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.
As far as launching your indie studio with this awesome free tech, here's how the pricing works: If you want to sell a game that you make with the UDK, you're all free and clear up until your first $5,000. After that, 25% of your revenue goes to Epic. Seems harsh, but still a lot better than whatever millions they're asking for a license these days. Here's their useful summary of their technology tithe demands: http://www.udk.com/licensing.html
I also really enjoyed reading the development walkthrough of how Psyonix Studios made Whizzle, a very small and beautifully-done 2D game made in a month from scratch by 1 artist and 1 programmer. Reading the walkthrough and then seeing how it came to life by watching their promo movie/developer diary was very cool.
The first full-length mod project to be released thanks to the UDK is Prometheus. It's a single-player time manipulation game where you use copies of yourself in different times to work your way through the levels. "Braid" meets "Portal" would be the easiest way to paint it in broad strok
es, though it's more like the Flash game Chronotron than Braid. The project was created and spearheaded by Rachel "Angel_Mapper" Cordone, who has been one of my favorite Unreal community luminaries since I played through her Aeryopolis level in Spatial Fear. I played Prometheus back when it was version 2.1, and I highly recommend it. (Versions 3 and 4 are the same thing, except 4 is the UDK release and 3 is the mod version for UT3.)
If you want to get started using the UDK to make your own games, Unreal rock star Hourences has released several tutorials for the new technologies, as well as a massive walkthrough of how to get the file paths and assets set up correctly for your new project.
Hourences' mod project The Ball also got a UDK release, although it's more of a string of puzzles than a real part of the series. The Ball did, however, get its final mod release yesterday, but that's still not the end of the story! The real end to the game will come in the standalone commercial release next year, along with revamped gameplay, levels, and cutscenes (so pretty much everything). Prometheus is also becoming a commercial product next year, so the professional indie/modding community looks like it's off to a healthy start!