Gears of War + Unreal 3 = 1 good game, 2 great level editors
A few weeks ago I was finally able to purchase the first game with the new Unreal 3 editor. Despite the pull away from gaming machinima towards stand alone software like IClone and Moviestorm, I've been so looking forward to the Unreal 3 editor. Nathan Moller (Mu) was praising the new editor when he went to work for Bioware early last year. Of course, they were all using it at Bioware because Mass Effect, their big Xbox 360 game that was recently released to wide acclaim, uses a pumped up version of Unreal 3. for their engine. That bastard kept telling me how great it was to work with; how incredible the new tools are...bladda bladda bladda.
So, early November rolls around and I'm rushing to Fry's Electronics to get Gears of War for the PC because it has a variation of the Unreal 3 editor. Stupid Fry's people didn't have a clue; rush to GameStop 10 miles away and "Bing!", they are just unpacking it and are happy to sell me a copy of their standard edition in shrink-wrap, baby. Get it home and start to install. Cut to: one hour later and the game is still installing: WTF?
Finally, after almost 70 minutes the game is installed. I grab the newest Nvidia drivers and update, reboot and double click the GoW shortcut (by this time I'm nervous as hell...why?). The splash screen appears...almost there..... 6 minutes later the game comes up and I'm able to start a new game. The screen is choppy as hell at high resolution so I kick it down to 1028x760 and it's still choppy as hell..unplayable (and the game takes up 12 gigs!) Damn!
Cut to: three days later.
I've re-installed 3x (3 + hours) and have hand fixed the exe.ini file as per the Epic GoW forums suggestion (apparently dozens of people have this problem). Eventually through trial and error I'm able to get a half-decent frame rate and can play the game with some patience. No such luck with the editor. No matter what I do, the editor will not load.
Finish the game and try the editor again. Update with new Nvidia drivers, defrag, clean out the C: drive, try re-installing on another drive: no editor. Then finally read a short post in the forums that say you have to click "install editor" in a tiny box on the install splash screen in order to get the editor to work. I uninstall and re-install this time clicking the damn "install editor" box! Cut to: hour later and I try to load the editor....nothing. Nothing I could do would cause the editor to come up and work.
But the game-play was a lot of fun. Since I've been re-thinking my machinima adaptation of Macbeth recently, the settings in GoW look mighty "macbethian" to me. Surprisingly good cut-scenes for the film and very good (if slightly cliched) voice acting. The cover system used in the game is terrific, as is the level design and flow between he story and game-play. So good, that I forgot how pissed off I was about not being able to use the game editor I've been panting about for half the year.
Cut to: Unreal 3 purchase at GameStop a week later; Nice shiny tin package for the Collector's Edition: A young woman happily unwrapped the box in the back room and brought it out to me to sell: $59.95 (bling!) Took it home an installed it. This time it went in faster (35 minutes). Nice. Reboot. Click UT3 short cut, splash screen comes up....splash screen...splash screen...crashes to desktop. I am a rock. I am an island.
Cut to: 5 frustrating days later i read that it's my XFI soundcard. I go to the Creative website and they haven't updated drivers for the card in over a year. I see red for a few moments, recover an start thinking. Hmn.....what to do?...what to do? Ah! Yes, I've got another cheap Soundblaster card in the machine which I use for my removable Linux drive! I've disabled it in the windows manager. What if I updated the drivers for this cheap Soundblaster and then used it for Unreal 3 instead of the XFI? I could just disable the XFI and re-enable when I need it. Would windows XP SP2 go balooey on me?
Cut to: 2 hours later I'm playing Unreal just fine (as a new game, it's a lot like the old one...keep moving, no innovation here, keep moving...) Close out the game and try the editor. A brief moment of anxiety with a black screen and Zoooop! the new Unreal Editor comes up and I am a very happy fellow. Almost done listening to tutorials included on Special Edition (3d buzz) and am starting to work on my own in the level editor, which is much, much improved. I take it back that Nathan is a bastard, he was just telling me the truth.
Now there's additive AND subtractive level creation. There is a new "play in-game" function which allows you to play in game without having to jump through hoops; a nice visual scripting function (Kismet), very clear textures/materials editing. And the levels look gorgeous. Such a very cool editor.
Moral of Story: even if game companies don't do their homework, if you do yours you can fix their problems by thinking and asking questions, i.e. use the forums.
-Epic's Gears of War forums and mod developers site
-Epic's Unreal 3 forums and mod developers site
-Hourence's GoW and UT3 tutorials
-Canned Mushroom's video tuts for GoW
-Gas Duck's video/html tutorials for Gow
-Rypel Cam mod for Unreal 3 (fantastic!)
-Some of the 3dbuzz tutorials posted at Stage6
-Very good tutorial by Jesse on importing from Maya/3DSMax to UT3
-Great interview with Mark Rein of Epic @ Gamasutra