UT III: Mark Rein
15th Nov 2007 | 15:54
Mark Rein is always welcome here on CVG. He's never short of opinion, always insightful and absolutely guaranteed to be entertaining.
In our latest chat in sunny Birmingham the Epic boss discusses the launch of Unreal Tournament III, what it means for UE3 (and PS3) and how the PC games industry might be looking up.
We remember seeing UT III at an E3 show years ago. You must be pretty damn relieved to finally get it out the door?
Rein: (laughs) Well it's a labour of love so you take your time and do it right. That's the only way to ship games these days. The users demand so much out of games; they really want a great gameplay experience, everything to work well, they want it to be fast - and especially with UT.
Our players have such a clear idea; they want a weapon to work like this, and the firing rate like this and the flak cannon to do this much damage. They have very clear ideas of how they want everything and it's up to us to get it right, do a good job and make the right decisions.
It just takes time. Plus there's a lot of content in this game; there's something like over 40 maps. It's insane how much is actually in this game; we have two complete sets of vehicles now, we have new weapons and most of the levels are completely new designs. It just takes time to put that all together.
And what does the release of UT III mean for the engine?
Rein: On the PlayStation 3 that's really important. That kind of brings us to what I like to say "version 1.0" where we're shipping a game with it and it's in really great shape.
It's shows off what the engine can do and don't forget that Unreal Tournament III is a lot more taxing on machines than Gears of War was, in terms of polygons and the amount of stuff going on the screen.
It really is a testament to how well we've managed to get our arms around the PlayStation 3 and Sony's been a great help there.
So there it's been important but it's not so much as important on the PC because everybody knows we're good on the PC and we shipped Gears of War as well.
On the PlayStation 3 I think it's really important to get that first one out there to get the experience of actually shipping a game and optimising a game to run on that platform.
Why did you decide to lead on PS3 rather than 360?
Rein: The main reason is for the mods. They told us from the beginning that PlayStation 3 was going to be an open system. We were like "oh yeah? We'll test your assumptions on an open system, we'll let users create whatever they want!" Sure enough, Sony's lived up to its word 100% on that.
You can go create any mod on the PC - and it's got to fit in the memory because you can go crazy - and you can take that, stick that on the internet, you go download it, go into the community menu and you're playing mods on PlayStation 3.
To us that's a really important part of what makes UT what it is. We've had great mods in the past, we have lots of people out there creating really great stuff and we wanted to bring that to console - that's a completely new experience.
Most of these console games you see with some sort of editing function is really just rearranging the furniture. Here users can create almost any kind of new content; maps, models, new textures, new materials, new visual scripting, vehicles, weapons; almost anything we can make in the game, they can do.
Does the influx of mod community content make your job a bit easier?
Rein: Well what we've done in the past when we've come to refresh the game is sometimes go over to the mod community and say, "hey, we really like this mode, would you like to take some money from us and we'll stick it in the next version of the game?" I don't know for sure what we'll do in the future but that's certainly what we've been able to do in the past.
We've also been a contributor to that ourselves; we've create countless number of bonus packs for past UT games, so I'd expect us to be an active participant in that as well if history's any indication.
And how important is post-launch content going to be for UT III?
Rein: I think it's always important for UT. We don't actually sit around planning it until after we've shipped the game and we think, "we'll get some guys doing this, some guys doing that and we'll speak to some mod guys..." That's historically how we've done it.
So we don't have this grand plan. With Gears of War we didn't plan to have this bonus content we did, we just had people working away. There are people working away on stuff for UT now, even though it's pretty much in the can. So we'll see.
We're assuming that state of the Xbox 360 version is pretty up there with the PS3 version? Or its that a ways behind?
Rein: No... well, Unreal Engine 3 is a better engine today on Xbox 360 than it was a year ago and part of that is because of what we've done on PlayStation 3 with UT and the things we're doing with Gears of War on PC.
So yeah, the engine's improved a lot since we shipped Gears of War and when we bring out the Xbox 360 version [of UT III] you'll see that.
On the PC side, things were looking a bit shaky last year with Vista and DX10 on the horizon. How do you feel the PC industry has progressed in the last 12 months?
Rein: It's just a typical transition, right? As you say transitions are always scary. A transition to new consoles was scary; look at all the things that have been going on in the last two years.
What's amazed me and surprised me - so here's the good part of it - is how quickly ATI and nVidia got decent video drivers together. That's a surprise.
I'm surprised how quickly Vista's become a solid gaming platform and more importantly how quickly nVidia's been able to come out with a high-end gaming card, this new 8800GT, at a mid-range price.
That to me, we now have that confluence of stability, hardware support and games coming up that means that now Vista really matters as a gaming platform going forward.
Today most people that play this game are going to have DX9 systems, they're going to be running XP - we know that. The super majority are going to be people that already have great computers that can run the game.
But it means now going forward DX10 really matters to us, it's something we've now got to start developing for it in a more serious way and start supporting it. We're always going to try to still support the entire install base our customers have, but I think now it's basically turning a corner.
I wouldn't want to be putting out a super high-end Direct X 10 game today - and nobody's really doing that; even Crisis will run on DX9 - but you can see that on the horizon, that in a couple of years away you'll be able to do that.
I'm actually surprised at how quickly we've gotten to this stage; you don't usually expect it to happen for at least a year and it's actually happened within a year. So that's pretty impressive. Part of that might be because Vista was delayed (laughs).
With the success of UE3 and Gears, Epic has undoubtedly got a lot more clout in the games industry than ever before. Do you have any plans to expand the company?
Rein: We're not a big growth company. When we grow it's because of a need. In other words we grow organically, we don't just go out and say 'we want to have five teams - we want to do this, we want to do that', it's never been that kind of idea.
We've just kind of lucked into opportunities like for instance earlier this year we bought a company in Poland called People Can Fly and they have been working with us on Gears of War. They did some of the new maps and some of the things you see in the windows version. They're great with our engine and it just became a good situation for us.
It's hard to say what the future holds but we're so serious about who we hire, who we bring into the company that if we're lucky we hire one new person a month. So it's not like we're growing at huge leaps and bounds, but we always have ten to fifteen open positions at any given time.
Tons of big games have been released on your engine this year. What have you learnt from games like Mass Effect and Bioshock?
Rein: We've learnt that there's a lot of talented people out there working with our technology! In fact just today here in Birmingham I went to see the Swordfish guys and they haven't announced their game, but they're using Unreal Engine 3 and it's fantastic. I was blown away and I said to them, "wow, you've got a really great team there."
It's great how awesome Bioshock is and I expect Mass Effect to be just as good. There are so many great games that people are developing with the technology and it just makes us really proud.
We're also starting to have really good inroads at busting that barrier of it being a "shooter engine".
We just had two key announcements this week; Destineer licensed Unreal Engine 3 and they're making a game in a genre that you wouldn't expect Unreal Engine 3 to be used for.
Then we have the announcement from Southpeak Interactive and they're working with some of the smaller, more innovative developers who are doing riskier, more interesting sutff.
They have some Xbox Live Arcade games in development, things of that engine with UE3. To us that's really exciting because we want to bust that stereotype that it's just a shooter engine because that's clearly not the case.
The mods for Unreal Tournament III will also hopefully get that point across, because if you saw the mods for Unreal Tournament 2004 there were just some crazy amazing puzzle games, sidescrollers, all sorts of great stuff.
The engine's obviously a great success, but at what point do you start thinking about moving on to the next engine? At which point will there be a need for that?
Rein: There's so much left to go in this generation. Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are really just at their infancy right now and we're going to make a couple of games for these consoles; it's not going to be Gears of War, oh, we're moving on to the next one. We're certainly going to do some more, really cool stuff on these systems.
This is what we're doing for the foreseeable future. We have a research project for the next engine but it's really just Tim Sweeney inventing, sitting in a room writing formulas on paper, coding things up and inventing.
We won't really see a change until the change in the console technology next time around. Who knows, that could be five years, it could be longer.
So with UT out the door it's pretty quiet for you guys on the public front...
Rein: Quiet? (laughs) We're always working on something.
Are we going to see anything from Epic in the next year?
Rein: We'll just have to wait and see. I don't know. Well, I do know but we'll have to wait and see.
We're still working on stuff for Gears of War and now we're working on stuff for UT. For us it's not like as soon as we put our game out it's time to move on, putting our game out is one step in supporting the game.
That's really the way that we roll. We're all about the game being the start of the user experience and trying to build more and more around that.
We're going to have another mod contest, we haven't done the big official announcement because we're just finishing up lining up the sponsors. But we've said we're going to do that and that'll be something we'll be supporting for a while. I think it's going to be really, really good.