continues to encourage additions to its game with “mods” submitted by developers from around the world.

Modifications, or mods, are being made by so-called mdders, in a $1 million five-phase “Make Something Unreal Contest” that Epic is sponsoring along with Intel. Final winners will be disclosed later this year. The most recently completed round of the competition – phase two – included $70,000 in cash prizes. Unreal Tournament has already sold more than 1 million copies, but the Cary-based creators of the game are keeping it fresh with additional content.

“This contest is just one of the ways that Intel’s Visual Adrenaline developer program encourages developers and enthusiasts alike to get the most out of PC gameplay,” said Elliot Garbus, vice president of Intel Software and Services Group and general manager Visual Computing Software Division.

The Phase 2 winning mods will be showcased at the 2009 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco March 23-27 at the Intel Lounge. (Video of the award winners can be found through the Web links with this story.)

The contest, which launched last year, has four phases with the final phase slated for this fall. Steve Polge, Epic Games’ lead designer and lead programmer on the Unreal Tournament 3 series, said that by the time the contest is over contestants will have spent 18 months working on a game. That’s very close to the two years that it traditionally takes to create a game. The various phases are like the milestones game developers have to meet for publishers to keep a game on track for its release date, he added.

“The first phase has very simple goals like make a cool level, make a cool character, and make one cool vehicle,” explained Polge. “Then with the second phase, we start judging full mods. The categories start becoming more and more complex and integrate the pieces from the first phase into the mod. By the third and fourth phase we focus on best overall art for a mod and things like that. We are really trying to drive the teams from starting out small to completing by the end a full scale mode with complete conversion that has really good art, really good game play new vehicles, new characters and all kinds of stuff in it.

“Once the Phase 4 winners are announced, we will take the top mods and enter them into the Grand Finals,” said Bolge. “We’ll give them a chance to polish up their mod a little more and we’ll do a final judging where we really take an in-depth look because the grand prize winner is going to basically win a license to make a commercial game.”

Polge has been with Epic Games since 1997 and he credits his work on id Software’s Quake II engine while working full time at IBM with getting him a job in the game industry.

“I wasn’t really thinking of a career in the game industry at the time but it was too cool of an opportunity to pass up when it came up,” said Polge, who has worked at Epic on every Unreal game.

These days, mods are like a resume. Many employees at Epic have used mods to get their jobs. And many previous Make Something Unreal contest winners are now working in the game industry. In addition, two mods were released as commercial games.

“With the contest, there are really three things we are trying to do,” explained Polge. “First, we want to bring more cool content to our community, so the contest is a way to push mod authors to create new stuff. We’re also helping these mod creators take their lofty goals and narrow them down into a realistic game experience within the time allotted. And another one of the other things is to use this contest to find great talent through the mod community — and we are always looking. When we look at the mod contest, we are always looking for the areas we need to fill. And it’s not just us. We have a large number of licensees who are hiring people from the mod community. If you want to make games; there is no better way than a mod to show that you can do it.”

Epic is offering modders new content come March 5 with the release of the free Unreal Tournament 3 Titan Pack on PC and PlayStation 3. In addition to being filled with new gameplay options, it offers new mod capabilities that will likely influence the next two phases of the contest. Epic releases the full version of its Unreal Engine 3 technology with each new PC game, including Gears of War PC and Unreal Tournament 3 PC.

Epic will begin accepting submissions for Phase 3 of the $1 Million Intel Make Something Unreal Contest in April 2009, and the entry deadline for Phase 3 is May 15, 2009. Participation in previous phases is not required for eligibility in Phase 3.