Interviews

Unreal Tournament III

Interview: Epic steps out of character

Epic's Unreal Tournament games have always been well populated with playable characters attached to teams/factions within the universe, and the likes of Malcolm have become icons for the series. The latest, Unreal Tournament III, is no different with six teams and potentially 24 characters lining up to be 'possessed' by players when it launches in November.

But what inspires the game's character designs? What does Unreal Engine 3.0 mean to Epic's character artists and will we truly be able to appreciate the level of detail given to models as we zip around blowing each other to kingdom come?

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We put this and more to Epic character artist Chris Wells...

What defines an Unreal Tournament character?

Chris Wells: In Unreal Tournament, and especially in Unreal Tournament III, we've broken the character roster up into teams and unified the styles within those teams. So the Necris are more defined by the nano suits and heavy armour and the Krall really more makeshift armour with skulls and the leather straps and everything - much more of a savage look.

There's really wildly different aesthetics per team, and we try to have something for everyone.

What extra considerations have to be brought to the character design in a game like Unreal Tournament III as opposed to a game like Gears of War?

Wells: In Unreal Tournament III we have a feature where you can customise your character, so when the player selects a character they can change the shoulder pads, the boots, the torso, the legs and also any additional parts - for example, helmets.

What external factors influence your character design?

Wells: I like to look at other cultures when I'm working on a character. For example, in Unreal Tournament III Akasha... what I wanted to go for with her character was a more of a Mediterranean/North African feel where she has henna all over her face, and some of the ornaments she has on here armour are indicative of that culture.

Other ones, like the Ronin, tend to take from more oriental styling. In general, the Necris also have a more... I don't want to use the term 'Borg', but there's the real feeling of it being a power-suit, a suit that's powered by pipes and so forth.

Unreal Engine 3.0 - a blessing or a curse for your imagination and creative flair when it comes to character design?

Wells: For me the biggest challenge is really what I can think of. There's so many options open to how you want to make the character and how he'll look finally that it's really limited by your imagination. It took a while to arrive at certain looks for certain characters. But when it's all done and worked out, it's really rewarding.

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What's the difference in level detail of characters between UT 2004 and Unreal Tournament III?

Wells: It's pretty big. That's one of the things we wanted to push. With each character, each environment and each weapon you want to show what the technology can do, right?

Is the high level of detail necessary in a fast-paced multiplayer environment? Are people really going to stop and appreciate the work that you've done?

Wells: You can always see the character in the character selection screen. And you can also see it in cinematics as well as... screenshots or what have you.

But you'd be surprised. You do notice a lot of the detail when you're playing the game, and the game's tuned just to the right speed where it's not completely overwhelming but still feels fast-paced. You definitely notice it.

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