. Bleszinski is keen to explore more of the Unreal universe and delve deeper into the world of the mysterious Nali aliens. Schmalz can't wait to add more elements to the scripting and design a game without building an engine at the same time. "The beauty of the engine and its modular design is that we won't have to rewrite it for a sequel," says Schmalz. "We can redo parts of it or add new features, but the core scripting and other elements are there for the long haul."

    "The beauty of the engine and its modular design is that we won't have to rewrite it for a sequel. We can redo parts of it or add new features, but the core scripting and other elements are there for the long haul."
    - James Schmalz

    And what sorts of things might be added? Sweeney says that the next-generation 3D games will "target fast 3D hardware, will include curved surfaces, technology for shiny and wet surfaces, and dynamic shadows, among other things." But in the same breath he adds, "there is a lot of research to be done before that goes from concept to implementation." Carmack agrees with Sweeney. "More advanced geometry representations will let curved and natural surfaces be placed in games."

    The bar is continually being raised.

    Players could be face to face with an Unreal sequel around the year 2000.
    Finally Getting Their Due
    For Epic MegaGames and Digital Extremes, the future seems very bright. They are now being compared to the biggest players in their field, namely id Software (Doom, Quake) and 3D Realms (Duke Nukem 3D). But don't expect this newfound success to change their approach to the business. "There have been two things that have led to the downfall of game developers in the past," says Sweeney. "The first is growing too fast while taking on marginal new projects, and the other is not keeping talented developers happy, thus leading them to splinter off. We don't need to become a huge or complex organization in order to achieve our goals."

    Will fame change the Unreal team? Jim Perkins doesn't think so. "I see the guys at Epic as being huge superstars, but they won't change who they are just because they are famous - they are great guys with incredible intelligence and a real love for gaming and technology." Still, they can't help but celebrate their success: Schmalz says he's thinking of buying a Hummer to deal with those harsh Canadian winters.

    Supporting Creativity
    What does Unreal teach other developers and publishers about the industry? And what does it tell consumers about how the best games are created? Ron Chaimowitz sums it up by stating, "Unreal represents the vitality, creativity, technology, and excitement that has always been the hallmark of the games industry. That it creates a new standard in a genre thought to reach its peak proves that there is room for innovation. It also shows that creative talent must have creative freedom to be successful - we are only interested in making great games."

    But you have to wonder: How can a small developer-owned company like Epic outdo the efforts of multimillion dollar publishers? Sweeney thinks the answer lies in the shareware marketing model pioneered by Apogee's Scott Miller and perfected by id Software. "What id, 3D Realms, and Epic all have in common is that our roots are in shareware. We all started out as a bunch of poor programmers putting out free demos, asking our customers to call 800 numbers to buy more episodes of games. With that business model, you absolutely must make a great game. We can't put a crappy game in a beautiful box and sell lots of copies. Selling through shareware forces you to be honest." Although Unreal was initially released in retail, Epic still fully intends to have shareware releases for its future products.

    "Never deliver a game until it's ready and **** good! We only remember a game that is great and sells well - we tend to forget that it was late."
    - Jim Perkins

    Whatever the marketing method, the operative phrase seems to be: "Take your time and get it right." Id Software recognizes the importance of this phrase and therefore always gives its games a familiar release date: "When it's done." Perkins, who originally signed Unreal for GT, says "Never deliver a game until it's ready and **** good! We only remember a game that is great and sells well - we tend to forget that it was late."

    He's right. Yes, Unreal was late - but it was groundbreaking, and Epic, the little company that wrote shareware games such as Jill of the Jungle and ZZT, has hit the PC gaming jackpot big time.

    The Mariachi band is now silent; The Digital Extremes offices are empty. The mountain of dew has been dismantled, and the final CDs have been pressed. But the vision and passion of the team that created Unreal carries on. Four years of the team member's lives were devoted to what started out as one player controlling a bunch of lines onscreen. These simple onscreen lines blossomed into an opulent 3D world that is only starting to be explored and mined. Just as the designers envisioned creating a universe of self-discovery and revelation, many facets and quirks of Unreal have yet to be explored. To quote a line from a recent movie, "We accept the reality of that which we are given." Maybe before Unreal we did. But now, we know there are new realities to create - new realms, new worlds, and new secrets. It's your playground.

    Did you enjoy this feature? If so, visit GameSlice for more in-depth features on the hottest games and a daily editorial column from the author of this story, GameSlice editor-in-chief Geoff Keighley.


      nice history lesson.

      a little OLD don't ya think?


        History generally is


          Too much for brain to compute.. over load over load omfg amndf,amnd f,mandsf,madnf


            that was a good read :up:


              Maybe **** boy here aint such a Xan as we all thought

              Nice info there.:up:


                Mark Rein, Epic's VP of marketing and former president of id Software
                never knew that :up:


                  Very nice writing... :up:


                    :haha: Duke Nukem Forver!

                    Nice article BTW, but didn't you scan the images as well? That one sounds interesting:

                    A test image of the dragon created by James Schmalz, which was later dropped from the game.


                      Re: EPIC and Unreal Story

                      Originally posted by \(+_+)/
                      <..Two huge posts..>
                      You also might be interested in reading the rest of the story.

                      Postmortem: Epic Games' Unreal Tournament by Brandon Reinhart [06.09.00]
                      Epic Games' follow-up to Unreal had an unusual development cycle and a very loose development process. Working between two countries, the teams at Epic Games and Digital Extremes survived stiff competition as they struggled to evolve a single-player game into a deathmatch-oriented design.
                      By September 1998 everyone was together or had a travel plan. Work started to come together rapidly on the add-on project. Steve Polge had laid the groundwork for several new game types, including Capture the Flag and Domination. The level designers had five or six good maps ready for testing. Throughout sporadic but intense meetings, the team agreed to focus the add-on entirely on improving the multiplayer aspect of the game with new features and better net code.

                      The amount of content grew and we soon realized we had a much larger project on our hands than we had originally thought. In November, after meetings with our publisher GT Interactive, Mark Rein suggested we turn the add-on into a separate game. Initially, the team opposed the idea. We wanted to finish the project quickly and move on to something fresh. The promise of a much higher profit potential, coupled with our recognition of the state of the project finally led us to agree with GT. In December, the name Unreal: Tournament Edition was chosen, with "Edition" subsequently dropped from the title.
                      Thats a small taste, you have to sign up, but its FREE. It is also a good read that would be a nice follow up to the story you have here. Here is the linkage.


                        Originally posted by Necromancer
                        never knew that :up:
                        Woah... ditto.


                          Mark Rein, Epic's VP of marketing and former president of id Software
                          Originally posted by Necromancer
                          never knew that :up:
                          That was way back in the day. Between wolfenstein and DOOM if Im not mistaken.


                            Originally posted by CH405
                            Maybe **** boy here aint such a Xan as we all thought

                            Nice info there.:up:
                            he's 100% xan

                            he just copied this from a website and posted it here, instead of linking, like he usually does