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30 great developers: Epic Games

The studio whose technology defined a generation

Take a look at the last great RPG or FPS you played. Chances are, it was powered by the Unreal Engine, arguably Epic Games's most influential contribution to the video games medium.

But beyond the software it licenses out to other developers for the best Triple-A titles you're likely to play this year, Epic Games happens to be the studio behind some of the biggest games on this generation of console.

Shadow Complex, Bulletstorm, Unreal Tournament and, of course, the Gears Of War games have all been created at Epic's HQ in the sleepy town of Cary, North Carolina - probably the last place on earth you'd ever expect to find a chainsaw bayonet.

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OVERVIEW

FOUNDED: Rockville Maryland, USA
YEAR: 1991.
Killer Quote: "We're the new rock and roll, the new Elvis, the new Dungeons and Dragons, the new moving pictures." - Cliff Bleszinski

KEY PEOPLE

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Tim Sweeney

Tim Sweeney is the founder of Epic Games and the think tank behind the unstoppable Unreal Engine.

Sweeney first established Epic as a shareware company while studying mechanical engineering at the University of Maryland, developing games from his parents' basement where he lived.

Epic's first game was DOS title ZZT which fuelled the company's early growth before the eventual superstar arrival of Unreal in 1998.

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Cliff Bleszinski

Probably the closest thing the Western gaming industry has to a bona fide rock star, Epic's design director is the public face both for the studio and the Gears Of War franchise.

Bleszinski has been developing games as far back as 1991; his first outing was The Palace Of Deceit: Dragon's Plight on the PC. It's been quite a lengthy path from there to the steroid-amped marines of Gears Of War, with notable projects like Jazz Jackrabbit and Unreal Tournament featuring in his 20 year career in the business.

One of the more outspoken developers in the industry, Cliffy B is as famous for his prickly profile in the media as he is for the visceral games his studio pumps out. He's also not above taking the odd journalist to task if he feels a quote of his has been taken out of context.

"I would prefer to be loved or hated than ignored," he says. "This is an insurance policy. If [I was sacked] tomorrow, I could probably go to a lot of studios and get a job or a deal or a really sweet gig. People know who the hell I am, because I wasn't afraid to put myself out there."

3 EPIC GAMES WE LOVE

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Unreal Tournament

Before Marcus Fenix was even a glint in Cliff Bleszinski's eye, there was Unreal Tournament, the arena FPS where bagging kills was the order of the day. There was no story here, really, just a series of maps and match-types in which players fragged each other or bots, whose difficulty setting could be toggled from laughably easy to eye-wateringly hard.

Unreal Tournament wasn't what you'd call groundbreaking - after all, the online deathmatch had been pioneered by id Software with Quake several years earlier. But while Epic weren't the first guests at the party, they were certainly the most flash and Unreal Tournament garnered praise and plaudits for its balanced combat and superb graphics.

Shadow Complex

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In 2009 Epic and Chair Entertainment released Shadow Complex, a polished and addictive take on the classic 2-D side-scrolling adventure. It's the tale a spelunking trip that goes horribly wrong, and a hip young protagonist finds himself having venture into a military bunker beneath the ground to find his kidnapped girlfriend.

While the set up sounds pretty standard for a 2-D game (Mario? Anyone?) Shadow Complex's storyline dovetails into the plot of the dystopian world presented in Orson Scott Card's Empire novel. What begins as a 'save-the-girl' plot soon mushrooms into a compelling story about an attempted military coup of the United States.

Oh, there's some rather decent gameplay to back it all up, too. Players are required to jump, batter and blast their way through Shadow Complex's multiple levels, with the action switching from 2-D to 3-D occasionally. The level of detail in the environments is exhaustive and the sense of immersion is amazing.

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