It's been coming for a while, if we're honest. Epic have recently been taking it in turns to say disparaging things about the state of PC gaming, to the point that CliffyB's now considered something of a Benedict Arnold figure in some of the more rabid PC camps.
And now they're burning another bridge, further confirming that PC is no longer their most beloved (edit - for those misinterpreting, Epic are not abandoning the PC, just confirming they're developing their next-gen engine for consoles first and foremost). It's hardly a shock, but allow us a teary moment anyway.
The latest instalment of TG Daily's fact-packed multi-part chat with Epic CEO Tim Sweeney contains this minor bombshell:
Version 4 [of the Unreal engine] will exclusively target the next console generation, Microsoft's successor for the Xbox 360, Sony's successor for the Playstation 3 - and if Nintendo ships a machine with similar hardware specs, then that also. PCs will follow after that.
Well, the good news is we'll get it eventually, though probably in the form of a port of a game that's been out on Xbox 720 for a while already, and possibly with its features dictated more by what console hardware is capable of than has previously been the case. As Sweeney suggests the new engine's due on console around 2011-2012, we're in for a long, long wait to find out.
Guess all our moaning about UT3 not being enough of a step forward, and then not even buying the thing, may have spelt the end of Unreal's loving relationship with the PC. Now we're just one of its lesser concubines. UT engine revisions have always been synonymous with the march of PC progress, so who do we now look to as our vanguard? Valve and Crytek, perhaps. In the case of the former, there's the excitement of their ability to twist a relatively undemanding engine into impossibly creative new shapes, and in the latter of making us gasp at evermore photo-real vistas. Epic? Pah - who needs 'em?
Well, my worry is less about missing out on another UT, if there is one, and more being denied great third-party titles that happen to use the engine - Bioshock was one of the first Unreal Engine 3 games, for instance. We don't wanna miss out on stuff like that because the new engine's bound up in Xboxian red tape for 18 months. We shall see, anyway.
Edit - it is worth nothing that Unreal Engine 3 first lead on console too, with Gears of War - though I'm not sure whether that was by accident or design, what with UT3 suffering a year-long delay. The engine turned PC friendly with Medal of Honor Airborne and Bioshock. And, crikey, look at all the Unreal 3-powered games out or due out soonish.
More happily, Sweeney hints what's next for PC hardware:
Intel will implement lots of extensions into the CPU and Nvidia will integrate many extensions into the GPU by the time next-gen consoles begin to surface. We are going to see some CPU cores that will deal with gameplay logic, some GPU stuff that will run general computing... and two different compilers. One for the GPU and one for the CPU. The result will be a reduction of our dependence on bloated middleware that slows things down, shielding the real functionality of the devices.
This quad-core CPU isn't going to last me much longer, is it? Sigh. Still, it'll be fascinating to see what multi-core gaming done properly will be like, and if all the old talk of dedicated-core physics or AI can ever come to pass. The whole piece is well worth a read, going into further detail about the changing nature of hardware, the next console generation and the state of play with Unreal Engine 4.