Following the Trace of Alien Civilization in Relic Seeker: Hypogeum

Relic Seeker: Hypogeum is a puzzle adventure game about an archaeologist`s journey to discover the secrets of an ancient civilization. Players take on the role of the archaeologist as they explore ancient ruins, discover the trace of aliens who intervened in pre-civilization earth and solve puzzles that block their progress.

The project is a VR game developed by the three-artist team at Massive Wheel in Korea. We caught up Massive Wheel to find out more about the ways in which UE4 has enabled this small, artist-only team to bring this game to life on multiple platforms with stunning graphic quality.

Before we discuss the game, please tell us about Massive Wheel.

Massive Wheel is team of three artists who all have solid experience in major online game studios. Three of us not only worked on game design and art, but also coding and planning, and even sound was worked on by our team with the source purchased from the Unreal Engine Marketplace. Relic Seeker: Hypogeum has been published as our first work on the Google Daydream and Oculus Gear VR platforms and we are currently preparing to release it on Steam VR, Android and IOS within the year.

How did you began the Relic Seeker: Hypogeum project?

Like many other Korean developers, we started our career from major PC  games, especially MMORPG. After gaining considerable career experience however, we were trying to make something fresh. It was then that the idea of a 3D puzzle adventure game on mobile came to mind. Not only because the genre is pretty uncommon and all of us like it, but we also thought the genre could reflect us overcoming the many challenges from several fields in development. 

After revealing the development build on SNS and at BIC Fest (Busan Indie Connect Festival), we had gathered a lot of user feedback suggesting that Relic Seeker would be more fitting for VR, so we began VR development in earnest after considering the possibilities along with our capabilities.

The result was successful. Many people from Korea and Japan came to enjoy our game at several conferences, and although it was quite difficult to spend a long time on just one game, many players experienced the whole 30 minute playtime limit. These sessions were very valuable as we applied user feedback as much as possible to make a highly immersive mobile VR game with great graphical quality.

Following the Trace of Alien Civilization in Relic Seeker: Hypogeum

The game’s spaces are scarcely duplicated, rather various kind of stages composed of many puzzle objects and unique structures appears continuously. Was this scale of work a problem for the team considering there are only three members?

The three of us are all capable of 3D modeling, which helped, but one of our strengths on the project was to push the limits of our own ability. Of course the progress was quite bumpy as there were no prior project data to inform how much scale is appropriate or how much detail could be shown for mobile platforms, but we have gathered the necessary data as we developed thousands of designs and modeling on our own. Ultimately,  we have been able to implement a variety of detailed and distinctive spaces and structures in the game as a result.

Following the Trace of Alien Civilization in Relic Seeker: Hypogeum

Why did you choose Unreal Engine 4?

Two major advantages from us were graphical quality and Blueprint visual scripting. All of us were artists and lacked experience programming games, so we prioritized the possibility of implementation for great quality of graphics as we want, without advanced programming discipline. In fact, we began development with a different engine, but with UE4’s Blueprint visual scripting system, which supports those with no programming experience, and better graphical performance in the same environment, it was really worth transitioning from Unity to Unreal.

For example, optimization was one of the most difficult parts of development, but we reduced lots of draw calls using HLOD and Precomputed Visibility, which both are parts of Unreal Engine`s utility, and could get a significant performance improvement with Multi-view. Even after that, we could decrease more draw calls with Blueprint. UE4 gave us great satisfaction and helped us achieve our goals for the project. 

Following the Trace of Alien Civilization in Relic Seeker: Hypogeum

Relic Seeker: Hypogeum has been developed with only Unreal Engine's Blueprint. Is there any special reason for that?

Yes! Because we could implement all the functionalities we wanted with Blueprint while C++ native coding was not familiar to us. Blueprint has both intuitiveness and utility, making it possible for us to create puzzles and in fact the entire game with Blueprint. We were able to ship Relic Seeker: Hypogeum on Google Daydream and Gear VR without authoring a single line of code.  

Following the Trace of Alien Civilization in Relic Seeker: Hypogeum

Any other benefit of the engine which particularly helped the development?

Immediate and ongoing engine updates were impressive. New technologies are constantly introduced to VR, and every time the SDK would be newly updated for each platform. And Unreal Engine has been rapidly updated for the situation. It has significantly influenced optimization and quality of the game. 

Also in multi-platform response, Unreal Engine significantly helped a small team like us. We developed the Daydream version first and worked the Gear VR version based on it, but further (Engine) optimization has been added during the development. So we decided to implement the optimization to the Daydream version, and the progress required less than a few hours. It is a huge advantage in terms of having to launch and maintain games on multiple platforms.

Following the Trace of Alien Civilization in Relic Seeker: Hypogeum

What advice would you give to independent developers who want to use Unreal in the future?

I think It is vital for indie developers to expose their games to various platforms. So you should place priority on whether you can cope with several platforms with minimum members without many problems. Unreal Engine would be excellent choice in that aspect.

We have one rule when we work considering multi-platform, which is our primary way to work with UE binary version as much as possible, and update it immediately when every new version has been released. So that we can maintain the latest release version and reduce the amount of adjustment for each platform when we convert to the other platforms after that. 

Sometimes developers from non-programming backgrounds who are considering Unreal Engine begin to question whether they could make the game they were planning only with Blueprint, and just give up even before the start. I would like to inform you that Blueprints is more powerful than you may think as we have created a game with high-quality graphics using only Blueprint.

Where can people go for more information on Relic Seeker: Hypogeum and your team?

You can find Daydream version and GearVR version of the game from each markets, and check out our Facebook if you would like to follow our updates.