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.