Fortnite is one of Epic Games’ top titles. (Epic Games Image)

Epic Games, the company behind Fortnite and the Unreal Engine, has acquired the game development toolset creator RAD Game Tools, headquartered in Kirkland, Wash.

RAD is one of those companies that runs under the radar, but has quietly influenced much of the modern games industry. If you’ve played any video game that was made in the last 21 years or so, there’s a good chance the game was using RAD’s Bink tool to encode its video files. Bink, a specialized codec, has been used in more than 25,000 games on 14 different platforms, dating back to the end of the 1990s. RAD launched a follow-up codec, Bink 2, in 2013.

RAD also makes Oodle, a data compression utility that’s used to make games’ files smaller, for faster loading times and lower bandwidth costs. Oodle was recently licensed by Sony for use with the PlayStation 5, in a specialized edition called Oodle Kraken that — to use RAD’s term — “supercharges” the PS5’s data loading.

“Together, Epic and RAD plan to integrate RAD’s powerful technology into Unreal Engine to benefit the developer community and gamers alike,” Epic said in its initial announcement. RAD’s tools, notably, are already in use in current builds of Fortnite.

“We know first-hand how impressive RAD’s compression technology is,” said Kim Libreri, Epic Games CTO, in a statement. “The RAD team includes some of the world’s leading compression, video and game dev tooling experts, and we are thrilled to welcome them to the Epic family.”

Under the terms of the acquisition, RAD plans to continue supporting its current partners in games, film, and television production. None of its tools will become exclusive to games or products that use Epic’s Unreal Engine. Based on the announcement, RAD’s ownership is simply changing hands, and it’s otherwise business as usual. Further details of the deal, such as the cost of the acquisition, have yet to be officially disclosed.

Bink has quietly powered an incredible number of games’ video cutscenes over the last 21 years or so. (Epic Games Image)

“Our work with Epic goes back decades, and joining forces is a natural next step given our alignment on products, mission, and culture,” Jeff Roberts, founder and CEO of RAD, said in a statement. “We both believe that solid technologies enable developers to build beautiful, performant, and reliable experiences. We’re excited and humbled to join the amazing Epic team.”

Other major RAD products include Granny 3D, a toolkit for building 3D games; Telemetry, a profiler for real-time application performance; and Miles, a middleware sound system named after its primary developer.

Epic bills its Unreal Engine as “the world’s most open and advanced real-time 3D creation tool.” Many companies from all over the world license versions of Unreal from Epic to make mainstream video games, including high-profile recent projects like Final Fantasy VII Remake, Gears 5, Minecraft: Dungeons, the forthcoming Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2, and of course, Fortnite.

The original acquisition announcement by Epic notes that given the increasing trends towards photorealism in games’ graphics, one of the major upcoming challenges will be producing compression software that can handle it. Put simply: 4K graphics look good, but use up a lot of space, and delivering those graphics in a timely fashion without saddling the player with increasingly aggravating loading times is a significant development hurdle.

With Unreal Engine 5 planned for a release later this year, complete with planned support for ninth-generation consoles, the time’s apparently right to bring aboard a company that’s known throughout the games industry for its talent with data compression.

Epic Games was founded in 1991, and was initially run out of CEO Tim Sweeney’s parents’ house in Maryland. It made several successful games for MS-DOS over the next few years before scoring a big hit in 1998 with the first Unreal, a dark scifi-themed first-person shooter. Epic subsequently moved its headquarters to Cary, N.C., and made part of its business out of licensing Unreal‘s engine to other studios. (Under the current terms of Unreal licensing, the engine is free to use until a product makes $1 million or more in gross revenue; after that point, Epic takes a 5{066dbc63777e5ed549f406789d72fdeebd77a32711d57f7b38ff2b35c4ba2a42} cut.)

Its other notable games as a developer include the Gears of War series for Microsoft, the mobile hit Infinity Blade, subsequent games in the Unreal franchise including the Unreal Tournament multiplayer shooters, and naturally, Fortnite. In addition to its home office in Cary, Epic maintains satellite studios in Berlin, Shanghai, Cologne, Yokohama, Seoul, Montreal, Stockholm, and Bellevue, Wash. It recently purchased the 980,000-square-foot Cary Towne Center, planning to gradually convert the space into Epic’s new home campus in North Carolina by 2024.

[Errata, 1/8/21: Removed poorly labeled speculation regarding licensing for Bink.]