Comdex. Unreal was there....and the info follows.
  Unreal at Fall Comdex 98 - by Mark Rein, VP, Epic MegaGames
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Over 200,000 computer users descended on Las Vegas this week for the 19th annual Fall Comdex and Unreal was there to greet them in a lot of cool ways. Fall Comdex is the largest computer show in the world and several major Independent Hardware Vendors (IHVs) used Unreal to showcase the capabilities of their products. In addition S3, Microsoft and Creative Labs gave users a look into the future of 3D graphics using technology available now or soon to be available to licensees of the Unreal Engine. Comdex was an excellent venue to show off the fact that even after the release of  Unreal, we're still incorporating key future technologies into the engine for both our future use and for licensees. Throughout 1999 you'll see several more key technologies incorporated into the Unreal Engine but let's now take a look at just some of the ways Unreal was shown at this year's Fall Comdex:

Unreal on the Mac - click for larger image.

Unreal on the Mac in the 3DFX booth

In their show-floor booth, 3DFX showed Unreal running on a Macintosh with a VoodooII card. Unreal runs GREAT on the Mac, especially with a 3DFX card! However, the big news for 3DFX wasn't on the show floor but in their private suite at the Mirage hotel where 3DFX was showing Unreal running on the amazing new Voodoo3 (yes, THREE) and it was sweet. 1024x768 smooth as a baby's bottom. 3DFX wasn't the only place showing Unreal - STB was also showing Unreal in their meeting room just off the show floor.

ATI 128 - click for larger image

ATI chose to compare Unreal's
excellent ATI Rage 128 performance to other cards

ATI has a brand new product line based on a chip they call the Rage 128 and this newcomer gave a VERY impressive showing. ATI not only showed Unreal on their new Rage 128 but, for comparison purposes, also showed Unreal on a few competitors' card as well! They set up several equally-configured computers running Unreal under D3D at 800x600 and here's how they performed according to the sign on the ATI booth: ATI Rage 128: 35fps, nVidia Riva TNT: 30 fps, 3Dfx Voodoo Banshee: 29fps, S3 Savage 3D: 20fps and Matrox G200: 17fps. ATI is the world leader in computer graphics so we're obviously thrilled to have Unreal perform so well on their latest and best-ever 3D chipset. ATI's rock-solid Unreal performance on the new card shows that they tested extensively with Unreal while writing their D3D drivers.  This is good because Unreal pushes 3D cards as hard as they can be pushed and testing with it is an excellent way to make sure a new 3D card is up to the challenge of the next-generation in 3D game engines. Since the release of Unreal, many major 3D manufacturers like ATI (the leader!) are now making a huge effort to make sure their Unreal performance is rock solid BEFORE they ship their products. This is important for both Unreal customers and for companies that license the Unreal Engine. Way to go ATI!!!

The Unreal sound line - click for larger image

Yes, all these people are lined up to hear the difference
Unreal makes with the Soundblaster Live!

Creative Labs had a 1-2 Unreal punch in the categories of sight and sound. Creative have licensed the Unreal Engine from us and have been doing some research in the area of both sound and graphics. They've already implemented a fantastic real-time creature shadowing technique using the Riva TNT's stencil-buffer capabilities. These aren't just projections of a creature's polygons on the floor - these are REAL shadows generated in real-time on floors, walls, stairs, columns, through holes, etc. As creatures move around light sources or light sources move around creatures, the shadows move realistically in real-time. The arms of a creature and the weapons they're carrying even cast shadows on the creatures themselves. The effect this creates just has to been seen to be believed. Seeing a creature's shadow appear around a corner before the creature itself is visible is an eerie and extremely satisfying effect. This is the future of computer gaming realism and it will be available to Unreal Engine licensees.

\Creative TNT - click for larger image

Creative Labs shows off an exciting addition they've made to Unreal,
real-time shadows on their TNT product

awesome shadows - click for larger image awesome shadows - click for larger image awesome shadows - click for larger image awesome shadows - click for larger image
Real-time shadows on Creative Labs TNT Blaster Carrying a searchlight can produce some interesting shadows! Notice how the shadow interacts properly with the stairs and the wall More shadow effects

Microsoft also had a sound-related Unreal display. Microsoft and Yamaha teamed up to show Unreal's hot new DirectMusic support in Microsoft's IHV suite at the Mirage. We've received a lot of good reviews where Unreal's music is concerned and the DirectMusic support in Unreal will be no exception. Carlo and Alex have done a wonderful job with the programming and content to make DirectMusic sound fantastic. DM will be a really important technology in the future because all of the major sound hardware manufacturers seem to be ready to commit to hardware-accelerated DirectMusic which takes a lot of burden off the CPU. Yamaha is already onboard with acceleration for DM - we did a joint announcement with Yamaha and Microsoft that should be out any time now - but look for other announcements soon. This feature will be available very soon for Unreal Engine licensees to incorporate into their game titles.

S3 Booth - click for larger image

S3 uses Unreal to show off their amazing S3TC
(S3 texture compression)

Egypt level - click for larger version Movie shot - click for larger image
Screen shot of an Egyptian-theme level An S3TC scene running in Unreal showing high-resolution 24-bit textures - the scenes on the wall, in the middle of the room and on the panel at the right are all animating! 24-bit animating high-res textures!
Egypt - close shot - click for larger image Movie shot - close-up - click for larger image
An Unreal screen shot (actual sized but cropped and converted to JPEG to download faster) from close to the wall of the Egyptian-themed level. Let me say this again: THIS IS A SCREEN SHOT! A cropped section of an 800x600 screen shot of one of the S3TC 24-bit animating textures - look how smooth and colorful it is! You should see this at 1024x768 full screen! WOW!

S3 used Comdex to, among other things, show off their amazing S3 Texture Compression (S3TC). S3TC is a method for compressing 24-bit (16.7 million color)textures. Unreal normally uses 8-bit (256 color) textures but with S3TC not only can we take advantage of the higher color depth of 24-bit but we can also use MUCH larger textures as well. This provides for striking realism and it doesn't cost anything in terms of performance. Without hardware texture compression it is completely impractical to use 24-bit textures in a game like Unreal because we already push high numbers of relatively large textures through the video card. Even if video cards had 64Mb of memory to hold our current-sized textures at a 24-bit color depth, the time to load them off the hard drive or CD would be prohibitive to having a great game experience. S3TC solves all that by making like-sized 24-bit textures SIGNIFICANTLY SMALLER than our current 8-bit textures! That means more can fit into memory if we use the current size but more importantly it opens the door to using even larger textures, with no additional overhead and decent loading speed. This will provide for MUCH more detailed scenes than are possible without S3TC. We're pushing every graphics hardware manufacturer we speak with to support S3TC as soon as possible. S3 showed a long list of games that will be supporting S3TC this coming year including our very next product (still secret, sorry, check back in a few weeks!) and id Software's QuakeIIIArena. The visual difference between scenes with S3TC and scenes without S3TC should convince any customer out there that S3TC needs to be a feature of their future graphics card purchases! This is another key part of the future of computer games and it's already available to Unreal Engine licensees to incorporate in their games today.

STB TNT - click for larger version

STB demonstrates Unreal on their
Blackmagic 3D Voodoo2-based card


Thumbs up! - click for larger image

Kevin Schuh of Nvidia gives Unreal the thumbs-up sign perhaps signaling that the nVidia TNT D3D driver problems that cause Unreal to run strangely with TNT will soon be a thing of the past! The TNT running in the Creative Labs booth seemed to be very smooth so perhaps they're running the newest (but alas, unreleased) TNT driver that apparently solves some of the problems their previous drivers had. With ATI Rage 128, Voodoo Banshee, Matrox and Savage 3D's performance being rock-solid under D3D there's certainly hope the TNT will be that soon too.

If you saw Monday's The Screen Savers TV show on ZDTV broadcasting live from Comdex you noticed co-host Kate Botello wandering the show floor pointing out some of the most interesting displays. Kate surprised co-host Leo Laporte and Unreal fans when she had her camera man show the 4 large monitors running Unreal at the front entrance to the ATI booth. Unreal has been the topic of many discussions on The Screen Savers and if you watch the show closely just look in the background and you'll almost always be able to notice Unreal's opening fly-by operating on at least one computer in the studio. I got to meet Kate and Leo and get an autographed picture from them which was a big thrill for me because I'm a huge fan of the show - they told me they're huge fans of Unreal as well and we talked about doing something fun with Unreal on their show soon (can't say what but keep watching ZDTV!). ZDTV is available on many cable systems throughout the USA as well as on DirecTV channel 273.

It's Kate and Leo! - click for larger image

The fabulous hosts of ZDTV's highly popular show The Screen Savers, Kate Botello (2nd from left) and Leo Laporte (beside her in the Unreal hat) just love Unreal and here they're posing with a few of their fans.

Well my feet are about as tired as they can be and I've got to jet off to meetings in Los Angeles. There are so many exciting things going on right now with Unreal and I'm just bursting to tell you all of them. Keep watching for information about the 220 update (TONS of new and improved stuff you can read about at ) and we'll be announcing some very exciting new Unreal Engine licensees soon too. I'm most excited about the 220 update (featuring all new kickbutt weapons sound effects by the sound experts at Sonic Mayhem) and the fact that we're going to be releasing several new (free!) Deathmatch maps for Unreal loyalists between now and Christmas.

It's really been one of those Unreal weeks!

Mark Rein,
Vice President,
Epic MegaGames


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