Ironically, as I’ve been working on the Unreal Tournament retrospective Epic has also gotten seemingly wistful. Last week Mark Rein hinted that a new UT was going to be in development via Twitter. A lot of folks began wondering what exactly would happen. A full-fledged $60 UT4? A port of UT or UT2k4 to web browsers a la Quake III? A Free to play game full of micro transactions?
Well it appears we have an answer. Personally, I’m having a bit of a mixed reaction. Because on the good side of things, the game will be freeware. Not a F2P, pay wall filled game asking you to buy every little thing. A free game. It is also going to be on the latest version of Unreal Engine. Which also means those who wanted AAA visuals will get them. (If not AAA then certainly pretty close.) A lot of UT veterans are working on it, which is also a good sign. There will be a lot of fan input meaning, that a lot of the really serious fans of UT/2k3/2k4/3 may see the balance they want, along with features they want. There will be a vast amount of fan, and official content as optional expansion packs with creators splitting profit with Epic. Development is also focused on PC platforms Windows, Macintosh, and Linux. This is going to make it great for the mod community who want to do projects that are ambitious, and large.
On the bad side of things, this is new territory for Epic. They have always been about bleeding edge blockbuster games for full price. Even in the days of shareware, demos of Jill Of The Jungle, Jazz jackrabbit, and more, were pushing MS-DOS games to their limit. They rivaled their competition like iD, and Apogee even back then along with the major publishers. The idea of a compelling game going out the door for free making all of its money through community expansion packs is still a great risk. There is the chance that some of the purchasable content made by fans sours the game’s reputation if it turns out poorly. Also just as fan input can be very good, it can also be bad in some cases. Sometimes the things competitive gamers want can alienate the gamers who just want something easy to get into with less serious friends. Sometimes factions develop within competitive communities too. Each wanting contradictory things. So there is the chance that the infighting drags down development. The hope there is that the open nature of everything means that there will be expansion content for every kind of player.
All of that being said, I am cautiously optimistic about this news. No attempt at an arena styled FPS has really made waves since Unreal Tournament 3. UT3 also had its own troubles, and steep competition from other contemporary styled shooters. After it faded away few captured its feel. But even those that did failed to capture the player base required to have a vibrant community.
Hopefully, UT4 will be able to succeed where UT3 failed, appealing to a new generation of fans, while also dragging us old timers out of retirement. I certainly can’t wait to see how everything turns out.