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Q&A: GameSpy Talks Epic Partnership For UT3

IGN Entertainment’s GameSpy and Epic Games have announced a licensing deal to incorporate GameSpy’s multiplayer technology into Epic’s Unreal Tournament 3, and Gamasutra has talked with GameSpy director Todd Northcutt to learn more about the integr
IGN Entertainment’s GameSpy and Epic Games have announced a licensing deal to incorporate GameSpy’s multiplayer technology into Epic’s Unreal Tournament 3, the next installment in the FPS franchise. Under the terms of the new agreement, GameSpy’s multiplayer technology -- including multiplayer matchmaking, in-game and out-of-game messaging, player statistics, VoIP communication and a leaderboard and ranking system -- will be incorporated into both the PlayStation 3 and PC versions of Unreal Tournament 3. This partnership comes on the heels of a recent announcement between GameSpy and Epic Games that included a licensing deal to incorporate GameSpy’s online technology into Epic’s Unreal Engine 3, with GameSpy joining Epic’s Integrated Partners Program. IGN senior vice president of consumer products and technology Jamie Berger commented, "GameSpy is excited to expand our existing relationship with Epic Games and align ourselves with Unreal Tournament 3. As our technology continues to expand and evolve with next-generation consoles, we will continue to work with developers to provide an ease and expertise when it comes to online gaming technology.” Gamasutra talked with GameSpy director Todd Northcutt to learn more. Can you talk about the licensing of GameSpy technology with Unreal Engine 3? That is -- it's an integrated solution in the engine, but how does it work for developers that elect to use or, conversely, to not use it? TN: Yes, we've done a great deal of the heavy lifting in integrating our technology with the Unreal engine. We are really excited to be able to offer Unreal engine licensees a very robust online feature set on both PC and PS3 that will save them lots of time. Getting access to the system is pretty straightforward: Step 1: License the Unreal engine Step 2: License GameSpy technologies Step 3: Enable the GameSpy Subsystem Step 4: Enjoy your new top-shelf online capabilities You're offering several different technology solutions that are being integrated into UE3/UT3. Care to talk about the finer points of them? TN: Gamers expect a lot when it comes to an online experience so we've worked hard to make sure that nearly all of our technologies are integrated and ready to roll. Our matchmaking tech is directly integrated in. It's a really robust and flexible system that makes it easy for gamers to find suitable opponents. We've also integrated all of our community technologies. You'll find full GameSpy “Comrade” integration, which allows you to build a buddy list and see what your buddies are doing both in-game and out-of-game community features. You can send them messages, invite them to join you in a game you’re playing, follow them into a game... all the standard "friend" functionality gamers expect. Voice is also in the game. UT has always been filled with attitude and I'm looking forward to some good old fashioned trash talking with the rest of the folks in the server with me. I'm really excited, too, about the integration of GameSpy’s ATLAS stats system. We've been big on stats for a long time (see the work we've done with DICE on the Battlefield franchise, for example) and our integration in the Unreal engine is going to make it so easy for every developer using the engine to track all kinds of play statistics and then compile them into a variety of leaderboards. It is entirely up to each developer on how far to take the integration. The technologies included can be used in lots of different ways - really just limited by imagination and time. The developer could tweak and tune automatch algorithms all day long to focus on skill-based matchmaking and make sure that every match ends with a razor thin margin... or they could just go the minimal route and slap a plain Jane server browser. On the stats front we're tracking over 3000 stats in Unreal Tournament. Does every game have to do that? Should every game do that? Probably not... but the capability is there. We recently spoke to Mark Rein and he said it was more an intentional decision, rather than a technical incompatibility, that's keeping the PS3 and PC versions of UT3 separate when it comes to online play. Can you talk about how your technology facilitates that, however? And why it might or might not make sense to implement it? TN: From the very beginning we realized that the developers we work with are generally working on a variety of different platforms. With that in mind we provide a single API across all of the platforms we support, hoping to make their lives a little bit easier. (8 platforms right now - Win, Mac, Linux, PS2, PSP, PS3, DS, Wii) Along with the shared API comes a shared backend. Since the different platforms are all talking to the same backend to find out about friends or games in progress or stats... why not try to break down the platform barriers? Cross-platform play isn't a new idea. We did it long, long ago in 4x4 Evolution with PC vs. Mac vs. Dreamcast. (Yes, the Dreamcast!) But it does create a bunch of new challenges that have to be addressed, a lot of them related to balance or fairness that just can't be solved technically. For example, maybe you have slow the speed of the game down a bit on a console because, let's face it, a game pad is just slower to use than a mouse. What do you do now, when putting PC and console players together? Do you slow down the PC players or speed up the PS3 folks? You also have to be cognizant of some logistical issues. Given the certification process on consoles you'll need to put patches through the cert process. You may need to wait to release a PC patch until the console patch is approved. You have to decide if you are willing to do it. There are more and more solutions for online play and its associated community functions popping up all the time, with Games for Windows Live and Steam Community as prominent examples. What advantages do you think GameSpy's tech has, and what steps are you taking to keep it competitive? TN: We've been at this for a long time and, to be honest, in a lot of ways I'm glad to see Valve moving beyond just a server browser and launching the Steam Community. I'm glad to see Microsoft trying to bring Xbox Live to Windows. It really validates what we've been doing and proves that online is really valuable stuff to have in your game. Perhaps one of the biggest differentiators for us is that we're not out to build a platform. We're not here to try and build up our own service, putting distance between the publisher or developer and their gamers. Our job is to help our publisher and developer partners realize their creative vision for what an online experience in their game can be. While Live offers a great consumer experience, that one-size fits all attitude can sometimes stifle creativity. There's nothing more rewarding than working with a new partner to make something really big and ambitious and different become a reality. As for how we're keeping competitive, there is way more to an online experience than just matchmaking and buddies. Those things are certainly important, and we are always improving those services, but we're also really eager to break new ground. Look at the Battlecast feature in Command & Conquer 3, for example. Game replays have been done for a long, long time but we worked with the EA LA team to take them to a whole new level with football-like "telestration" and commentary done after the game was over. We're also doing some really cool stuff with Nintendo. Those guys are really doing some innovative online things using our technology that they just never get recognition for. Take the recent Smash Bros. announcements about sharing the stages you build or the replays you record. That's awesome community building functionality that we're proud to power.

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