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Developer Affinity: Epic Games

It is often said that great things come from humble beginnings.  In the case of the North Carolina-based studio Epic Games, creators of the seminal Unreal Engine (Used in a dizzyingly large number of modern videogame titles) and the hugely successful Gears of War series, those beginnings were very humble indeed. 

The brainchild of Tim Sweeney, founded in 1991 in Rockville, Maryland, started life with a simple game creation engine for DOS called ZZT and soon became known for creating popular shareware titles such as Jazz Jackrabbit, which spawned a sequel and was named “Arcade Game of the Year” by PC Format magazine in 1995.

As the millennium neared, Epic (then known as Epic MegaGames) continued to improve its profile with the acquisition of Safari Software and their role as publisher for a number of games developed by Safari and other companies.  However, it wasn’t until 1998 when things really took off.

In 1998, Epic MegaGames released Unreal, the 3D first-person shooter which expanded into the hugely successful Unreal Tournament and brought the gaming world the Unreal Engine, which had been in development for about three years in Tim Sweeney’s garage.  At the time, the Unreal Engine was a major rival to the id Tech 2 engine used by Quake II; it has grown to become one of the most widely-used game engines in the business, with a list of clients which is bound to shock most.  Batman: Arkham Asylum, Mirror’s Edge, the Mass Effect series, Lost Odyssey and even Mortal Kombat have all used the most recent version of the Unreal Engine, proving its versatility and adaptability to a wide variety of genres and situations. 

Following the success of Unreal, the company became simply Epic Games and relocated to its current home in North Carolina.  Since then, the wild success of the Unreal series has spawned a number of sequels and expansions, as well as giving Epic the money and marketing strength to create another multi-million-selling game series in Gears of War.

The mid 1990s, following the release of the ground-breaking and immensely popular Doom in 1993, saw a rash of games which were often derogatorily referred to as ‘Doom clones’.  It was several years until other first-person shooter games began to develop enough to step out from under the shadow of Doom, and one of the first games to establish its own unique footprint on the genre was Unreal, released in 1998.  The first game in what would become the Unreal series threw players into the middle of a gritty sci-fi war, with a story that spawned two novels and an expansion to the game which continued the tale.  However, it’s fair to say that with the reinvention of the series that was Unreal Tournament in 1999, the Unreal series became a by-word for frenetic multiplayer action. 

While it was similar in style to Quake III Arena, released ten days after, Unreal Tournament took the idea of competitive online multiplayer and threw graphical polish and excellent level design at it.  UT became successful enough that the championship matches at the World Cyber Games in 2001 and 2002 were decided by a 1v1 deathmatch game of Unreal Tournament.  However, it was not until Unreal Championship in 2002 that Epic stepped away from their PC roots and released the game on the Xbox; Unreal Championship was essentially designed to be a console port of Unreal Tournament 2003, with the hope of bringing in a whole new gaming audience and taking advantage of Microsoft’s Xbox Live service.  It was a success, spawning a sequel- Unreal Championship 2: The Liandri Conflict was designed from the ground up for the Xbox, and gave Epic the expertise necessary to work on future Xbox 360 exclusives such as Gears of War.

The next installment in the Unreal series, Unreal Tournament III, was released on the PC and both the Xbox 360 and PS3 for the first time, and once again sold more than a million copies, garnering critical acclaim and a score of 82 on Metacritic.  As Epic have no plans to create a sequel just yet, Unreal Tournament III stands as a strong full stop to the Unreal series, bolstered by the creativity of the modding community who have taken advantage of its easy-to-use toolset to create a huge variety of new maps and mods for it.

With the Unreal Engine showing no signs of slowing down (The next incarnation of the engine is in the works and due to be released for the next generation of consoles) and the success of the Gears of War series spawning consideration of a live-action movie adaptation, it looks as though Epic are poised to keep growing as a company and building upon the rock-solid legacy that they have established over the last twenty years. 


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