Mark Rein: Part Two

Epic's ever-vocal VP talks Unreal Engine 3, the future of the PC and that Wii devkit in the second part of our exclusive chat

It's always a pleasure to speak to Mark Rein. The Epic VP lives up to his studio's name in both vision and opinion, never shying away from dropping a few controversial thoughts or letting the world know what he thinks.

His upcoming titles, the eagerly-awaited Gears of War and Unreal Tournament 2007, have already got shooter fans falling over themselves in anticipation, and Unreal Engine 3 has taken the industry by storm with companies like BioWare, EA, and Sony snapping-up Epic's tech to construct their next-gen titles.

In the second part of our recent chat, Rein sways away from his upcoming mega-titles and talks about the games industry as a whole, touching on the raging success of Unreal Engine 3, the future of the PC market and Epic's recently acquired Nintendo Wii dev-kit.

So without further ado, it's over to Mr. Rein...

Are you surprised by the runaway success of Unreal Engine 3?

Mark Rein: No. I know that doesn't sound very humble (laughs). You know, we're a small company; 80 people with three teams; two game teams and an engine team and we have been working on this engine for four years now at least. The goal is to be able to be competitive with the biggest companies with the biggest resources, and build something like Gears of War with a reasonably-sized team without having to have 80 people working on it. To do that we really had to spend a lot of money and a lot of time creating the best tools that we could, creating for ourselves a huge advantage over all of our competitors or all the people who aren't using our technology. Creating ourselves this great advantage by concentrating on tools, by pouring in all the money we made from the last game and all the money we made from engine licensing back into building a great engine.

And most developers can't afford to do that; I mean it's an expensive process. If your job is to ship a game - if that's what you get paid for, nobody pays you to make technology, they pay you to ship something. Publishers' money and publishers' own internal teams are not paid to build cool stuff, they're paid to ship games because that's where their money comes from. So we're fortunate that in being independent and being small and profitable we've been able to re-invest a lot of our profits into creating great tools. It doesn't surprise me that people go 'oh, Epic can make Gears of War with an average team size of 25?!' - I mean, we're probably a little short; that's definitely cutting it close. Then at times the team has grown to 40 people as we've stolen some guys from UT but for the most part the average size of the team has been about 25 or-so. And people look at that and they say: 'how are they doing that? We've got to look at this Unreal Engine technology and see if we can apply it in our shop'. I think that's really what's happened; people have seen that and said 'we could do that, we could benefit from that'.

So it doesn't surprise me that people want to find a way to offset the higher cost of making next-generation content.

A lot of traditionally PC-centric developers are now moving over to console development. Where do you see the PC market going? Is it in decline?

Mark Rein: It's tough. You know my diatribe about Intel integrated graphics and how I think that's hurting the marketplace. I mean, I went to PC World in the UK; I went to PC World and I walked around their shelves and I had my Blackberry out. I wrote myself an email and every time I saw something with integrated graphics I would put an 'I', and every time I saw something with a decent nVidia card I would put an 'N', a decent ATI card I would put an 'A' and I did a count of integrated graphics, which includes ATI's crappy integrated graphics which they sell to intel and Intel sells on, and the point is that 80% of the laptops were integrated graphics. 55% of the desktops - this is at this particular store, and that's an enthusiast store too, it's not just Best Buy like we have in the US; it's a high-end PC store. 55% of desktops were integrated graphics, and some of those weren't upgradeable at all even though they were desktops.

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