What does Unreal teach other developers and publishers about the industry? And what does it tell consumers about how the best games are created? Ron Chaimowitz sums it up by stating, "Unreal represents the vitality, creativity, technology, and excitement that has always been the hallmark of the games industry. That it creates a new standard in a genre thought to reach its peak proves that there is room for innovation. It also shows that creative talent must have creative freedom to be successful - we are only interested in making great games."
But you have to wonder: How can a small developer-owned company like Epic outdo the efforts of multimillion dollar publishers? Sweeney thinks the answer lies in the shareware marketing model pioneered by Apogee's Scott Miller and perfected by id Software. "What id, 3D Realms, and Epic all have in common is that our roots are in shareware. We all started out as a bunch of poor programmers putting out free demos, asking our customers to call 800 numbers to buy more episodes of games. With that business model, you absolutely must make a great game. We can't put a crappy game in a beautiful box and sell lots of copies. Selling through shareware forces you to be honest." Although Unreal was initially released in retail, Epic still fully intends to have shareware releases for its future products.
He's right. Yes, Unreal was late - but it was groundbreaking, and Epic, the little company that wrote shareware games such as Jill of the Jungle and ZZT, has hit the PC gaming jackpot big time.
The Mariachi band is now silent; The Digital Extremes offices are empty. The mountain of dew has been dismantled, and the final CDs have been pressed. But the vision and passion of the team that created Unreal carries on. Four years of the team member's lives were devoted to what started out as one player controlling a bunch of lines onscreen. These simple onscreen lines blossomed into an opulent 3D world that is only starting to be explored and mined. Just as the designers envisioned creating a universe of self-discovery and revelation, many facets and quirks of Unreal have yet to be explored. To quote a line from a recent movie, "We accept the reality of that which we are given." Maybe before Unreal we did. But now, we know there are new realities to create - new realms, new worlds, and new secrets. It's your playground.
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