RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Just as in any field, video game developers have their own jargon and acronyms that make up language only insiders understand. Most of us tune out the terms, wishing a universal translator existed for geek speak and hoping that we can grasp the terms’ meanings based on context.

However, on Tuesday curiosity overwhelmed me to the point that I had to ask Dana Cowley at Epic Games to explain in terms even a lowly non-games industry journalist could understand just what makes that company’s game engine unique.

So, hang on. Here come explanations for “dynamic ambient occlusion/post-processing filter,” “high-density environments” and “destructible environments.” If you think you know what each term means, keep reading. You may be surprised.

Epic used those three terms as part of an announcement declaring SEGA had licensed Epic’s Unreal Engine 3 for a future game.

By explaining the terms, Cowley is helping people outside gaming to understand why the Unreal 3 engine is probably the most sophisticated and most often licensed engine in the exploding video games industry today. of course, the engine also has helped make Epic’s Unreal Tournament 3 and Gears of War huge sellers as well. And watch out for Gears of War 2, coming soon.

Dynamic ambient occlusion “basically means more realistic shading of entire scenes,” Cowley wrote.

Here is a more in-depth explanation:

“Ambient occlusion / post-processing filter: UE3’s ambient occlusion technology renders an approximation of global illumination by calculating the accessibility of each pixel. The result is increased perception of geometric shape for the entire scene, including dynamic characters. The effect is scene-independent and operates with constant memory and performance overhead with no pre-processing.”

In other words, scenes become more realistic, less cartoonish.

So what about destructible environments?

“If something in the environment looks like it should break, it does,” Cowley said. “Achieving this on a complex level is fairly new territory for games.”

All those special effects we see in movies such as the new Indiana Jones are more and more available in a $60 game.

Epic’s “destructible environments” definition: “UE3’s new fracturing tool and runtime enable developers to take virtually any existing mesh, slice it up into as many fragments as desired, and destroy structures. This structural analysis tool produces far more realistic, destructible environments.”

OK, so far, so good. Now, what about the crowds?

“Hundreds of characters can be onscreen at the same time,” Cowley explained.

This development means game creators can turn combat into mass mayhem.

The Epic definition: “UE3’s new crowd system with flocking technology can simulate in real time hundreds of characters within a scene. Battling the Locust Horde in the original Gears of War often involved attacking five or six enemies at once, and it’s now possible to have masses of enemies on screen at once.”

Added Cowley: “Hope that helps!”

Yes, Dana, it does.