Unreal Tournament is coming back.
Developer Epic Games revealed today that the multiplayer shooter's next incarnation — in development in Unreal Engine 4 for Linux, Mac and Windows PC and called simply Unreal Tournament — will be free, moddable and collaboratively developed with fans.
We spoke with senior programmer and project lead Steve Polge ahead of today's Twitch reveal to learn how Epic chose this path, what the developer thinks players want from a modern arena shooter and what "free" really means.
The next Unreal Tournament is a product of Epic's plans for Unreal Engine 4. In March 2014, the developer and software creator announced a new business model: Unreal Engine 4 is available to all for a $19 monthly subscription. Just this week, Epic released the software's development roadmap. A more affordable engine developed in public means more potential creators, a central focus of the upcoming game.
"For years, we’ve wanted to reboot Unreal Tournament, but we knew we had to do it in concert with developers and the mod community, and in an environment that sets them up with the proper tools to make it happen," Polge told Polygon. "Given the recent launch of UE4, we think this is the right time to move forward."
Epic's goal is to develop the game in public and in collaboration with players and development students who can begin their involvement with the game today in Epic's forums, where the company is ready to talk about design and more.
"Our first development goal is to get a basic version of Unreal Tournament deathmatch up and running to provide a basis for iteration and further development," Polge said.
"If you’re a member of the UE4 community, you can participate or just follow our progress on the live GitHub fork. You can also get started extending or modding the code as it becomes functional."
Epic will discuss design questions in the forums and Twitch streams, and Polge said that the "decision process will be inclusive and transparent. Players will be able to make their voice heard, and participate meaningfully in setting the direction of development. We will release playable alpha versions and use those to get hands-on feedback from players as well."
The Unreal Tournament series made its debut in 1999, with Unreal Tournament 2003, Unreal Tournament 2004 and 2007's Unreal Tournament 3 (pictured above) following. Epic employees began teasing the new game last week. The PC shooter ecosystem has changed since Unreal Tournament's last incarnation, but Polge believes that there's a "need" for the kind of competitive shooter that Epic can provide.
"Unreal Tournament still has a lot of passionate fans," he said. "We think there’s a real need in today’s PC FPS community for a modern competitive shooter that brings back the kind of pure, fast action, skill-based gameplay for which the series is known."
"Free means free."
Epic's decision to build the game in public isn't the only change that reflects the passage of time. Unreal Tournament will be free — but not free-to-play, according to the developer.
"Free means free — no microtransactions," he said. "Just free."
When asked how Epic will earn income with a free game, Polge said that Unreal Tournament will "eventually" have a marketplace where modders can post and give away or sell their maps, mods and other content.
That is Epic's broad vision for the future of Unreal Tournament. Today's announcement constitutes the earliest stages of the upcoming game, which doesn't yet have a release date — though when it does, it'll be a product of Epic and a community of Unreal Tournament fans clamoring to play the game and completely free to anyone else who steps inside of the arena.
"While we’re in early development, all of the ongoing work will be available live to the Unreal Engine 4 development community in source code form" Polge said. "We expect it will take several months to get to a point where there’s a downloadable, playable alpha version available for gamers.
"From that point forward, it will be live, constantly updated and available to everyone."
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