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Epic: Shocked at id's Acquisition

Ten years ago, PC gamers felt the heat between three rival developers: id Software, 3D Realms, and Epic Games. The competition was great: id's Quake 3 Arena and Epic's Unreal Tournament took the multiplayer aspects from the Unreal and Quake franchises and offered an amazing stand-alone product that is still played today. 3D Realms' Duke Nukem 3D was showing its age, but still remained one of the most-played PC games during that time period. With DirectX and OpenGL taking the infant hardware-accelerated graphics technology into a new era, it was an awesome time to be a PC gamer.

But things have changed since those golden days. 3D Realms' highly anticipated and long-awaited Duke Nukem 3D sequel has taken (literally) forever to develop, and currently there's no solid street date of when--or if--the game will ever be completed. To make matters worse, the company has shut its doors, with the last game the company actually released as a developer being the cool first-person shooter, Shadow Warrior, back in 1997. Currently Take-Two Interactive and Apogee Software are "duking it out" in court over the failure to complete the game.

As for id Software, the company recently announced that it was acquired by ZeniMax Media, the parent company of non-rival developer/publisher, Bethesda Softworks. The news shocked the gaming community, but both parties assured its fans that the marriage would be a benefit, and allow id Software to handle the IPs currently in-house. Although not quite as successful as Epic Games in regards to licensing its game engine, id Software has benefited from continued success as a developer with its high-profile IPs such as Quake and Doom. The same success holds true as a producer and publisher, with hits such as Return to Castle Wolfenstein (Gray Matters, Nerve), Doom RPG (Fountainhead), and the upcoming Wolfenstein title (Raven).

With all these changes with rival companies, what will become of Epic Games? Like id Software, Epic has bathed in its success over the years, however mostly due to licensing its in-house Unreal Engine. The engine's popularity has been "unreal" to say the least, used in titles such as Mass Effect, Lost Odyssey, BioShock, Army of Two, America's Army... the list goes on and on, spanning three version of Epic's engine. As a developer, Epic has released a small number of titles that include the Unreal and Gears of War franchises. The company also admitted to shifting its focus to console-based games, citing piracy and a decline in PC game sales. Perhaps the focus--along with its methods to push the Unreal Engine onto developers--is what keeps the company as a single unit.

When asked about id Software's acquisition, Epic's hotdog design director Cliff "I'm going to rub my testicles all over the PSP" Bleszinski said that the news blew his mind. "id was always the studio I had my eyes on in the early days as far as wondering if we could be as good as them if not better," he told Develop Online in an interview. "When we had Unreal Tournament they had Quake 3 [Arena] which is one of those legendary showdowns between two games. To see this happen to the id guys just blows my mind. To see the old standbys go through these kinds of changes--like with 3D Realms closing up Duke Nukem--it’s really shocking. We all came from the same mould from the shareware days; these studios have been around forever, and to see them acquired like that is a surprise."

He also added that id Software's acquisition will be a good thing for the company in the long term, adding stability that will help leverage the id properties even more. But when he was asked if Epic Games had a pricetag, he chose downplay the idea with an example. "Well, we always make the joke that someone tries to buy us once a year and that every time they ask the price goes up," he said. "There was once a Mark Rein quote that went around with him saying that Epic is worth $1 billion dollars and Mark was like 'bullshit! I want $2 billion!'" He also reassured Develop Online that Epic is doing extremely well, that the Unreal Engine is "extremely prolific."

But how long will that attitude last? With both rivals shutting down or selling out, it seems that Epic Games should be quaking in its boots. But with the success of the Unreal Engine and its focus on consoles, perhaps the avenue Epic Games ultimately chose to take--despite the grumblings from dedicated Epic PC gamers--will be what keeps the company standing on its own. Granted the economy may change all of that it the incline doesn't take place towards the end of the year, until then, Epic and id Software will continue on as the are, and hopefully gamers will benefit from the results of their choices.