Crispy Gamer

An Epic Rein

Epic is one busy company. Outside of getting Gears of War 2 ready for this holiday season, it's still supporting Unreal Tournament III for the PlayStation 3 and PC, getting a version ready for the Xbox 360, and doing truckloads of business with its highly popular Unreal Engine 3. Obviously this makes Epic's Mark Rein a pretty happy guy. At Midway's recent Gamers' Day, we caught up with Rein and found out if he still wants to keep the company independent, if he was happy with the lower-than-average sales of Unreal Tournament III, the $1 Million Intel Make Something Unreal Contest and Gears of War 2.

Crispy Gamer: Last time I saw you was at GDC, and the only thing that came out of your mouth was "One billion dollars!" and then you giggled and walked away. What was up with that whole deal?

Mark Rein: Oh, people were saying that we were going to get a billion dollars. It was just kind of stupid.

Crispy Gamer: Do you want to stay independent? Do you like that? Do you like doing your own thing and then partnering with who you want to partner with?

Rein: Is this the stuff we're going to be talking about? I hate these questions. [laughs] We're happy! Business is good! If somebody walked up with a billion dollars, we'd talk to them, but nobody is walking around with a billion dollars. Business is good, and we're really happy with the company and our games, and we've got two great games going on. Everything is good. We've got the guys from People Can Fly in Poland, the stuff in China is going really well, everything is great. No need to change it. Would you change it?

Crispy Gamer: Would I change it? I don't know.

Rein: We just did a huge engine license with EA, right? We did one with Take-Two. I think we've had one or two licensing announcements. It seems like every other week we're announcing a new one, and these guys [ed: Midway] -- I'm blown away. Do you think This Is Vegas looks like Gears of War? Huh? I think that puts an end to the thought that Unreal Engine games have to look like Gears of War, right? It's nice to finally put an end to that.

Crispy Gamer: So the Midway partnership -- one of the main reasons you did it was to get Unreal out there -- to get the big signage and whatnot at E3. Are you guys happy with how that all worked out?

Rein: Sure, Midway has been a great publisher.

Crispy Gamer: Do you think it's going to continue past Unreal Tournament III?

Rein: We signed to do two Unreal Tournament games with Midway. That was announced way back when we did the deal, so we have to. [laughs]

Crispy Gamer: What are your thoughts on the sales of Unreal Tournament III?

Rein: So far, so good. I mean, there are a million copies out there now, and I'm cautiously optimistic that with the Xbox 360 a few users will buy the game. It's good. You know, Unreal Tournament III -- it's not Gears of War, it's not a big story-driven game like Call of Duty 4. It is what it is, right? This one looks like it's going to do great, so we're happy with it.

Crispy Gamer: What about this one versus the last Unreal -- it sold a lot more then than it is now.

Rein: No, no. I think that's a myth. Unreal Tournament typically sells a million each time we put one out. The first one sold three million because that included two games: the original and the Game of the Year edition, which may as well have been the second game. We also had it on four platforms. We had a PlayStation 2 version, we had a Dreamcast version, we had it on Mac and Linux, it was on everything. So naturally this one is on the three platforms. No, we're happy with it. You see we announced the contest? The $1 Million Intel Make Something Unreal Contest? Those are the kind of things you do. This game isn't a sprint, it's a marathon.

Crispy Gamer: Is it always generally like, not a slow burn, but it's not like bang out the door -- like Halo for example -- which sells a ton right away, and then --

Rein: You're looking at big single-player focused games. The multiplayer game market is a very different animal. You can't compare an Unreal game to a Halo game, or Gears of War, for that matter. That's the difference between doing a big story-driven single-player game; it's much more accessible. Our game is a multiplayer style of a game. The audience is going to be less for that, but most game developers would kill to have the sales we have. [laughs]

It's funny, I see all this reaction, you know, people saw that first two weeks of sales -- that's all it was on NPD -- they jumped to all kinds of conclusions. Well, we're doing really well on PlayStation 3, as well. We'll do well on Xbox 360.

Crispy Gamer: How'd you like how well it turned out on PlayStation 3?

Rein: Very pleased. Very pleased with PlayStation 3.

Crispy Gamer: Speaking of the Make Something Unreal contest, what are you looking for? The last one that you guys did had insanely different modifications for the game. What is something that you'd really like to see come out of this contest?

Rein: The only phase that's really going on right now is what we call the "early bird" phase. We announced the contest with the first judging in June. It's only giving people a few months really to get started, it's a new generation. I think, though, later on we'll see some amazing stuff, just like last time. This engine has way more capabilities than previous versions of UT had. You can do so much more as you can see from the licensees. You can make a wide gamut of games, so who knows? We never made any predictions last time, we just kind of got lucky. There's really a lot of luck involved in getting the mod makers up to speed and getting them excited about it. We're definitely going to try and spark their imagination a bit.

Crispy Gamer: The 360 version of the game that you announced today, which we knew was coming, but we didn't know much about it, there's 5 exclusive maps?

Rein: It's three absolutely brand new maps, and two re-envisioning. I was kind of like, well, they're exclusive, whatever. It's really three completely new maps, and they're really good. You should definitely play them.

Crispy Gamer: Are they always going to be exclusive, or are you going to add them later to PS3 and PC?

Rein: Don't know. For now they're exclusive. [laughs]

Crispy Gamer: Are the user mods going to be downloadable through Xbox Live?

Rein: That answer is, sure, if we put them on there. We're still working with Microsoft in trying to figure out how to get mods on the platform. Worst-case scenario, we'll go mine the mods and work with our partners to get some mods up there, but we're still hopeful that if we don't have it for launch that we'll have some way of user exchanging of mods. It's not a for sure thing, but I don't want to promise it. We're hopeful about it. We've had some very good recent conversations with Microsoft on the topic. John Schappert is apparently a big fan of mods, so he's helping us navigate the right channels and try to get them comfortable in having it.

It's coming late and hot, so I'm not sure we'll have it at launch, but I've always said, worst-case scenario this version will benefit from mods. Whether that means you'll be able to exchange them yourself, like we can on PlayStation 3, I don't know. Definitely what John said when I talked to him was he would love to have a way to do it over Xbox Live, but you know that doing content through Xbox Live usually requires a certification process, so we'll have to wait and see. [laughs] Even at this late hour, I'm cautiously optimistic.

Crispy Gamer: What about 360 versus PC gaming? Is that at all possible or no?

Rein: No. The problem with that is the same problem we had if we'd tried to do it on PS3: Just keeping the versions in sync when you can put out a PC version every five minutes if you wanted to, whereas [for consoles] you've got to go through certain processes. It creates so much of a burden, that in the end with a company the size of ours we just don't have the resources for that.

Crispy Gamer: You guys have only made one single-player version of Unreal with the original version of Unreal. Do you want to go back and do that sometime again? You handed off the reins for Unreal 2; do you envision Unreal just being a multiplayer shooter?

Rein: No, I think one day Unreal will come back. We still love the franchise. It's a great world in which to build stories, obviously. One day, I don't know, 10 years? Five years? Who knows when? We're not done with Unreal as a single-player game. It might not be done in our careers, who knows? [laughs] I don't think the last chapter of that story has been written, because we like Unreal, and it's a nice sci-fi world in which to build things, as you can see in UT.

Crispy Gamer: What do you think of people using Unreal Engine 3 to build Machinima?

Rein: I think it's really cool. You know, basically the Gears of War commercial -- the Mad World Commercial -- was professionally produced Machinima. That just shows you how far you can go with it, right? As the hardware gets better and better, we're seeing unbelievable stuff from Nvidia these days on graphics cards. As the hardware gets better and better, the Machinima sooner or later is going to be cinematic quality. The Mad World commercial was a great example of that. The Digital Domain guys that were working on it have a new commercial now, so that's pretty cool.

You know there's $25,000 in the contest for that? Not in phase one, it's too early, but in phase three and four we add the Machinima categories back in. It's not chump change. Again, we've got way better tools for Machinima now than we ever had with Unreal Engine 2. With Kismet you don't have to be a programmer, you can create all kinds of cool events. Matinee is way more powerful. It was really hard to do the kind of things now that are fairly easy to sequence in Matinee. We've got much better camera movement now, and all of these great depth of field effects, and the amazing shader editor. It's pretty freaking cool, I'm psyched about it.

Crispy Gamer: Why did you pick GDC as the timeframe to debut Gears of War 2?

Rein: Well, Microsoft picked it, actually. [laughs] I think it just was a timing thing. They certainly didn't want to overshadow Halo 3's Christmas by announcing it before Christmas, which is also a long, long lead time. Also, what was the earliest thing during the year that we could do a Gears of War reveal and where was the press going to be? I think it was a tactical thing more than anything else. It didn't make sense to go set up your own amazing gamers' day like this just to show a tease. It just was the right place, right time. The only thing people got to see was maybe there's this chainsaw duel thing. Well, I guess that's been revealed now. [laughs]

Crispy Gamer: You've been to GDC for years and years. GDC seems to be shying away from what GDC is supposed to be about.

Rein: I don't think so. People are going to use any gathering to get some message out that they need to get out at that particular time. That was Microsoft's motivation there, they want to pump their system to developers. They really did a lot of talking to developers. Their XNA stuff and the UE3 demo that we did. They also wanted to pump a game that they had to be pumping at this time. I don't think they really hijacked GDC. They still did tons of seminars. We had a huge booth there. There's tons of other middleware guys showing of their stuff. GDC is just bigger and more important now. Yeah, there's a little piggybacking going on, but I don't think it hurts GDC in any way.

Crispy Gamer: When do you think is the earliest we'll see something on Unreal Engine 4?

Rein: I don't know, when do you think we'll see the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox 720? Who knows?

Crispy Gamer: Well, if Microsoft sticks with the five-year lifespan?

Rein: I don't think anybody is sticking with the five-year lifespan. I think they built these machines and there's a lot of headroom in them, they'll both go longer than five years. Right now it's really just Tim [Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney]. Right now it's just a research project, and I don't know why we ever talked about it in the first place. I guess just to show, "Hey, we're looking ahead." We don't really have the hardware to run it today. It's really, honestly and truly, not for this generation. There was some confusion about that. He said it's designed exclusively for next-generation consoles. Everybody says, "Oh, it won't be on PC!" No, what he meant was it won't be on these consoles. Of course it's on PC! You develop the technology on PC. As he bangs his head with his hand showing how ridiculous it is.

Crispy Gamer: Wait, you guys make PC games? [laughs]

Rein: Well, you know in the last two years we've shipped two console games and two PC games, and I'd say half our business is PC. If you look at all the licensing stuff we've done, especially all the stuff from Korea, and [Realtime Worlds CEO] Dave Jones's APB stuff, PC is obviously a big part of our business.

Crispy Gamer: PC gaming is dead, right? It's all going to be consoles, right?

Rein: No, Cliff said it was in disarray. It is in disarray! It is in disarray because nobody owns the PC. You can say Microsoft. No, they just make the OS. It's not a console. So, of course, there's all these companies with competing goals and ideas of what it can do and what it can't do. The retailers -- Best Buy does a great job -- the other retailers don't give it much space. Yeah, so duh! It's in disarray. That doesn't mean it's going to die.

Crispy Gamer: How'd the relationship with Valve come about and being on Steam? It's funny, you have Valve, you have id, and you guys -- the three major first person shooter PC developers -- and now you guys are all on Steam.

Rein: The funny thing is, I don't know why people think there's this arch rivalry between companies. Seriously!

Crispy Gamer: Back in the day, though?

Rein: That's all created by the fans, we play their games. You don't think I play Half-Life 2? Or Portal? I loved Portal. And with id, you don't think we played Doom 3? You don't not see "Star Trek" because you're a "Star Wars" guy. If you're a "Star Wars" guy you're also a "Star Trek" guy. If you're a shooter fan, you're a shooter fan.

Crispy Gamer: It was all brought to light when Unreal was first shown: It was versus Quake. It was the big battle!

Rein: I think the media likes to have a good guy and a bad guy. Or adversaries, whatever sells, I don't care. You know, we did well, they did well. Steam is a great place to sell PC games. I think it is becoming the place to sell PC games, so if you're not there, you've limited your marketplace. The numbers in a very short time have been amazing on Steam. We were shocked, we should have done it sooner. We were dumb. [laughs] In the future, we'll probably use more of their stuff. We'll probably use some of the Steamworks stuff. They're doing a great job. It's really well done.

Crispy Gamer: What's the one thing you're most excited about for Gears of War 2?

Rein: Thanks for the interview. [laughs]