Sunday, May 11, 2014

Crowdsourcing Unreal Tournament

I spent an awful lot of time from my middle school years forward learning everything I could about the mechanics of making video games. The goal being, of course, to make my own. And not some silly small asteroids game or anything like that. No! I wanted to build Shooters and Platformers and RPGs. The epic kind! With lots of story and cut scenes and hours of gameplay in massive open worlds! (Ah, the joys of blissfully and unknowingly throwing oneself at impossible tasks.)

As you might imagine, I failed spectacularly at this effort. Luckily for me I never quite viewed it as a failure. It was just a matter of not yet knowing enough about subject X or software Y or technique Z. So my quixotic quest actually propelled me to learn a tremendous amount about programming and graphics development and all manner of related subjects, a fact which I am enormously grateful for today as it has directly led to my current employment. And even today I still have a tendency to chase after projects that are too big for me to reasonably handle in the free time I have available. But that's okay, because this is one of those cases where shooting for the moon really can land you among the stars, and it gives me a wonderful excuse to try all manner of fun, crazy things that would never come up in the course of my day-to-day job but still prove useful anyway.

Given this background, I couldn't help but feel the tiniest bit sad that Epic didn't announce their latest engine pricing or their new crowdsourced path for the next Unreal Tournament about 15 years earlier. Teenage me would have been all over that! I spent a decent amount of time hacking with the Quake 3 SDK and other similar code bases, mostly in an effort to learn more about how they worked and how "real" programmers did things. The idea that I could have access to the full source of a modern game engine for a few dollars a month would have been a dream come true! And beyond that, the fact that I could have not only watched but participated in, from day 1, the development of a AAA game would have probably killed me with giddiness. That was exactly what I wished I could have back in the day: A perfect little portal through which I could view the professionals at work creating something real, large, and "cool". I think I would have poured many weeks of my life into following the project and trying to contribute in any way I possible. (I shudder to think of 15 year-old me's code actually ending up anywhere public though. I was better than a lot of people gave me credit for at that point but I wasn't nearly as good as I thought I was.)