Tim Sweeney was kind enough to give BeyondUnreal a short interview about the engine's move to 64 bit processing, OpenGL and the engine's capability to run massive multiplayer games. In regards to the heart of the next generation engine beyond UT2004, Tim wouldn't accept my bribe (I offered Sparky to him as a sex slave) to give me the scoop on the latest features. Enjoy this short, but informative interview with Epic's Tim Sweeney!

- BU: With the release of UT2003, many fans complained about the lack of good OpenGL support. I've read your statements about how OpenGL is a clean API, but the instability and performance on some operating systems (Windows to be exact) was the primary reason Epic continues to support Direct3D over OpenGL. As of this moment, will OpenGL receive additional attention and support or will it be left out indefinitely?

- Tim: If you're running on Windows, you should be running Direct3D. On Windows, that's the API we focused all our feature and optimization efforts on.

OpenGL is our rendering API on Linux and MacOS X. If there are problems with it there, and you're running the latest drivers on reasonably current hardware (i.e. not Voodoo3 or TNT2), please let Ryan Gordon know.

- BU: In the past, you've stated your opinions about Massive Multiplayer games. To me, it seems that the Unreal engine is moving towards that route. As the engine grows, it is becoming obvious that the engine can handle such a game type. Is this still the plan for Epic and their partners?

- Tim: Unreal's rendering, AI, physics, collision, sound, and editing tools can provide a solid starting point for massive multiplayer games, but we don't provide the kind of seamless world support and back-end server infrastructure that such a game require. A number of teams have looked at the tradeoffs on using Unreal as a starting point and extending it with the massive multiplayer features they need, versus building a custom engine from the ground up, and concluded that Unreal is the right starting point for their project. It doesn't provide everything you need, but to the extent that it enables teams to begin building final-quality content and implementing game features from day one, it's more economical and productive than starting from scratch. Nowadays, few teams want to spend the first 18 months of a project bringing a new engine up and running without having a handle on the final content pipeline and limitations.

Long-term, the engine's feature set is going to evolve a lot more closely towards the seamless massive multiplayer paradigm, but it will be many years before we're 100% there. The teams using the engine for massive multiplayer projects now (Ultima X and Lineage II have been announced) chose Unreal on the basis of what's there now, recognizing that they'll have to provide a lot of the needed massive multiplayer infrastructure themselves.

- BU: It would be nice to see some fans publish a massive multiplayer mod. Now about 64 bit processing, you've stated your plans for the transition of the Unreal engine to full 64 bit. Although the game(s) will support both 32 and 64 bit, you've stated that the requirements of the next content development tools might require 64-bit. I believe 2005 was the target year. Has this plan been delayed or should modders prepare to save up for 64 bit processing now?

- Tim: For our third-generation engine (the generation beyond UT2004), 64-bit will be recommended for everyone, and might be required for certain pieces of the UnrealEd & content creation tools pipeline. We haven't made final decisions on where 64-bit will be required, versus just being recommended.

If you're looking to upgrade your PC in the next 6 months, or you're only planning to play games and not build stuff, 32-bit remains a fine option. But if you're thinking longer-term, looking to buy a PC that will be suitable for creating next-generation game content, something that will still be suitable a couple years from now, 64-bit is the way to go.

For workstation-class hardware, some of the upcoming dual Opteron motherboards are extremely impressive, such as the Tyan K8W with AGP 8X and 8 DIMM slots. For game PC's, I think you'll want to hold off at least couple months until the Athlon 64's are widely available at good prices. I hope Intel comes along with a consumer-friendly 64-bit solution soon; competition among CPU vendors is always a good thing for the market.

- BU: 64 bit is going to be pretty nice. This brings me to my next question. UT2003's use of the engine enjoyed the addition of Karma (aka rag doll effects) and a true particle system. Moving beyond UT2004, what new features and enhancements can we expect from the next version of the Unreal engine?

- Tim: We're not ready to start talking about the next generation feature set yet.

BeyondUnreal appreciates Tim's support during this interview. To me, the important statement in this interview is the comments about 64 bit processing. As Tim stated, they haven't made a final decision on whether to make the editor run solely on 64 bit processors/OS, but it is the next stage in the evolution of the engine. Although the game may support both 32 and 64 bit, mod creators will probably want to save some cash for 64 bit processors and operating systems.