Master Control Program Is Watching You

The GDC trailer for the latest version of the Unreal Engine isn’t exactly dynamite, but there’s one really interesting feature: the Master Control Program. This sinister-sounding application allows designers to precisely analyse activity within their maps – just as we saw Bungie do in their Halo level design chatter last year. I think it’s an interesting glimpse into where game design tools are heading, and the kind of meta-data that game designers can now rely on when they’re working with tech as sophisticated as this. A similar story of real world environment-use design came up when talking to the BLDGBLOG author recently, but I’ll link to that particular brain-dump when it goes live.


  1. Wurzel says:

    Wasn’t that the name of the bad guy in TRON?

  2. Doctor Doc says:

    Epic has always been awesome when it comes to graphics but they still seem to netcode. I would be much happier if they decided to move from the pre-quakeworld network model.

  3. NuZZ says:

    Love it! Unreal’s engine is so recognizable that it’s annoying when you have trashy games using the technology; but just not pulling it off properly at all.

  4. Alistair says:

    It’s interesting that the MCP is probably more involving than the average unreal shooter… do modern RTS give you tools like this to study the battlefield?

  5. Seniath says:

    I, for one, welcome our new AI overlords.

  6. Alistair says:

    … and in fact I was really impressed with the opening section on the editor – quality of tools is incredibly important.

  7. Tei says:

    Ok. done.

    I have just send a mail to EPIC. I am suggesting a plan to place goodies on the maps, to analize the buying habits of the players.

    Will change his router to pick a +10 HP Cola? or that atractive +4 rockets laptop?

  8. danielcardigan says:

    “Wasn’t that the name of the bad guy in TRON?”

    Yup. Allegedly an anagram of CP/M.

    link to

  9. Matt says:

    I believe valve have this sort of ability using steam, e.g. the death maps in the tf2 stats.

  10. Nutterguy says:


  11. jon_hill987 says:

    /me agrees with Matt, this looks similar to what Valve already do with some Source based games.

  12. rei says:

    Wow, editing my html tag made all sorts of crazy things happen, so an old-fashioned link to the Valve stuff:

    link to

  13. bob arctor says:

    Black face and white arms?

  14. Mike says:

    Yeah, as rei says – isn’t this old hat? Just what Valve’s been doing? Just a bit deeper, I guess.

  15. Schmung says:

    ’tis surely the future. This sort of data is excellent and tremendously useful. Can’t wait ’till it filters down to mod teams and the like as it will give them a leg up in matching the gameplay quality of larger releases.

  16. Ging says:

    You can’t be sure at what level valve uses the heat map information – if they just generate the stats based images of if they have the same level of control as the MCP appears to provide.

    Though we still have to nod to bungie, who really used this stuff first with the Halo series and their awesome stats tracking system.

  17. Dr_demento says:

    Yep, that’s pretty close to what Bungie and Valve already do. Still, those are both very much in-house systems, not middleware – this could see it deployed on a much larger scale.

    Bungie really don’t get enough props for their multiplayer game design talent….

  18. Matt says:

    Bungie did actually get in there first with the death maps, Valve were the second company I’ve ever seen do it.

    I think Bungie get plenty of props for their multiplayer game design talent, considering Halo3 has been at either no1 or 2 on xbox live for goodness knows how long.

    I guess we don’t see a lot of it simply because they’re not doing anything PC centric at the moment.

  19. Lu-Tze says:

    The cool thing about MCP is that you can track pretty much anything. You could, for example, cause every footstep a player takes whilst holding a flag to generate a small heatspot. Soon you find out what routes are common when capturing flags, and think about ways to cause it to branch more. Hell, by the same method you can just overlay pure movement, and see which bits of the level no-one ever uses and why that might be. And do you want to track kills or deaths? Tracking the location someone kills from to within a foot or so lets you highlight specific camp spots that are netting people an unusually high number of kills.

    Positional tracking like this, if you leave it plugged into the game when it goes live, can even start automatically generating exploits for you. If an exact XYZ location starts getting a huge number of kills from it, or there’s a particular bomb placement that starts getting used a hell of a lot, or Engineers are building Sentries that get obscene numbers of kills in particular positions, tools that grep huge amounts of data like this can let you know that these things exist, and direct you to fix it.

    That said, players tend to be extremely angsty about everything except for absolute exploiting getting fixed in maps. Restructuring a map after it’s been played for a few million hours because it highlights a major design flaw isn’t well received, even if it balances it better.

  20. Matt says:

    What might be very cool is to design procedurally generated map variants that are morphed directly based on statistical feedback. Someone cleverer than I should figure something like that out :P

  21. cHeal says:

    Arf, Matt that is a great idea actually. My only worry for the advent of these kind of tools is that it takes something which requires genuinely talent and intuition and turns it into a business flow chart. Presumably the cream will still rise to the top though.

  22. qrter says:

    Surely it is now possible to make an anti-Deathmatch map, where nobody dies.

  23. Jambe says:

    If Epic would develop fluid UIs for their PC releases in lieu of the clunky, poorly-ported console crud they’ve thrown at us lately, they’d be golden in my eyes. CliffyB’s intolerable console fetishism wouldn’t bother me if he at least realized that some PC gamers, do, in fact, have something of a soft spot for the Unreal series.

    The MCP is interesting. It’ll certainly improve the playtesting process — with all that traffic information available, I’d think a competent map creator could avoid a lot of potential problems (hallways that are too narrow, unintended vantage points that are perennially abused, etc).

  24. Erlam says:

    I remember seeing a heatmap for one of TF2’s levels (the first cart map) and noticing the very last point, just before you cross the corner, was bright red. There was no other red on the map.


    Anyway, I actually like the look of this, as it seems much easier to use than UT2k4’s… somewhat annoying texturing and model usage system.

  25. asdf says:

    IMO, in the the article header picture, the guy on the left looks better than the guy on the right, and the guy in the middle just looks horrible. New is crap :<

  26. lumpi says:

    Global Illumination. YES. Are they talking full, real time GI?

  27. unique_identifier says:

    @ lumpi : since they mentioned distributing the lighting calculations across multiple computers to speed them up, i’m guessing no.

  28. markcocjin says:

    And did you notice how the Unreal Engine has this tool that makes your regular characters ultra-masculine? That’s awesome man. I wish they had the Epic art team design Left 4 Dead’s Bill, Francis, Louis and Zoey. Right now, those characters look plain and boring. And I want the soundtrack to play ear cracking Metal.

    Now that’s a real man’s game.

  29. Sucram says:

    I can see a future with a Google approach to design. 40 variants of a level being put out with trees in subtly different positions, statistics determining which variant gets used.

  30. elmuerte says:

    Yes, Valve (and quite some before Valve) have been doing these things before Epic. But now, UE3 licensees will get the same ability to analyze their maps during play sessions.

    This is not a thing of being the first, or something. It’s about providing developers more and more powerful tools for game development.