Unreal, Source or Doom. Which is Better?

this isn’t really a technical comparison of the three engines. epic’s unreal engine, valve’s source engine or id’s doom engine. it’s more of a high-level business look at the three.

and, anyone who’s known me knows that i’m an id man. the shareware version of castle wolfenstein changed my life. that, right there is the single moment in my life that made me a “gamer.” before that, it was a hobby. after that, it was a passion.

that’s why it’s so hard for me to say that epic’s unreal engine takes the cake when it come to a third party, licensed game engine.

it’s not necessarily about which engine renders the most pixels the fastest or has the best feature support — dynamic lighting, normal mapping, “megatexture” or even lip syncing. some folks would argue with me, but they really can all be used to produce about the same game.

so, what’s the difference?

there are two, really. marketing and groupthink.

and, epic wins on both accounts.

for example, look at epic’s “overview” page for the unreal engine 3. they have an entire site dedicated to licensing their engine. a whole community around it. they have taken to marketing the hell out of their engine.

they’ve built it into a full time business unit.

however, look at id’s for a comparison here. their information is not only outdated, but flimsy. why? they don’t have the resources. epic is a tremendously larger company than id. on purpose, of course.

john carmack would have it no other way.

valve, however seems to be stuck in the middle. they are a semi-small company with big ideas. they are working up the source engine to be a viable competitor to the behemoth that is unreal. their information is relativley up to date and, oddly enough, their features page looks strikingly similar to epic’s feature page.

again, the guys at id (i’m guessing) just don’t have the bandwidth to take care of the day to day business of licensing their engine. they’re busy actually making games. i would imagine they’ve become accustomed to sitting back and having folks come to them.

that brings me to the point about groupthink. no matter how brilliant john carmack is (and, he’s a freakin’ machine) 10 people who are 85% as brilliant will always win.

it’s about teams. it’s things like pair programming or extreme programming or agile development that make the difference in areas like this. john needs help. the bummer is that i don’t think he’s gonna ask for it.

so, what will happen is epic’s engine will become (and arguably already is) the defacto standard in game engines. and, in sort of that same self-perpetuating way, it will keep feeding itself. as more developer’s license it, more tools and features will be made. it’ll become easier to use and more powerful and more developers will license it.

valve will start expanding. they’ll build in heavy steam support as they forge into the bleeding edge of all-digital publishing. they will, at first, press that they have a good engine, but, it also allows you to bypass any publishers. (is this a case of half the price, thrice the sellthrough?) more folks will license it and they’ll feed that cash back into engine development. it won’t be long before they are right on epic’s coattails as far as marketing as well as technology.

meanwhile, over at id, john carmack will crank out outstanding engine after engine. however, no one will really know about licensing terms. nobody will really know how to integrate it. it won’t have the shiny toolset epic or valve have. it’ll still be great, but, it takes more than a great engine to get developers to take the time necessary to wrap their game around your tools.



3 comments so far

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    What really blew me away with UT2004 is how fast paced the game is. While CS seemed more strategic, UT was pure blistering action. And they got vehicles.

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