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Unreal interview with Unreal person? Plus Unreal competition? Epic!

Yesterday, at the De Vere West One conference centre in central London, the folks from Epic ran a single day, game development training session called Unreal University. KitGuru was on hand to chat with the Unreal people about Unreal subjects. Unreal!

While senior technical artist and designer Alan Williard helped himself to coffee, KitGuru sat down with Unreal PR guru, Dana Cowley and Unreal licensing guru Mike Gamble.

“Unreal University is a great way for us to reach out to the next generation of developers”, explained Mike. “We are definitely going to do more events in the future”. Good to hear.

Working at Epic seems to produce very happy people. Here, in the coffee bar on Unreal University day, you can see Mike Gamble and Dana Cowley trying out their new-found status as notepad-autographing-rock-gods

“You can see people come alive when they understand that our tools will allow them to develop levels quickly and easily”, he said.

Dana gave an interesting observation, “Although, primarily, we’re aiming these Unreal University sessions at people who are relatively new to game development with the Unreal Development Kit (UDK), we’ve also seen experienced game developers gain genuine insight about the product. They have come away with new ideas and techniques that will really help them build commercially successful products”.

KitGuru likes the idea that game developers can actually get paid for their work – to make a living within this tough industry. How much can UDK help?

“UDK provides a complete multi-platform engine”, says Dana. “It has full support for PhysX and a free version of Autodesk Scaleform. Everything you need to deliver commercially successful games into every market”.

We asked Mike about Android. He smiles and there is a slight eye-roll, “Well, we do support Android for specific customers, for specific situations”, he said. “But the challenge is a lot more difficult than with any other environment”.

“Not only do Android versions change very rapidly, but it is so flexible as a platform that you cannot be certain what the basic underlying hardware performance level is”, said Mike.

Interesting stuff. We asked Mike to explain further, “Right now, it’s like the wild west out there with mobile devices. So many hardware configurations and each new product brings a huge increase in performance and features”.

“It reminds you of the early days of DirectX, from the first time it started to make an appearance in the market, around DirectX 5, to the time it started to be genuinely useful, around DirectX 7. By the time you get to DirectX 9, it’s sufficiently useful and robust, that the rest of the updates which follow are enhancements”, he explained. “The same with hardware development in those days. Each new graphic card brought a giant leap forward and that’s what we’re seeing with the mobile market now”.

“But the rate of development is much faster. Really quick. The development of hardware and software that took place over 10 years with PCs and graphic cards, is taking just two or three years with mobile platforms”.

And the different flavours of Android?

“I guess that’s more like the various flavours of Open GL that we had in the late 1990s”, said Mike. “Eventually, you end up with a solid target, that everyone understands and can see clearly, but at the start it’s very fluid”.

The mobile gaming future? “By the end of 2013, the hardware and software will have developed so far, that the realistic drawbacks of gaming on a mobile platform will have, effectively, been removed. People are updating their phones every 6-18 months, so we know that within 2 years, everyone will have serious kit in their pockets”.

The Unreal Development Kit makes it easy to model Zardon in the morning, before his first coffee

Dana studied to be a journalist originally, but is really happy to have landed a key role within an organisation like Epic. It’s clear that she really believes in the product and the company. We asked her about the commercial model Epic offers.

“Anyone over 18 can get up and running with the Unreal Development Kit, free of charge”, she said. “It’s only when you start to distribute your work commercially that you need to pay an initial fee of $99”. That sounds more than fair – and a perfect way to encourage a wide range of talent into the game development market.

The model extends out from there, as Mike explained, “Once you have a successful game on your hands, and you hit $50,000 revenue on it, then a 25% licence fee kicks in”.

“For applications that are sold through an app store, like Apple’s, it’s important to note that Epic only bills 25% of the money going to the developer – not 25% of the total”, said Mike.

KitGuru worked out the maths. If you have a game on an app store for $10, then Apple will want 30% or $3. Epic will only invoice you for 25% of the $7 you actually get from Apple. So, in this situation, Apple will end up with $3 for providing the customer, Epic with $1.75 for giving you the complete eco-system to develop the game and the developer will pocket $5.25.

We ask Mike how popular these Unreal University sessions were. With a smile, he replied, “We sold out faster than a Led Zeppelin concert!”.

“It is one day’s worth of intense, highly-focused content”, he said. “Perfect for any budding game developer – and it’s 100% free of charge. You bet we sold out quick”.

Even though Unreal University has been such a hit, Mike’s very certain about what Epic is, “We’re a game company. That’s our focus. As we produce each new generation of game, we improve our tools. Those tools are then formalised into the UDK and made available to anyone who needs them”.

Without looking at Epic specifically, what kind of changes in the market does Mike think would have an impact?

“Google developing a hardware abstraction level would be nice”, with a smile that tells you he does not think it will happen.

Parting thought from Mike? “No one can expect to get the perfect game, right first time. What the UDK provides is a way for developers to rapidly prototype ideas – to churn through the things that won’t work – to the things that will, and then to ensure they are a commercial success by only charging for our products when the developer can afford to pay”.

Perfect. We look forward to seeing the next Gears of War in a couple of months – to see just how much it’s moved forward with these new tools.

While Dana grew up wanting to impact the world as a journalist, she is now helping journalists across the globe to carry news of a new, Unreal, world.

Mike wanted to be a pilot and fly supersonic jets against the enemy. His actual path through life has helped provide the wings of development freedom to a huge army of developers that create nothing more harmful than a virtual world of entertainment.

Interesting the way things turn out.

As the day drew to a close, fast-moving Multiplay figures swept through the room - disappearing 100 Core i7 PCs in under 2 hours

KitGuru says: We have some Unreal pens and Unreal pads signed by Unreal people to give away as a competition prize. Please email competitions at kitguru.net with the subject UNREAL for a chance to win these collector’s items.

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