Where Would the Game Industry Be Without Epic Games?

Unreal Engine 4

In a recent interview published by Wired, Epic Games design director Cliff Bleszinski stated that the company’s upcoming Unreal Engine 4 will “drag the industry into the next generation.” I definitely agree with this statement, but what has the company contributed to the industry for the past decades?

Epic first started as Epic Megagames and at the time, (1991-1999) the American game development company published lots of shareware games such as Overkill, Brix, Solar Winds and the fondly remembered side-scrolling platformer Jazz Jackrabbit. The latter was heavily inspired by classic games like Sonic the Hedgehog and Mega Man, but the game is also remembered for kickstarting the career of its co-creator Cliff Blezsinski.

Unreal would be the last game published by the company before changing its name to the more iconic Epic Games. The 3D first-person shooter is still considered one of the best games in the genre and it eventually became a popular series (which includes Unreal II, Unreal Tournament, Unreal Championship and so on.) Unreal also received an expansion called Return to Na Pali which extended the original game’s story and featured some new weapons, missions, enemies and setting. Eventually, a direct sequel titled Unreal II: The Awakening was released on 2004, but instead of focusing on the multiplayer aspect, this was the only title in the series to feature a single-player campaign only.

Epic Games’ next project was even more ambitious. Unreal Tournament used the same graphics engine as Unreal, but it was designed as a competitive multiplayer game instead. At the time, that meant competing directly with id Software’s Quake III: Arena, one of the biggest releases of that year. Nonetheless, Unreal Tournament became an extremely popular title that was received with critical acclaim. Eventually, Unreal Tournament would receive subsequent entries in the series such as 2003, 2004, a spinoff series that was exclusive to the original Xbox called Unreal Championship and of course, Unreal Tournament 3.

Unreal Tournament 3 Screenshot

But behind each of these games, there was an impressive use of technology that many other titles from dissimilar genres would start using. For example, the Unreal Engine 2 made its debut with the first iteration of America’s Army in 2002. Unreal Engine 3 on the other hand, became so immensely popular that most current platforms have been using it in some form of another. These platforms include Android, Mac OSX, iOS, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, Adobe Flash and of course, PC. In addition, the game engine has been used on a wide variety of titles including in-house games exclusively developed by Epic Games (like Unreal Tournament 3, Bulletstorm or Gears of War) and games from a myriad of development companies such as SEGA, 2K Games, Atari, Activision, Capcom, EA, Disney, Konami, Sony, Microsoft, Square Enix and THQ, among many others.

These are just a few games that run on the Unreal Engine 3: Asura’s Wrath, Alice: Madness Returns, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Batman: Arkham City, Bioshock Infinite, Borderlands, Borderlands 2, Dungeon Defenders, Infinity Blade, Infinity Blade 2, the Mass Effect series, Mortal Kombat IX, TERA Online and there are many others.

It’s worth pointing out that the game engine has received some massive updates that have allowed it to extend its use to construction simulation and design, filmmaking, animation software and other similar disciplines. Originally, the first update was announced at the Games Developer Conference in 2009. The upcoming entry in the game engine series on the other hand, is expected to debut debuted at the 2012 Game Developers Conference.

Now that the life cycle of the current generation is slowly coming to an end, Epic Games is actively working on Unreal Engine 4, though it has been confirmed that the game engine has been in development since 2003. A lot has been said about this upcoming piece of software, but even when overly convoluted explanations of the features the engine will have are meaningless at the moment, one thing is for sure: Unreal Engine 4 will define what we’ll be playing for the next decade or so.

For more information about Unreal Engine 4 and what’s capable of be sure to check out the Wired interview.