GDC '08: Epic ultrakills UT3

Developer president Mike Capps joins senior producer Mike Morris to discuss the woes of releasing a shooter during the "FPS Christmas of All Time."

SAN FRANCISCO--The tail end of 2007 offered gamers a veritable ocean of first-person shooters to frolic in, including Valve's The Orange Box, Crytek's Crysis, and 2K Boston/Australia's BioShock. While it would have in all likelihood dominated the competition in most any other year, one title to barely surface among the flotsam and jetsam was Gears of War developer Epic Games' Unreal Tournament 3.

In a Game Developers Conference session earlier today titled "ULTRAKILL! An Unreal Tournament III Postmortem," Epic Games president Mike Capps, alongside UT3 senior producer Jeff Morris, addressed the game's fortunes in what they called the "FPS Christmas of All Time."

Kicking the presentation off, Capps first laid out what goals Epic had for the shooter, which began its life as a proof-of-concept tech demonstration to gain licensees for the company's highly popular middleware service Unreal Engine 3. For new features, the team was most excited about the new game type warfare, which had a heavy focus on vehicles and open environments. Vehicles, which were first introduced to the series with Unreal Tournament 2004, were also expanded with the project, with Epic upping the included number from six to nine. Epic also had a mind to create a fully fleshed-out single-player campaign for the first time, as well as place a heavier emphasis on character customization. Lastly, the publisher wanted to maintain its mod-friendly position, as well as extend the ability to make high-quality mods to consoles.

So how did they fare? As is the case for most games, there were both marked successes and disappointing failures. Addressing the successes, Capps said that because the team knows the first-person shooter genre so well, Epic was able to deliver UT's best fast-paced, signature gameplay ever. Several factors aided in this, including an extensive focus on playtesting, easy access to a wealth of assets in their content pipeline, and a focus on first getting the gameplay right before fleshing out the visuals through a process Capps called gameplay previsualization.

Capps was also pleased by the unified look and feel of the game, saying that for the first time, the game didn't have a hodgepodge aesthetic of disparate elements and visual designs. Mod support also turned out well, according to Capps, who said that Sony--and not so much Microsoft--has been extremely receptive to the idea of letting users create content and easily share it with others. Capps beamed that Epic was the first to offer this kind of functionality to users and said it turned out to be a great promotional tool.

As for what didn't turn out so well, the jovial Capps turned the presentation over to a not entirely morose Morris. One of the biggest problems with UT3, said Morris, was the game's user interface. Originally the UI design was driven by an artistic aesthetic. Though the UI had an appealing look and would have worked well on consoles, the team decided that it would have been nightmarish to navigate the menus on a PC. Consequently, the team did a last-minute reboot to implement a system that worked better on PCs, which didn't allow for enough time for iteration and polish.

The second issue with UT3 was the character customization, or lack thereof, that made its way to the final product. Here, the problem was that despite an extremely complicated and involved process to get the different textures for characters in the game, the varied models didn't add the diversity Epic was looking for and paled in comparison to Realtime Worlds APB, referencing Dave Jones' session from yesterday. The gameplay having the fast-paced nature that it does, Epic also found that players really didn't care what the customization looked like since the game moved so quickly.

The game's single-player campaign also didn't quite pan out to expectations, said Morris. As with character customization, Epic felt its campaign was coarse in comparison, with Morris saying, "It was good, but it wasn't BioShock." Morris also noted that though the game had high-quality cinematics--"certainly better than Gears," Capps piped in--they took a lot of time to get right, and their spacing was too far apart to have an indelible impact on the player.

Lastly, Morris called out problems on the production side of things, namely scheduling and promotion. Temporary console exclusivity on the PlayStation 3, as well as stringing out the releases across regions, turned out to be a major headache for Epic. Not only was this because it poorly maximized marketing efforts, but it was also because it wasn't conducive to attaining the critical mass of players that is essential for a multiplayer-oriented game. It also didn't help, Capps noted, that the game walked into the "FPS Christmas of All Time" and that there are only so many ways to slice the FPS pie.

Prefacing by saying there were no qualms with Midway's public relations, Morris also said it was extremely difficult to maintain player interest having announced the game in 2005. Announcing the game so early was a product of being in the engine licensing business, as the game was already well known because it had been sent to various developers as a way to sell the Unreal Engine 3. Such a long period of promotion also led to several lacking gameplay features that were heavily promoted but were ultimately cut from the final product. Lastly, Morris said that it wasn't exactly the best of business moves to change the name of the product well after the game was officially announced, and the early announcement also required a premature lockdown of the game's overall look.

Wrapping up, Capps said that despite the challenges, the game both sold and reviewed well. He primarily attributed this to the fact that Epic knows the genre extremely well and that it has such a well-established content pipeline. Adding a cautionary tale, Capps said that developers need to not be lured by opportunities that would drive marketing before the product is ready to be shown.

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Discussion

189 comments
Death_Masta187
Death_Masta187

Timing had nothing to do with UT3 sucking... Games like COD4 & TF2 are just far better games... UT3 would have still sucked even if those games didn't come out... So EPIC get over your selfs..

world69star69
world69star69

Cniinc wrote: The only thing they got correct was that the single player campaign was lackluster. Marketing may not have been excellent, but the ultimate question asked was always "how is this game different from UT2k4?" and, the answer, apart from a Gears of War aesthetic, was "it wasn't." Adding a few vehicles and tweaking gameplay doesn't modify it much more than a mod would. So Epic takes a game that's traditionally for the PC, soups it up a little, makes it with consoles in mind, then when PC gamers realize that it's the same emperor in new clothes, they don't buy it. And all that happens is Cliffy B mumbling that "PC gaming is dead anyways. The real stuff's in consoles." No, PC gamers want a PC game, not a console port. Don't water down a dependable franchise and expect any of the original fans to buy into the idea. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Yeah I have to agree with you totally, I especially felt that the pc community that made epic what they are where backstabed and abandoned for what, greed? I used to think cliffy b was a good dev, now i think of him as a greedy moron, who isn't going to get a cent of mine ever again. I am first and foremost PC gamer, well and some handheld with a psp, the only console I own is the wii and I bought that for company and getting my girl into gaming. Pc gaming is not dead! Cliffy b is just a greedy jitbag! He should go to hell for the crap he pulled on the ut series! Ut2004 was incredible! Everyone loved the ut windows ui. All the options for tweaks, and graphics settings. Now its all simple dumbed down console settings, no variety in avatars, lack of maps, and the avatars that are in game, all look like beefed up block head jocks straight out of the game that made epic sell its soul to the devil mS..gears of war. Another game i despise. It sucked, ut3 suckes, and a gaming juggernaut is now dead, all because they betrayed their fanbase, the pc gamers. It happens everytime! Developers get greedy and make an originally pc game series aimed on the consoles first, a prime example of this consolitis is dues ex2, after targeting the xbox...and just look what happened to that dev afterword! We can only hope that they either remake the game a true pc game, to get their fans back, or that the company just dies! There engine is getting boring to me anyway with its low res textures (blame consoles) over pixel shaded (to compensate for consoles lack of texture memory) and lack of any anti-aliasing in 2008 is unacceptable. I hope you get what you deserve cliffy b!

leimeisei
leimeisei

@rasterror: "War Hawk was simply a sub-par copy of Shadowrun on 360" What are you talking about? First of all, just a little nitpick.. its "Warhawk" with no space. Second of all, warhawk is absolutely nothing like Shadowrun. There is no magic or spells or whatever they have, warhawk is in Third Person!!, and there are like no powerups. In Warhawk, there is just you, a weapon/vehicle/plane, and a bunch of people you need to kill. Oh and BTW... the game was a remake of a PS1 game... called "Warhawk". And it was like in 1998 or something. So, you obviously have no idea what you are talking about. UT3 is awesome though. I hereby command all PS3 owners to buy it, and all 360 owners are required by law because of me now to buy this game upon its release for your console which i believe is april. not best game of year, but got nonstop action and a ton of weapons. I just cant believe MS wont allow mods yet they allow XNA game studio. Its really fun to see all the different things people have come up with for the PS3 version. A mod I just downloaded makes the game look similar to Gears of War

flyingdutchdog
flyingdutchdog

@JimBurber Your not only generalizing, you are stereotyping the game playing public and that is a big mistake. I don't see PS3 players mostly wanting single player games "with a real meaty story behind them." I think they want diversity just as much as the other console players. In fact, many ex PS2 owners now own a Xbox 360 and I'm sure they enjoy the variety of games they have privy to.

andrew_ribbons
andrew_ribbons

Well, they got that right, the campaign is DEFINITELY not Bioshock. I was quite disappointed with UT3 i have to say. Not many maps, interface was shoddy, game released with major bugs, campaign is hammy, no Gen Mokai...in fact very few of the decent races we had before, just a bunch of characters who look like they've been on steroids since birth and eat entire cows for breakfast... No, sorry Epic, but this was not what i expected of you at all.

danleeah
danleeah

I have yet to hear any voice chat in the ps3 version of the game. I know my mic works, because I can hear people in other games. Any one else have this problem? It sucks playing with no one to talk to. The community in this game seems to be dead. I havent played it in a month, but why should I go back?

sorrath
sorrath

OK they acknowledge the fact that the game had problems and didn't sold well, but i didn't read anywhere that they have plans to make it better !!.. So they made this presentation to tell their customers something that already know ??.. But i guess, this is better than nothing.

Canitbe
Canitbe

[quote]He primarily attributed this to the fact that Epic knows the genre extremely well and that it has such a well-established content pipeline.[/quote] Obviously not, they pretty much have distanced themselves from the PC market. While I understand they're a business and want to cash in on the lucrative console market. I don't understand their stance of wanting to leave their PC customers out to dry.

jedimasterjl
jedimasterjl

If this game was released straight away for xbox 360, this game would be right up there with gears of war and halo3 in terms of sales, and pure awesomeness. Epic shot themselves in the foot on the 'exclusivitiy' thing for sure

Canitbe
Canitbe

[quote]Epic really boned their core PC userbase with UT3, its no wonder it didnt sell nearly as well as 04. [/quote] Absolutely they did. Not only that, they promised a Linux client and then completely failed after receiving pretty large pre-orders from the Linux community. They completely and utterly, ignored the core audience that helped them garner the position they're in. With all that out of the way, the basic problem at hand is, UT3 just doesnt feel like UT, at all. It feels like some glossy tech demo provided to sell their graphics engine to prospective Developers, nothing more.

Relys
Relys

Because it's not out on the 360 yet? I would be getting it for my ps3, but I have other priorities.

Bozanimal
Bozanimal

[QUOTE="Morris"](The story) was good, but it wasn't BioShock.[/QUOTE]It's refreshing to hear this type of honesty from developers. The plot was definitely disjointed, and needed three-times as much character and storyline development. I loved the game, but it's good to hear that the developers are spot-on regarding its weaknesses so that they might address them in future titles.

skrat_01
skrat_01

Epic really boned their core PC userbase with UT3, its no wonder it didnt sell nearly as well as 04. Honestly I hope they fix it up and just release a UT08 - or somthing along those lines - expanding on UT3, rather than another console focused sequal.

Homerj
Homerj

Epic can rationalize all they want, but the bottom line was that they completely misjudged the market. They publicly trashed both PC and 360 gaming to promote Sony and curry favor with its fanboys. What they didnt count on was the fact that although highly vocal, the harcore Sony fanbase numbers at best around 500k customers. They alienated almost 20 million console owners and an untold number of PC gamers to win over a demographic that doesnt have the numbers to support any kind of reasonable sales stats. Perhaps they will realise that abandoning their own dedicated fanbase (PC) and thrashing their established sales base (360), wasnt such a good idea after all.

zeus_gb
zeus_gb

"the game both sold and reviewed well" that all depends on your definition of well. UT3 is by far the worst in the UT series and I was very disappointed by it.

Shedding
Shedding

I think the developers are really making excuses for an ultimately flawed game. The game play is what made the previous UT titles great. This game was far too fast to even aim. The graphics don't make the game, the gameplay makes the game.

VagrantChild24
VagrantChild24

I think it's good that they were willing to come out and say what they did wrong and everything since that would be sacrilige for most companies. I think UT would have faired much better had it not come out during such a back loaded release schedule of FPS games last year more than anything though.

Jazzism
Jazzism

Nice they came clean of their shortfalls. imo, released too soon and not finished. I only miss the dodgejump maneuver in the open large maps. But for the 'regular' maps played in 2k3/4 it isn't missed. Disappointed the UT community abandoned the game feeling very bitter with how the game turned out. Namely the user interface unable to find friends and getting booted from a map when it switches and other glitches. I'm more looking forward to Jumpgate Evolution.

Hokkie
Hokkie

edwise18 Originally, it was an RTS...then the game was picked up by microsoft and the idea switched to FPS for the PC...but after almost a year in dev the original Xbox was in development and Halo was moved to support the console launch.

edwise18
edwise18

halo a pc shooter originally? i think you're confused Kaziechameleon.

tubbablubba
tubbablubba

I guess consoles are where the money is at nowadays. but pc gamers get enough love, they can live through bad console ports.

Cniinc
Cniinc

The only thing they got correct was that the single player campaign was lackluster. Marketing may not have been excellent, but the ultimate question asked was always "how is this game different from UT2k4?" and, the answer, apart from a Gears of War aesthetic, was "it wasn't." Adding a few vehicles and tweaking gameplay doesn't modify it much more than a mod would. So Epic takes a game that's traditionally for the PC, soups it up a little, makes it with consoles in mind, then when PC gamers realize that it's the same emperor in new clothes, they don't buy it. And all that happens is Cliffy B mumbling that "PC gaming is dead anyways. The real stuff's in consoles." No, PC gamers want a PC game, not a console port. Don't water down a dependable franchise and expect any of the original fans to buy into the idea.

SneakyB986
SneakyB986

Great game! way better than 2k3-4(same game as far as I'm concerned), even if it was made for consoles. In my opinion this game could be really fun if there was more then a dozen players playing at one time.......

kaziechameleon
kaziechameleon

@wytefang yeah look what happened to deus ex 2. and unreal championship and every other consoletarded pc game gone wrong(battle field modern combat, farcry instincts, halo(originally a pc shooter))

kaziechameleon
kaziechameleon

epic screwed up(as it's been said) by putting the console development first, so many decisions where made or fumbled or messed up out right because they forgot this was a pc game first and a port to the ps3 second. as for costumization, it's not that we don't want to customize, i love creating unique character models, but the costimization in this game was rather weak, limited assets as far as the game goes. i think it's funny they try to create a unified visual theme but the whole thing about UT is the name, unreal tournament, that gives you the liscense to make no sense. if weapons don't reload i don't care if the levels blend well, that is why i loved ut2k4 so much the variety of feelings to the different levels, the aesthetics were so varied and awesome, don't make everything look goth emo with a side of oriental thanks.

japanesegoth
japanesegoth

i'm still not sure why they've pretty much decided to screw the PC players which are the biggest reason the game is so popular in the first place. the game was made with the consoles in mind...it's pretty obvious. the pc was the beta test, and if it was made for pc then they wouldn't have bothered with trying to make a good single player mode cause people play it for the online multiplayer. also i think it has to do with the system requirements for pc people. unless you pay at least $200 you won't be able to run it that good and not everyone has that kind of money they can just throw away.

dynomitemasta
dynomitemasta

Bottom line? . . . the bottom line is that they went with the whole PS3 first thing, and it backfired on them, . . they thought that they would come in and do the same thing on the PS3 with UT3, that they did with Gears on the 360, . . . WRONG !!..........They gave the finger to their 360 fanbase and they paid the ultimate price. The game went over like a lead brick. Now 360 owners couldn't care less about this game, and I think hopefully they learned a valuable and costly lesson, . . . Ps3 owners DON"T buy games in half the numbers as 360 owners, no matter how good the game might be. So while putting a game out on both platforms is only fair to the fans of both the PS3 and the 360, putting a game out first on ONE console is not.

zhivago_x
zhivago_x

wytefang, I am 100% behind this comment of yours.

audioaxes
audioaxes

this is what Epic gets for trying to release it on PS3 first, it would have done well on the 360

Phazevariance
Phazevariance

Sounds lik ethey werent happy withtheir courses of action in devlopment... welp, better luck next time. 360 being FPS central vs ps3's rpg central, they would have sold more and had more hype if they released it on 360 first. Not to mention its just an easier console to program for. PS3 is only hurting the indusrty.

Keyser_So_So
Keyser_So_So

Maybe the reason multiplatform games sell best on 360 (apparantly, proof anyone?) is because more people own 360s than any other console. Not because its better than any other console, but because it came out before the rest and like the PS2 it jumped everyone else's gun by doing that. However, with some games being better on 360 than PS3, and vice versa, to fight about which is better format for multiplatform games is stupid fanboy **** Give it up, you love your console, the guy who owns your arch rival console loves his console. No one's going to win.

wytefang
wytefang

We all know that the real reason it sold poorly (aside from coming out in a really tough/crowded release period) was that they consolized the game in several ways and PC gamers responded by voting with their wallets - e.g. they didn't buy that many copies. Had nothing to do with the PC as a platform, as it's doing very well, especially in light of recent NPD comments, but more that you can't consolize a long-running PC shooter and expect PC gamers to want to buy it. We prefer more depth and quality in our games, thank you very much. ;)

jsmoke03
jsmoke03

that was weird since i heard the pc version isn't selling well. wish they provided some numbers

Sticky53
Sticky53

Wait so does this mean theres going to be no UT 2007? lol

Dan2002sk8er
Dan2002sk8er

the thing I thought was missing is a split screen mode on the PS3 so I can play with my friends at my house. Plus There is never any one online and nobody uses a head set on the PSN. It had such potential but I play CoD4 way more than this. I'm an owner of all three next gen consoles and as of right now XBL works better than the PSN but the Playstation Network is free and will be upgraded soon with Home so this War is not over. I don't think the war will ever end though I don't believe there will be a clear winner like Last Generation.

zeecorner
zeecorner

whens it comin out for 360? I've never played an UN game before so it would be a good rental.

yankeesmann45
yankeesmann45

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

arfie18
arfie18

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

darth_tater_tot
darth_tater_tot

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

SoralinkGS
SoralinkGS

@JKnaperek: So wait, if the 360 is the "Wal-mart" of this generation, doesn't that mean everyone will go there/buy it because it has everything, regardless of its major flaws and broken customer service? or were you trying to make it sound like nobody will buy it and failed? On the topic at hand, what really happened to UT3 in terms of sales was simple: Epic, Sony, and its publisher keep going back and forth with the release date of UT3 that PS3 owners just gave up waiting and bought/asked for COD4 instead. Plus, release it with a notice about few copies...

Zazalon
Zazalon

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

ElmorePOW
ElmorePOW

It could be that testosterine filled games like UTIII does not sell on PS3.... for whatever reason? - PS3 players are more into adventure and high-concept stories than mindless fragging.

Grende1
Grende1

Ignoring the constant fanboy arguments about what system is better, there is one undeniable truth. Multiplatform games are selling much better on the 360 than other consoles, for whatever reason. Temporary console exclusivity of UTIII on the PS3 backfired for Epic because games simply sell the most copies on the 360. Epic seems to be trying to ride the fence. Since Gears is such a smash on the 360, maybe they thought they'd throw Sony a bone. Unfortunately, this is business, and its makes the most business sense to sell 360 versions of games, as that's where the most money is. As for Epic's argument that this past Xmas was the best for FPSs of all time. That's true, but remember, 2 of the 4 best reviewed and most sold shooters were exclusive to the 360, another was exclusive to the PC, and the final was multiplatform. So this shouldn't have hurt UTIII sales on the PS3 since PS3 owners have a significantly smaller selection of great shooters. In reality, Epic just needs to get the 360 version out so they can make some money. They need to get it out soon, though, before the hype of Gears 2 starts building.

paladin75
paladin75

JK stands for just kidding.....i am one of the ps3 owners that use it as a bluray player....sometimes i play tekken online tho. and last time i checked the 360 played dvd not hd dvd in case you didnt know that something entirely different.thats called an add on, something you have the choice to purchase.

rbop
rbop

@ JKnaperek - I'm glad your mommy ponied up enough dough to get you the system you wanted. I myself have enough money to get whatever damn system I want, and guess what? I've got the 360. I could care less what movies it can play, because it's a game system. And, when I bought it, the 360 had waaaaaay more games that I wanted to play. Maybe someday that will change, but it won't this year. You scream "fanboy fanboy!", when seemingly that's all you are. You're too transparent.

edflam311
edflam311

@JKnaperek : failed system? you're joking right?

nillod
nillod

got a question, why do people bash one another because they got a 360 or ps3 or a wii? it really doesn't matter and i think that we shouldn't take it so seriously. i may not be the most insane game fan so everyone might wonder why i'm even ranting but i can't help but wonder what everyone here does on a daily basis when they aren't insulting others due to having a different system. feel free to agree or make fun of me if it makes you feel better about yourself cause i really don't care. just think about the whole bashing thing and yeah, i know my post really has nothing to do with the article so that might give you something to respond about in a negative fashion

JKnaperek
JKnaperek

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

TVR_Fan
TVR_Fan

@ vbdevpro: It is up to the developers who they put a game on first, also don't forget console games first designed on the PS3 seem to make great games on the Xbox 360 as well. However, the main platform for UT3 is the PC with the PS3 second.