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Unreal Makes it "Real" - Part 1
Gamers should have a pretty good idea of what the Unreal Technology means to modern-day video game development. A wide range of existing console and PC titles are powered by Epic Games' Unreal Technology and to this day it remains one of the most frequently used game engines. Browsing a bit through the pages of gaming history we discover more about this groundbreaking technology and how it wound up being the foundation of so many successful releases.
In Tim Sweeney's Basement
How did it all begin? Even the most successful game designers and programmers have to start somewhere. It took three long years for Tim Sweeney to develop the technology used in the first Unreal game and the development process took place in his basement.
Specifically, the Unreal Engine was regarded as a crucial step in evolution of video game technology. Tim and the team at Epic pioneered an assortment of breakthrough technologies such as volumetric fog, dynamic colored lighting and the aforementioned real-time what-you-see-is-what-you-get 3D level-building tools.
Unreal, UT and UScript
As you all know, ten years is a long time in gaming. That's how long it has been since the Unreal Engine premiered in the single-player first-person shooter "Unreal," co-developed by Epic Games and Digital Extremes. Hitting the market in 1998, Unreal quickly became a triumph. Acknowledged by critics and audiences everywhere, the game garnered a vast community of loyal players, which lead to the creation of a multiplayer-oriented follow up in the form of Unreal Tournament. Both of these games took the gaming world by storm. Up until that time, id Software had been regarded as the king of the FPS genre. With Unreal and UT, id had a serious adversary on its hands and there was a very good reason for that.
Namely, the Unreal Engine had certain benefits and was starting to get licensed by a variety of development teams. This is partially to do with efforts of Epic founder Tim Sweeney, who created the Unreal Engine with an incorporated scripting language called UnrealScript (abbr. UScript), which in basic design principles was similar to the programming language Java. UScript actually facilitated the growth of the Unreal mod-making community, prolonging franchise's popularity and in turn fueling the idea for more Unreal games. Logically, this became an incentive for Epic to advance the technology. What's more, UScript had been packaged together with a level editor called UnrealEd -the initial version was crawling with bugs, but things greatly improved with the subsequent version.
Unreal vs. Quake
Unreal had been deemed technically superior to its counterpart Quake II, which arrived several months earlier. The situation was a bit different with Unreal Tournament. Basically, Unreal Tournament introduced a range of features that were simply not present in Quake 3; UT's main contender. Quake III Arena had been largely praised for its graphics and smooth gameplay, whereas Unreal Tournament featured better-quality bot AI and had brought "alternate fire" to weapons. At the time, a large number of gamers out there didn't have Internet Connections and the superior bot AI in UT gave them a chance to enjoy the game offline.
Mind you, things weren't as peachy as you might think. While Epic had done a great job developing its new graphics engine, there were still some issues with the first Unreal game, which were seen as a disadvantage when compared to id's Quake technology (i.e. id Tech). When Unreal launched, complaints have been registered regarding the game's hardware requirements. According to the game's minimum specs, players would be able to run the game on a P166 MHz, 16MB RAM, without a 3D accelerator. Some players claimed otherwise, saying that they weren't able to run the game on such a system. Many criticized the game for this and were exceedingly disappointed having tried to play Unreal on similar rigs.
As documented on Epic Game's official web site, the Unreal Technology was one of the first game engines to institute features like detail texturing, adding an important layer of increased realism during gameplay. Basically, high-res textures became an integral part of the process of creating more complex surroundings. When players approach object surfaces within the game, the texture would fade in and become more detailed, as opposed to becoming more blurry.
These features were employed in many games later on. The first wave of games utilizing the Unreal Engine 1 were PC classics such as Clive Barker's Undying, Deus Ex and Rune. Unreal Technology was fast becoming a mainstream game-development tool and something Epic could easily build upon.
While the Unreal Technology got better, new challenges were on the horizon. Different game platforms were introduced such as Sony's PlayStation 2, Microsoft's Xbox console and the Nintendo GameCube. The appearance of Valve's Source engine created a rather competitive atmosphere, but even so, the technology continued to be a favorite amongst a majority of development studios.
Read the second part of this article.
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