Gaming Friday: 20 Years of Epic Games

I’m sure by now you have heard of Epic Games, they are the creators of the very popular Unreal series, the Unreal Engine that powers many PC games and one of the most popular franchises on the Xbox 360, Gears of War. If you did not know Epic just turned 20 years old (damn that makes me feel old!) and decided to give away a pretty sweet soundtrack. We decided for this week’s Gaming Friday article we would a look back at the past 20 years of Epic Games.


Epic Games started as Potomac Computer Systems (boring name right?), founded by Tim Sweeney. Potomac’s first release the was the simple shooter ZZT. While the game didn’t have groundbreaking mechanics or gameplay, it did feature its own object oriented scripting language. The scripting language allowed users to create their own mods, which was not common back then. As many gamers know, the effect of community created mods can severely extend the life and popularity of almost any game. ZZT experienced this effect, causing it to bring in enough revenue to fuel development on next generation technology.

In 1992, Potomac Computer Systems changed its name to Epic MegaGames. Under Epic MegaGames, the company would go on to release Brix (1992), a puzzle game, Epic Pinball (1993), a 2D top-down pinball game, and Jazz Jackrabbit (1994), a side-scrolling platformer, which was a first of its kind on PC. Jazz Jackrabbit’s co-creator, Cliff Bleszinski, was only 19 and wasn’t yet known as Cliffy B. But the success of Jazz Jackrabbit put Cliff into the spotlight and set the stage for the future of Epic.

In 1998 Epic MegaGames would release a title that not only started a worldwide popular franchise, but also marked the beginning of a game engine that has powered some of the best PC games available. The game was Unreal, a Sci-Fi first-person shooter that rivaled ID Software’s Quake II. So much so that the release of Quad III Arena was rushed to market to compete. Unreal was based off the Unreal Engine, which had been in development by Tim Sweeney for over 3 years. Just like the original shooter ZZT, Unreal allowed you to change the game and make your own levels as it shipped with UnrealScript, and map editor UnrealEd. This made a name for Epic MegaGames in the development community and gave them a strong following, which they still have today.


Now Epic did something very interesting with its very powerful game engine. They licensed it and allowed other developers to use it to create games. This not only made the Unreal Engine popular, but also provided an extra revenue stream for Epic. With this extra revenue coming in, Epic MegaGames moved its offices to Cary, North Carolina and dropped “Mega” from its name, being known as Epic Games from now on.

With the success of Unreal came Unreal Tournament. An arena FPS, with head-to-head multiplayer deathmatches being the primary focus of the game. Seeing as online gaming was becoming extremely popular, the game was an instant success. While many other FPS games offered Deathmatch and Capture the Flag, Unreal Tournament brought with it Team Deathmatch, Domination, Last Man Standing and Assault. Many people said that Unreal Tournament took online gaming to the next level. It was even played at the World Cyber Games in 2001 and 2002.


In 2002, Epic Games finished work on Unreal Engine 2. It was a complete re-write of the original engine, featuring better graphics, performance, and the introduction of ragdoll physics. Unreal Engine 2 would also go on to power Unreal Tournament’s sequel, Unreal Tournament 2003. Despite 2003 in its name, it was still released in 2002. And even though four years had lapsed since the original Unreal Tournament, fan fever couldn’t have been higher. Fans supported Epic Games by downloading the Unreal Tournament 2003 demo 1.2 million times!

About a year and a half later we saw Unreal Tournament 2004, released on March 16, 2004. This version of the game was based on Unreal Engine 2.5, and addressed many of the issues and shortcomings found in Unreal Tournament 2003. Also one the biggest changes was the addition of vehicles and the Onslaught game-mode, which allowed for large scale battles. The game was greeted with positive reviews from critics and the gaming community, winning Multiplayer Game of the Year from IGN, Gamespy and Computer Gaming World.


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