Epic Games puts out APB on new Unreal Engine 3 features

GDC 2010: Gears of War maker shows off the ever-expanding reach of its game tech, which now extends to the iPhone and Palm Pre; Realtime Worlds' Dave Jones gives a demo of his studio's upcoming massively multiplayer online action game.

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Who Was There: Mark Rein, vice president of Epic Games; Alan Willard, senior technical artist and designer at Epic Games; Mary Beth Haggerty, from Autodesk (maker of Maya); and Dave Jones, creative director at Realtime Worlds.

What They Talked About: Like at previous GDCs, Epic's 2010 media briefing was a relatively low-key, relaxed event. Willard and Rein kicked things off by showing some of the new tools that are in use in the latest version of the Unreal Engine 3. These include the ability to independently alter the surface of an object apart from the material that the object is constructed from. To illustrate, a suspended sphere was shown onscreen, swirling with reds and yellows as if composed of lava; the temperature variation (and different colors that resulted) of the different areas of the surface were built in and rendered in real time. At one point, another floating bubble of silver was shown, its surface bobbling as it floated; Rein jokingly referred to this as a "mercury cube," harking back to the infamous meat cube shown during Epic's media briefing at the 2008 GDC.

Other cool tech on display centered around quickly building in-game objects. One tool lets players generate buildings on a level map by drawing a basic box to set the building's size and then dropping a prerendered texture into the box; the engine then does the work of matching the texture to the dimensions of the box the developer created.

Another tool essentially makes it easy to create long and snaking vines, which can be twisted and replicated at will. One interesting use of this tech is creating an entire train track system, simply by replicating and manipulating a single track object. Other tech included advanced particle effects for creating ribbons off of objects (perfect for things like water streams or gory blood splashes), as well as improved particle lighting effects.

Cops and criminals take the fight online in the upcoming MMO game APB.
Cops and criminals take the fight online in the upcoming MMO game APB.

With the technical demos out of the way, Rein also took some time to mention how Unreal 3 will now be running on a mobile device near you, including the iPhone and Palm Pre. Rein also talked about the Unreal Development Kit; a free version of the Unreal Engine 3 to be used by students and developers for noncommercial or educational purposes. Released just about four months ago, the UDK has been used by indie developers to create numerous games so far, as Rein demonstrated with a brief video reel showing off a handful of new or upcoming UDK-developed games.

Autodesk's Mary Beth Haggerty was next on the bill, giving a brief demo of some of that company's products and how they can be used to tie in with Unreal Engine 3 to improve things like character animations, with particular regard to how characters interact with their environments.

The highlight of the press briefing came from Realtime Worlds' Dave Jones, who gave a live demonstration of the studio's upcoming MMO cops and criminals game, APB. Jones spent a good deal of time showing off the game's deep customization options, as well as the PVP balance between the criminal and enforcer factions. For a more detailed look at the game, check out GameSpot's impressions of Jones' demo.

Quote: "We tend to make very violent games in Scotland, if you haven't noticed." -- Realtime Worlds' Dave Jones on his Dundee-based development studio, moments after using his criminal character in APB to gun down an innocent civilian and rob her body. Jones was also one of the designers on the original Grand Theft Auto.

Takeaway: Between the recent release of the Unreal Development Kit and the spread of Unreal Engine 3 to mobile phones, the reach of Epic's game engine continues to spread. And the recently delayed APB continues to look appealing.

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