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Who Needs Retractable Claws When You Have Unreal Engine 3?

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Once the team behind Marvel Ultimate Alliance at Raven Software saw the Singularity prototype featuring Unreal Engine 3, they were hooked. The fruits of their labor, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, hits PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 May 1 in tandem with the 20th Century Fox film starring Hugh Jackman. It’s the first UE3 game from the studio, although Singularity is coming out, also from Activision, later this year.

“We had just struggled to make Marvel Ultimate Alliance next gen and then we saw Singularity and we were like, ‘Holy crap, that’s the type of tech we want to use,’” said Dan Vondrak, project lead on X-Men Origins: Wolverine at Raven Software. “At first everyone was wondering how we were going to turn the engine from a third person shooter into an action game, but we had the experience from Marvel Ultimate Alliance as well as the core combat systems and we rewrote re-wrote them all and applied them right to Unreal and it took. It was a good six months before we felt like we had everything we needed to get in there, but it's totally worth it.”

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The new action game puts players in control of one of Marvel’s most popular characters, Wolverine, and offers a full array of abilities and attacks ripped straight from the comic books. Although the game was started long before the movie became a reality, Raven worked with Fox, as well as Jackman, to bring that storyline to the game. But this interactive adventure goes far beyond the cinematic origin story by adding classic villains from the comics and introducing more action and unique set pieces to the adventure.

Vondrak said that during production, UE3 allowed the artists to jump ahead of the rest of the team. They were able to create these huge jungles with sun rays coming through and leaves blowing and water puddles. 

“It was like they were making alkali lake stuff with details like fog around your feet and snowflakes in the air for the mountain level,” said Vondrak. “Working with Unreal allowed us to add depth to the game. That’s why we were able to create a Wolverine model with three layers of regeneration. We have the skeleton, the meat, and the muscle and skin, plus the clothing on top of that. That's all made possible using Unreal materials and shaders.  It's really powerful when we coupled it with our smart tech guys who put everything together to make it work.”

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Vondrak said the designers utilized Matinee to create the bigger moments from the game, some of which were original and others were expanded from the movie. Matinee allowed the team to create action sequences featuring moving trucks and flying helicopters. While the final animations were done by animators, Unreal aided them in getting everything just right – like Wolverine’s perfect landing atop a whirring helicopter in mid-air.

“The Kismet tech is really powerful,” added Vondrak. “When you look at what Epic has been able to do with this technology with the Gears of War games and then look at Wolverine, you can see the type of meaty combat translates across genres. Kismet allowed us to throw all of these huge sequences into our game, which gives players a very cinematic experience. All of these set pieces like when Wolverine is in the air skydiving from helicopter to helicopter were done by our designers using Kismet.

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One example of Unreal Matinee, Kismet and AI all working in tandem can be seen in the epic battle between Wolverine and the 100-foot-tall Sentinel robot. Players will pit the tiny, but powerful, Wolverine against this monster in a three-pronged battle that will start on the ground and then take to the air. Vondrak said that all of the sequences, including what traditionally would have been cut scenes, were made playable thanks to Unreal.

“Unreal Engine 3 was just fantastic to work with,” said Doug Smith, senior technical artist on Wolverine at Raven. “One of the challenges with Wolverine is that we wanted to make a game that's true to Wolverine without spending a ton of time building up our tech. The Unreal engine was a great stepping stone to make that happen quickly. It was a great way to actually give something to artists and designers that was mature and fully flushed out. We knew we could make a good-looking game if we worked it right, and I loved working with Unreal.  I think a lot of our team can say the same thing.”

Smith said Raven’s Wolverine team really pushed the shaders in Unreal. Wolverine is a Mature-rated game on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC. That game’s gore system is a shader, primarily.

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“We have a separate mesh underneath Wolverine, but we have the ability to pop holes  uniquely in Wolverine with bullets tracing through, blood oozes down, and you can see the normals on the skin be pushed out where the wound opened up,” added Smith. “You can see on the edges of the blood.  We push in the normal so you can see the specular highlights on the blood.  Everything then nicely closes up and these bruises are all shaders. It’s really powerful and cool technology.”

Raven also empowered the artists on the team by authoring a snow shader that allowed anyone to add snow to objects in the environment like rocks and trees. This shader would automatically ensure that snow would rest accurately on top of the object regardless of how it was placed in the game environment.

“If an artist had a log for the environment, he could place it one way and the snow would automatically fill in the cracks,” explained Smith. “This gave us a lot of flexibility and enabled the artist to create very realistic and rich environments the way they wanted without have to worry about spending a lot of time going back and painting or redoing things to get all of the details right.”

Raven was able to utilize Epic’s Unreal Development Network throughout the project, as well as tap into the work that the Singularity team was doing in-house.

“I think the expertise that the guys were able to gain importing over our combat node system into the engine was beneficial to everyone,” said Smith. “We had layers of animation with sequences like Wolverine in Sentinel’s hand and we had to make sure our fight style worked throughout the game’s many action sequences. Some of our tech guys have gone back to Epic to add some of these changes into the engine and Epic has been very responsive to that and put them in. Of course, everyone gains benefit from that.”

Gamers will benefit from all of this work when Activision ships X-Men Origins: Wolverine across all platforms on May 1. This is a virtual Wolverine who’s as brutal and strong as he was in the comic books. And Unreal Engine 3 brings this superhero to life like never before.

Pamoja Mtaani

RALEIGH, NC – Serious videogame developer Virtual Heroes, based in Raleigh, North Carolina, partnered with the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment (WBIE) to create a game to influence HIV risk perceptions, attitudes and behaviors among young people in Nairobi.

The game, Pamoja Mtaani (“Together in the Hood”), is an open-world game that allows up to five players in select youth centers throughout Nairobi to work together through a collection of twitch mini-games. Each player will take on the role of a unique character and play through a quest that has been developed to be both fun and educational. Top Kenyan hip-hop artists were tapped to provide relevant and inspirational original music for use exclusively in the game.

pamoja Mtaani

“This game has unique and fairly low system requirements, so using Unreal Engine 2.5 allowed us to create an open-world game with the look and feel for three distinct parts of an East African city in the highest quality possible without affecting gameplay,” said Kirsten Gavoni, producer of Pamoja Mtaani at WBIE. “Unreal Engine 2.5 also enabled us to create a large number of NPCs with thousands of lines of unique dialog, adding to the immersive feel of the city.”

To make this five-player, LAN-based PC game experience a reality, Virtual Heroes opted to use the older Unreal Engine 2.5 rather than Unreal Engine 3 in an effort to reach the widest dissemination possible across the available hardware in Kenyan youth clinics, schools, and other facilities.

A team of 25 people spent 10 months working on the game. Under normal circumstances, a game of this size generally takes two years to develop from scratch. Unreal Engine 2.5 forms the low-level foundation of Virtual Heroes’ platform and provides core functionalities, such as 3D rendering, audio, networking, and physics.

Pamoja Mtaani

“We ended up producing an open-world, multi-player environment with four large, distinct outdoor areas, several hundreds of interactive NPCs and a few dozen vehicles, resulting in a total of almost ten thousand game objects, all being processed simultaneously on the game server,” said Virtual Heroes' tech director. “From a resource point of view, this put tremendous strain on the game logic and networking side of things. With a balanced mix of UnrealScript and native C++ code, the fully integrated networking layer of Unreal Engine, as well as a few extra techniques, we were able to optimize performance and tune game play. We used the conversation engine from our Advanced Learning Technology Platform to facilitate complex NPC interactions using thousands of lines of branching dialog.”

On top of that, Virtual Heroes’ platform implements a generic game framework and a multitude of general-purpose functionalities, including things like conversation engines, user-interface controls, movie playback, or database connectivity. This allowed the team to spend most of the development time focused on game-specific features.”

To ensure these features connected with Kenyan youth, team members from Virtual Heroes and WBIE traveled to Kenya to get a better understanding of the culture that plays a larger role in the serious game. According to the game's designer at Virtual Heroes, Pamoja Mtaani consists of four large and unique environments based upon the different socio-economic regions of Nairobi, Kenya. The regions (Chini Ya Maji, Ulamini, Jijini, and an open-air Youth Festival) were designed using extensive in-country research with the ultimate goal of creating a truly immersive and culturally accurate living world.

Pamoja Mtaani

“From our initial research, we realized that this game had to take a different approach from the conventional HIV/AIDS awareness didactic approach,” he explained. “We knew that the youth would resist an ‘in your face’ educational game, but we also wanted to avoid a simplified game that rewarded players for choosing the correct path to avoid ‘risky behaviors,’ because we felt that the youth would only make those decisions because the game would reward them for doing so, not because of any actual behavioral change within the player. Instead, we incorporated a ‘stealth learning’ approach that is concentrated within the game’s cinematics and character interactions.”

At the beginning of _Pamoja Mtanni_, each of the five playable characters practice a specific risky behavior that makes them more susceptible to contracting or spreading HIV. Throughout the course of gameplay, and reinforced through cinematics and in-game interactions, each character comes to realize the risks that they have been taking and the proper steps with which to avoid them.

Several production staff spent a lot of time in Africa to get up close and personal with the people and the environment. Aiding the team in bringing this virtual Kenya to life was Unreal Engine 2.5 technology. During development of the game, the team heavily used Unreal Engine tools like UnrealEd for level creation and content management, the UCC script compiler for game script creation, and a few other small tools such as font converter and Maya plug-ins.

Even though the game was initially deployed only in selected locations in Kenya, the original intent was always to increase HIV/AIDS awareness on the entire continent of Africa and to distribute the game in multiple countries. The differences in regional requirements for a videogame can be quite drastic, not only because of the different languages spoken in different areas and countries, but also ethnic and cultural differences.

In addition to future expansion of the game across Kenya and Africa, Pamoja Mtaani is part of a multimedia push by Warner Bros. across multiple divisions. Each of the five characters from the game are featured in a series of computer-animated shorts created by Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging that will introduce them to the target audience of Kenyan Youth. In addition, Warner Bros. Advanced Digital Services has created a website that will provide information on the Partnership for an HIV-Free Generation Initiative. Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging also created film trailers to raise awareness and drive viewer traffic to the PEPFAR documentary, “Saving Lives, Creating Hope” detailing the program.

Zero Hour: Virtual Heroes Uses Unreal Engine 3 for Real EMS Training

RALEIGH, NC — Raleigh, NC—Virtual Heroes is a leading creator of serious games. So when it came time for the George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute to take training of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) online, Greg Lord, associate director of the National EMS Preparedness Initiative, looked no further than Jerry Heneghan’s studio. After all, Heneghan, founder of Virtual Heroes, had worked on the Department of Defense’s America’s Army online game, so Lord felt this team was best-suited for their virtual training game, Zero Hour: America’s Medic. Heneghan decided the best tool for the job was Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 3.

Zero Hour is intended to fully take advantage of all the bells and whistles of Unreal Engine 3 while creating a uniquely suspenseful, immersive, virtual world for training real medics,” explained Heneghan. “UE3 features that we took advantage of included volumetric environmental effects, on-the-fly real-time shaders, pre-computed shadow masks, directional light maps, particle physics, and environmental effects.”

The game, downloadable from <http://www.nemspi.org>, puts players through training exercises that include four of the 15 national planning scenarios from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. After a quick tutorial level that instructs the player how to navigate the virtual world (Lord expects a large segment of older specialists will not have any videogame experience), the game opens up to unique disaster scenarios that escalate as the player investigates and journeys from one situation to the next.

Zero Hour

In essence, the game offers 3D puzzles with lifelike environments, like an exploding stadium and victims that respond to questions. Heneghan said with UE3 his team was able to show minute details like blood in a patient’s eyes, which is a key symptom that will unlock one major scenario in the game.

“One of the challenges we face is that people rarely get to practice response to large-scale events because, thankfully, we don’t have many of them,” said Lord. “Even ambulance rescuers and EMTs who work in a large city might see a large-scale event with 50 to 100 patients occur maybe once or twice in a career. The expectation to be prepared for these types of events is more difficult without practicing it.”

Zero Hour allows personnel to experience unique issues around managing an emergency incident, like an earthquake or terrorist attack, while triaging a large number of patients and maintaining an operational environment. The ability to diagnose a large number of patients in unfriendly surroundings, like the aftershocks of an earthquake, will challenge even seasoned EMS personnel.

Zero Hour

“Look at Katrina. What made things difficult were the logistics and command and control, the communication and the process by which you accessed and moved assets to affected areas… all those inherent operational issues in a large-scale event that are difficult and that we don’t get to practice on a daily basis, much less a monthly basis. Most places may do this once a year, and ultimately, when a disaster happens, it will probably be the biggest event of your career as an EMT.” said Lord.

Lord said that Virtual Heroes’ use of Unreal Engine 3 technology has created a virtual environment that’s vividly detailed and also great from a cost perspective. Although the game was designed for EMS personnel to use as part of their real-world certification for emergency response, anyone can play Zero Hour from anywhere, on any PC. Lord doesn’t know what impact this game will have on the public and non-EMS players who download and play it, but he noted that with America’s Army, there have been instances where medical expertise learned in a game led to a real-world, life-saving incident (in Raleigh, NC).

“Someone who’d played America’s Army was able to save someone’s life in an auto accident from the medic role he had played in that game,” said Lord. “I think that’s one of the spectacular things you’ll see out of Zero Hour. People will better understand what EMS is on a day-to-day basis and in a disaster. And people will learn the right things that can be done to save people’s lives. For the public good and the community we serve, there will be great benefits to this game.”

Zero Hour

Zero Hour measures how players respond to incidents through a defined process. They’ll perform within the incident the primary roles of medical command, triage, and treatment. Based on their virtual performance, players will receive an after-action review of what they did right and wrong. At end of the game, they’ll take a post-test. Lord and his team will track the improvements of personnel after playing the game.

“Our hope is that the government will view this as a good thing, and we validate our hypothesis by this educational process, and they’ll fund more of this,” said Lord. “We believe very strongly that we can move this toward the real-time, live Internet-based gaming you see with some of the higher-end stuff. This will allow us to interject problems into the process to dynamically configure a scenario. With this iteration, we weren’t able to accomplish those things.”

The reason Heneghan and Lord went with Unreal Engine 3 was to take advantage of the online capabilities of the engine. The plan is for Zero Hour to be the first step in an ongoing serious game initiative. “Each environment we created was designed so that multiplayer gameplay/training could happen in later versions of the game,” explained Heneghan. “The game was built using Virtual Heroes Advanced Learning Technology Platform elements to facilitate after-action-reviews, links to learning management systems, and framework for modular, scalable expansion of the experience over time.”

Zero Hour

Lord has even loftier dreams for Zero Hour’s future growth. He’d like to see Zero Hour expand to incorporate training for Red Cross, fire, police, and all emergency management.

“Think of what you could do if you could create what amounts to a Second Life for disaster response,” asked Lord. “Providers across all the disciplines of a large-scale event could operate in real time and on an ongoing basis. We could design a program for the city of New York, and they could run their own virtual drills. The same could be done for San Francisco and Los Angeles.”

Although ultimately the cost of developing out what Virtual Heroes has started with Zero Hour will be high, Lord said the payback on this type of virtual training game would be priceless. Right now, the future of Homeland Security’s serious games initiative rests on Zero Hour – a simulation that wouldn’t be possible without Epic’s Unreal Engine 3 technology.

American McGee’s Grimm Brings Fairy Tales to Life Courtesy of Unreal Engine 3

American McGee has always had a unique perspective on the world of games, and that vision is coming to life exclusively through GameTap with his first episodic endeavor, Grimm. The long-time id Software creative turned to Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 3 to tackle his new take on traditional fairy tales, which presents an accelerated production schedule for the game’s 24 episodes. The model requires that McGee’s Shanghai-based development studio, Spicy Horse, go from concept to shippable content in 12 months. In that regard, McGee said that UE3 works ideally because it allows his studio to prototype an innovative game concept, establish a unique art style, and build large amounts of content in a rapid and efficient way.

American McGee's Grimm

“The funny thing is, because of my background with id Software, I always thought of Epic and their technology as ‘the other side,’” said McGee, creative director, Spicy Horse. “In the early days, we’d play around with Epic’s engine just to see how it might have solved problems with tools, interface, etc. I always felt the tools were clunky, but in hindsight, it’s probably no more than what I was used to. Over the years, the change has been phenomenal. The toolset has evolved into a mature, robust, and flexible total solution. These days I feel confident we’re working with the best total solution for our needs.”

McGee’s core team actually explored several engines before settling on UE3, including Valve’s Source engine, the Gamebryo engine and id’s technology. Ultimately, they found that they were able to integrate content and achieve the visual results they wanted faster and easier with UE3.

“This was primarily attributable to the superior reference materials, tutorials, and content pipeline and tools,” explained McGee. “Once our decision was made, attracting other team members with UE3 experience and gaining critical knowledge on our own was easy. Because Grimm is such an experimental game concept, rapid prototyping was essential to proving our new ideas. Being able to quickly build a world from near-final content allowed us to focus on the challenges of implementing original ideas.”

America McGee's Grimm

Although the initial core team of 10 last year had very little experience with UE3 outside of what they gained while doing their evaluation, it had no problem meeting all of the game’s deadlines throughout the development process, even as the team grew to over 35 internal employees, 20 external artists and a handful of people in the U.S. When it came to the UE3 toolset, McGee said they utilized every aspect of the technology to some degree or another.

“And everything was useful,” said McGee. “Because Grimm contains a large amount of narrative cinematic elements, we spent a lot of time editing content inside the FaceFX and Matinee tools. Custom modifications we made often had to do with ‘old-schooling’ something. Take the FaceFX tool for instance; we had to gut it in order to get the sort of simple animated faces we wanted. It’s not easy to get ‘South Park’ style facial animation out of a next-gen game engine!”

GameTap backed McGee’s concept of taking a fresh, fun and funny interactive take on traditional fairy tales, while focusing on the concept of transforming environments from light to dark. McGee said Grimm is a truly episodic “experimental” game, delivered in 24 unique episodes, and is initially targeted at the PC. Since the beginning, McGee has intended Grimm to be for a mainstream casual audience.

American McGee's Grimm

“I’d really like to see people who’ve never played 3D PC games before be able to enjoy the story, visuals, and game mechanic,” said McGee. “To that end, we’ve kept things as simple as possible. Controls are as simple as a single two-button mouse, or you can use standard WASD keyboard controls.”

Gameplay is wrapped around the idea of transforming things from light to dark; wherever the main character Grimm goes, darkness follows. He’s like a dark paintbrush in a cute cartoon world. As he converts the world to dark, his power grows, and as his power grows, he’s able to transform larger objects, move faster, and jump higher. Each episode focuses on a traditional Grimm fairy tale.

“There are standard 3D platform game elements layered on top of the transformation mechanic,” explained McGee. “The end result, we think, is a visually compelling, compulsively addictive play experience with rich story, and a lot of humor. I think we can honestly say there’s nothing else out there like Grimm. It’ll be interesting to see how the world reacts to it!”

American McGee's Grimm

McGee said UE3 provided his team with the ability to go from concept to playable concept in record time – something that the episodic game’s development cycle required. In simplest terms, the model has forced Spicy Horse to break 12 hours worth of game content into 24 smaller games. This means the development cycle for an individual “game” is measured in weeks, not years. Yet despite the accelerated cycle, the team has not had a single crunch time, missed milestone, or even a minor production mishap.

“The development process follows some standard schedule beats like design, concepting, first playable (alpha), beta (content lock), and final, but the whole process is accelerated–each major phase taking no more than six weeks,” said McGee. “The combined process takes 18 weeks for a single episode. Additionally, we have multiple development cycles running in parallel, with content moving from designer to designer, from concept to final. In many ways, it’s a mini model of larger-scale development efforts.”
 
The result of all this is that Spicy Horse will release its first Grimm episode about one year after its first pre-production meeting. Subsequent episodes will be released weekly for eight weeks. The team will then take a short break to make any adjustments to content based on user feedback and suggestions before embarking on the remaining episodes over another eight-week period.

“Episodic content, or whatever it evolves into, will continue to be interesting to us – and to our audience, I hope – for a long time to come,” concluded McGee. “There’s definitely something worthwhile about the process and the result. Grimm is just another step in the evolution of the idea for how to build, distribute, and consume games in an episodic fashion.” 

EA Montreal Enlists Unreal Engine 3 for Army of Two

SAN FRANCISCO–The first game from Electronic Arts' new Montreal Studio, Army of Two, brings the covert operations of today's private military contractors (PMCs) to light. The development team of 80, which included the core team behind Ubisoft Montreal's Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell team, worked closely with PMC Woodie Mister to bring the realism of modern day combat to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Powering this new cooperative shooter is Unreal Engine 3.

"We’ve had a great partnership with Epic over the years," said Army of Two producer Reid Schneider. "We were using Unreal technology when a bunch of us were working on the original Splinter Cell back at Ubisoft, including our animation director, art director, lead level designer, lead programmer and myself. We like that Unreal is battle-tested, and it gives us a good platform from which to jump. We’re not about technology. We’re about building our content on top of it. We’d rather let Epic worry about that and then we can focus on making a great, cool experience for the user with our content layer and creativity."

Army of Two

The key focus for the development team was to make an outstanding cooperative gameplay experience from the ground up. The team harkened back to classic co-op experiences like Contra and Double Dragon.

"We built the best co-op experience that anyone has ever had on a next-gen console," said Schneider. "No one’s really brought that classic co-op experience to next-gen yet. We really want people to feel that with Army of Two. Now that more people are connected with Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, you can have this amazing co-op experience where two people can be in their own living rooms and have a lot of fun playing together."

The game's been designed, both for the campaign and versus modes, to require both teammates to communicate effectively and work cohesively to accomplish the missions. The game takes place in current hot spots like Afghanistan and Iraq. There's even an entire level that takes place on an aircraft carrier.

Army of Two

"Unreal as an engine has always been focused on graphics, and those guys have always done a great job with that," said Schneider. "The fact that artists can create their own shaders and do some really cool things has really opened things up. We’ve seen our artists do some cool things with UE3. Having a shader pipeline is a really popular tool. I think when people see the graphics of Army of Two they’re going to be really impressed. At the end of the day it’s about great gameplay, but great graphics never hurt."

Since Army of Two will ship for both Xbox 360 and PS3, Schneider said the new Unreal technology has enabled them to create a solid gaming experience across platforms.

"Epic has really focused on the multi-platform side of Unreal technology, and I think that’s a good direction for them to go in," said Schneider. "Big publishers are platform agnostic, and it allows game makers to create games across platforms, which is good to see. We had to do a decent amount of work to get the game up to the level we wanted on PS3. Having the Gears source code was great for us."

Like many development studios, EA Montreal has taken the core Unreal toolset and really made it their own in crafting the Army of Two game. One of the reasons Schneider believes they have a hit with this game is because the team, including the engineers and artists, enjoy playing the game over and over again.

Army of Two

"I'm really proud of what the team was able to do with the technology," said Schneider.
"We added tone mapping, high dynamic range lighting, and a bunch of post-processing effects as well. On the rendering and graphics side, we took UE3 and then added a layer on top of that to give Army of Two a distinctive look. We added our own layer of AI and behaviors. You won't see UT or Gears types of behaviors in our AI. We've created that all from the ground up. Our AI is pretty deadly. None of it's scripted. When you play, it's always a different experience. You have to pay attention to them. Going in guns blazing, you're not going to last long with this game."

Gameplay offers a different experience every time one embarks on a mission in a number of ways. In addition to the AI always changing, playing with different co-op teammates also makes each game unique.

"You have a persistent character in the world," said Schneider. "All of the money you earn, and the weapons and armor that you buy, belongs to you. You can play with one guy who hangs back and lets you do all of the advanced combat work and then switch to another guy later who wants to fight right by your side."

With more gamers adopting broadband and playing over Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, Schneider believes new co-op experiences like Army of Two will become the norm. He points to games like Gears of War and Halo 3, which had added cooperative gameplay to standard campaign modes.

Army of Two

"People have played death matches for so long, and now we're at the point where we can create some really compelling cooperative experiences and let people play in a way that they haven't played in a long time," said Schneider. "You don't need to be sitting on top of each other with split screen. We ran Army of Two from EA Singapore to EA Vancouver, and there was no latency. More people will be able to play together worldwide. When you're playing and working together on a game, you're sharing discovery together, and that's more powerful than playing by yourself."

EA Montreal has added its own take on multiplayer with four Versus maps for the game. Two teammates will work together against another pair of soldiers to compete for cash.

Schneider said the team looked to Hollywood when creating Army of Two's original story, which focuses on the relationship between Tyson Rio and Elliot Salem.

"We were really influenced by buddy movies like Bad Boys, the original Lethal Weapon and the recent Miami Vice movie," said Schneider. "In terms of tone, Bad Boys was something we really wanted to bring to the game space. No one has really done that. I hope gamers feel like they’re getting that Bad Boys experience but in the interactive space."

The type of Mature-rated banter that comes from these characters also will likely live on through the actual gamers communicating and playing their way through enemy territory in Army of Two.

Undertow

Undertow features a 15 level campaign for single-player or co-op and two robust multiplayer modes for up to 16 players. While many of the maps have level-specific goals, the core gameplay of Undertow centers on this maxim: Kill as many enemies as you can – and stay alive for as long as possible!

Players select their race (Iron Marine, Nemoidian, or Atlantian) and unit type and are then launched into battle. Each of the three races features four unique, upgradeable unit types ranging in ability from the fast and agile to the large and powerful. Players have the ability to unlock and purchase unit upgrades as they acquire points. Each unit type has three levels of permanent upgrades.

Undertow

Through conquest-style battles, players obtain points by killing enemies, accomplishing team goals, and taking check points. Points and a variety of power-ups can be used to further upgrade unit abilities.

Story Synopsis

An aquatic alien race secretly launches a devastating attack on Earth which melts the polar ice caps. Water covers the planet.

Humanity is all but wiped out by this onslaught, but some of the remaining humans band together to take the planet back from the brink of chaos. Using existing technology, the Iron Marines take to the seas as they struggle to survive in this wet new world.

For over one hundred years, Captain Nemo and his followers have been living peacefully and quietly at the bottom of the ocean, sharing an uneasy truce with the highest officials in the British and American governments. In their secret utopia the Nemoidians have isolated themselves from the world and lived in peace – until now. Nemo is enraged at the disturbance to his oceans.

Undertow

As the ice caps melted, the ancient city of Atlantis began to thaw. Trapped by the last ice age, this mighty civilization disappeared at the height of its power. Now free, the Atlantians will stop at nothing to reclaim the planet they once owned.

Having escaped from their cruel overlords, the fanatic Elect put their hope in the Ark – a massive city-sized space craft that could deliver their dying race to a new world. The fuel supply of the Ark had been nearly depleted when the aliens finally discovered Earth, a planet perfect for transformation into a new, oceanic home for the aliens…

Critically Acclaimed Mass Effect Powered by Unreal Engine 3

One of the most critically acclaimed role-playing games of 2007, Mass Effect, is the latest stellar game from the minds of BioWare. The developer, which was recently acquired by Electronic Arts, has perfected the art of deep story lines and engaging characters in interactive entertainment.

Ray Muzyka, co-founder and CEO of BioWare, said that with Mass Effect, the primary goal of the team was to create the ultimate science fiction experience. While that lofty statement may have crippled lesser developers, BioWare was up for the challenge.

"With Mass Effect, we wanted to create a space adventure that fulfills the inspirational fantasy of exploring the galaxy, with an intense, exciting story," explained Muzyka. "We also wanted to push the cinematic nature of the game, making players feel like they were both the actor and director of an epic movie. To accomplish this, we’ve created some of the most realistic digital actors you’ve ever seen or heard in a game, with a storyline filled with emotionally compelling moments. We’ve used cinematic techniques like dramatic camera angles, depth of field, motion blur, and other types of cinematography, so everything looks and feels like a blockbuster Hollywood movie–but even better, you get to take the role of the leading actor at the center of the experience and also the role of the director!"

Mass Effect

With all of these Hollywood cinematic styles, it's no surprise that BioWare drew inspiration from classic science-fiction movies like Alien, Blade Runner, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Muzyka said these films had a very tangible atmosphere and a serious cinematic tone. But movies weren't the only entertainment medium that influenced the team.

"In terms of games, some of our inspiration goes as far back as Starflight, which created an entire galaxy of procedural planets for players to discover, way back in 1986, as well as Star Control," said Muzyka. "A lot of our team’s excitement about the uncharted worlds in Mass Effect comes from imagining what a freely explorable universe would be like inside a very realistic next-gen game."

To bring this realism to gamers, BioWare turned to Epic's Unreal Engine 3 to bring this massive world to life.

Mass Effect

"Combined with the BioWare story and character technology we created to allow us to create deep, compelling worlds and characters, the Unreal Engine gave us a very strong starting point to create one of the most compelling games on the Xbox 360 and PC," said Muzyka. "Thanks to the hard work of the team, we are extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished with Mass Effect." Mass Effect garnered over 90 awards in 2007, including Game of the Year from the New York Times and RPG of the Year from the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences.

"The Unreal Engine combined with the additional technology BioWare built for the Xbox 360 and PC systems, allows us to deliver highly realistic visuals, digital actors who express emotion like never before and a highly cinematic approach to storytelling," said Muzyka. "We’re really proud of the great teams at BioWare–they’re hardworking and passionate, and it’s an honor to work alongside them all."

Utilizing UE3, BioWare approached the development of Mass Effect for both PC and console by creating a solid core story and design first, making sure it had key elements like compelling teammates, exciting combat, deep exploration, and interesting and fun ways to progress your character. Muzyka said working on next gen consoles and PCs has allowed BioWare to take all those things to the next level.

Mass Effect

"We’ve been able to create some amazing lighting and physics effects that simply weren’t possible in the last generation of technology," said Muzyka. "We were also able to create a very complete Dolby digital sound experience, making Mass Effect a truly premium high-definition experience for your home theatre."

Another thing that next-gen consoles and PCs provide is more memory for animations, allowing characters to physically interact with each other and the environment better than ever before. The characters themselves are truly state of the art as we pushed to deliver realistic facial movements and full lip-synching.

According to Muzyka, all of this adds up to one thing–world class entertainment. Mass Effect is a game world where characters are able to do what they want, see interesting and meaningful results for each of their actions, and affect other characters and the entire galaxy in often tense and always emotionally compelling ways. This is one of the reasons we can’t wait to deliver Mass Effect for PC fans in May.

Mass Effect

"The thing we’re most proud of is our cast of digital actors that we’ve used to bring the level of realism to the next level," said Muzyka. "Incredibly realistic animations and movements, including compelling facial expressions and body language, are all combined with professionally performed dialogue to convince players that each person or creature they encounter is real."

Muzyka has seen a tremendous evolution in digital character growth over the years. He said one of BioWare's biggest achievements has been in the area of creating genuine emotion within its stories.

"BioWare’s earliest games were text-driven and much of the emotion was conveyed through carefully-written dialogue," said Muzyka. "Eventually we were able to add voice, which added a new depth to digital acting because now you could actually hear the emotion in the words. Now we’re at the point where digital actors can now express themselves with physical cues as well: you can get close up to them and see the emotion in their faces and body language. They all move and behave more naturally and realistically than ever before, and this adds up to a feeling of real emotion."

One of the mainstays of any BioWare RPG is deep, engaging story lines. Mass Effect is no exception, as its core story will take dozens of hours to complete without delving into the many side quests.

Mass Effect

"Including all the numerous planets and locations to explore, and all the side quests and missions you can choose to pursue, Mass Effect allows the player to go as deep as they want – completing all of the content in the game would take 40 to 50 or more hours to play through," said Muzyka. "Adding to the depth are multiple unique endings that are directly related to how you play the game. Mass Effect definitely supports players continuing their experience even after they finish Mass Effect on PC and 360–you can restart the game with your high-level existing character, or create a new one with new abilities only possible after you’ve completed a playthrough."

Recently, the team has been customizing the interface for the PC SKU of Mass Effect to ensure that it’s a really great adaptation for PC, as all changes and optimizations were carefully developed building from the original award-winning Mass Effect on Xbox 360.

"Our first downloadable expansion for the 360 version of Mass Effect, Bring Down the Sky, is due out this month and it features a brand new world to explore with combat, quests and exploration–adding up to about 90 to120 minutes of new adventures," said Muzyka, who expects additional expansions to follow for both Xbox 360 and PC.

Unreal Tournament Demo

A demo version of Epic Games’ Unreal Tournament 3 is included with the Unreal Development Kit download. The demo ships with four levels, three weapons, four vehicles and one robot character for your sampling enjoyment. 

The UT3 editor is widely used for learning Unreal Engine technology, and now there is UDK, which gives you all of UT3’s game creation tools in addition to high-level engine features developed since the game’s release.

UT Demo is a great example and starting point for those looking to develop their own first-person shooter experience.

Unreal Tournament Series

Unreal Tournament

The Unreal Tournament series brings to the masses a multiplayer first person shooter that combines the kill-or-be-killed experience of gladiatorial combat with cutting-edge technology. As the ultimate techno-gladiator of the future, players take their fates into their hands, battling against other players online in action-packed, frag-filled arenas.

Unreal Tournament 3 is the third generation of the series, and has been released worldwide for PC and PlayStation 3, as well as the Xbox 360. This version proved to be bigger and badder in every way – introducing new character classes such as the Necris; vehicles such as the alien Darkwalker, the massive Leviathon and the nimble Hoverboard; an enhanced weapons arsenal that includes the Stinger; and the new Warfare gametype. Following Epic's tradition of releasing free bonus content, Epic released the Titan Pack for PC and PlayStation 3. UT 3 is built using the award-winning Unreal Engine 3.

Unreal Tournament

Unreal Tournament 2004 is the second generation in the series, featuring ten game modes – both team-based and every man for himself – providing even the most hardcore gamer with palm-sweating challenges through unbelievably detailed indoor arenas and vast outdoor environments, against challenging AI or up to 32 players online. Standard combat modes were enhanced with large-scale gameplay using vehicles; special moves as double-dodging and wall jumps made players more agile, while Adrenaline enabled short-term boosts; new weapons included the Link Gun and the Ion Cannon; and new gametypes such as Bombing Run, Onslaught and Invasion provided new modes for players to challenge their opponents. UT 2003 and UT 2004 were built using the second generation of Unreal: Unreal Engine 2 and Unreal Engine 2.5, respectively. New technical enhancements included new GUI and AI frameworks, Voice Chat, and server-side demo recording.

Prior to the Unreal Tournament series one game started it all: Unreal. Unreal introduced players to the Unreal Universe and was focused on a single player experience. It also put the Unreal Engine technology on the map as a serious contender in the game engine middleware business – featuring a rich color palette and a modular approach to combining a 3D rendering engine with game-specific components. A critically acclaimed mission pack brought players back to the land of Na Pali; and a sequel later continued the experience on the second generation of Unreal technology.

Unreal Tournament

Unreal Tournament took Unreal to the competitive multiplayer arena, building off of the standard Deathmatch and CTF game play formula used in many first person action games, and bringing new twists on game modes: minor gameplay changes known as mutators and support for new gametypes, such as Assault and Domination. With great gameplay and an amazing graphics engine, it won the undisputed title of Game of the Year in 1999. Epic also started a tradition of releasing add-on content for Unreal Tournament in the form of Bonus Packs, for free!

Of course, the Unreal games have always had strong support for user content, with each game being released with all of the engine tools that Epic used to make the game! Such support has resulted in a mainstream following of modifications and total conversions for the series, spinning off plenty of community-related sites such as Planet Unreal and Beyond Unreal.

Epic also rewarded mod developers for their best efforts by starting the Make Something Unreal contest. Each release has provided new tools along with new game experiences and updated technology, all of which have inspired aspiring game developers to explore opportunities to prove that they, too, can create both add-ons and fresh experiences for the game!

Unreal Engine 3 Brings Airborne to Life

Electronic Arts' Los Angeles studio (EALA) has spent the better part of a decade building the most successful World War II shooter franchise in games. The original Medal of Honor, which was conceived by Steven Spielberg after he had filmed Saving Private Ryan, was released in 1999. The latest game, and first to appear on next-generation platforms Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Medal of Honor Airborne, shipped in 2007. 

During the development of the latest game, which also was released on the PC, EALA decided to switch over to Epic Games' Unreal Engine 3 technology during the development cycle. Mark Dochtermann, technical director, EALA, said that changing technologies proved to be quite challenging.

"Games are a product of a fiction, a design and a technology," said Dochtermann. "Each element shapes the other, and when you suddenly disturb the balance, some aspects of your game may no longer work.  When we decided to use UE3 for Airborne, we knew that we were going to have to reconsider many of our previous assumptions. Fortunately, the game development tools and technology made it very easy for us to first stand up our game and then ultimately re-balance the trio of factors that make a great game. The fact that UE3 is built on a history of excellent first-person shooter technology made it the perfect vessel for our creative vision."

Medal of Honor - Airborne

The latest Medal of Honor game follows each of the key Airborne missions of the Second World War, including Operation Neptune, Operation Husky and Operation Market Garden. The game separates itself from other WWII shooters by giving players the freedom to parachute anywhere they want inside a level. The heavily populated, multi-level environments open up numerous ways to accomplish any given mission. Players can land on a rooftop and snipe Germans below or congregate with paratroopers in the outskirts of town and sneak in. 

"UE3 and the next generation of consoles allowed Airborne to live up to its potential of having a game where you could literally jump out of a plane, land anywhere and engage the enemy as you saw fit," said Dochtermann. "Designing a game around this core concept is very difficult, but the fast iteration time and horsepower of UE3 and next-gen consoles allowed us to realize this design goal."

While developing the game, Dochtermann said the decision to give players an open-ended sandbox to game in shook the foundations of the team's understanding of a first-person shooter experience.

Medal of Honor: Airborne

"Scripting went out the window along with many other traditional linear techniques we have come to rely on over the years," said Dochtermann. "Verticality, in both single and multiplayer, became incredibly relevant, which was a welcome addition to FPS mechanics.  Our designers and artists started thinking about rooftops, towers and every other surface as playable space, instead of the traditional ground and interiors. This really breathed new life into the designs of our levels.  Overall, I think that Airborne is one of the most replayable game experiences you'll come across because it never really does play out exactly the same way two times in a row."

Dochtermann said his proudest achievement with this game was being able to deliver one of the first open FPS experiences gamers have ever seen. He added that accomplishing this was a great collaboration between technology and design.

"Using UE3 certainly opened our eyes to new possibilities and features we were not originally planning on, but we stayed the course and focused on the core of our game," said Dochtermann. "UE3 has laid an excellent foundation for us to explore new areas of the FPS space as it pertains to Medal of Honor moving forward."

Medal of Honor: Airborne

Although the protagonist that players step into the boots of in this game, Boyd Travers, is fictional, the 82nd Airborne, the missions, the towns, the weapons and the Germans are all based on historical research the team has conducted over the years with each new game.

In fact, the game's final level features a German flakturm (flak tower), a heavily fortified fortress that has never been seen in a game before.

"Airborne is almost entirely based on actual Airborne operations that were flown during World War II," said Dochtermann. "We wouldn't have been able to bring these great moments in history to life without having technology like UE3 there to support our efforts. Epic has consistently improved their technology to take advantage of the latest graphics cards, physics libraries and consoles, but most importantly, they have never lost sight of what makes Unreal Technology great: the toolset. Unreal consistently delivers a user-friendly platform upon which developers are able to focus on the most important aspect of video game development–making the game."   

Because the team did make the switch during development, Dochtermann found the Unreal Development Network extremely beneficial during the creation of the WWII shooter.

Medal of Honor - Airborne

"UDN is a great resource for developers to share ideas, report problems and ramp up," said Dochtermann. "During the development of Airborne we benefited greatly from participating in the network and I encouraged my engineers to post fixes and improvements back to UDN whenever possible."

One of the benefits that many developers are finding with UE3 is the cross-console interoperability of the technology. EA creates games for multiple platforms, which requires development studios like EALA to craft the best possible gameplay experience for each target console.

"While the consoles never truly catch up to the PC, they do make great leaps forward in simulation and graphics processing," said Dochtermann. "But the PC is never tied for very long.  UE3 is written to work well with all relevant platforms, but it also always has an eye on the future. For this reason, Unreal Technology will continue to be relevant for the current console cycle and beyond."

EALA has plans to continue its best-selling WWII franchise and with the next game, the team will be starting from the outset with UE3 in place, as well as with new ideas of where to push this technology in the shooter genre.