The Unreal series is quickly establishing itself as the dominant brand among action games for any and all platforms, thanks in no small part to the efforts of developers Epic Games, Digital Extremes, and Legend Entertainment. The 1998 release of Unreal and the subsequent year's follow-up of Unreal Tournament successfully went up against Half-Life and Quake III: Arena, respectively, and the series' developers undoubtedly have their competition quivering with the upcoming releases of Unreal II for the PC and Unreal Championship for the Xbox. As if that weren't enough, Infogrames--the publisher of the series--recently announced the development of Unreal Tournament 2, the sequel to the recipient of our 1999 action game of the year award. Currently in development at Digital Extremes, Unreal Tournament 2 will be powered by the latest version of Epic's impressive 3D technology, and it will boast 30 different indoor and outdoor arenas, up to 50 customizable character models, a whole arsenal of new weapons, and five different multiplayer modes. Besides this information, little else has been revealed about this promising sequel to Unreal Tournament, so to find out more about it, we sat down with its lead designer, Digital Extreme's Pancho Eekels.
GameSpot: Pancho, how long has Unreal Tournament 2 been in development?
Pancho Eekels: Unreal Tournament 2 has been in development for about a year.
GS: Apart from a new version of the Unreal graphics engine, what are the biggest changes between the original Unreal Tournament and Unreal Tournament 2?
PE: There are many refinements. The single-player is much different from its predecessor. You now are the captain of a persistent but evolving team. You play the single-player game, upgrade your team by hiring "free agents" or increasing the ability of your teammates. Imagine the possibilities when you play the game and can refine your team to your taste or style of play!
GS: Tell us about the new special moves in the game.
PE: The special moves are really an extension of dodging from the original Unreal Tournament. Dodging became synonymous with Unreal Tournament when it was first introduced; it is hard to imagine playing the game without it anymore. So what we are doing in Unreal Tournament 2 is to add more of those movement choices as you fight in a level to make the game more dynamic. Some of the more advanced special moves depend on bioenergy that you gather from opponents you've killed in the game. By collecting their bioenergy, you can save up for these special moves.
GS: What sorts of changes are there to the Unreal Tournament weapons and items?
PE: We took a hard look at what people actually liked online, and since this game has a large multiplayer influence, we decided on taking out, enhancing, or changing some of the weapons that were in the original Unreal Tournament. We set out to reduce some of the "spammy" feel that some of the weapons had. So, for instance, the flak cannon shards now actually bounce much less. The sniper rifle has been replaced by an instant-hit lightning gun that has the same function but is more visible when you use it so that it gives the others the chance to find out more easily where it came from (if he missed!).
In other words, we are focusing more toward the actual skill of the player rather than luck. The idea of spawning with all weapons (all customizable, of course), except the superweapons, is not an old one. This reduces the time you spend looking around for a weapon and gives you the chance to jump into the fray right away when you spawn. However, you start out with a low ammo count, so you'll have to find an ammo recharger if you want to take full advantage of your weapon loadout.
We have also implemented the concept of recharging stations that recharge your health, ammo, or shield. Now, this doesn't mean that every time you pick up ammo, health, or shield that you have to stand still. This is because each recharging station has an initial holographic icon floating on top of it, which has a charge of, say, 25 percent. It takes time for that to reappear again after you've zipped over it and picked it up (just like a regular pickup). But if you are greedy, you can stay on the station for a full refill. This causes the station to get drained, and it takes time for it to fully recharge; you can't camp on top of it. All of this still gives you the opportunity to control certain areas of the map if you want to, since there are still physical stations that are very important to your arsenal, health, and shield.
Bringing the Game to Life
GS: The original Unreal Tournament used a relatively limited number of models that all followed the human space marine look. Will Unreal Tournament 2 expand the number of models and types of characters available? Are there new customization options?
PE: Oh yes! The limited number of models was a shortcoming in Unreal Tournament, so we made sure that the player can now choose from a wide variety of models, with each of the models having several custom skins. We still have a team that follows the space marine look, but since we have these vastly different worlds that are featured in the game, we added many different types and personalities to the character selection.
GS: Does the game use the same graphics engine that we've seen in the Unreal II demonstrations?
PE: Yes, it is basically the same. The engine is very powerful, so in terms of visual complexity, there will not be much difference. The Unreal engine also has all the multiplayer aspects that are needed built right in, so there are almost no extra or special adaptations needed to optimize the multiplayer aspect of Unreal Tournament 2. The impressive graphic capabilities that Unreal Tournament 2 has are at the moment projectors that can project shadows or light effects, as well as the particles that interact with the characters, weapon effects, and projectors. As for the systems that the player will need, we are trying to scale it for the lower-end PCs to the absolute high-end PCs. I can't be more specific, as we are still optimizing the game at this time.
GS: And does the new graphics engine make possible new types of maps and environments? Will Unreal Tournament 2 have outdoor maps like those seen in Unreal II and Unreal Championship? How will larger levels be designed to keep the action dense?
PE: The graphics engine is now virtually able to pretty much do any setting possible. The outdoor terrain areas are as big as they need to be, as the gameplay in those maps is closely watched. Maps that feature vehicles are designed so that they do not become a primary focus, since that is not what Unreal Tournament 2 is all about. One should see the vehicle as another weapon in Unreal Tournament 2's arsenal. So in other words, vehicles will be balanced against the handheld weapons. If you use your "l33t" skills successfully with any of these, you will be rewarded. So, we are most definitely not making massive maps, where all you do is run, as this will kill the fun factor of this type of game.
GS: How has the design and development process for the other upcoming Unreal games influenced the direction for this one?
PE: Well, initially that was a tough call, but we decided that having the emphasis on sports would be the most fitting direction for Unreal Tournament 2.
The name already implies competition with the use of "tournament," so it seemed a natural progression. We listened to many clans and members of gaming leagues and are including many features in Unreal Tournament 2--ones that will make it a product that supports that audience right out of the box.
GS: Are you at all wary of some confusion or blurring of the lines between this Unreal game and the three other ones currently in development? How are you differentiating Unreal Tournament 2 from the rest of its Unreal family?
PE: We're always wary of confusion in the line of Unreal games, especially right now, but as soon as people play the different ones, they'll see and feel the difference. And the more we talk about the different games and explain what they are, the more it should help.
Unreal II is a single-player-focused mission-based game and has lots of story and background, tasks, and events, as well as a bit more action than the original. Unreal Tournament 2 is a sequel to the original multiplayer-focused action-packed game for the PC. Unreal Championship for Xbox is similar to Unreal Tournament 2 in the multiplayer focus and action but incorporates the element of console play into an FPS that many have not been able to do yet.
GS: Describe the single-player game in Unreal Tournament 2. Is it a bigger part of the game's focus than it was in Unreal Tournament? Will there be more emphasis on team games in the single-player ladder game?
PE: Well, as I mentioned a little earlier, the single-player will feature the player as the captain of a team, who has been assigned to the player. As you play the game, you get options to improve your team by hiring and firing, as well as assigning improvements to your team members. So you can, as you go through the game, really have vastly different types of teams each time you play. So with that alone, it makes for much more dynamic gameplay.
But the emphasis is no longer focused on how many levels you have to beat but on the actual game, just like in a real sport. For instance, as you play the game, you'll get challenged by captains from other teams in the ladder in the form of a one-on-one or a team deathmatch game. Also, you'll set up your team's fighting styles and positions before you start the game, or you can set a default for the impatient captains out there. These positions are predefined by the level designer (and this gets tested to no end) so that it makes the most sense for each map. The members on your team will follow these "orders" very carefully. During the game, you can switch fighting styles, such as going from a defensive play to a more offensive game. The cool thing about this is that you don't have to micromanage your team this way.
...and the Multiplayer
GS: What about the multiplayer? How many such modes will the game have?
PE: The game will feature game modes that make the most sense from a sport perspective. So, that said, the game currently supports five multiplayer modes. These include:
- Capture the flag: The game that everyone knows to no end. Capture your opponent team's flag and return it to your team's base to score a point. Make sure that your flag stays in your base--otherwise you can't return it!
- Domination 2: This is a refinement of the one found in the original Unreal Tournament. This time, there are only two domination points available in each map. As soon as a team dominates the two points in the map, they'll have to defend it for a certain amount of time. If this team succeeds in doing so, they get awarded a point. Both domination points will then become neutral for again a certain amount of time. During that time, no one can dominate the two points until it activates again.
- Bombing run: A bomb will spawn in the middle of this mode's many maps. It is your team's goal to pick this up and deliver it to your opponent team's base, where it will detonate and award your team with a point. Your opposing team is trying to do the same thing, so watch out! An interesting twist to this game type is that you will be able to easily pass the bomb back and forth with your teammates to make the action even more fast and furious.
- Deathmatch: The almighty classic returns. Everyone is your opponent. Frag as many as you can!
- Team deathmatch: Take on an enemy team with yours!
PE: Epic is supplying us with the engine, as well as giving us feedback on the game. After all, it requires a lot of testing.
GS: And when is the game currently scheduled for completion?
PE: We're shooting for Q3 this year.
GS: Is there anything else you'd like our readers to know about Unreal Tournament 2?
PE: Yes: it will kick a**.
GS: Well said, Pancho. Thanks for your time.