Sunday, April 5

The oft maligned Unreal Engine

I was reading an article about the possible cancellation of the Stargate Worlds MMO, which has been in dire financial straits since the end of last year. And there it was, the inevitable "I don't know the first thing about software development, Engines or project management, but I say the fault is that they're using the Unreal Engine which is obviously not good for anything other than FPS games", except they leave out the bit where they explain they're totally unqualified to make such a statement.

Even without being a software engineer yourself, without having been on the inside and seen the myriad of ways an MMO project can and will fail without it being the fault of a licensed bit of proven middleware technology, it should be possible for people to see the stupidty of blithely blaming said piece of middleware.

Let's start with statistics:
MMO's using the the Unreal 2 or 3 engine:
And yet-to-be-launched MMO projects: That's 8 succesfully launched MMO's made with the Unreal Engine and at least two of the three forthcoming launches will see the light of day I'm sure (the latter two). I don't know much about Mortal Online and Huxley is well, Huxley. SGW is the game that probably won't see the light of day. All because Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment chose the Unreal Engine accoriding to mister 'X'.
But remember, for each MMO project that sees launch there's nine others that don't. That's 72 MMO's not using the Unreal Engine and failed. Statisticly speaking you have a better chance at launching using the Unreal Engine than if you built your own from scratch. And there's a reason for that; Not using middleware, als known as trying to re-invent all the wheels on uour cart, is a much higher risk than making use of a licensed engine, or two.

Besides the Hero Engine (this site is worth a visit) by Simultronics there still isn't all that much in the way of middleware available for the MMO market. Until very recently, 2006/2007, there really wasn't all that much middleware to make use of. The only engine you could license for it and which was halfway useful would have to be an FPS engine. What an MMO needs and an FPS game need form a rendering engien is pretty much the same. Textures, skeletons & wireframes, animation pathing, lighting and particles. The 'Boom! Headshot' stuff isn't actually the engine. That's game-logic, Something else entirely. After Epic realized that their Unreal Engine 2 was infact pretty darn suitable for MMO's and RPGs they designed Unreal Engine 3 with that in mind and expanded their services to suit those types of games.

But some of the above mentioned MMO's didn't do well and that could possibly be laid at the Engine's door?

Vanguard doesn't do all that well on an engine level, there's no denying that. The fact that some devs swore not to have a single line of Epic code left by launch and saddly succeeded may have had more to do with that than the choice of Engine. Vanguard's road to laucnh would make a great book on how not to run a project. In fact you can blame everything except Epic for this one, given the lack of a single line of Epic made code in the finished product.
Fury was out for less than 10 months. Was this due to the engine? Tabula Rasa wasn't made with the Unreal Engine and it suffered a similar fate. Very similar in fact. In both instances the basic gameplay didn't appeal to enough people. Maybe the one needed more PvE elements and the other more PvP? In both cases it wasn't the 3D graphics that were at fault.

The Chronicles of Spellborn is doing iffy but without stretching my NDA too much let me just say that there were more similarities between the development cycle of Vanguard and TCoS then just the engine they used.

You see the Unreal Engine is provided as is, fully documented and all. Additional tooling can be gotten as well. There's online forum support and additional support contracts that may be gotten. Everything has a price of course. It's a know quantity in your project. Something a project manager will kill for. Or at least sleep with your mother in law with for. Time not needed to re-invent the wheel, I mean make a graphics engine half as good as Epic's, is time you can spend on making your game mechanics more fun than Fury and Tabula Rasa's.
In this day and age, you'd be stupid not to use middleware like the Unreal Engine or the Hero Engine and several other kits, like networking / communications / market & financial systems because you reduce risk immensely as well as development time. Since we're talking 10-50 Milion dollar investments and you just can't know if your team can built their own engine from scratch before the money runs out.
Heroe Engine tries to be an all-in-one solution. I.e. it does tons more for you than the Unreal Engine does. As such it has a much greater impact on your project than Unreal Engine would.

But looking at the entire list of games using the Unreal Engines, you'd think it is actually possible to make a decent game using the engine since so many other outfits managed to do so and propser. Note that only about half of those games are actually FPS games. One could almost say that anyone blithely blaming the Unreal Engine for a failed MMO project without very substantial evidence is actually talking out of his bony arse.

Ach, it's simple scape-goating by the Interweb Citizen. No-one expects other people to talk sense anymore, do they? I mean, you're anonymous, there's no requirement to make sense.


  1. *grin* somebody hit a bad nerve there? I don't think any game has ever failed because of the tools they used. Hell, this doesn't even apply to games alone. You can't blaim the saw for cutting the wood 2 cm short.

    Although I have worked with plenty of people who hide behind their tools (or lack of them) to cover their incompetance. But that is not really the point here.

  2. Yeah, I just hate it when people start talking out of an orrifice not suited for it about stuff they don't know the first thing about.
    One reason why I tend to have love/hate relationships with global chat channels and don't like the sound of my own voice :-)