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An Epic Tale

In case you hadn't noticed yet, Epic's Unreal back catalogue - so no Gears of War or Jazz Jackrabbit, unfortunately - has cropped up on Steam. This comes just a couple of days after guys-who-enjoy-opening-squillions-of-data-files-in-notepad spotted what they reckoned were references to Epic games in Steam's guts, causing web rumour mills to spin themselves into a frenzy.

The sheer breadth of the Steam store is becoming faintly (but agreeably) obscene. If EA, Ubisoft and Microsoft ever end up pledging allegiance to it, I foresee the death of Windows. We boot straight into Steam, we play all our games in Steam, we chat with our friends in Steam and we hack its browser to write and read RPS in Steam. Then the entire planet splits into two opposing camps - the Valvemen and the Googlemen - and we fight to the death for which giant monolithic corporation we want to entrust all our personal data to. Maybe.

It's an interesting move, given how secondary PC gaming has been to Epic's endeavours of late. And given their involvement with the PC Gaming Alliance, whose main aim seems to be the preservation of plastic-disc-based PC games - prompting this chucklesome moment at GDC:

PC Gamer’s Tim Edwards: “Does the PC even need retail, I mean-”

Epic's Mark Rein. “YES! Yes.”

(via Jim's report here).

So it's great that they're not ignoring digital distribution. Maybe it's just because they realised they'd get to say "Unreal deal" if they did. Epic's Steam discography might superficially seem a relatively small pile of game for a company (once) so closely associated with the PC - three variants of Unreal Tournament, and two Unreals - but it constitutes a neat chronology of graphical advancement over the last decade. If I owned three PCs, I'd have them each running a different UT at once and strafe my head from left to right along the row of monitors, pretending that I'm whizzing through time like some particularly unadventurous Doctor Who.

The whole lot goes for $54 (about 30 of your Britisher groats), or you can pick'n'mix. What I can't make up my mind on is which will prove most popular - the tried, tested, beloved and multi-modded UT2004 for a mere $14, or the slightly anti-climactic, but pixel-shaded to infinity, eye-delights of UT3 for $45. That's significantly cheaper than something like Bioshock or Frontlines, but I suspect UT3 dropping to $35ish could well win it the success that has reportedly eluded it thus far - though apparently it's "shipped" a million copies to date.

Me, I'm oddly tempted to take a look at Unreal 2 again. I really didn't think much of it first time around, but I'm curious to revisit its shovel-load of overstated, day-glo sci-fi trappings, in context to the gloomy, unified look, terse dialogue and super-polish of their only single-player game since, Gears of War. Are the seeds of GoW's so-macho, scowling supermen in Unreal 2?

Finally, here's some token everyone-loves-everyone quotes.

"Epic is a leading developer of game engine technology and has produced some of my favorite games of all time. It's an honor to be working with them and offering their current and classic titles to the millions of Steam gamers around the world."
- Gabe Newell, Valve

"Steam is a revolutionary technology that opens up an entirely new way to put our games into the hands of millions of PC gamers around the world. Valve has changed the face of digital distribution for game developers, publishers and consumers, and we are thrilled to be a part of the Steam community."
Jay Wilbur, Epic Games

I wish Epic Games were still called Epic MegaGames. In fact, I wish every developer employed hyperbolic prefixes. Valve UltraSoftware, The Creative SplendidoAssembly, Relic StrongerThanGodsEntertainment...

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