There's no PS4 or Xbox 720 behind the curtain, Alan Willard assures a dark room full of eager video game journalists. Nope, it's just a current high-end piece of PC hardware. In spite of the company's position as a creator of one of the industry's leading game engines, Epic doesn't get a peek at Sony and Microsoft's next generation consoles before the companies are ready for their grand unveiling. "We won't know final hardware specs until everyone else does," the company's senior technical artist tells me after the presentation, adding with a laugh, "If they do, I don't know anything about it."
The company spent this year's E3 cycling media in and out of its small meeting room on the second floor of the convention center, dimming the lights and showing off just what Unreal Engine 4 has to offer -- or at least a pretty good idea of what it will offer when it's finally ready for prime time. It's clear from the excitement on the Epic employees' faces that all involved are relieved to finally show the demo off for gatherings of eager writers. No surprise there, of course. After all, the engine has been in development in some form or other for eight or nine years -- several lifetimes in the roman candle-like world of video game development.
"[Epic founder Tim Sweeney] started looking into different programming languages and where the whitepapers were going," Willard tells me, describing Unreal Engine 4's infancy. "Stuff that wasn't necessarily being used for development yet, but trying to envision where hardware was starting to go and starting to make deep-level tech decisions." It's a mind boggling proposition -- beginning development on an underlying technology for games that will run on systems debuting a decade or so after the fact.