Over the holiday weekend, Gamasutra published a major new interview with Epic's Tim Sweeney
, discussing the birth of Epic Games, ZZT
, the PC shareware revolution and more.
As the introduction to the in-depth article explains, Epic's early days, as a one-man band under Sweeney in the early '90s, started way before the days of their current signature name, Unreal
"Gears of War
. Unreal Engine. Journalists commonly use these two phrases to quickly encapsulate the history of Epic Games, a highly successful video game developer based in Cary, North Carolina.
And why not? The Gears of War
franchise has sold gazillions of copies, and the Unreal Engine commonly powers blockbuster titles like BioShock
. Both successes have made the gaming industry look up and take notice. But to stop with those platitudes is to ignore a much deeper and richer past.
Epic Games, founded by Tim Sweeney in 1991, has a much bigger gaming footprint than most people realize. When I hear "Epic," I think back to a time in the early 1990s when I was deeply involved in my local computer bulletin board system (BBS) scene. BBSes were early dial-up online services that provided message boards, primitive online games, and numerous free files to download.
At that time, Epic MegaGames -- as Sweeney's company was then called -- published some of the world's most popular and successful shareware games. Games like Jill of the Jungle, Jazz Jackrabbit, Epic Pinball,
and others could be found in nearly every BBS file section across the U.S.
And the game that started it all for Sweeney was ZZT
. Released in 1991, ZZT
is a text-based action/adventure/puzzle shareware title with a built-in game editor and scripting language. Think LittleBigPlanet
in text. Sweeney's experiences with ZZT
led directly to Epic's success with Unreal Engine, which inseparably integrates game engine and editor much in the same way ZZT
Sweeney -- now CEO and technical director of Epic -- is probably a genius, and he's definitely a geek. But he's not a geek in your standard "never leave the basement" sense. Although soft-spoken, Sweeney is quietly confident, and he possesses a keen business instinct that is rare in an analytical genius of his caliber. That instinct for business led him (and Epic) directly where they are today."
The full interview with Epic's Sweeney
is now available on Gamasutra, and includes a mass of detailed historical information on the early days of the company and how Epic got where it is today.