Thursday, August 09, 2007

Why Unreal Engine Is Closed Source

Silicon Knights is suing Epic because improvements that Epic made to Unreal Engine 3 didn't trickle down to SK, thus making Gears of War superior by default to Too Human. This is a great example of why you should be hesitant to trust closed-source technology in your multi-million-dollar game production.

What I think happened is that Epic and SK defined "Unreal Engine 3" in two different ways. Epic made this thing called "UE3," and aside from building their own games on it, they also licensed it out so others could, too. While Epic made some enhancements to the engine, they considered such work part of Gears of War, and didn't distribute it to UE3 licensees (their competitors).

What if both Epic and SK had been using an open-source engine? Gears of War's release would have required the release of the entire source tree for the game, and the same would have applied to all other users of said technology.

Is this a bad thing? Well, it depends. Do you want your games to advertise their superior engine features, or superior game design? In an open-source world, the playing field is leveled, and your skill in crafting a good game is now more important than your skill in supporting the latest shaders, environmental audio, et cetera.

Gee-whiz technical features versus compelling game experiences. Your choice.


fjohn said...

It is nice to know that Epic is not just taking something off the shelf for their games.

That said, others who license the engine should be able to mod it to their hearts' content.

Khakionion said...

Right, and that's where the conflict comes in.

What exactly is UE3? What's the line between UE3 and engine enhancements that are part of Gears? It's a fuzzy line that, unfortunately for UE licensees, is defined by Epic however they want.

Anonymous said...

I doubt very much Epic being a giant that it is would even adopt open source as a, in fact no software house that wants to make money is willing adopt open source. That's like begging Microsoft to please release their windows source code to the general public, when your filthy rich or just plain filthy getting sued is more like getting a ticket.