I've returned. I promise no rigorous schedule, but I've been getting some encouragement to start back up, so I figure I'll post as ideas come up.
Today's post regards last week's excellent announcement from Epic about their Unreal Development Kit, which has surpassed 50,000 downloads in its first week of release and already has updates on the way. Whether this release was in reaction to Unity releasing their cross-platform game engine (formerly $199 per license) for free to indie developers or if that's just a matter of coincidence, the end result is that there are now 2 well-known game engines available to you so that you can do whatever your heart desires! (Rock, Paper, Shotgun raised a really interesting question: Instead of larger-scale mods, will we now be seeing more indie games released? I highly recommend the article. My guess would be that both will find their places; the major Total Conversions will move to being indie releases so they're not bound to the owners of a certain game, and the mods will shift back toward expansions/extensions of the parent's gameplay or story.)
My initial thought when I read about the UDK was that it was basically like giving everyone free licenses. Obviously that's not exactly true; the main differences between this and a license are 1) no tech support from Epic, and 2) no diddling the engine source code. However, it IS the latest possible version of UE3, so all the Lightmass technology and everything else that hasn't come out in a commercial product yet is in here. To quote one of Epic's employees from the BeyondUnreal announcement, "Man, one thing I hope you guys realize is that this is almost EXACTLY the engine build that we're using here at Epic! You get every single feature that we've been using here that aren't even in any games yet! We only got some of these features last week!"
The Lightmass technology really is beautiful. Included with the UDK is a trimmed-down version of UT3 featuring several levels overhauled with the new technology. I had to fire it up and make the comparison for myself, so following are screenshots from the 2 different DM levels. Feel free to click for the full-res versions, but be warned: they are huge.