So just how powerful is Nintendo's upcoming 3DS handheld gaming system? According to Epic Games' Mark Rein, there aren't enough horses under the hood to run the company’s more recent Unreal Engine 3. In fact, the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPod Touch 3 and 4, and a number of recent Android smartpohnes can run the engine without a hitch. Nintendo's new 3DS system apparently cannot.
"There's nothing against Nintendo," he said during GDC 2011. "I hate that people somehow think that's the case. If we felt it could run [Unreal Engine] and deliver the kind of experience people license our technology to build, we'd be on [the 3DS]. There's only so much time in the day; our engine requires a certain level of hardware capabilities to make our pipeline, our tools work -- and we work on the ones that do. The second Nintendo releases a piece of hardware that can run our engine well, we'll be on it like water on fish."
However in an interview with Gamepot UK, Ubisoft's Fabrice Cuny claims that Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell 3DS is running on the Nintendo 3DS via Epic's Unreal Engine 2. "The 3DS is powerful, and we are able to run the Unreal Engine on this console, which is pretty impressive for a handheld machine, and the 3D doesn’t affect the performance (thanks to my amazing programmers)," he told the site. "The architecture is different compared to a Wii or some other platforms that we had to work with here at Ubisoft Montreal."
Fabrice added that the 3DS can be much more comparable to a platform between a DSi and a Wii. "We are able to create games anywhere from a puzzle game to very high-end game such as Splinter Cell 3DS," he said. "The tools on the 3DS were brand new, and with every development phase, we had some tools with bugs and crashes. But with version after version, Nintendo provided us a set of tools and the support to help us debug and optimize the game."
So if the 3DS can't run games using the Unreal Engine 3, but can do so with the previous engine, what does that mean for gamers? Look at it this way: if Epic were to bring the Unreal Tournament franchise to Nintendo's handheld, the device may have the ability to support the original Unreal Tournament, Unreal Tournament 2003 and Unreal Tournament 2004. It wouldn't be able to handle Unreal Tournament 3.
Of course, that's just an example, and doesn't mean any Unreal Tournament title will be ported to the 3DS. It's also currently unknown if the 3DS can handle the Unreal Engine in a first-person perspective (running at an acceptable frame rate). Even more, Epic has also tweaked its Unreal Engine 3 to work on iOS and Android platforms, so it's likely Ubisoft did the same for Unreal Engine 2.
The Nintendo 3DS launches here in the States this Sunday at 12 am EST. Various Best Buy locations will host a launch party starting Saturday at 9pm EST. Check your local store for details.