At last week's Gamefest in Seattle, Epic Games president Mike Capps led a presentation on Unreal Engine 3 development, opening with comments that appeared aligned to deflect criticism that the engine is not as flexible or as usable as has been implied in the past.
While Capps maintained that Unreal Engine 3 is "made to be modified and extensible", he suggested that it is "really a game engine that's been made for a specific purpose... I like to say that it's ready to go to make a game, if you're making our game." Here, Capps is referring to Epic's Gears of War
and Unreal Tournament III
Advice for UE3 Developers
Capps' advice for developers who have licensed or are contemplating licensing the engine is to not attempt to change the engine too drastically. "One of the big things about licensing tech is not about reinventing the wheel, it's about catching up with your competitors. Focus on what you're good at and work on that and ignore everything else."
Rather than fixing bugs in the engine, Capps suggested that "if you find a bug in the engine or the middleware it's great if you submit it," while "going in and changing the code for the perceived value of cleaning it up is really, really bad." However, Capps did say that in the most serious cases, "if you've got critical path problems it makes sense to fix it yourself."
When it comes to increasing performance of Unreal Engine 3, Capps said that the best tactic is to work on reducing the load generated by optimizing game content, rather than trying to enhance the code performance of the engine: "Most of the low hanging fruit is pretty much gone from the engine after shipping 50 or 60 games on multiple platforms already."
If you're not sure how to best utilize the engine, as a developer, Capps said that "asking [Epic] for advice before you start a project makes sense." Capps noted that the tech team, including Tim Sweeney, is available for consultation on technical issues prior to licensing and the inception of development of a game title.
Regarding the tools that ship with the product, Capps added, "I've seen five projects skip the Unreal Editor and go back to Max or Maya - and they all went back to the Editor in the end."
Later in the presentation, Gearbox Software president Randy Pitchford noted that "Some other studios that licensed UE3 got a little mixed up, in that they were dependent, in that they needed to rely on the code Epic had generated, but could not be dependent based on their promises to their publisher and the marketplace."
Pitchford noted that Gearbox was aware of its dependencies on Epic's progress with the engine and always planned to ship games during this period in the lifespan of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, rather than earlier in the generation.
These comments and Capps' words seem at least partially designed to deflect criticism of the engine as leveled by Silicon Knights president Denis Dyack, and other developers, against the robustness and flexibility of the package, though no specific issues were named.
A full report on the session can be found here