Now that Microsoft officially announced the two Xbox 360 SKUs, the Core and Premium Edition, it has been revealed that Xbox 360 games must work if the detachable hard drive is not present. Although developers can take advantage of the hard drive to speed up loading times, Microsoft has worked with developers for the past year to assure all Xbox 360 games work without the hard drive.
This caused a big splash in the community and raised one major concern: Will developers be able to fully utilize the hard drive if it is mandatory that games work without it?
Considering the fact that in addition to Gears of War, Epic Games also develops the Unreal Engine tools and technology, which has been licensed by several game companies, we wanted to know how does the lack of a hard drive affects an Unreal Engine 3-powered game.
We had the chance to interview Mark Rein, Vice President of Epic Games, to discuss the implications of the recent announcements and how Unreal Engine 3 deals with an Xbox 360 Core system.
How does the “virtual” lack of a hard drive affect the Unreal Engine 3? Would that force Epic Games to cater the UE3 to the lowest spec SKU, in this case the Xbox 360 Core System, or would you allow the developers to take advantage of the hard drive when present?
Mark Rein: We’ve designed the streaming system in Unreal Engine 3 with the expectation that we wouldn’t have a hard drive at our disposal so there’s nothing that needs to change at this point. Developers can take advantage of the availability of a hard drive in numerous ways. That’s not really an engine issue but more about what a particular developer decides the functionality of their particular game should be. I would certainly expect many games to be able to take advantage of the hard drive.
As soon as we heard that Microsoft informed developers to not rely on a hard drive, being mandatory for games to work without one, we wondered if that kills the Seamless World Support feature found in the UE3 that allows the engine to anticipate the content that will be needed and stream it in advance?
Mark Rein: We designed our streaming system around the optical disc. While we would have loved to have a hard drive on every machine getting 512MB of memory, rather than 256MB, was a far bigger win for us. The additional memory allows us to produce scenes with truly next-generation visuals and provides room to buffer the data that is being streamed in.
You revealed at E3 2005 that in the case of Unreal Tournament 2007 the game will continuously stream content not only to allow big worlds such as those featured in the Conquest mode, but to also have matches starting right after the previous one ended. Hypothetically, could all this still be possible on the Xbox 360 without a hard drive?
Mark Rein: Hypothetically this should be possible on Xbox 360 but thus far the majority of the effort on UT2007 has been aimed at the PC where we would naturally expect systems to have more available system memory. Also I should clarify that the idea is to load the next map while you’re watching the scoreboard which appears when a match is completed.
The Unreal Engine 3 is being used to develop massively multiplayer games like WEBZEN’s MMOFPS, Huxley. Can a MMOG that uses the Unreal Engine 3 work without a hard drive?
Mark Rein: You could certainly design an MMOG to work around not having a hard drive, and I know of one unannounced MMOG, using Unreal Engine 3, that plans to do that.