Having provided the Xbox 360 with arguably its first blockbuster hit in Gears of War, Epic Games has maintained a close working relationship with Microsoft. It should come as no surprise, then, that the company that is known as much for its games as its ubiquitous Unreal Engine 3 would be helping to lead the effort in creating games for Microsoft's forthcoming camera-based motion-sensing device, currently known as Project Natal.
Speaking to XOM UK, Epic vice president Mark Rein confirmed that the Unreal Engine will support Natal development, going so far as to say that the tech is the "unofficial engine" of Microsoft's new peripheral.
"We are going to work with Microsoft to make that available to Unreal Engine licensees who want to make Natal games," Rein said. "So, if you want to make a game on Natal, you want to get a big head start and use the same tech as Microsoft, come talk to me. We are the unofficial engine of Natal, or maybe the official, I don't know. In other words, we consider ourselves the 'economic engine of Natal.' You want to make money with Natal, come talk to us, we'll help you."
Notably, though, Epic has yet to fully sit down with Project Natal for the purpose of creating its own games using the device. "We're just sitting down with them in the next two weeks I think, to bring our studio guys in to have a look. I have no idea what we're going to do from a game standpoint, but from an engine standpoint, it's definitely cool stuff, and we will support it. I think any future Xbox games we make will have some Natal support."
In July, Epic design director Cliff Bleszinski expressed cautious doubt about the studio's Natal support, saying, "We'll take a look at Natal--no promises--but it's likely that the classic control interface is what Epic will be working on in the foreseeable future. But I think there's ways that you could merge the two interfaces and supplement a classic game with Natal controls to make something compelling."
Lastly, Rein also may have inadvertently revealed Microsoft's plans to bundle Project Natal with all new Xbox 360 consoles when the device launches, an event currently expected next year. "I think they said they were going to ship Natal with every Xbox when they actually launch the thing, so everybody will have one," he said. "And then they are going to sell it to everybody who doesn't have one. Or try."
The statement jives with a similar slip maybe by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who said as part of an investor conference that "a new Xbox 360 will hit the store shelves in 2010." Though widely misinterpreted, Ballmer's statement was later clarified by Aaron Greenberg, director of Xbox 360 product management and Xbox Live, who said the comment pertained to Project Natal.