November 25, 2006 2:08 PM | Simon Carless
One of the more surprising stories I've written on Gamasutra over the previous few months was the news, purposefully released late on a Friday in August, that Electronic Arts was licensing Unreal Engine 3 for "several next-generation titles that are currently under development."
As I wrote at the time: "The brief announcement states that EA "employs a variety of engines, tools and technologies to best serve the needs of each game and development team", but raises interesting issues regarding the Criterion-authored Renderware engine, purchased by EA in 2004 alongside the Burnout developer, and its intended global EA rollout."
Immediately subsequent to that, analyst PJ McNealy put out a research note claiming that the new next-gen Medal Of Honor title, named Medal Of Honor: Airborne and in development at Electronic Arts Los Angeles, had switched to UE3, though EA apparently wasn't commenting on specific games at the time.
Well, preparing a news story for Gama earlier this week, I spotted that, on Gnomon Online's instructor page, Bil Leeman - [EDIT: VFX Animator, thanks commenter!], EA Los Angeles, is working on MoH: Airborne and is teaching... Unreal Editor 3. Aha! And actually, a little Googling later, it turns out that a late October GameSpot preview of the game confirms: "The team at EA LA is using a "heavily modified" version of Unreal Engine 3 to create Airborne."
Now, why is this a big deal? Well, in the February 2006 issue of Game Informer magazine, which had the big unveiling of MoH: Airborne, commented at the time (sorry for scan linkage): "This was our first glimpse of Medal Of Honor Airborne - a video combining running interactive game software and target footage exhibiting Renderware on the PlayStation 3."
So it definitely seems like (and please correct me if you know otherwise!) the Medal Of Honor next-gen team had to change engines midstream when Renderware didn't come up to scratch for developing a AAA-wannabe World War II FPS. Given that EA or Criterion doesn't really seem to have a flagship next-gen title demonstrating Renderware, it may be that the engine team is significantly behind UE3's technology curve - further cementing Unreal's position as leading next-gen game engine.
It's going be interesting, frankly, to see whether EA ever mentions the Renderware name in public again with regard to it being a core company strength - I'm betting not, even if elements of the engine end up getting used in some internal technology. Indeed, the recent EA press reelease touting their PS3 titles mentions the 'bleeding-edge Frostbite game engine' for Battlefield: Bad Company, but doesn't even reference Renderware for Criterion's Burnout 5, which is obviously using upgraded elements of that engine.
Don't get me wrong, this isn't a complete disaster overall for EA, but it shows the difficulty of implementing a company-wide game engine when your game genres are so diverse, and a lot of the tech used for current-gen is already heavily entwined within existing game engines. And for Medal Of Honor: Airborne (and possibly other games that were significantly in development with Renderware before being switched to UE3), it may be a big deal simply because it's horrendously tricky to change your entire technology base after you start core development.
As EA's John Buchanan commented at TGS 2005, when it was revealed that Electronic Arts Los Angeles was on 'the cutting edge' of the RenderWare implementation: "For the most part, the understanding is that we want to get ready to innovate and experiment, and in order to do that, we need to stop wasting time by re-inventing a rendering or animation engine." Well, woops - but in some ways the switching of Medal Of Honor to UE3 can be seen as vindication of that statement - just not using an engine that's actually owned by EA. Ouch.
Categories: PlayStation 3