Wednesday, April 14, 1999 - 22:17 CDT
Unreal 224 Technologies Revealed

Reported by: David Laprad

Epic Games is close to giving its hit 3D action title a major facelift. Though no specific date could be given, Epic told the Adrenaline Vault the 224 upgrade patch should be available in a matter of days, pending the approval of the development team.

According to Epic vice president Mark Rein, the upcoming version 224 patch will include significant enhancements that anticipate technologies being implemented in the next title in the series, Unreal Tournament. Among these are an in-game server browser that enables users to select game servers via a windows-style graphical user interface without leaving the game environment; the browser pops up over the game in progress. An updated version of GameSpy Lite, the popular game server browser, will also be included with the patch.

Another major enhancement to be included in 224 is continuous level of detail, which varies polygon counts on objects such as player characters and power-ups relative to their distance from the camera, or player's perspective. In Unreal Tournament, this will enable the engine to place more characters and objects on the screen and still maintain a consistent and fluid framerate. Rein said this is an important feature not just for Unreal and Unreal Tournament but also for engine licensees since it also opens the engine to new game types, such as real-time strategy titles, that were not previously obvious choices for the engine.

Some contributors to the company’s message board have protested Epic is using the 224 patch as beta testing for Unreal Tournament, though Rein said the intention all along has been to integrate enhancements to the code base into both the original game and the next title. Rein said existing players will benefit by the new features and improved performance. Some of these changes involve more than transparent technology; some are tangible embellishments to the gameplay. For instance, Rein said one of the features in 224 is an improved Shield Belt. No longer will players be covered by a golden sheath, as has been the case since the original release; rather, the Shield Belt operates as a visible, transparent, glowing shield that envelops players. The color of the glow, such as red or blue, changes according to the team a player is on.

Another welcome improvement in 224 will be the mod installer. Rein said the programmers have implemented their own file format that wraps the elements of Unreal modifications, including levels, sound effects, texture sets, UnrealScript code and so on, into one compressed file. Upon download, the installer unloads and places the files in their proper directory, removing some of the complications of installing mods. In Unreal Tournament, the ease of installing mods is increased even further; mods will be added right into the menu structure, permitting players to launch installed mods with a single tap of the mouse.

Other 224 amendments include lighting optimizations, improved OpenGL code and numerous fixes. The patch is being tested internally at Epic, with a release set sooner than later, though not until the team has signed off on its quality and stability. This is the first major upgrade since version 220. Rein said because of the many features shipping for the first time, the patch release will be watched closely for problems; if any emerge, Epic expects a fast turnaround on a subsequent patch.

In other Epic news, a demo of Unreal Tournament will be released prior to the game shipping. Rein promised it will be a complete demo and not a technology test. He is, however, hesitant to apply a release date to the demo and the final retail version, stating anticipations that the game will ship in two months are not set in stone. When questioned about the long-delayed demo for the original game, Rein claimed the company has not abandoned it but does not have a current plan regarding its release.

Rein echoed programmer Tim Sweeney’s comments earlier today that 3dfx's Voodoo3 is a choice graphics platform for the upcoming game, stating its speed is second-to-none. He also expressed hope that 3D hardware manufacturers will start switching to more texture-intense games such as Unreal and Unreal Tournament for gauging relative performance between their cards and others.

When questioned about 32-bit versus 16-bit color, he said Unreal texture and lighting is mixed internally at 32 bits, so minimal visual quality is lost on 16-bit cards, such as the Voodoo3. Because of this, Rein said when users are playing Unreal Tournament at a fast and furious pace or strolling more leisurely through the detailed world in Unreal, they should not notice the difference between 16-bit and 32-bit color. Rein felt users are more prone to appreciate improvements in framerates and smoothness than color depths.

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