With interest from all over, the recent Epic vs Silicon Knights court case has been one of the biggest games development stories of recent months.

Editorial: Engine troubles?

If you can call it a story, that is – if anything it is a fairly sad tale, especially when the punchline is that two developers have resorted to suing each other. It probably doesn’t help that consumer sites which don’t really understand the matter just egg on the spewing of hot air.

Looking at the case at hand, I can’t help but feel that it’s a non-issue – or at least, the umbrage between the outspoken figureheads on each side, Mark Rein and Denis Dyack, is just a red herring.

Surely UE3’s success is hinged not just on that it promises an amazing next-gen engine, but that Epic Games goes through the various TRCs leading up to release ahead of all its licensees, proving that there is viable tech to aid new games?

After all, the company has probably chosen to lose money by tying Unreal Tournament 3 to timed PS3 exclusivity, using that as an excuse to optimise the engine for Sony’s format. Of course, the game’s proximity to Halo 3 may disprove any real altruism, but the possibility the company is losing out in the short-term in order to help its licensees in the long-term is worth remembering.

Fact is, engines are just a part of the story for every game they power – the game itself is of course where the real power lies. Proof of this is that Epic has the entire Gears of War source code available to licensees to read and copy if they need to in order to join the dots between game content and engine code.

Whichever side of the legal fight you sympathise with most, all the lawsuit really serves to underline is one of games development middleware’s dirty secrets: that no engine is ever finished.

As we learn this month, in both our dedicated game engine feature and talk with NaturalMotion as it moves from just animation engine development to full game production, the technology is only half the story. And it’s when and how you fill in the gaps that is most important.

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