DICE 2008: Epic on the Hot Seat

Russ Pitts | 11 Feb 2008 16:45
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Capps opened by saying he'd promised Joe Olin, the president of the AIAS, he wouldn't spend his entire time trying to sell Unreal technology. He then proceeded to spend his entire time selling the Unreal technology.

"I want to give a shout out to Mass Effect, BioShock and all the games who used our tech to do great things at the awards last night," he said. BioShock won four awards, and Mass Effect brought home RPG of the year.

Capps went on to debunk the suggestion that in-house technology is easier to implement than licensed middleware, pointing to the fact that most in-house tech isn't developed from scratch, rather cobbled together from pre-existing technology. But the reason to license middleware isn't just for the cost savings. It's about testing, stability and the "ooh" factor.

"Reading code is four times as hard as writing it, and we all know that," he said. "But the artists look at those tools [in licensed middleware] and go 'oooh!' And that's how I sell middleware."

It's also, according to Capps, about documentation. He says with internal tech, the long lead time between establishing technology and shipping the game isn't spent on writing documentation. It's spent on adding new features or tweaking the existing ones, all of which add more complexity, not less, increasing the need for the documentation that isn't being written. Not so with middleware.

But wait, there's more. Epic has a team of engineers from Nvidia "who do nothing all day but make Unreal faster. They're not going to come and optimize your in-house tech."

But the truth about middleware, as with all things, probably lies somewhere in the middle. Which is why Ubisoft Montreal's CEO, Yannis Mallat, fresh off a plane from Europe, imaginary cigarette dangling precariously from one corner of his mouth, had the last word.

"Our [technicians] say 'We need to restructure the engine.' I say 'You need to restructure the engine?' They say 'Yes.' I say 'Tsk. I don't think so.'"

Mallat opened with an interminably long clip from the Disney movie Bambi, set to some excruciatingly sweet pop music. The idea, according to Mallat, was to demonstrate that emotion is more powerful than technology. The film was grainy, small and old. But the emotion remained intact.

"Emotion sells," he said. "Technology does not. Our best bet is to innovate and create emotion for the players. Technology is important indeed, but technology's main role is to serve our creative talent."

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