Developer accuses Epic of 'sabotaging' Unreal Engine licensees

Silicon Knights demands Gears of War money

Silicon Knights has been granted the chance to put accusations of fraud against Epic Games before a jury, reports suggest.

The Canadian studio behind the Too human project accuses Epic of ‘failure to provide a working game engine’ for the game, according to a Kotaku article.

A Silicon Knights lawsuit also alleges that Epic had been “sabotaging” its Unreal Engine 3 licensees.

The studio’s president, Denis Dyack, said he is looking forward to his day in court, where he can “shine the light publicly on Epic’s conduct”.

According to Kotaku’s reading of the documents, the firm has accused Epic Games of “withholding an improved version of that game engine while also using licensing fees to fund development of Gears of War”.

Engine licence royalties were not satisfactorily used to fund improvements to the Unreal Engine, the report suggested.

Epic, based in the US state of North Carolina, has yet to publicly respond to the new accusations. It should be assumed it denies them.

The lawsuit between both groups first emerged in 2006, with Epic claiming the accusations were without merit.

Yet Silicon Knights president Denis Dyack today told Kotaku:

“Two separate federal court judges have now disagreed with Epic, and have ruled that the case does have merit. Silicon Knights has always wanted to have our focus be on making great games, not litigation. This ruling will allow us to have our day in court, before a jury, and to shine the light publicly on Epic’s conduct.”

Develop has contacted Epic Games for its right to reply.

Silicon Knights alleges that Epic Games caused the Canadian studio to “experience considerable losses” by not supplying a full Unreal Engine for the Too Human project.

A federal court has now granted Silicon Knights to go before a jury with “allegations of fraud, negligent misrepresentation, unfair competition, breach of contract, and breach of warranty against the Unreal Engine maker” Kotaku claimed.

The Too human studio wants a proportion of profits made by Epic’s flagship title, Gears Of War, as compensation.

Frosty relationship

In May 2005 Silicon Knights announced it would be exclusively using Epic’s Unreal Engine 3 for next-gen projects.

Too Human had been in development across multiple platforms for over six years before the studio went in full production on an Xbox 360 edition of the game.

It is believed that at the outset of the 360 project, work was carried out on incomplete versions of the Unreal Engine. Silicon Knights said it would be promised functional version of the engine no later than six months after the Xbox 360’s development kits were complete.

The dispute appeared to have turned bitter in May 2006 – allegedly two months after Epic’s final deadline for handing over a complete engine. That month, Silicon Knights presented Too Human to various journalists at E3, and the title was mocked.

Dyack blamed Epic. He said that many aspects of the Unreal Engine were not functional.

The Too Human project, however, was exclusively locked to the Unreal Engine. Dyack elected to rewriting portions of the engine’s code so it would behave and deliver results in ways that Silicon Knights was more familiar with and expected.

The modifications were apparently transformative enough that it was renamed the Silicon Knights Engine.

In July the next year Silicon Knights sued Epic Games due to the "inadequacies" of the incomplete engine. In August, Epic Games counter-sued Silicon Knights, claiming that it was using its engine as it pleased without any cost.

New developments

Though the court case had appeared to simmer, new developments have given Silicon Knights cause to proceed.

The studio says that, in 2006, Disney made “almost identical claims” against Epic Games’ engine business.

The district court paper – which Kotaku has decided not to specify – claimed “other [Unreal Engine] licensees expressed many of the very same frustrations that [Silicon Knights] did about representations made by Epic that were unfulfilled and perceived to be misleading.”

The court paper also apparently suggested Epic Games could have “a possible motive to deceive Silicon Knights into entering into the licence Agreement in order to fund the development costs of its own games and delay the work of SK and other competing licensees on their video games.”

The paper allegedly continued: “There is also Epic’s admission in its counterclaim that it developed Unreal Engine 3 in conjunction with the development of its own game as part of its ‘synergistic model’ and not separately as it had led Silicon Knights to believe.”

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