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Unreal Makes it "Real" - Part 2

Following the great success of Unreal and games like Deus Ex and Rune, Epic's Unreal Technology started to gain momentum. It was fast becoming the preferred technology among game developers. As Unreal Technology began to expand to other platforms (Xbox, PS2, GameCube), other advanced engines came onto the gaming scene.

Unreal Engine 2

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Acknowledged by many game designers and programmers, the first version of the Unreal Engine lead to the creation of a variety of splendid-looking games. More so, it provided an important step in the evolution of game development - both in terms of gameplay and graphics. The technology wasn't flawless though, and Epic had to make some changes. The second edition of the engine featured more than a mere handful of improvements. Epic Games went back to the old drawing board and took the opportunity to re-write the core code and rendering engine. Preparations were made for the second generation of unreal-engine-powered games. The newly developed technology brought with it UnrealEd 3, the enhanced version of the popular level editor.

Unreal Engine 2 finally debuted in the multiplayer shooter Unreal Tournament 2003. UT 2003 made an impact on the market of multiplayer shooters. Accompanying UT was Unreal Championship, which was released exclusively for Microsoft's Xbox console. Amongst the wide range of useful technological innovations, the Unreal Engine 2 saw the use of the Karma physics SDK, making way for more advanced ragdoll physics and such. At the time, Karma had been regarded as one of main (if not the only) true competitor for the Havok physics engine. Many companies utilized it, including Sony Online Entertainment, Shiny Entertainment, Ubisoft, Lionhead Studios, Paradigm and of course Epic. It was employed in games like Unreal Tournament 2003 and Unreal II: The Awakening. Back then, it was uncovered that it will also be powering Duke Nukem Forever (*sigh*).

The console terrain had been traversed with Unreal Championship and support for other platforms soon followed - i.e. Nintendo's GameCube and Sony's PlayStation 2. With an impressive library of games that were already utilizing Unreal Engine 2, Epic found that it would need to add further improvements to its technology. It didn't take them too much time to build Unreal Engine 2.5; a polished edition of UE 2, featuring enhanced rendering performance, the inclusion of vehicle physics, an advanced particle system editor for UnrealEd and 64-bit support for UT 2004. Traces of this engine can still be found in some major projects. Last we heard, Ubisoft Montreal used a highly modified version of Unreal Engine 2.5 to come up with their own LEAD engine, which now powers the upcoming PC/360 game, Splinter Cell: Conviction. "We basically built the engine from scratch around the gameplay, the physics, and also the bridge between the different systems, which has been a real challenge for us. Because of the animations, the AI, it really helped to have our own engine called LEAD -all of components are named after metals," explained Ubisoft Montreal.

Over the years, Unreal Engine 2 laid the groundwork for a majority of video games, such as America's Army, Brothers in Arms, Deus Ex: Invisible War, Lineage II, Magic: The Gathering - Battlegrounds, Men of Valor, Star Wars: Republic Commando, SWAT 4, Thief: Deadly Shadows, Rainbow Six and Splinter Cell games, Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, Tribes: Vengeance, XIII and more.

Source and id Tech

Come 2004 Unreal was already entrenched as one of the leading game-development technologies on the PC and console market. However, id Software and Valve Software were meticulously working on their in-house engines. August 2004 saw the release of id's Doom 3 and its id Tech 4 engine, which was capable of some breathtaking visuals. In November that same year, Valve finally delivered the long-awaited FPS Half-Life 2 and with it the famous Source engine - accompanied by a heavily modified Havok physics engine. While both technologies were praised by the gaming community, neither managed to stand up to the popularity of the Unreal Technology.

The Source engine, for instance, wasn't as developer-friendly as Unreal Tech. Source did introduce advanced game technologies - most notably impressive lip syncing and similar features. The problem was that rendering technologies used in Source were considered outdated, especially in comparison to the Unreal Engine 3. Also, the Unreal engine offered UnrealScript (which we've talked about in Part 1) that helped developers write a great many game rules in games that were based on Epic's technology. With Source, on the other hand, the entire program code had to be written in C++. As a result, the Source engine never reached the reputation of the UE, albeit it was licensed for a number of video games that were developed outside of Valve, like Dark Messiah Might and Magic, SiN Episodes, Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, etc.

The Road to Next-Gen

With the appearance of Epic's third generation of Unreal Technology (Unreal Engine 3), gamers were introduced to top accomplishments like Gears of War, Mass Effect and BioShock. The use of the technology brought amazing results - just look at what BioWare managed to do in Mass Effect. BioShock is, of course, another good example of how well the technology can be put to good use. It is therefore no coincidence that developers keep favoring such an engine.

Apart from Unreal Tournament 3, the UE 3 ended up powering current and future releases, amongst which are titles like Army of Two, Brothers In Arms: Hell's Highway, Borderlands, Highlander: The Game, Hei$t, Lost Odyssey, Turok, Medal of Honor: Airborne, Mirror's Edge, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, Stranglehold, Tiberium, Tom Clancy's EndWar, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas 2, Too Human, Aliens: Colonial Marines and more.

Nobody's Perfect

Not all developers are content with UE. Silicon Knights, for instance, weren't very pleased with how things turned out for their project Too Human, which, according to them, suffered major setbacks on account of the Unreal Engine 3 and Epic's lack of cooperation on the matter. The issue eventually led to a lawsuit between the two companies, with Epic claiming that Too Human creators were using the technology as they saw fit and that they wanted "to take Epic's Licensed Technology, pay nothing for it." Abandoning the Unreal Technology, SK started working on an in-house built code, which would, allegedly, replace all traces of Unreal Engine 3 prior the game's release. Even so, segments of UE 3 are still being used. Epic moved to dismiss the lawsuit, but the motion was denied and a trial date is yet to be set. If Epic wins the case, Silicon Knights would be forced to pay in excess of $650,000.

Silicon Knights regularly accused Epic of missing crucial deadlines to assist the developers of Too Human and provide guidance on how to use the Unreal Engine 3. SK claims that Epic failed to meet an important deadline for an Engine Silicon Knights planned to utilize for a PS3 game. The deadline was missed by six months. They say a functional UE3 for the PS3 should've been delivered by Feb '07. That never happened. SK also specified that the Engine supposedly caused the game to "slow down significantly" due to lengthy load times and "memory-spikes."

The disagreement fueled the theory that other major projects could've been hindered by unknown issues with UE 3. Turok, Mass Effect, Lost Odyssey and so on -- all of which were delayed -- are among these titles.

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