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Epic Games, www.unrealtechnology.com
By: Albert Reed, Demiurge Studios
Epic has been pretty clear about its message -- use our engine, and you will save time and money. Not just that, but you'll be able to prototype faster, iterate more, and get more support. Unreal Engine 3 seems to have delivered on that promise for the company, as consumer web site Kotaku was heard to joke "I fully expect to hear that my mom has licensed Unreal Engine 3 any day now."
After three consecutive years of winning the Engine category of the Front Line Awards, Epic Games' Unreal Engine has become the Front Line Awards 2008 Hall of Fame winner. Since the release of Unreal in 1998, Epic's Unreal Engine has helped set the technological bar for the video game industry. With the release of Unreal Engine 3 in 2005, Epic helped a host of developers make the transition to the current generation of consoles.
The Unreal Engine stands out in part due to its robust and thorough toolset. For shooters, real-time strategy games, or even sports titles, teams have been able to create games without authoring substantial core technology. Cutscenes and camera work are created and previewed in-engine by the Matinee cinematics system, and teams are provided with a visual scripting system (Kismet), as well as the UnrealScript programming language. The Cascade particle system editor offers effects artists a huge array of parameters to control.
Layered across all these tools is the renderer that made the Unreal Engine famous. The materials, lighting, and shadowing systems are all seamlessly integrated into each of these tools. For example, post-processing effects in Matinee-authored cutscenes are created using the same material editor that lets artists create the surface effects for water. All these tools are bundled into a single application called UnrealEd.
Add these tools together, and you've got an engine that would take even the best of teams years to create on their own. Not insignificantly, these tools provide cross-platform game content enabling developers to reach as many customers as possible.
Use of Unreal Engine 3 is now pervasive in the game industry, and the engine has basically become the defacto standard for game development. Art outsourcing partners are increasingly familiar with the technology and are able to test and preview their work directly in-engine, cutting down on iteration time.
Epic Games' Gears of War 2
Furthermore, thanks to Epic's Integrated Partners Program, middleware like Scaleform's GFx and RAD's Bink Video come ready to drop in and use. This standardization also applies to co-development partners. Many teams like ours which have now been working with the technology for years can hop into projects with a full team, or join a project mid-stream thanks to familiar tools.
Epic is also renowned for its hands-on customer support. The Unreal Engine 3 mailing lists get hundreds of posts per week from developers discussing their use of the engine along with the engineers, designers and artists at Epic who are expert users of the technology. When a licensee asks a question about a section of code, the actual engineer responsible for that code will frequently be the one to answer back.
You need only look at the titles that have shipped using Unreal Engine 3 to full appreciate the breadth of impact it has had on the gaming industry. Whether it is ground-breaking work like BioShock or Mirror's Edge or franchises with rich histories like Medal of Honor or Splinter Cell, Unreal Engine proves time and again that it has everything a team needs to ship a successful AAA title.
We are experiencing a renaissance in our industry that can be partially attributed to being able to focus on design rather than the hurtles of technology. For many developers, that is possible because of Unreal Engine 3.