A trip to Epic wouldn’t be complete without photo documentation. That’s why, in addition to our notebooks and concealed weapons, Team Humidor brought along Creative Director Jon Hayter and his camera. Together, we think we captured the essence of Epic in pictures. Their “verve,” if you will.

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Epic’s offices are just outside of Raleigh, North Carolina (and a few miles down the road from The Escapist) in the town of Cary. The 30,000 square foot building houses Epic’s offices, studio space and a state-of-the-art “mo-cap” arena. The company employs 104 people, and is hinting at having to expand … again.

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Cliff Blezinski shows off his Lynx. We asked him if he’d ever consider “going retro” and developing a game for one of the early handhelds. His reply: “Um, no.” Bleszinski’s work area is like a toy store on crack. From Shogun Warriors to Optimus Prime to the plush Companion Cube, his collection puts even the nerdiest of nerd core fanatics to shame.

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Concept art adorns one of many such walls at Epic. It helps to remind the developers what they’re working on. It’s also classier than Bob Ross reprints.

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We happened to catch this artist in his natural habitat, meeting with other such creative types. We asked what game they were working on, and what that spidery-looking thing might be. They said they’d tell us, but they’d probably have to kill us. With a banana.

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The walls of Epic’s studio are adorned with art and memorabilia celebrating the company’s 17 year history. Displays like this one, a full wall covered with the company’s accumulated magazine covers, make the studio feel like the palace of a celebrated hero. Which is, perhaps, appropriate.

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This room is called the fishbowl, for obvious reasons. It’s currently serving as a conference room, complete with whiteboard and sticky-notes.

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This is Epic’s state-of-the-art motion capture or “mo-cap” stage. Here, actors in specially designed full-body suits, play out the scenes scripted for the in-game cutscenes, and some of the character animations you control on screen. The room can also be used for other functions. Epic’s recent Gears of War 2 multiplayer playtest was hosted here. Journalists from around the world, including our own Jordan Deam, got hands-on time with the latest build of the multiplayer game. Jordan says the game itself was very exciting, but the most memorable part of the event: “All the sandwiches.”

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You may not think of Epic, the studio behind Unreal and Gears of War as a family company, but quality of life is of paramount concern at this little studio made big. The company has “core hours” in the afternoon, from around 1pm to 5pm, during which everyone is expected to be available for meetings or other joint work activities. Beyond that, employees are largely left to their own devices. We asked Cliff Bleszinski what he thought about game companies that ask their employees to work 9 – 5, 40-hour weeks. “I wish them luck with that,” he said.

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In case you’re wondering what these guys are smiling about, remember they’ve been playing Gears of War 2 for months now. When you’re standing in line at Gamestop to get your midnight copy in November, remember these guys. Epic hopes you’ll be smiling like they are.

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Epic’s fully-stocked kitchen features a fridge full of Hot Pockets, a soda fountain, multiple refrigerators full of soft drinks and juice and the usual assortment of coffee and oatmeal. There’s also a pool table. Presumably so you can play while your Hot Pockets heat up.

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Epic’s pantry is stocked as if they’re expecting the zombiepocalypse every day. Every snack imaginable is to be had here. It’s truly as if they expect their employees never to leave. Which can be a good or bad thing, depending. It probably takes the sting out of 80 hour crunch weeks having plenty of Pop Tarts on hand.

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Judging from this trophy case alone, 2006 was quite the year for Epic. Garnering a bevy of “Game of the Year” trophies and a full suite of awards from the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, Gears of War cleaned up the year of its release. Epic is hoping for a repeat this time around with Gears of War 2, but they’ll probably have to buy a new case.

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