Last year was "quite big" for Epic. Gears of War is, as Mark Rein gleefully tells us, the number one game of the generation so far. Unreal became the engine of choice for next-gen developers. There's no Gears sequel this year, but 2007 will still be big - if not bigger - for the little developer from North Carolina. Unreal Tournament 3 is set to launch in November on PS3 and PC. Gears of War is coming to PC with new content. The games that Unreal powers are starting to arrive in droves - headlined by the likes of BioShock. So Mark Rein, Epic's vice president and chief evangelist, is as giddy as ever. When we run into him in Leipzig, it takes us 15 minutes to drag him into the interview room - he just wants to shoot the breeze. Fortunately he saved some good bits for the tape. Read on for the latest on UT3, Gears PC, the Gears film and Unreal Engine 3.
Eurogamer: How much longer would you say the period is before it starts looking silly with you denying Gears of War 2?
Mark Rein: [Laughs] I'll pass on that one.
Eurogamer: I'm trying to find a way round for you, Mark!
Mark Rein: [Laughing] We're still waiting to see how well the first one does. Did I say that with a straight face? We have the Windows version - that's going to be a fantastic game. We've got five new chapters in the game, we've got a bunch of new multiplayer maps, and the game runs really, really well. We're using Games For Windows Live, which is the perfect complement to Xbox Live. Everything works pretty much the same - it's easy to get into games, and there's going to be a level editor so there's going to be some great mods, great user-created maps. So there's still too much more to do on Gears for us to be talking about the sequel.
Eurogamer: How much story are we going to get out of the additional PC content? You left quite a lot hanging.
Mark Rein: I'm not the guy to answer exactly what the story adds, but we fill in a fairly large block of story right before the final Act in the game. People had a few questions - why am I here, why am I doing this, where did this train come from, where's the Brumak - so we filled in a little bit of that. It's about 20 percent more gameplay than the original.
Eurogamer: You keep saying you can't do the Windows content on the 360, and I think the reasons for that are very well known now, but-
Mark Rein: I want people to understand that it would just be a huge, huge job. People don't realise that we made a lot of changes at the end, and since we locked off the Gears code back in September or October . The code that powers the Xbox is now almost a year old. And we patched it - we made a bunch of updates to that code-base. And to go and to take that code-base and to bring it up to the latest code-base the Windows version is built on? That would be a bigger update than all the updates we've done so far combined. We risk breaking multiplayer compatibility. We risk breaking something else. It's just not worth it. We would spend months and months testing and doing it.
People want us to bring Unreal Tournament 3 to Xbox 360 - well, that would push that back probably five or six months, and we don't want to push that back any further. We have so many things going. It'd be a real house of cards to do that. It may be possible to bring some of the multiplayer maps back - that's a little bit easier - but the single-player code's changed a lot and it's not worth all that.
Eurogamer: Are you going to add anything more to the 360 version?
Mark Rein: I don't know. Maybe we'll do some more multiplayer stuff. We look at it when we have time to do things - where can we effectively spend our time and what would be the best thing to do. I'm really not aware of any specific thing that we have planned, but I wasn't aware of any specific things we had planned before we did the last pack. It's also a question of pacing.
Eurogamer: What impact does it have on you then when a company like id comes along with their series of claims about their new technology and how it can do things better than everybody else?
Mark Rein: They're a good company, and they've always been a strong competitor to us in both the games and the engine, and obviously we love their games. We're looking forward to playing Rage as much as the next guy. Same with Crysis. That's the thing about the shooter market - people see us and they think there's this great, horrible 'you must kill each other' competition, but we don't think that way. We love these games. We don't have competition between us and them, or between us and our licensees. We see it as a great market of great products. It's like - I'm not just gonna read one author if I want to read mystery authors, I'll have five or six or eight that I really love. We think there's a place for everybody in the market and we're quite happy to just be a player in it.
Eurogamer: Yesterday in your talk you said Gears and UT3 were both coming out in a similar kind of timeframe relative to the launch of the host platform. You also said that the best way to develop an engine is to make a game. But the thing was - if UT3 was your first PS3 game, does that mean Unreal Engine 3 is really only going to come into its own on PS3 once you finish UT3?
Mark Rein: Well, I mean Rainbow Six Vegas shipped on PS3 months ago and it's very good. What it means is that - I think, and everybody knows this coming into it - we're not a launch title technology. You wouldn't license Unreal Engine 3 if you were going to try and make a launch title. Launch titles are made by taking your old engine and upgrading it as much as you can. You're dealing with unfinished libraries, unreleased code, you're dealing with a lot of newness and the documentation of platforms isn't done yet, so everybody's rushing in this state of unpreparedness on a launch title. That was never our plan.
Our plan was to be cutting edge - to take advantage of the full power of the platform - and historically you always see that about a year after the platform shipped. The documentation has settled down, the libraries have gone through a few revisions, people are getting better performance out of their machines, the manufacturers are better at supporting it, there's customers out there to actually buy the games. So we want to have that first hit at the first sweet spot, and we're a small company so Gears of War basically finished everything, if you will - finished is a relative term, you're never really finished with an engine - but it took it into, you're right, a finished kind of state, and Unreal Tournament is doing that now on PlayStation 3.
Now, oddly enough, we're a little ahead on PlayStation 3 compared to where we were at this time on Xbox 360, and what I mean by that is our code and our level of completeness, and that's because we have shipped a game with UE3 already. So PlayStation 3 is very much benefiting from Gears of War. That sounds silly, but it's very much benefiting from Gears of War. And the point is that we're more prepared today for PlayStation 3 than we were for Xbox 360 this time last year, and the engine is running a little better - we're X frames ahead with, let's not forget, a lot more polygons and a lot more materials, a lot more characters and a lot more projectiles. When you see UT, this pushes the engine a lot harder than Gears of War did. I know it sounds preposterous because of how great Gears of War is, but we're pushing this up another notch. I'm very proud of that, and I think it's good for us and it's good for our licensees.
You can always go off ahead of us and finish things that we haven't finished, or optimise or add in your own features for things that are in an incomplete or untested stage on ours. But you're right - once you ship the game you have very much a version 1.0. And when you talk about other engines on other platforms, you've got to say 'hey, did they ship a game yet? Do I have a really 1.0 version to deal with?' There's no question that, of the licensable engines, we're among the most prepared in terms of delivering high performance, cutting edge engine technologies for these platforms, and I think that if you want engines that don't push it as far, then there are probably other engines that can deliver technology to you that's in the same general area of preparedness as we are, but in terms of the really high-end stuff, of pushing the platform as hard as possible, we're getting there now and it's a great position to be in, and I don't think there's anybody else who's following us very closely.
And we're so cross-platform. You want to take one of our levels and run it on PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, your Mac or Linux or PC, it's exactly the same content. I know other people are talking about better situations and that's really the way it works for us too, and you'll see that this fall - we're putting that in the hands of end users. Talk about perfect test. We're going to put that in the hands of end users to take PC content and put it on PlayStation 3.
We'd do it on Xbox 360 if we could - we're pushing with Microsoft to try and figure out a way to let users do that themselves, because it's the same. We can do it on a dev-kit, it's just how do you get your content on Xbox 360? It's a still a question mark, which we will answer, and which we're confident that after talks with Microsoft we'll figure out how to solve. Same with Mac and same with Linux.
So I think we're just in a really good state. If you want to have a really high end engine technology, at least you can say Unreal is shipped. It's shipped on Xbox 360, and it's pretty darn close to shipping now on PlayStation 3, and by the time the winter rolls around it's there.
Eurogamer: I was speaking to your friend Denis Dyack yesterday and he commented that he was confident that the complaint they had about UE3 support was valid, and I was just wondering if you had any comments on the lawsuit or if there was anything you could say.
Mark Rein: We deliver fantastic support. You just need to talk to our licensees. You can talk to Gearbox - I read a post yesterday that a Gearbox guy had actually said on a completely independent forum about how good our support is, and we have great documentation, we bend over backwards to answer questions for our licensees, a lot of times we have this whole community support where licensees are helping each other - that is a fantastic feature, that is really great, and what the Gearbox guys say is they get back way more than they give. The quality of our support is very much how much you use it and how much you put into it.
I don't believe anybody delivers better support than us, and, when you have a question about our engine, it's answered by the guy who made that particular thing in the engine. When you have a question about art in the game, you have all of our artists reading those questions, so we have artists that are actually making real award-winning, leading-edge, number-one best-selling games of this generation - and we know we're going to get our butts kicked in a few weeks by Halo, but I can say that for now! - so number-one best-selling game in the entire generation and you have access to those artists to help guide you to achieving artistic performance and creativity levels.
So if you have a question about the graphics rendering, you go right to the guy who wrote the graphics rendering, not some middle-man who's going to try and figure out the question for you. We've got a 1700-page book for Unreal Engine 3 now that's going to be published by the world's largest book publisher either this fall or winter, geared a lot at both end users and licensees because it's a how-to book for the Unreal editor. We really do a good job on support, and I think if you talk to some of our customers, you talk to Midway, you talk to Gearbox and some of these other guys, I think they'll tell you that our support is very good.
Eurogamer: Sure, it's clear that you're very popular and these guys obviously aren't having trouble getting stuff out of it-
Mark Rein: And don't forget that all of our licensees have a chance to go out and evaluate our technology, determine if it's right for them, and try out our support. We treat them like they're licensees. We don't...Just because you're evaluating the technology doesn't mean we put you off in a corner - you sign the evaluation licence agreement and a lot of times those licensees can - normally it's a three-month period but a lot of time we extend them, and people can try our support and decide if it's good enough for them, if we're doing a good job, and if they want to move forward. Nobody's forced to license our engine, and you see a lot of people do, and they are having a good time and they are making good games.
Eurogamer: But it does raise the question then: what is Denis's problem? Because they have sued you, and you've counter-sued them, and I don't understand what their problem is if all that's true.
Mark Rein: I don't have anything brilliant to add to that.
Eurogamer: Changing tack, you announced a Gears of War film a while ago - how's that going? Do you have a script?
Mark Rein: We have a fantastic script. The guy who wrote the Gears of War script wrote the original screen story for Pirates of the Caribbean, and he wrote Collateral, the Tom Cruise movie that was very good, and he's just a fantastic writer. He's worked really closely with the team, and he really gets it. He understands some of the back-story elements that are just hinted at very subtly within the game and the dialogue - we don't want to beat your around with a big fat story or lots of cinematics that you have to sit and watch. All the money we put in the game we put into something you could do with it, as opposed to just something cinematic, but he clearly understood. He's written a really, really good story.
People out there will be very sceptical, and I don't blame them because it's a game movie, if you will, but he said he would and the studio said he would and they're comfortable that he's written a good movie that happens to be based on Gears of War as opposed to just a game translation. I think people will like it. I don't know where they are in terms of a star or director - we read the rumours just like everybody else. The studio did tell us they were talking to a very, very big-name director, and I am not going to reveal it because it's just talks.
Eurogamer: Maybe the first letter of his name.
Mark Rein: No [grins]. There's been some rumours, and the rumours are not the guy they're talking to, so I assume they're talking to a bunch of guys. New Line - to them, it's what they call one of these tent-pole movies. It's their summer 2009 blockbuster as we as we can tell. They're certainly treating it that way. We were very nervous about signing a movie. Our number one goal is 'do no harm'. Don't hurt your franchise by having a crappy movie. So we're very nervous. We came very close to saying 'not this time', but the studio gave us some really good assurances in the contractual stage that they've got some really good people together with this. I mean, this is the studio behind Lord of the Rings - they're not afraid to spend a lot of money, and to do something good and artistic, so we just felt we stacked the deck with the people we're working with and, if there's a chance for this to be a good movie, we're dealing with the guys who can do it.
Eurogamer: Are you going to hit November with PS3 and PC Unreal Tournament?
Mark Rein: Sure hope so!
Eurogamer: And when are you releasing Gears of War PC exactly?
Mark Rein: Well, they're all aimed at November. I don't see any reason why we won't unless bugs come up or it takes longer to certify or - honestly, I can't see any reason why we won't. If we don't make November it will be because we need to do a little extra work, but we seem to be on track for that. I think there's a lot of guys who say they're going to ship their game in November knowing it's likely to slip to March, but you know us, and we're usually a 'when it's done' company unless we know for sure we can hit a date like we did with Gears of War. So yeah, we have good confidence - not enough to say which week in November it's going to be yet, but we're confident.
You know, Gears of War is all about making sure it will run well on the low-end machines. For the most part Games For Windows Live works very well. I think Microsoft's going to ship an XP game that uses it even before we do. So I don't think there's a lot of risk on Gears except how well it's running on these crappy machines. I'm not in the studio every day, but from what I read we're doing pretty well at making the games run on relatively low-end hardware. So I think we'll do it.
Watch out for more from Mark on an upcoming edition of the Eurogamer TV Show. He does hand actions and everything. Interview by Tom Bramwell and Johnny Minkley.