Epic steals Apple's thunder with Flash of genius

Epic steals Apple's thunder with Flash of genius

By Rob Crossley

October 4th 2011 at 11:19PM

The once PC-centric company demonstrates how far it has come since 2005

If both Mike Capps and Tim Sweeney were apprehensive during their flight into LAX this week, their return back to North Carolina will almost certainly feel like a first-class trip.

Because today, during the Holy Hour of Western Technology – the iPhone press conference – both men swept into Los Angeles and together stole the excitement that Apple usually commands so effortlessly.

Apple’s long-awaited “new iPhone extravaganza” left consumers feeling a numb sensation of uncertainty which, as will become clear momentarily, tends to precede an anticlimax.

The company revealed its iPhone 4S – a somewhat upgraded edition of one of the world’s most popular phones – but there was no show-stopper.

The mobile device sector is one of the most rapidly-shifting in the history of consumer technology – problematically so – but today Apple’s move was to stabilise, not disrupt. It wanted to enhance, not reinvent. Expand, not explore.

Apple’s shares immediately fell 5 per cent. At the time of writing, and after the announcement that iPhone 4S will launch in two weeks, they have begun to claw back up. But it isn't the graph that new CEO Tim Cook was hoping for.

Stakes in Apple are often sold on the notion that this inimitable company – which invented the iPod, iPhone and iPad – is also building something completely unexpected that will invent another new market.

Many games professionals, in particular, want that something else to be a TV. But Apple’s plan today appeared to be about cementing its position and finding its feet – fortunate timing considering the turbulence that followed Steve Jobs’s resignation.

That left a rare opening for another company to steal the iPhone firm’s thunder, and Epic Games – with the help of not one, but two separate announcements – was in electric form.

Today the company hit a watershed moment in its ‘Unreal Everywhere’ masterplan, by revealing to the world the Unreal Engine 3 running inside a Flash player.

The suggestion seems ridiculous: A leading engine for the current generation of games consoles can now export high-end content to browsers.

How sophisticated those games will be when running on the hardware-accelerated Flash Player 11 is a matter for debate.

But Epic knows that, like with Infinity Blade for iOS and Gears of War for consoles, games are the only way to demonstrate the true grit of new technology.

That’s precisely why Epic founder Tim Sweeney today took stage at the Adobe Max event to demonstrate the unfeasible: Unreal Tournament 3 playing in real-time inside Adobe Flash Player 11.

Unreal Engine 3 – the driving force behind numerous modern games such as Batman Arkham Asylum, Mirror’s Edge and the upcoming BioShock Infinite – now supports a free platform that takes two minutes to download.

And while Sweeney was causing gale-force gasps from Adobe Max delegates in Los Angeles, Capps (pictured) stepped onto Apple’s own stage in Cupertino to unveil the first game playing on an iPhone 4S.

Capps, who directs the games segment of Epic, will be delighted to know that even the most casual tech blogs were already writing the words “Infinity Blade 2” before he even began to speak.

The iPhone has its blockbuster apps, but Capps’s ceremonious demonstration of Infinity Blade 2 was a passing of age for the game; from risky experiment to huge success to, hereon, a triple-A franchise for smartphones.

The game, made by subsidiary studio Chair, will launch in December; just a few weeks after the iPhone 4S hits retail.

The two announcements, both made in the space of thirty minutes, was a momentous demonstration of how far Epic Games has come since 2005.

Since the advent of the current generation of consoles, the games business has undergone a tectonic shift - one which pulls away from the rickety living-room devices and onto more flexible internet-focused systems.

Epic, which six years ago wouldn’t be insulted if you called it the “PC and Xbox company”, today proved it has followed these trends masterfully.