Raleigh is one of a cluster of cities in North Carolina, including Durham, Chapel Hill, Cary, and Morrisville, all located in a central area of the state nicknamed the "Research Triangle." Three prominent research universities define the triangle, North Carolina State University, Duke University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Much like California's Silicon Valley, the growth of high-tech industries around the universities has resulted in a concentration of talent that exerts a powerful influence on the game industry.
Engines of Creation
Initially based in Maryland, Epic Games got its start in 1991 with a DOS shareware release from Tim Sweeney called ZZT. The game's visuals were spare -- ZZT utilized ASCII character-based graphics to construct its world at a time when finely crafted bit maps were the norm. Despite the basic presentation, players embraced ZZT and began to use the game's ZZT-oop scripting language to build their own creations.
The early years of Epic were focused on creating colorful platformers like Jill of the Jungle and Jazz Jackrabbit. The company also initiated a long creative partnership with Canada's Digital Extremes during the development of Epic Pinball. By 1998 Epic was ready to join the FPS arms race with the release of Unreal. Although Unreal was light-years removed from ZZT's modest visuals, Epic retained the philosophy of making its games open to player modification by shipping the game with the level design tools UnrealEd and UnrealScript.
1999 saw the release of Unreal Tournament, along with a move for the company to its current headquarters in Cary, North Carolina. Epic began to license its Unreal technology, and the game engine's first and second iterations provided the framework for a range of games from Deus Ex, which used the original tech, to Lineage II, Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30, and Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell, which used its sequel.
Epic's much-lauded Gears of War was released in 2006, and was a proving ground for the newest iteration of the engine. The demand for its Unreal Engine 3 technology has radically reshaped the current generation of consoles' licensed engine market.
In addition to Epic's high-profile success, the game middleware business is home to multiple players, and the Raleigh area houses a variety of engine builders. Arising from research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Davidson College, Numerical Design Limited was formed in 1983 to explore the nascent field of 3D graphics. While its early products Rendition and rPlus provided rendering solutions for modeling software, in 1997 the company turned its attention to games and introduced the NetImmerse engine.
Titles such as Prince of Persia 3D, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Freedom Force, and Dark Age of Camelot all made use of the NetImmerse engine, and in 2003 NDL retooled the technology to create the Gamebryo game engine. In 2005 NDL joined Emergent Game Technologies and Gamebryo has since been utilized in Sid Meier's Pirates!, Sid Meier's Civilization IV, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning.
D3 Publisher-owned Vicious Cycle Software also makes its home in the North Carolina Research Triangle. From its studio in Morrisville, Vicious Cycle and its family games division Monkey Bar Games, produce a wide variety of games based on licensed properties, along with original titles such as Dead Head Fred and Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard. The studio has also licensed out its internally developed Vicious Engine and the technology has been utilized in the production of Alien Syndrome, 300: March to Glory, and the PSP version of Puzzle Quest. Recently the engine has seen its second iteration with the release of Vicious Engine 2.
Icarus Studios is another Research Triangle area studio with both a game development and engine licensing business model. The studio's post-apocalyptic MMO Fallen Earth is close to its release date while the Icarus Platform on which it is built is being licensed for virtual world development.
Raleigh 'round the family
Tom Clancy was long-time tabletop wargamer, and used Larry Bond's Harpoon in the research for his breakout novel The Hunt for Red October. Clancy never lost his fondness for games, and after writing a string of successful techno-thrillers he co-founded Red Storm Entertainment in 1996 to bring his complex military themes to computers and consoles.
For more than a decade, the Morrisville-based studio has been creating Tom Clancy branded games including Politika, Rainbow Six, and Ghost Recon. Now owned by Ubisoft, Red Storm and Sinister Games were integrated in 2003 and the combined studio continues to develop titles for the Clancy franchise.
Serious Games are also well represented in the Raleigh. Virtual Heroes utilizes the Unreal engine to create military training sims as well as medical and first responders training software. Notably, the company is home to Takayoshi Sato, whose artful character designs informed Silent Hill's iconic look.
Atomic Games, remembered for creating the Close Combat series of tactical games over a decade ago, has resurfaced in Raleigh with Red Storm co-founder Juan Benito on board. After creating training software for the defense industry, the team worked on the controversial Six Days in Fallujah.
The Raleigh area is becoming an attractive location for expansion studios as well. Burbank, California-headquartered Insomniac has created a series of stand out titles for Sony hardware including the Spyro, Ratchet & Clank, and Resistance series. The company recently formed a new studio in the Raleigh-Durham area to work on an unannounced title. Electronic Arts also established a presence in the Research Triangle with the creation of Electronic Arts-NC, an offshoot of EA-Tiburon. The North Carolina studio has focused on producing NASCAR titles including NASCAR Kart Racing.
In the Pudding
Raleigh and the surrounding area is further proof that where tech research blossoms, game developers and creativity follow and flourish. This is no small lesson for regions looking to bolster their technological footprint.