Race Around the World with Nellie Bly: The Virtual Reality Experience

Nellie Bly, the pen name of Elizabeth Cochran, had an impressive resume, to say the least. Known for her pioneering journalism, Bly became famous for her support of women’s rights, undercover exposés and her world travels. Defying the status quo and challenging conventions, Bly became one of the most famous woman journalists of her time and founded the practice of

The post Race Around the World with Nellie Bly: The Virtual Reality Experience appeared first on VIVE Blog.

Discover the First VR Experience for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with the Launch of The Circadian Rhythm on Viveport

Nobel Week has just begun and this year’s Nobel Laureates are headed to Stockholm and Oslo to take part in the festivities. The week is filled with press conferences and Nobel Lectures from the new Laureates with the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony taking place on December 10.  But if you haven’t scored a ticket to the prestigious awards event you

The post Discover the First VR Experience for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with the Launch of The Circadian Rhythm on Viveport appeared first on VIVE Blog.

Understanding the Differences Between Experimental and Early Access Features

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Architectural Design Data: The Journey from Revit to Unreal Studio Webinar

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Virtual Production: Digital Domain Talks Digital Humans and More

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Jobs in Unreal Engine – Technical Artist

Understanding the Role of a Tech Artist

Real-time technology is powering the world of interactive entertainment and transforming industries such as TV/film, architectural visualization, industrial design, and visual FX. It is now standard for game developers to create high quality games that render vast open worlds and for enterprise leaders to quickly deliver high-fidelity interactive experiences in real time. With the evolution and the complexity of real-time rendering across so many industries, it has never been so critical to bridge the gap between art and code to deliver exceptional results. This is where the technical artist comes in.

What is a technical artist?

A technical artist is a relatively new term in 3D development and real-time technology, but the demand for this particular role is growing quickly with a 48% increase in job postings in the last 12 months (Burning Glass, 2018). In game development, a technical artist, or tech artist for short, is the bridge between level designers and programmers working on a game. They are essentially the link between code and art. They ensure performance, consistency, and workflow. A proficient tech artist will allow a project to ship faster and at a higher level of quality.

Tech artists tend to be generalists while also having a strong focus in at least one area such as:

  • Shading 
  • Lighting
  • Procedural creation
  • Scripts/Pipeline work
  • Optimization
  • Visual Effects (FX)

They often look at performance and profiling data with programmers, then brainstorm and implement content optimizations. Tech artists must be tools and technology experts, knowing the best routes to take and how to harness the tools being used most effectively. Tech artists fill in the gaps that studios may not even know exist, which is why every game studio needs a tech artist to ensure efficiency on all ends.

Volumetrics, Materials, Lighting

Why are they needed?

Prototyping 

With more procedural content creation methods like Blueprints, Houdini and noise/shader based creation, tech artists are needed to test and prototype new graphics or content creation methods. They also aid with tool development when writing scripts in 3D rendering software such as 3ds Max, Maya, and Python. Prototyping can help other artists process assets for game use. 

Tech artists work closely with engine/rendering programmers to share feedback on tools as well as prototype results. A tech artist can often make a fully functioning feature prototype in just days using Blueprints/shaders alone and demonstrate it to the team . The same feature may then take weeks to ‘officially’ rewrite in C++ into the engine in a general purpose way.

Custom FX implementation
Custom FX implementation

Optimization

A tech artist’s optimization goal is to hit the target frame rate while having a net neutral (zero impact) or even positive impact on the graphical quality of a game. They help to ship games on various platforms, and work closely with artists when necessary to implement changes. A mix of art and technical skill combine to facilitate better engine and game development.

Typical tech artist optimization tasks include:

  • Developing content guidelines and workflows to ensure best practices
  • Reducing scene complexity 
  • Analyzing content using profiling tools and/or spreadsheets to find ways to optimize memory/perf
  • Adjusting project graphics settings
  • Negotiating between art/code to find best compromises  

Where are they needed?

Games Industry

Advanced technology for games increases the demand for technical roles at game studios. Not only do gaming companies need more experienced level designers and programmers, they need someone to bridge the gap between art and code. 

Tech artists ensure that programmers are programming, designers are designing, and artists are creating amazing art. This means everyone on the team is being utilized to their best potential. Real-time rendering also entails quick turnaround and a tech artist’s job is to prioritize and optimize game production. They can help quickly implement needed changes and prepare games to ship.

Tech artist jobs postings have seen a 48% growth rate in last 12 months – Burning Glass, 2018

Film Industry

Media and entertainment studios are increasingly turning to real-time technology to reinvent their pipelines. Real-time engines, like UE4, allow TV/film production teams to develop new workflows that drastically speed up processes, reduce hardware requirements, and promote creativity.

UE4 allows films to be shot, edited, and shipped, virtually eliminating post-production. A tech artist can keep these processes streamlined and running seamlessly. In addition to optimizing art and tech in the engine, TV/film studios also have a demand for technical specialist roles for positions such as shading technical director, lighting technical director, and pipelines technical director.

Reflections real-time ray tracing demo

Architecture Industry

When it comes to architectural visualization, it’s the tech artist’s job to develop data pipelines and adapt existing pipelines to integrate new technologies or tools. In this vertical, tech artists often act as the primary programmer or developer for smaller teams that rely mostly on off-the-shelf features of the tools being used. They are usually tasked with learning new software, then training the team how to best use it for the studio’s particular needs.

What types of skills do they require?

In order to be successful with tasks like optimization and profiling, here are some of the skills a technical artist needs:

  • A solid understanding of trigonometry and vector math
  • A foundation in at least one ‘traditional’ category such as level design, environment art, animation or coding
  • Experience writing in various scripting languages is hugely helpful: MAXScript, Python, MATLAB
  • For UE4:  Blueprints, materials, level streaming
  • Understanding how computers work from a hardware to software level
  • They should understand how the various parts of a computer work together to render a scene, from loading the data from the hard drive to presenting it as an image to the player.

  

John Lindquist’s Pivot Painter 2 Max Script

What does the career path look like?

The best route to becoming a tech artist is to come from either an art or programming background. Most technical artists come from an art background and have specialized in a particular area such as architectural visualization, animation, lighting/shading, texturing, special FX, or character rigging. A technical artist can work in multiple industries including gaming, architecture, TV/film, industrial design, or the automotive industry.

“Usually tech artists have something tangible and ‘techy’ to show if they are hired directly into that role, or they slowly shift into the role after starting out in another content creator role, such as a level designer or environment artist. I personally started as a level designer and transitioned into tech art over the period of a few years, and a few others have followed a similar path.” – Ryan Brucks, principal tech artist, Epic Games.

Automotive-themed PBR Materials and Textures
Automotive-themed PBR Materials and Textures

How can they excel?

Always learning

A good tech artist loves to learn new things. It’s important for them to attend talks and events and network with professionals in their area of expertise. They should always make an effort to stay up to date with the latest technology as this makes them a valuable source of information within a company.

“You’ll never be bored being a tech artist. One day you might be writing a tool, the next you’re experimenting with new hardware, the next you’re developing the art guidelines for the studio’s next big project, the next you’re leading a training session for your peers. You’ll also have your pick of fields to work in and studios to work for, from automotive and aerospace to games, film, and TV; they all need great tech artists.” – Tom Shannon, technical artist, Education, Epic Games

Epic Games Technical Artist Tom Shannon at Unreal Academy EDU in New York City

Communication

Communication is key as a tech artist as it’s important to get in the habit of sharing lots of information. They potentially have to work with many different people on a variety of projects. It’s the tech artist’s job to ensure open communication channels by asking questions and providing feedback.

“Being able to communicate with different groups that may not often communicate, i.e., being a link between engineering and content teams is critical. This means staying engaged with what people are doing around you locally and in the industry as a whole. Even if you have a specific focus, it helps to be somewhat of a generalist so you can still be nimble as projects and opportunities shift.” – Ryan Brucks, principal tech artist, Epic Games

Epic Games Technical Artist Tom Shannon at Unreal Academy EDU in New York City

Would I be a good tech artist?

✔ I like tinkering with all the settings and checkboxes in my art software.
✔ I have thought about or have written scripts or tools to help automate boring or repetitive tasks (zero joy tasks).
✔ I enjoy problem-solving.
✔ I can talk to programmers, artists, producers, and designers alike and kind of want to do all their jobs!
✔ I enjoy learning how my favorite applications work from a technical perspective.
✔ I am the person on my team that is the “scripting”, “rigging” or “materials” person. 
✔ Whenever there’s a technical issue on a project, I’m eager to help.

Interested in a career as tech artist or another role in real-time technology? Get started on your career today by using our Unreal Engine Online Learning Portal here. These guided videos are free and on-demand so you can learn UE4 anywhere at any time!

Epic Games Announces over $800K in Unreal Dev Grants

Today Epic Games announced the latest recipients of Unreal Dev Grants, a $5 million fund supporting developers working with Unreal Engine 4 (UE4). This new round awards $800,000 to more than 30 individuals and teams, with no restrictions or obligations to Epic Games. As with previous rounds, these recipients illustrate the wide variety of use cases for UE4, including independent games, interactive visualizations, virtual reality surgical simulators and online learning resources.

“The Unreal Dev Grants program has a simple goal: to help talented developers succeed by letting them focus more on their project and less on their bills,” said Chance Ivey, Partnership Manager at Epic Games. “We’re continually amazed by the range of applications built with UE4 and the potential of so many of these projects; this round includes standouts such as Sojourn by Tierceron, Crab Rave by Noisestorm, and VR Cataract Training Solution by Surgical Mind. Congrats to all of these folks for their vision and persistence!”

The latest round of Unreal Dev Grants recipients includes:

FILM / CINEMA: 100 Flowers of God (working title) by 3rd World StudiosWebsite 
3rd World Studios is the Pakistan-based creator of the first animated feature-length film rendered entirely in UE4, Allahyar and the Legend of Markhor, which was released in February to critical acclaim. This Unreal Dev Grant is meant to accelerate 3rd World’s future film projects.

TOOL / PLUGIN: Anomotion Motion Composer and Anomotion BIKWebsite
Anomotion maintains two animation solutions for UE4: Motion Composer, a task-based motion planner which automatically generates precise motion sequences from unstructured animation data; and BIK, an inverse-kinematics system that can model various joint types and define custom constraints for VR avatars, virtual humans and creatures. Anomotion’s solutions have practical applications, from film previs to architectural visualizations. For industrial simulation and shared virtual environments, for example, Anomotion’s technology can be used to populate interactive, adaptive training environments with task-directed virtual characters.

FILM / CINEMA / VR: Awake: Episode One by Start VRTrailer 
Created by Start VR, Awake: Episode One is an interactive cinematic virtual reality experience for HTC Vive and Vive Pro. Awake: Episode One, which uses the latest volumetric capture techniques to bring real-life human performances into VR, officially premiered at SXSW and has been touring the festival circuit ever since. It’s coming soon to Steam.

INDEPENDENT GAME: Black Iris by Hexa Game Studio Website
From Brazilian indie team Hexa Game Studio, Black Iris is an action RPG that takes inspiration from the Dark Souls series of games and Bloodborne. Black Iris in development for PC and console. 

INDEPENDENT GAME / AR: BOT-NET by Calvin LabsWebsite
BOT-NET is a game that turns physical space into a first-person battlefield using a mobile device’s AR features. Massive robots fight while the player engages in ground combat with smaller robots. BOT-NET is available in the App Store.

FILM / CINEMA: Cine Tracer by Matt WorkmanSteam
Developed by Matt Workman of Cinematography Database, Cine Tracer is a realistic cinematography simulator in which the player operates real world-based cameras, sets up lights, and directs talent within UE4 environments. Matt frequently livestreams Cine Tracer development at https://www.twitch.tv/cinegamedev. Creatives can use Cine Tracer to communicate lighting, cameras and storyboarding, and it’s available in Early Access on Steam.

INDEPENDENT GAME: Close to the Sun by Storm in a TeacupWebsite
Developed by Rome-based Storm in a Teacup, Close to the Sun is a first-person horror game that takes place in an alternate version of history in the 1890s aboard a mysterious ship complex created by Nikola Tesla where things are not as they seem. With numerous indie game accolades already under its belt, Close to the Sun is coming to PC and console in 2019.

TOOL / PLUGIN: coreDS Unreal by ds.toolsWebsite 
coreDS Unreal facilitates integration of both High-Level Architecture (HLA) and Distributed Interactive Simulation (DIS) in UE4 games and applications. Users can integrate once and support HLA and DIS without any other modifications to their UE4 application. coreDS Unreal provides an extensive feature set that eases the integration process, allowing for reduced implementation time, flexibility and highly customizable simulation behavior.

INDEPENDENT GAME: Farm Folks by OvergrownTrailer
Farm Folks is a successfully crowdfunded farming simulator game with a nod to the classic Harvest Moon series. Players can explore Softshoal Island, grow crops, raise livestock, build relationships and more – all the while uncovering the island’s mysteries. Farm Folks, coming to PC, is available for pre-order on Crytivo.

INDEPENDENT GAME / VR: Jupiter & Mars by Tigertron Website
Jupiter & Mars is an underwater adventure game for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation VR with a powerful message around climate change set in a shocking, future world inspired by ecological events happening now. The player controls Jupiter, a dolphin with enhanced echolocation powers, traveling around the world with AI companion Mars to disable the man-made machinery disrupting marine life, while solving puzzles and encountering magnificent creatures along the way. 

INDEPENDENT GAME / VR: Kaisuo by USC GamesTrailer
Kaisuo is a VR puzzle game in which players use fine motor dexterity to solve enigmatic Chinese puzzle boxes and unlock surreal, extraordinary spaces. Originally founded as an undergraduate student project named Lantern (now the name of the development team) at the University of Southern California, Kaisuo has been showcased at events such as the USC Games Expo and Indiecade @ E3, and is in development through the USC Bridge incubator program for full release on the Oculus and Steam stores.

INDEPENDENT GAME: Koral by Pantumaca BarcelonaSteam 
Developed by Carlos Coronado, one of Barcelona’s leading UE4 experts, this beautiful PC game takes players on a dive through the underwater world where they play as the current on a mission to revive coral reefs. Solving puzzles heals the reefs and replenishes the ocean’s magic. In addition, Carlos’ new training materials on going from zero to expert in UE4 have marked Udemy’s most successful launch of a Spanish game development course in the site’s history.

FINE ARTS / VR: Lemieux Pilon 4D ArtWebsite
The renowned duo of Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon (4D Art) are creating an immersive museum art piece for virtual reality using UE4. 

INDEPENDENT GAME / VR: Mini World VR by Scaena StudiosWebsite
From Korea’s award-winning Chung Ang University 3D VR Lab, Scaena Studios’ Mini World VR is an immersive storytelling experience featuring elaborate hand-animated characters, game-based elements and intuitive interactivity. A cross between a game and a film, Mini World VR can be experienced from the perspective of both player and audience.

INDEPENDENT GAME: Mowin’ & Throwin’ by House Pixel GamesSteam
Available via Steam Early Access, Mowin’ & Throwin’ is a local multiplayer mashup of Bomberman meets Splatoon with a dash of Overcooked. Players control lawn gnomes in a race to wreck their opponent’s yard while keeping their own pristine. Victory goes to the best looking lawn! Mowin’ & Throwin’ is coming to party game collections for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in 2019.

FILM / CINEMA: Music Videos by Noisestorm – SoundCloud
Irish music producer and artist Noisestorm uses UE4 to create incredibly striking videos to accompany his musical tracks, which are often associated with trap, drum and bass, electro and dubstep. Now with nearly 10 million views, Crab Rave features thousands of CG crabs gathering after a tropical storm to dance it out. Noisestorm’s latest release, Breakout (feat. Foreign Beggars), depicts a tactical prison break with intense firefights, massive explosions, a high-energy helicopter chase and an amazing sniper shot. 

TOOL / PLUGIN: Optim by Theia InteractiveWebsite
Currently in alpha, the Optim plugin applies an accelerated workflow methodology to Unreal Engine’s Datasmith suite of tools and services for enterprise markets. Leveraging the efficiency of Datasmith and the power of Python, artists and designers can use Optim to visualize and customize their Datasmith import process for further optimization.

INDEPENDENT GAME / VR: Planetrism VR by Planetrism TeamGameplay
The future of humankind leads to the distant stars in this VR and PC adventure developed by Finnish duo Kimmo Kaunela and Mike Laaksonen. In Planetrism, players follow the opportunity of a lifetime to lead colonization on an uncharted planet, encountering untold mysteries while building a future for generations to come.

ARCHITECTURE / VR: Real Estate in Virtual Reality by REinVRWebsite
The real estate technology team at REinVR is focused on using UE4 to build advanced immersive consumer buying experiences using digital humans, AI and VR.

INDEPENDENT GAME: Risk One’s Neck by Royce GamesWebsite
Developed by Korean indie team Royce Games for PC and consoles, Risk One’s Neck is a vintage arcade-style beat ’em up game set in a brutal, realistic urban environment. An homage to the Capcom arcade fighters of the 1980s, Risk One’s Neck channels thrilling gameplay for players of all skill levels.

FILM / CINEMA: Robots’ Design Academy by Eric Liu Blog
A student film by Eric Liu, this 12-minute cinematic highlights the art of the possible when a single person sets out to do something wonderful. Powered by the drive and passion to create something spectacular, Eric created a wordless tale about creativity and daring to be different. It follows a robot student learning to design after most of humanity has become extinct from some unknown apocalypse. Dismayed by the institution’s insistence on strictly copying human creations perfectly, the droid protagonist sets out to design something bold and unique with the help of a newfound human pal.

LEARNING RESOURCE: Russian UE4 Lessons and CommunityWebsite YouTube 
This incredible volunteer-driven resource for the Russian development community has been in operation since the public launch of UE4 in 2014. Featuring translations of exhaustive release notes for dozens of major engine updates, along with hundreds of localized tutorials — all created independently, and freely shared online — the group has well over 50,000 members across their networks, which also include popular Unreal Engine Discord and VK channels.

INDEPENDENT GAME: S.O.N by RedG StudiosWebsite 
S.O.N is a modern-day psychological survival horror game in which a father searches for his son who has gone missing deep in the Pennsylvania forest, better known as South Of Nowhere. In a world where fear takes control and the past is never erased, questions linger around what demons will be faced to get back a loved ones. S.O.N is coming to PlayStation 4.

INDEPENDENT GAME: Spellbreak by Proletariat Inc. –  Website
With talent from game studios such as Harmonix, Turbine and Insomniac, Proletariat is bringing a magical twist to battle royale. Currently in pre-alpha on PC, Spellbreak puts a new spin on the genre with its fantasy art style and powerful magic spells that can be explosive when used in combat.

FILM / CINEMA: The Abyss by Kemal GünelVideo
This real-time short film depicts an ominous scenario aboard a desolate spaceship. Built using Kemal’s assets that are available on the Unreal Engine Marketplace, the project is also the basis for his popular UE4 Lighting tutorial series, which has 35 videos and counting.

INDEPENDENT GAME: The Cycle by YAGERWebsite
Currently in Closed Alpha, The Cycle is the latest FPS game from Berlin-based YAGER. Up to 20 players go head to head to fulfill contracts during matches about 20 minutes in length. The Cycle is planned for PC release in early 2019 with support for consoles to follow.

AR / VR: The Hydrous presents: ImmerseWebsite
Jason McGuigan and his team at Horizon Productions have been on the bleeding edge of XR for several years, with a library of AR and VR projects built with UE4 under their belt. A pre-release version of Immerse took the stage at the recent Trojan Horse Was a Unicorn gathering in Malta presented by Dr. Erika Woolsey, CEO of the Hydrous. The Hydrous’ mission is to create open access oceans by bringing conservation education to the masses. Horizon also presented a high-fidelity VR art gallery created in Unreal Engine that featured almost 100 paintings by some of the world’s leading digital artists.

FINE ARTS / VR: The Kremer Collection Virtual MuseumWebsite
Designed by architect Johan van Lierop, Founder of Architales and Principal at Studio Libeskind, the Kremer Museum features 17th Century Dutch and Flemish Old Master paintings from the Kremer Collection and is accessible through Viveport, Steam and Oculus. 

TOOL / PLUGIN: Tools and Plugins by VR ProfessionalsVideoWebsite
Russia-based VR Professionals are on a mission to create more affordable and accessible “out of the box” solutions for VR training and education using UE4. Having identified a desire for UE4 apps to be more deeply integrated into enterprise ecosystems, e.g., SQL databases, analytics, reports, LMS and CRM systems, VR Professionals are developing UE4 tools and plugins to help organizations streamline their use of B2B apps faster and with lower costs. 
 

FILM / CINEMA: Unannounced project by Kite & LightningWebsite
The recipient of the 2018 SIGGRAPH Best Real-Time Graphics and Interactivity Award at the recent Real-Time Live! showcase, Kite & Lightning wowed audiences with the presentation “Democratizing Mocap: Real-Time Full Performance Motion Capture with an iPhone X, Xsens, IKINEMA and Unreal Engine.” This Unreal Dev Grant is given in support of new breakthroughs in live performance-driven entertainment.

INDEPENDENT GAME: Unbound: Worlds Apart by Alien Pixel StudiosSteam
Unbound: Worlds Apart is an atmospheric 2D puzzle platformer in which the player can conjure magic portals to travel between different realities and learn more about a catastrophe that has ravaged his world. Inside certain portals, the physical properties of the character or world elements can change, offering new gameplay possibilities. A dark fairy tale with a cartoonish style, Unbound: Worlds Apart is planned for release on PC and consoles in 2020.

TOOL / PLUGIN:  VR Cataract Training Solution by Surgical MindVideo 
Surgical Mind, a branch of Korea-based Mania Mind, is developing a cutting-edge VR simulator for cataract surgery to enable medical residents to better hone their skills before getting near an eye. Their team maintains that VR simulation training improves performance, minimizes risk and provides greater detail around potential scenarios more efficiently than expensive physical simulators.  

To learn more about Unreal Dev Grants and to apply, visit: http://unrealengine.com/unrealdevgrants
 

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Virtual Production with Unreal Engine: A New Era of Filmmaking

Bold, disrupting technologies are often harbingers of important future changes across creative industries. For studios in the film, broadcast, and VFX world, embracing virtual production could very well be the key to elevating the visual medium to new …

BYU Students Bring Rhythm and Fighting Together in ‘Beat Boxers’

Team based game creation at BYU

At Brigham Young University, a team of about 20 students builds a video game each year. This past year’s game was Beat Boxers, which was completed in the summer of 2018.  It won first place at E3’s highly prestigious College Game Competition.

At the start of each summer, BYU invites students in the animation and computer science departments to pitch ideas and choose one as the next group capstone project for various art and computer science majors.

Target piece painted by student Vanessa Palmer

In 2017, Beat Boxers won the vote, a game where we wanted the core experience to give players an opportunity to steal the limelight in a performance battle royale. The project eventually boiled down to a fighting game where the player has a choice of three moves, each of which is more powerful when hitting on the beat of the music. The player has to also choose the right move each beat to trump the other player’s choice, like several rapid games of rock-paper-scissors.

All positions on the project, including producer and director, were undergraduate students, and the person who originally pitched Beat Boxers became the programming lead.

Executing in Unreal

Beat Boxers was not only made for the enjoyment of making a game, but also to further students’ education on game-making principles. One reason we used Unreal Engine is because it is a powerful, stable package that can achieve a professional look. BYU students apply to AAA studios all over the world, so the finished look was important to us. We also used Unreal Engine because it is valuable in teaching deeper principles. Node networks and deep capabilities let students experiment and solve difficult problems. UE4’s Materials system is based in node networks and procedural workflows which our students are used to working in, so it was a good fit for that reason as well.

During the summer, the artists rapidly prototyped using UE4 Blueprints, iterating through several white-boxed character and stage designs, which helped us cement in our minds what experience we wanted players to have and design for that. 

Whiteboxed version of Beat Boxers in Unreal Engine

Beat Boxers is both a fighting game and a rhythm game, but because fighting games and rhythm games each have their own mechanics, we had to figure out the right gameplay that would mix elements of both. The Blueprints system allowed us to create dozens of prototypes varying the gameplay designs quickly and easily. The lead designer could quickly change and add to the gameplay in Blueprints before we added them in C++.
   

Final gameplay screenshot

Controls/gameplay

Striking a balance between fighting and rhythm games was difficult. In order to prevent ourselves from straying too far from either genre, we chose to focus on making a fighting game first and enhancing it with rhythmic elements.

From playtests, we determined it was impossible to encourage players to attack on the beat unless the pace of the game was founded around the beat itself. This led to a design where your inputs are buffered and fire only on the beat, at the same time as your opponent’s inputs. The rock/paper/scissors nature of our moveset allowed us to keep the control scheme simple for people new to fighting games, but also gave us room to use inputs in creative ways for fighting game enthusiasts.
  

Blueprint of the logic to know if a player hit on or off beat

 
Using the FMOD plugin, we fired an event on the beat consistently in sync with music. We used this event in conjunction with timers to open and close an “onbeat window.” This was approximately a tenth of a second before and after the beat of the song. When the “onbeat window” is open (determined by which timers were active) the attack was onbeat, otherwise it was offbeat.

Character Design

The first challenge was to personify genres of music into appealing characters that each had their own attitude. The classical violin character Maestra was developed first. She was based on a concept sketch that was part of the game’s initial pitch. It got everybody really excited about what the game could be. The design went through many different people and many iterations over several months until she became the tall, elegant, and deadly opponent we presented at E3 2018. Unreal Engine allowed us to pull our models in quickly to test out how they looked in context of the assets being made by the other members of the team. We pulled assets into Unreal to see them in context with each other as early as possible.

Comparison between concept art (left) and execution in Unreal (right).

We also wanted to create a second character that contrasted Maestra while belonging in the same world. We decided that a bulky, fun, rock character who loves the spotlight would contrast with the slim silhouette of Maestra and unify the game. He’s been lovingly named Riff. Our process of starting development of characters one after the other instead of all at once was valuable. It let us solve character problems with a single team, then hand lessons learned off to the next character team, so as not to repeat solving the same problems on multiple teams.

Substance Painter was used to texture all of the assets in Beat Boxers. Maestra’s wood texture is completely procedural. Her eyebrows and gold accents are hand painted. The maps were exported from substance as basic texture maps, then additional effects like Fresnel were added via shader networks in Unreal Engine.

Comparison between concept art and execution in Unreal Engine.

Both Riff and Maestra were designed to be quintessential examples of the genres they represent. They were modeled in Maya and Zbrush and textured in Substance painter. Maestra has 37,670 triangles and Riff has 29,747. Both are using only one UV channel.

Animation

Regarding animation, we wanted to make sure the characters look like they were fighting and also performing. We studied many Street Fighter-style games for reference and found ways to make every characters’ moveset unique. We attended concerts and discovered essential differences between the dignified elegance of a symphony and the raw energy unleashed at a rock concert. All of this helped us build the movesets for Maestra and Riff.

Introducing a rhythm component into a fighting game is challenging. Every aspect of the game had to emphasize the importance of tempo and beat. In order to accomplish this, we created two animation files for each attack. We played with the timing and exaggeration of poses so when players timed actions to the beat, they were rewarded with a more powerful and visually interesting moveset animation. When players ignored the beat, they got a weaker version of the move using the second animation (as well as reduced points). We gave the animations to our magical programmers and they strung the files together in node networks to create smooth transitions when a player strung combos together and awkward pauses in the animations when the player acted off the beat. With the finished version, one could feel as if they were being held accountable for performing well—and we were very excited about that.

The movesets were arranged in a state machine with specific criteria such as player input determining the movement between states.
   
Stadium Environment

Many of the assets in the game were designed to be flexible and reusable. We used Houdini to build intricate procedural assets and ported them into Unreal using the Houdini Engine. The Unreal Editor’s flexibility to use the Houdini Engine plugin allowed us to fluidly adjust components from various sources in the Unreal Editor.  This made it remarkably easy to art-direct even complicated pieces like the stadium seating and scaffolding.

Lighting

Minimal lights were used in the game. Each character was lit in isolation through lighting channels. They could be lit up and fine-tuned individually so we didn’t wash out the other character or the environment.  We had to make sure the characters stood out from the background, so elements of the background glowed, but dimly, and we kept all the background lights low and with added fog.  We did iterations of lighting adjustments by working with the art lead who did paintovers for each iteration.

This project has received a lot of high praise for its look, which was made possible by Unreal Engine’s quality artistic tools.  
 
Crowds

The crowds are hardware instanced meshes with animations baked into the texture. Animations are accessed through vertex offset information in the shader.

Normally the CPU has to send a draw call to the GPU for each mesh to be drawn. This can waste a lot of the GPU’s time as it can finish before the CPU is able to send the next call. Using hardware instancing, the GPU stores an array of transformation matrices. With a single draw call the GPU draws the model once for each transformation matrix.

Our hardware instanced crowd

The downside to hardware instancing is it doesn’t work on computers without a dedicated graphics card or with skeletal animations, so the crowd won’t move and will be very uniform.

To get animation on a hardware instanced mesh, start with an animated skeletal mesh, process it and the animation, and the result is a static mesh with very specific data in the vertex color data, a texture representing the animation, and a complicated shader.
 

The node network that animates with a texture.

 

If the color channel was used on the animated texture.

What this process does is calculate the difference in location of each vertex from the bind pose at each frame. You store those differences in a texture, one axis being time (or frame rather) and the other axis being vertex ID (a unique identifier you need to assign to each vertex). We encoded the value of the vertex ID across the RGBA channels of the vertex color data of the model. Then, write a shader that decodes the vertex ID from the vertex color data. With the shader, use the elapsed time to figure out what UVs to sample, and then sample the texture to figure out how far to displace each vertex, putting that value into the vertex offset. Make sure to disable sRGB and use nearest filtering. Also be sure to transform the vertex displacements into world space before applying them to vertex offsets. To combine multiple animations into one image, sample different animations like you would a sprite sheet.

Spritesheet timeline for the animated textures for crowd characters. 

You can vary the individuals within the crowd by using the single random value you can assign to every instance in Unreal’s provided Instanced Static Mesh component. You also ought to transform the location deltas from local space to world space before applying them as vertex offsets (though this can have issues with scaling). You will also notice the normals are screwy. It is still using the normals from their static position. If that becomes a problem, it can be fixed by also calculating, and storing in a second image (or different portion of the same image), the change in normals over the course of the animation.

Optimization

We used Unreal’s fine-tuning options and powerful tools to optimize the game and keep it looking good. We disabled collisions on everything but the characters, and the stage they were on. We also set the background assets to static lightning.

Another thing that we fixed to keep the game’s performance up was to adjust the fog and particle effects that were in the crowd. Originally there were three types of fog effects on the map. Since the viewing angle doesn’t change much in the game, our student in charge of optimization reduced the fog to one and extended it within the camera view. While that may not look as good from other angles, it looks the same as our first iteration from the player’s viewpoint.

We had three master Materials, with incrementing levels of complexity. The simplest one was used for the entire crowd and background. That Material only had a color channel. The second was used for the stage floor and set dressings. That material has color, roughness, normal, metallic, and AO. The last one was used only for the characters, and had all those previously mentioned, but also controls for tinting, Fresnel effects, and a few others. By doing this, we were able to keep all shader complexity levels in the green.
 
Special Effects

Our effects were created using hand-painted animated sprite sheets. These are then read frame-by-frame by Unreal’s Cascade Particle System from left to right; playing as 2D animations in-game and timed to the player’s attacks and actions. Using this process allowed us to plan and design the shapes, pacing, and dissolve of the effects to the stylistic appearance we desired. Then, by layering the animations with sparks, light, and hit effects, we integrated them more smoothly into the 3D gameplay. The resulting effects are more stylized than 3D effects, similar to those achieved by games such as Dragon Ball Fighter Z and Guilty Gears Xrd. We varied which effect would play depending on whether the player hit on or off-beat. 

  

The offbeat effect on the left, the on beat effect on the right.

Conclusions

Unreal Engine allowed us, as a team of students, to learn how to create professional looking content quickly and optimize it to perform well. Its interface was approachable for our artists to upload their own work and deep enough for our programmers to customize gameplay to achieve the experience we were after. Because of this, we were able to iterate quickly and polish, which was one of the key reasons we were prepared for E3’s College Game Competition. Everyone on the team was really excited to be selected for the opportunity to go to California’s E3 conference, rub shoulders with our peers, and see what AAA game studios are making. We were also honored that Beat Boxers won the 2018 college competition. The entire team of programmers, modelers, texture artists, concept designers, gameplay designers, and logistics all worked together to produce an experience we enjoy, and we hope you will enjoy too. The game is available on Steam for free.
 
Credits

Director – David Burnham 
Producer – Jessica Runyan
Design Lead – Mike Towne
Art Director – Vanessa Palmer
Music – Alastair Scheuermann, Jarrett Davis
Sound – Jared Richardson, Dallin Frank

Created by (the following students took on various roles in the making of the game):

Sydney Adams
Dyanara Banana
Paige Caldwell
Andrea Davila
Jessica Davila
Derrick Drysdale
Wyatt Earnshaw
Jedi Lion
Shannon Lyman
Connor Mathewson
Calvin McMurray
Brenna Oldroyd
Do Park
Parin Phurisat
Laura Porter
Alexa Poulton
Andrew Rios
Patrick Spencer
Jordan Stewart
Nate Swinney
Sarah Tippets
Jenessa Welker
Wei Wong