"Keep your eyes open for ‘megaton face melting news.” – Epic Games’ “Cliffy B.” Bleszinski.

Note: The Skinny blog is written by Rick Smith, editor and co-founder of Local Tech Wire and business editor of WRAL.com.

CARY, N.C. – Is Gears of War 3 on the way to store shelves in 2011? Could be. Perhaps another Unreal Tournament? Perhaps.

Electronic Arts disclosed Monday in a quarterly earnings call that the entertainment giant has contracted with Cary-based for a “new shooter” that will be released in the fourth quarter of next year.

While the title wasn’t announced, the EA announcement could be the “metagton face melting news” that Epic’s creative genius Cliffy B. Bleszinski referenced in a recent tweet on Twitter.

Gears of War and its sequel about mankind fighting a tenacious locus horde has sold multi-million copies worldwide, won multiple awards and spawned a growing entertainment empire of toys, accessories, books, graphic novels – even a movie. And Unreal shooters are legendary.

So what is Epic developing? Let the speculation continue. At least the publisher and release date (January-March 2011) are now known.

Chief Operating Officer John Schappert unveiled the Epic deal when discussing the game development lineup for EA. While the game company’s stock took a hit after its executives lowered expectations for future growth ( and ), the news about new titles created an immediate buzz in the gamers world.

This is a publishing agreement with full EA margins; a shooter based in New York City, and is coming to both console and the PC, and finally Q4. Winter of 2011 marks the chilling return of Dead Space, a highly rated wholly owned franchise, another big driving simulation from Need for Speed, a new shooter being developed by Epic Studios and co-published by EA, and finally something far reaching from Mass Effect. That’s a look at some of our big title launches for both packaged goods and online,” Schappert said in the conference call.

Schappert’s Epic reference sparked immediate speculation that the game would be Gears 3.

Regardless of the title, the fact that it is a first-person shooter (FPS) and will developed on Epic’s Unreal game engine – one of the most popular tools in the global videogame industry – was enough for one games blogger to get excited.

“Epic, the developers of both the Unreal and Gears of War series, has FPS in it’s blood and any new shooter IP will come highly anticipated,” he wrote.

Gaming companies are notoriously secretive about future titles, and Epic is certainly no different although Cliffy B uses his Twitter account to keep the buzz about the company stirring. (He has more than 8,000 “followers.”)

Just two weeks ago, Cliffy B promised some “kick ass” news.

Then came news that Gears fans awaiting a sequel could soon following heroes Marcus Fenix and Dom Santiago – but NOT in an Epic Games title as crossovers in the newly announced “Lost Planet 2” from Capcom.

Fenix and Santiago first showed up in a video trailer about the game.

In recent months, Epic has worked with its Utah-based subsidiary Chair Entertainment to develop and launch “Shadow Complex,” which is based on a world created by science fiction legend Orson Scott Card. The game won the “Best Downloadable” title at the Spike TV Videogame Awards show in December.

Now, it’s on the record that the Epic team in Cary is focused on the next generation of its own internally developed title.

There’s little doubt that when its title is finally disclosed that will really be, as Cliffy B has written, “megaton face melting news.”

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