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Epic's Sweeney On the PC Shareware Revolution 111

simoniker writes "Over at Gamasutra, there's a massive new interview with Epic (Mega)Games founder Tim Sweeney, the guy who's still a key technical figure at the Unreal Engine/Gears Of War developer. He discusses his early programming days, the story behind classic shareware game/tool ZZT, the origins of Epic, the '90s shareware business, and even a bit about the future as well. Particularly neat is his revelation that you can still order ZZT via mail, with orders fulfilled by his dad: 'My father still lives at the address where Potomac Computer Systems started up, so he still gets an order every few weeks... he's retired now, so he doesn't have much to do. Every week, he'll just take a stack of a few orders, put disks in them, and mail them out.'"
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Epic's Sweeney On the PC Shareware Revolution

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  • ZZT! (Score:1, Interesting)

    by atroc ( 945553 ) <> on Monday May 25, 2009 @09:44PM (#28090099) Homepage
    Man, I used to love ZZT. It honestly had a decent OOP programming language built-in. Too bad it didn't allow you to extend it... WiL ftw!
  • shareware (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @09:51PM (#28090149)
    The reasons why shareware exploded into growth in the 90s were because of a number of reasons. Hardware was expensive, today if a game doesn't work because you have too little RAM all you need to do is spend less than $20 and get a gig of DDR2 RAM, likewise if you don't have enough storage, you can move some pictures or movies onto a few GB flash drive for less than $20, if you don't have a fast enough graphics card all you need to do is spend $100 and you can get one that will handle most games (well, perhaps not Chrysis but other than that....), if your CPU is the bottleneck you can get a decent enough box for less than $500, back in the 90s an upgrade like that could be a thousand dollars or more. Shareware gave you a chance to make sure the game ran decently before you spent $50 on it. It also curbed piracy, by giving away part of the game for free pirates had something to distribute other than the full game. On the other hand shareware was as annoying as heck and still is especially on non-PC platforms such as Windows Mobile, iPhone (though due to the app store its a lot better than on Windows Mobile), or the generic cell phone.
  • Re:Poor dad (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Vu1turEMaN ( 1270774 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @10:06PM (#28090291)

    Honestly, I'll buy it from dad. Never heard of it, and it sounds like something interesting to throw on the W95 image.

  • Re:Epic Rocks (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 25, 2009 @10:11PM (#28090335)

    Haha, yes! Epic Pinball was awesome. It was the first video pinball game that I remember having good physics. The soundtrack was pretty badass too.

    If you're still into pinball, check out Future Pinball []. It's a fully 3D representation of pinball that you can use to create your own tables or download a number of ones that other people have done.

  • by blazer1024 ( 72405 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @10:15PM (#28090359)

    It's not like it's that hard to *get* a programming language for Windows, though.

    Just download a copy of Visual [C++|C#|VB] [] and you can do all kinds of fun stuff.

    Windows doesn't have a programming language at boot because it's an OS for the masses, and the masses would get confused by a "READY." prompt.

  • I'm confused (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 25, 2009 @10:22PM (#28090411)

    does he get orders every week or does he have a huge backlog to hold him over:

    "...he still gets an order every few weeks... Every week, he'll just take a stack of a few orders..."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 25, 2009 @10:29PM (#28090443)

    I do recall some of the computer stuff from the 80s and 90s having some emphasis on programming, compared to today where it's never mentioned outside of a specific class for it.

    But then, it's like cars. They don't teach auto-repair and other mechanical stuff. Most people will never even think about that kind of thing.

  • by Epsilon Moonshade ( 108853 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @10:53PM (#28090607)

    ZZT had (and still has) some absolutely awesome stuff in it. I remember, it was the first game I actually got for my computer. It was also my introduction to programming and dicking around with "how do you make a playable game?" as well. There were some absolutely awesome fan-made worlds which really pushed the in-game programming to its limits - "Operation: Gamma Velorum" comes immediately to mind. It did some stuff which the in-game engine allowed, but I don't think it was expected to be used in -quite- that way...

    You can still find a bunch of fan-worlds at [] (among other places), but it actually looks like they're trying to close down the page. If you're getting into the classic stuff, get it while the getting is good. _

    As far as other games, it's funny, I was discussing this on IRC the other day - Epic Pinball, Jill of the Jungle, Jazz Jackrabbit 1 -and- 2, Traffic Department 2192, Solar Winds, One Must Fall 2097, Kiloblaster, Overkill, and Zone 66, all games I (think I) got under that label when I was just starting out, and picked up again for my collection of classic games. :D

    Of course, I'm not 100% sure they were -all- by Epic, and I'm not opening them all just to check, but I'm pretty certain that most of 'em were.

  • Re:Epic Rocks (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MachDelta ( 704883 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @10:59PM (#28090639)

    Lets see, I remember... Epic Pinball, Jazz Jackrabbit, Jill of the Jungle, Dare to Dream, Solar Winds, Castle of the Winds, Highway Hunter, One Must Fall 2097, and Seek and Destroy... yup. Lots of time wasted on Epic Megagames stuff back in the day. And that's completely ignoring the fact that I was an Unreal Tournament (1/2/2.5/3) junkie for six or so years. Epic has definitely published and produced some memories for me.

  • by FreonTrip ( 694097 ) <.freontrip. .at.> on Monday May 25, 2009 @11:31PM (#28090869)
    I remember playing Jill of the Jungle on a friend's 8 MHz Tandy 286, and being in awe that it scaled down so gracefully - my home PC ran with VGA graphics and 16-bit stereo audio, and his ran with CGA and PC speaker sound. The framerate was still perfectly reasonable too, except when one invoked the wrath of the bees. Out they'd swarm, devouring CPU time and chopping the framerate in half. Even now when we find some new computer-eating FPS we bitch about "a serious case of the lag bees" and laugh...
  • Re:shareware (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @05:12AM (#28092491) Journal

    1. Modems were slow (even slower than they are now).

    When they even existed. It wasn't until 97-98 over here that Internet access of some kind became common (though far from ubiquitous) and only a few people used a BBS. You're definitely right about the speed though. My first MODEM was 2400 Kb/s. Discounting protocol overhead, it would have taken over 1.5 hours to download a floppy disk's worth of content (there's a reason old web browsers had a 'disable images' button in the toolbar). Over here, dial-up was charged at the rate of a local call, typically around 1-2p/minute. This meant that it was not much cheaper to download a demo than it was to get it shipped. Typically, a good shareware game would have copies passed around on floppy. I don't remember anyone registering a shareware program - I remember my father's company trying to register pkzip, but not getting any responses to their letters - but for games most people I knew just played the shareware version and then moved on to the next one.

  • by Sits ( 117492 ) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @07:02AM (#28092985) Homepage Journal

    In fact there's an archive of Tim Sweeney of posts and interviews [] out on the web.

    As an aside, I remember reading an article Tim wrote about the programming languages [] back in 2000...

God helps them that themselves. -- Benjamin Franklin, "Poor Richard's Almanac"