It is unlikely that there are seasoned gamers that haven't already heard of Unreal. Despite seriously divided opinions about the game as a whole, its graphics certainly earned almost universal applause and was one of the major reasons that 3D accelerators took off in a big way (think Unreal and you'll likely think of the misguided-and-demised 3dfx, where Unreal's use of 3dfx's proprietary Glide API was a huge reason for owning a 3D accelerator back then).

Epic Games (then known as Epic MegaGames) then quickly took advantage of the online multiplayer first-person-shooter craze (given a big kick almost single-handedly by id Software's efferverscent Quake) and gave us Unreal Tournament and Unreal Tournament 2003, with the former offering many innovative gameplay modes and is still highly regarded by the multiplayer community.

One of the founders of Epic, Tim Sweeney became a very public figure due to Unreal. Chiefly responsible for the engine (originally called the Unreal Engine) powering all of Epic's games, Tim has been continually refining the engine (now into its UnrealEngine3 iteration), taking advantages offered by the advancing technologies of both the CPU as well as the 3D hardware industry. The Unreal Engine has to be labelled a very successful engine by virtue of the number of non-Epic-developed games that uses it. With a number of licensees of the engine, probably most notably by Ubisoft with games such as Splinter Cell and most recently XIII, Tim Sweeney plays an important and influential part in the balance sheet results of Epic - beyond just creating an engine for games to be developed by Epic, licensees of the Unreal engine pay considerable sums of money to Epic.

This interviewer, having interviewed Tim three times in the past but never before on this site (which, when this realization dawned on this interviewer, was surprising), felt that it would be good to shoot some wide-ranging questions Tim's way. While the nature and focus of this site naturally should lead us to assume that an interview with Tim would be mostly about next-generation hardware or future technology, such an interview wouldn't be possible without having Tim hinting (or at least having the public think he's talking) about Epic's future technology (or, most immediately, what Tim is working on at the moment). The questions are therefore rather general in nature. Finding difficulty in providing us with a recent and decent picture of himself, we'll have to be content with reading Tim's thoughts.

Can you tell us how, and in what ways, Epic has grown from the days when it was developing the original Unreal to Unreal Tournament 2003? Of the three games, which was the hardest to create and produce?

When James Schmalz, Cliff Bleszinski and I began working on the game that became Unreal back in 1994-95, Epic was a shareware developer and publisher. We had released a number of games such as Jill of the Jungle, Jazz Jackrabbit, and Epic Pinball, but these were all relatively small projects with 1-3 person teams, with everyone working remotely. Unreal was our effort to grow into a major developer.

The original Unreal was the most difficult project we've ever undertaken, largely because it was our first large-scale project and the first experience with 3D programming and content creation for many of us. Development took 3.5 years and it was a great and trying learning experience for all of us. The game ended up being a big hit back in 1998 when it was released, selling around 1.5 million copies.

But Unreal 1's multiplayer didn't achieve everything that we wanted, so we set out to create Unreal Tournament. It was an easier and more rewarding project, because we started out with working technology from the very beginning and were able to focus most of our efforts on gameplay and polish.

Unreal Tournament 2003 was about half-way betweeen the two original Unreal games in complexity. We had upgraded the tech so significantly that a lot of new learning was required before we mastered the new pipeline.

On the other hand, UT2004 started out with a 100% working game to begin with, and now we have been able to focus all of our efforts on improving the core gameplay with new game types like Assault and Domination, and the team is having a great time with it.