HDR in PC Games – Where to Begin?

Graphic cards that support High Dynamic Range (HDR) have been on the market for a while. Now TVs supporting this feature are becoming popular and the library of HDR games is getting wider. HDR monitors are also finally showing up to the party. However, to get this technology working on a PC, a few conditions must be met.  HDR can be activated on a PC in 3 different versions: Dolby Vision HDR – For now, only Battlefield 1 […]

The post HDR in PC Games – Where to Begin? appeared first on SAPPHIRE Nation – Community blog by SAPPHIRE Technology.

How Evasion Pushes VR Shooters Forward with Innovative Combat and High-Production Values

While there are many VR shooters, Evasion, by developer Archiact, incorporates numerous elements that make it stand out. The sci-fi space shooter offers an action-packed campaign with four playable character classes, innovative combat, full-body inverse kinematics, and high-production values coupled with online co-op gameplay. Powered by Unreal Engine 4, Evasion does all of this with a level of polish that is rare in a VR game made by an indie studio. We got a chance to interview several members from Archiact to learn more about how they were able to create one of VR’s most compelling shooters. 
 

Approaching the idea of designing a VR title, the company really thought about what made the medium unique and how they could leverage its strengths to make something gripping. Lead Game Designer Ian Rooke asserted, “The biggest difference is that in VR, you get to use your body to physically move in your space. You can dodge, duck and use all your reflexes instead of just your thumb dexterity. So developing a shooter in VR means you want to design for this gameplay. The more players get to move, the more immersive it becomes.” 

While VR introduces a heightened sense of immersion coupled with new mechanics, Rooke notes that it poses new developmental hurdles, “There are also many challenges to overcome. You are always mindful of frame-rate and camera motion to ensure players don’t get sick, and you want to try to make sure that players’ movements in game match one-to-one with their body movements. If they swing their arm, they expect that to match perfectly in game,” Rooke explains. Failing to do so can make combat feel clunky and break immersion. The lead game designer continues, “This can be tricky in situations where players are dual-wielding two controllers, but in-game, they’re holding a two-handed weapon, or in melee games, when a player slashes a solid object, nothing stops their real arm’s motion, but in-game you’d expect the blade to meet some resistance on impact.” Rooke adds, “So there’s lots of prototyping and trial and error. This is not that different than traditional console development, but it can be a longer process before you’re happy with your mechanics, and you might have to go back to the drawing board more often than you’d prefer.”

Infusing Influence

Combining time-tested gameplay with modern tech, Evasion draws inspiration from arcade classics like Galaga and Space Invaders. “It was the concept of dodging and blocking projectiles in VR that we liked. We didn’t want to simply soak up damage from instant-hit weapons. It’s really fun to navigate a hail of lasers flying your way. So we looked at old-school shooters as well as more modern bullet-hell games for inspiration,” Rooke stated, adding, “This gameplay marries well with high-intensity, fast-paced shooter combat featured in games like Doom and Destiny. The idea is to throw overwhelming odds at you while providing you with over-the-top weapons to fend off the swarms of enemies,” Rooke continued.

Players will be able to wield these over-the-top sci-fi weapons as one of four “Vanguard” classes, which are basically elite super soldiers. As Rooke notes, “You’re almost unstoppable as most enemies on their own do not provide a big challenge,” but the adage “strength lies in numbers” certainly applies here with Rooke adding, “there are so many of them and they’re relentless.” 

Block Party

In prototyping the insect-like alien enemies, known as the Optera, Archiact borrowed a page from VR shooter Space Pirate Trainer by having a few flying drones shoot projectiles at players. Rooke adds, “Then we thought it would be fun to not only dodge them, but also block them with a shield.” Thus, the inclusion of a shield became a core defensive mechanic of the game. Rooke continues, “It seemed like a natural thing to try. The loop of dodging, ducking, blocking, and shooting was simple and fun.” Rooke expands on how the gunplay and weaponry evolved from here, “As we polished the mechanic, it became more and more fun. We decided to give the player a few weapon pickups as temporary power-ups. Players could grab weapon cores out of the air, similar to our [current] power cores and health cores, each one providing a more powerful weapon with limited ammo. Once the ammo is expended, your default weapon returns. The weapon power-ups included a spread shot, burst fire, auto fire, laser, chain lightning orbs, and a slow moving nuke. This was our demo — one class with multiple weapon power-ups.” 

Stay Classy

While this prototype started with a single character, after demoing an early build, Archiact found that testers wanted different classes that would fit varying playstyles and archetypes. Rooke explains, “Some people said they wanted to be more of a support or healer class, while others still wanted to destroy everything in front of them. So we took what we liked best about the various weapons and used them as a starting point for the four classes. The spread shot turned into the Warden’s primary fire, while the nuke was nerfed down and used as his grenade launcher. The laser and default blaster inspired the Striker, while the burst fire inspired the Surgeon. And, of course, the chain lightning orbs gave birth to the Engineer class. Each class has a unique way to finish off the enemy with a Tether Lash mechanic, and each also has a unique support buff that’s applied while they’re healing their teammate [online].”

With four distinct character classes to choose from, Archiact had to ensure each of the Vanguard were fun and balanced. Rooke notes, “There’s the DPS (damage-per-second) output of each class to watch, while giving various shield sizes and health values to each class. The Warden has the most health and largest shield, and deals a ton of damage up close, but is less effective at long range. The Striker has fast and precise shots, and can strafe faster than the other classes, but her shield is the smallest, and she has the smallest health pool.”

Regardless of which class players pick, they’ll be confronted with several campaign missions chock full of enemies to overcome. Developer Archiact honed in on VR’s ability to provide player movement agency as a focal point for gameplay and challenge. “The way to succeed is to fight really hard like you would in a game of paintball. Once you get used to moving and dodging and being mindful of every projectile flying your way, it will click,” Rooke stated, adding “We made mission one exciting, but not overly challenging. Players can take their time to get used to their weapons and become accustomed to taking advantage of their charge shots and tether-lash mechanics to finish enemies off. Mastering the loop of destroying enemies and pulling in power cores to level up your weapon is key. By mission two, the action starts to get more intense. This mission is like graduation from training. If you can survive this mission, you should be ready for the rest of the campaign.” Rooke adds, “The enemies get progressively harder as the ‘elites’ are introduced in the later missions, and some boss battles add some tough spikes. With only one difficulty mode (at launch) the key is to get good at the game in the first couple of missions. Retrying them a few times is acceptable and expected until you get the hang of it.”

Adding to the immersion of the missions are the game’s destructible environments. Archiact used UE4’s integration of the Apex destruction system to incorporate this. Archiact Software Engineer Thomas Edmunds noted the benefits of this approach, “[It] not only allowed us to heavily customize how destructibles look, but also to optimize them for different platforms and LODs (levels of detail).” Edmunds added, “This was important because destructibles can be very expensive and we did not want to sacrifice the ‘cool factor’ for performance.”

Prime Performance

While Evasion features high-production values with great animations and detailed backgrounds, the road getting there wasn’t easy considering the indie developer only had five artists. This issue is compounded by the fact that the studio needed to optimize the game to meet VR’s steep performance requirements. Not only do VR games need to be rendered at a high resolution, but they need to run silky smooth, or judder can occur. This can cause motion sickness for certain players. Archiact Senior Modeler Austin Huntley elaborates, “We had to be very diligent about staying on [performance] budget. Running on the PS4 in VR at 60 FPS constant requires you to look closely at every aspect of your game in detail to cut down and minimize performance costs. You have to make trade-offs and find a lot of creative solutions to problems. Transparency is a good example. We created shields with thin faded grids to give the illusion of a transparent energy shield instead of a large plane.” 

To meet VR’s steep performance demands, Archiact had to really think outside the box. For instance, Evasion features a level with an open outdoor environment that features a lot of bullets and enemies, which can create a draw-call nightmare. To overcome this, Huntley explains, “We used a lot of mesh instancing as well as shared atlas materials to reducing the amount of both material and mesh draw calls.”

Intelligently synergizing optimization with game design was another elegant move Archiact made. Huntley elaborates, “Early on, we made targets for enemy performance and the cost of any combination of enemies on screen.” By thinking ahead in this regard, the senior modeler remarks, “This helped our enemy performance stay consistent and more predictable in any combat situation by limiting how many could be spawned based on this budget.”

The game’s visuals and immersion are enhanced due to Evasion’s use of full-body avatars. This is noteworthy considering that, with only three points of contact, many other VR games simply opt to render a virtual head and floating hands. To achieve a believable full-body, Archiact leaned on inverse kinematics (IK) by IKINEMA, but Edmunds added that “UE4’s versatile animation Blueprints allowed us to layer and blend locomotion and detail animation, such as trigger pulls with the IK model.” Considering Evasion supports traditional VR motion controllers and singular peripherals like PlayStation VR’s Aim Controller, this implementation was particularly helpful with Edmunds adding, “It also allowed us to support one-handed and two-handed animation sets for our different platforms.” 

While maintaining a high, consistent framerate is paramount to mitigating simulation sickness, some players may feel nauseous by the use of free movement. This is an undesirable effect that stems from joystick locomotion which causes the eyes to be out of sync with one’s inner ear. Thankfully, Evasion offers numerous movement methods for those who want your standard run-and-gun action and for those who have yet to get their “VR legs.” As Rooke notes, “Everybody is different and there’s no getting around that when it comes to VR. Some people have iron stomachs and some don’t. Instead of declaring that we’re catering to a specific crowd, we thought it would be best to provide robust accessibility options so everyone can feel comfortable and ‘at home’ in our game. More and more people want the authentic experience of running around in VR like they would in a traditional game, so of course we delivered a free movement option.” To ensure that this method was as friendly to stomachs as possible, Archiact employed a few tricks, “The key to making this option comfortable is to keep the camera motion constant and smooth. Strafing and reversing is slower, which is what your brain naturally expects. Most important, this helps prevent nausea,” Rooke stated. 

For those that can’t handle this free motion method at all, Archiact implemented an innovative dash-step option. “It works really well as an alternative,” Rooke says, adding, “It’s like little mini jumps forward instead of a gliding camera motion. Between these two options, most people can play the game comfortably.” As a more inventive, immersive option, the developer also incorporated a mode that allows players to jog in place. “It’s similar to free move, but requires an up and down motion from the player’s head as if they’re jogging on the spot.” This mechanic allows the inner ear to more closely align with what the eyes see and Rooke asserts, “This makes it feel like you’re actually running around in the world and further helps to reduce discomfort.” Rooke exclaims, “It’s also a fun way to get exercise.” 

Making It Unreal

As an engine for virtual-reality production, Edmunds praised UE4, stating, “Unreal Engine 4 is a great choice for VR development, since it provides you with a complete VR framework to work within, while allowing you the freedom to change things to suit your projects needs.” The software engineer continues, “Each VR platform’s subsystem is nicely contained, and totally open for changes once you hit the inevitable weird ‘edge case’ as your project progresses.”

Edmunds highlighted Blueprints coupled with the consistency and extensibility within the engine that eased development, “Having all sorts of tools integrated right in the engine makes workflows so much faster. Even the destruction assets and cloth assets have tools in the editor, which was incredibly helpful.”

The studio used Blueprints “extensively” exclaimed Software Engineer Jake Moffatt, “Many of our systems are highly customizable within a Blueprint’s default values, using UPROPERTIES to surface complex data structures that are easy for designers to use.” The software engineer added, “We also made great use of Blueprints for scripting our missions. We have many custom nodes for stringing together mission-specific events, including many that use the Blueprint Async Action pattern, which we found kept our mission scripts very intuitive to read.”

With online co-op being a major feature of the game, Archiact leaned heavily on Unreal Engine 4’s networking features, “Our team made great use of the UE4 Network Profiler tool during development to ensure that we weren’t using excessive amounts of bandwidth,” Moffatt stated.  

Considering Evasion is available across PlayStation VR, Oculus, and Steam, Edmunds noted how UE4 made the game easier to port, “Unreal Engine 4 nicely abstracts away many of the platform differences. In VR development, however, some of these differences require different gameplay systems that translate to a need for ‘un-abstracting’ certain things. Handling all the different input systems, and each platform’s own requirements for VR, was a significant challenge that was made manageable by Unreal’s subsystem framework.” 

Interested in experiencing Evasion for yourself? The game is currently on sale in celebration of this week’s Steam sale event. It’s also available on the Oculus and PlayStation stores. For more information on the game, check out www.evasionvrgame.com and follow the title on Twitter and Facebook @evasionVR.

If you would like to experiment building your own VR game, download Unreal Engine for free today.

Music Meets Mayhem in the Rhythm Action of Soundfall

When you’re securely employed by one of the most established companies in gaming, you might raise some eyebrows if you suggest jumping out of that safety net and into indie developing freefall. This was the first question I asked of Julian Trutmann and Nick Cooper, who left their positions at Epic Games to develop Soundfall as Drastic Games.
 
Soundfall is a vibrant and stunning game built on the backbone of Unreal Engine 4. Leaning on their experience with the engine, Drastic is creating a fast-moving action game that takes the player’s own music and sets it as the soundtrack and tempo to their adventure. Syncing bass beats with gratifying gunplay isn’t a feat easily achieved, however, so Drastic had to go to considerable lengths to make it all work.
 
Debuting their game on August 7, 2018, the reaction was swift and supportive. Soundfall had people intrigued and even Drastic themselves were not prepared for how well the game would be received. Now, with a number of appearances under their belts (PAX West, EGLX, and more), they’ve launched the game into crowdfunding on Fig and successfully smashed their goal within 24 hours. With plenty more time to go, the Soundfall team has set its sights on its many stretch goals.
 
We took a moment to chat with one half of the Drastic Games team, Julian Trutmann, about the perils of going indie, the passion of creating something you love, and the power of Unreal Engine.
 

 
Drastic Games is a small studio made up of two people who both came from the fold of Epic Games itself. What motivated you to pursue indie development?
 
Over the course of our years at Epic, both of us were lucky enough to be a part of the small initial teams on several projects, such as Fortnite and Paragon. We were repeatedly blown away by what a small, talented, coordinated, and focused team could accomplish in a short amount of time. This got us wondering what we could do with a small team of our own and wanting to explore pushing the limits of small team game development.
  
Soundfall is a fast-paced blending of action/adventure with a rhythm game, unlike anything we’ve seen before. How did you come up with the idea for the game?
 
Our initial plan was to brainstorm and game jam a simple concept that we could execute in six months. Obviously, our plans changed!
 
A few ideas we had floating around included a simple rhythm game and an Ikaruga/Gradius-style space shooter. At the time, we had recently played Audioshield, so the idea of a procedural rhythm game was also fresh in our minds. The music element stuck, and the shooter element evolved to be twin-stick since the versatility would allow us to use the systems we developed in a variety of possible projects. We moved forward with these elements and did a game jam over the course of a long weekend to see if they could mesh together in an interesting way. The result turned out way better than we expected!
 
We knew we had something with incredible potential on our hands, and we didn’t want to waste it on a small quick project. From that game jam, we had the beginnings of what would eventually become Soundfall.

  
Obviously, coming from Epic you have a strong grasp of the Unreal Engine, so what can you say has been your greatest advantage coming into Soundfall with so much experience?
 
Having a lot of experience in Unreal Engine gave us the courage to take on Soundfall’s riskier elements. Audio analysis is a good example. I’m not sure we would have even considered going down that road if we didn’t already know the tools inside and out. Knowing the engine also gave us the confidence to take on other features that we don’t see as often in similar indie games, such as online co-op.
 
We haven’t seen too much of the game just yet, but what we have seen is gorgeous. What’s been your most vital Unreal Engine 4 tool bringing this vibrant world to life?
 
There’s no one tool that takes the cake here. What’s made Unreal Engine 4 so powerful for us is how multifaceted its systems are. If we absolutely had to call out one tool, it’d probably be Blueprints. Basically, anything that reacts to the music in Soundfall is a Blueprint that’s responsible for coordinating some combination of other systems, like particles, materials, and animations. Ultimately, it’s using all these tools in concert that’s responsible for the vitality in our world.

  
What have been the biggest challenges aligning rhythm alongside the fighting mechanics of an action game?
 
Since Soundfall was designed to work with any song, the biggest initial technical challenge was getting the audio analysis up and running – in particular, beat detection. Initially, we spent a while developing some audio-analysis tools ourselves. We then discovered an audio-analysis library called Essentia, which we integrated to get a vast improvement on our beat detection, as well as a lot of other data about each song that we now use for our procedural dungeons and loot.
 
Switching gears from thinking about all game actions in terms of “seconds,” to thinking about them in terms of “beats” was another major technical and design hurdle. Since we typically want actions to begin and/or end “on-beat,” there is never a simple, consistent conversion between seconds and beats. For instance, the number of milliseconds in a “one-beat” delay is going to differ based on if we’re asking right on the previous beat, or halfway to the next beat! This gets even more complicated when we consider tempo changes.
 
As far as gameplay goes, just about all of our animations, abilities, and behavior trees needed to be authored in such a way that they are “beat-aware” — any portion that should be punchy or gameplay-relevant needed to occur exactly on-beat, and robust enough to work regardless of BPM and tempo changes.

 
Obviously, a massive component of any rhythm game is the music! Have you guys composed the tracks yourself? Tell us about the creative process involved with bringing the sound alive in Soundfall!
 
We’ve worked very closely with our audio engineer, Jens Kiilstofte, to shape the tone of Soundfall. In addition to all of the game’s folie art, Jens is responsible for the killer track on our trailer.
 
On the music side, we all wanted Soundfall to work with lots of different kinds of music. Even within the team, we all have very divergent tastes in music and we think that half the fun of Soundfall will be seeing how the game reacts to different songs.
 
When it comes to sound effects, striking a balance between musical and impactful has been challenging. If weapons (like Melody’s sword and beat blaster) sound too melodic, they’re often unsatisfying to use. On the flip side, more traditional video game sword and gun sounds don’t really synergize well with the music, or add to the world’s ambiance.         
 
 
From what we’ve seen in Soundfall’s reveal trailer, the world isn’t only stunning but is brimming with life and movement! What are the hurdles that present themselves when adding so many moving pieces to your levels?
 
On top of all the rhythm-based gameplay challenges we talked about before — performance! This has been particularly important to us, since traditionally in both rhythm and twin-stick games, players want the action to feel fast and smooth at all times. In typical games, most objects in the world are static, but in Soundfall, just about every actor in the world is animating or moving to the music. One of our saving graces is that our top-down camera helps give us a reasonable limit to how many of these moving actors are going to be visible at a time, so we can be smart about which actors we need to be ticking, animating, and sending “beat” events to.
 
When a lot of slow operations occur in a single frame of a game, that frame will take longer, causing players to experience a hitch. In normal game development, we often try to distribute expensive tasks over several frames to avoid this as much as possible. Unfortunately for us in Soundfall, having most of our big actions occur on-beat means we end up forced to have a LOT of instances of many expensive operations happening at the same time! The game would be essentially unplayable if it was hitching on every beat when we expect players to perform their most important actions. We’ve had to be very smart about how much we are doing on-beat, and what operations can be moved to occur off-beat, in order to prevent hitching.  

Soundfall still has a long way to go before it’s released, so it’s safe to say you have a lot of development time in front of you. How does Unreal Engine 4 help you streamline and save time on complicated processes?
 
First off, being able to get the initial game prototype up and running very quickly was very streamlined with Unreal Engine 4. Being able to quickly get an answer to our question “will a mix of rhythm and top-down action actually be compelling?” was crucial to deciding to go down this path. So many complex systems we needed just immediately work out of the box with Unreal — physics, networking, and navmesh, just to name a few. Blueprints and behavior trees continue to make gameplay iteration very quick and allow us to easily make new music-reactive actors.

 
Based on your experience, what advice would you give to aspiring developers just starting to learn Unreal Engine 4?
 
Start very small, learning one system at a time and by modifying existing examples. Re-creating an existing simple game, an 80s arcade game perhaps, is a great way to learn and will help anyone gain an understanding of how every system and discipline work together. Definitely don’t dive straight into trying to make a 100-player shooter or MMO!
 
Where are all the places people can go to stay up-to-date on Drastic Games and Soundfall?
 
People can check out more info about Soundfall or sign up for our newsletter at www.soundfallgame.com.

We’re also currently running a crowdfunding campaign on Fig, where people can pledge or invest to become more involved with development and share in our future success!

We also post a lot on social media:

Save Big with the Unreal Engine Marketplace Fall Sale!

We are excited to announce the Unreal Engine Marketplace Fall Sale, with over 3,100 items discounted up to 90% off. 

You can start shopping at 12:00pm EST today by heading right here. The Fall Sale runs for just over one week and will end on November …

How Survios’ Creed: Rise to Glory Revolutionizes VR Melee Combat

Survios has been one of the most successful pioneers in the VR space. The Los Angeles-based developer has an impressive resume of critically-acclaimed VR games such as Raw Data and Sprint Vector. With its most recent release, Creed: Rise to Glory, garnering a ton of praise, the studio has not only created one of the best VR boxing games, but one of the best boxing games period. We recently had the chance to interview several members from the team, and in this post, Survios explains how they were able to solve many hard VR problems while producing a knockout title.

Feeling the Friction

Even though VR can offer unparalleled levels of immersion, clipping through opponents when you’re punching through them can be an immersion breaker. It’s a difficult problem to solve; after all, your opponents aren’t really in front of you to provide friction and resistance. This is why many other VR games avoid melee mechanics and instead rely on gunplay and archery for combat. 

To overcome this issue, Survios needed to revolutionize melee for VR. Setting the stage, Lead Survios Engineer Eugene Elkin stated, “In our initial prototype, we set out two goals for ourselves: punching had to feel great and getting punched had to be impactful. We decided right away that the game would not be a straight boxing simulator, but a cinematic-inspired boxing experience. Despite a relatively compressed prototyping timeline, we were still able to create multiple gameplay iterations. The result of that investigation stage was the set of technological rules and techniques we dubbed ‘Phantom Melee Technology’.” 

Explaining how the system overcomes melee clipping issues, Elkin elaborated, “At all times, there are essentially two separate player avatars that are contextually synced/desynced. One avatar is the representation of the player’s character and is bound by in-game physics like collision, hit reactions, and knockdowns. The second avatar—codenamed ‘Phantom’—always represents the player’s true position.” This separation is quite ingenious as it allows players to punch through opponents without ever feeling like you’re awkwardly clipping through them. 

Lead Designer Valerie Allen was inspired to develop this system after reading a sci-fi manga. As Allen explains, “There was a scene in one of the Battle Angel Alita volumes that involved her brain getting overclocked. In that scene, she zipped forward to deliver a punch, only to find herself crashing to the floor because her mental projection of what she was doing was so far ahead of what her body could handle. This is largely how Phantom Melee Technology works.” 

Despite having separate avatars, combat never feels disjointed. Allen explains, “After playing around enough, players quickly start to acclimate, and rather than wasting their real-world effort punching through things, they start to treat the avatar’s arms more like their own, and thus react to the position of their virtual opponent like a real-life one.”

While Phantom Melee Tech solves one major VR issue, Survios still needed to deal with players that might try and “break” the game by constantly flailing their arms about, which is neither fun nor realistic to the sport, but may be effective. To solve this problem, Survios incorporates limited stamina. Allen elaborates on this design philosophy, “Throwing a lot of of rapid punches leads to the avatar getting tired, so the player must focus on defending until the avatar’s stamina recovers.” The lead designer added, “The more we tested and tweaked stamina tuning, the more our gameplay started to look and feel like an actual boxing match.” Those with outstanding real-life endurance may balk at the inclusion of a virtual stamina system, but Allen explains, “While the avatar may tire out more quickly than the player does, the player isn’t the one experiencing the debilitating effects of being punched in the face and gut.” 

Meaningful Matchups 

This inclusion of limited endurance also made online PvP more enjoyable. Elkin notes, “The stamina system became a very important tool to encourage players to block and defend, strategically deploy their punches wisely, and treat it like an actual boxing match.” Even though Rise to Glory is not the first VR boxing game, it is the first VR boxing game to feature online play. Early on in development, Creed wasn’t going to feature multiplayer, but Survios knew the package wouldn’t feel complete without it. Adding online PvP to a melee-focused VR game while making it feel immersive and fun is extremely difficult. Elkin elaborates, “Unlike traditional fighting games where moves and abilities are predetermined, it’s extremely hard to predict how real-life players will behave in a PvP setting.” This issue is heightened when you consider that Rise to Glory features full-body avatars. On the networking front, Multiplayer Engineer Eva Hopps added, “The biggest challenge we immediately knew we had to deal with was network lag. Since we couldn’t rely on the usual fighting game tricks to mask or compensate for it, we tweaked Phantom Melee’s fatigue-triggered slowing effect as our way of concealing lag from players.” Even though incorporating online play while creating a new revolutionary VR combat system was no small task, Hopps mentioned that, “for the most part, Unreal made this pretty easy for us.”

To ensure that the boxing felt realistic, Survios enlisted the help of professional boxers early on in development. Not only did the team heed their advice, but they signed up for boxing lessons. “To this day, we have boxing coaches come twice a week to our office for lessons, and that experience was invaluable for our designers and engineers in crafting a realistic boxing experience,” Elkin explained, elaborating, “Our marketing team also worked with Buzzfeed to have an Olympic-level boxer, Mikaela Mayer, play the Career mode on the hardest difficulty setting, and she was blown away at how similar the mechanics were to the real sport.”

Hitting Hard

To take the game’s realism to the next level and to reward players who really get into the action, Rise to Glory leverages VR’s accelerometers and motion sensors to track how hard players hit. Allen adds, “We check both the distance and speed of the player’s hand movements, and in some cases the angles as well. We tuned the values to require a reasonable amount of force to throw a punch, but not so much that players feel like they always have to punch as hard and fast as they possibly can for maximum impact.” As a result, Creed ends up being a good workout that takes “shadow boxing” to the next level. Even recovering from a knock down requires players to exert physical energy to get back into the fight. While many past boxing games would often force players to quickly tap a button to recover, Rise to Glory does something wholly unique that gives players more agency than ever before. Allen explains, “I really liked the concept of the player getting hit so hard that they experience a sort of barely-conscious tunnel vision, and that it would require physical effort to run back to their body.” Taking a page from the studios’ past VR racing game Sprint Vector, once players are knocked down for the count, they get shot out into a dark tunnel and must swing their arms to run back to their bodies. Considering you can hear the ref audibly count to 10 in the background, it provides a tremendous sense of urgency and heightens the experience in a fun way that only VR can deliver.

While most VR games opt to render just virtual hands, as it can be really hard to figure out where your elbows, torso, and feet are with only three points of contact, to overcome this issue and render players’ full bodies, Survios wrote a lot of code to create believable inverse kinematics (IK). As Elkin notes, “The body IK system has gone through several iterations here at Survios. The current system is in active development and is shared among most of our projects, but is currently a custom animation solver that determines optimal joint location from three tracked inputs.” The lead engineer added, “Luckily, Unreal makes it pretty simple to create new IK Solvers, which is extremely powerful for us.”

Considering the core Rise to Glory development team consisted roughly of nine developers, Survios has impressively been able to solve many difficult challenges with relatively little resources. Elkin attributes much of the success to the passion of his associates, “I’ve never worked on a more self-motivated team: everybody loved the project from the initial prototype and only wished we could have more time to continue working on it. While it may sound cliché, we truly were making a game that we wanted to play.” 

With this being Survios’ third Unreal Engine 4-powered VR game, Elkin also attributes much of the studio’s success to improving upon an already strong UE4 foundation, “It’s extremely important for us to reuse technology between projects. Throughout the years and over the course of several projects, we have continued building out our custom toolset in UE4, and that has significantly sped up our dev cycles on new projects. Having access and the ability to change engine source code is also invaluable.” Hopps added, “UE4 also makes it easy to move from project to product with a consistent set of tools, so nothing on our end feels like it’s changing drastically as the project evolves from prototype to retail-ready.” 

In terms of specific tools, Elkin had high praise for UE4’s debug stump allocator, “Unreal has great tools for tracking nasty memory stumps and analyzing performance.” As a multiplayer engineer, Hopps praised UE4’s Profiler and noted how “amazingly easy it is to network things in Unreal.”

Continuing the Fight

While Rise to Glory marks Survios’ fourth VR title, Elkin asserts that we’re just at the frontier of VR gaming. “I think that we’re experiencing a time similar to the pioneering days of the ’80s when game developers were exploring, experimenting, and trying basically everything for the first time,” adding, “Right now, developers just don’t know for sure what will work or not in VR; all of the traditional knowledge of game development that has been acquired over decades is just not valid most of the time in VR development. VR is a unique beast and we’re just beginning to scratch its surface–but every day we discover something new, and it’s definitely a very exciting time to be developing in VR.”

Survios recently announced Creed: Rise to Glory’s first content update. Releasing November 27, the free update will feature two new free-play and PvP opponents: Danny “Stuntman” Wheeler and Viktor Drago. Both characters are the two primary antagonists from the upcoming Creed II film. For more information on Creed: Rise to Glory, make sure to visit survios.com/creed.

If you’re interested in creating your own VR game, you can download Unreal Engine for free today.

How Studio Wildcard’s ‘Extinction’ Expansion Evolves the ARK Franchise

ARK: Survival Evolved has consistently been one of the most played games since it hit Steam via Early Access in 2015. Now, with the release of the ARK: Extinction Expansion Pack, the team at Studio Wildcard has delivered new items, environments, creatures, and mechanics that further evolve the franchise. 

We recently had the chance to interview Chris Willoughby, Project Lead for ARK: Extinction, to learn more about how the game’s third expansion really mixes things up by taking the franchise to Earth. We also explore Extinction’s new Titan bosses, modes, and lore while finding out how the studio has grown over the years, how Pokémon had a positive influence on the project and how Unreal Engine 4 has helped the team throughout the development process.
 

Thank you for taking the time to chat with us about ARK: Extinction. What were some of the goals you set out to achieve with the expansion?

We are always looking to bring something new to the table with ARK. With Extinction, our goal was to introduce new mechanics and ideas that we have not been able to do before. Between the base game and two previously released expansion packs, we have created a vast amount of content for ARK players so far. So creating something completely fresh and unique can be a challenge. We think we have a good formula between the various creatures, Titans, and many new mechanics that players will enjoy in Extinction.
 
Studio Wildcard co-founder Jesse Rapczak tweeted that ARK: Extinction is going to challenge and delight players in new ways. Can you explain how the expansion will accomplish this?

Since ARK was first released, our team has grown substantially in both size and talent. We want to give players that joy of experiencing something new, but still hold true to the established ARK experience. This has involved revisiting some of our past successes and improving on those mechanics to elevate ourselves to the next level. We wanted to do the same thing for the player experience. Extinction will be on a level all of its own and players will be able to see the progress that we have made as a studio since 2015. 

 
Considering Extinction now takes ARK to Earth, can you provide the backdrop for the story?
 
The survivors are aware that there is some overseeing force that has been creating these floating biodomes in space known as the ARKs. We know that this force has been collecting samples from all of history and bringing them back to life, preserving them in a way in artificial biomes. This is because Earth had fallen into disarray by the plague of Element. Element was able to infect the planet and the populations within it, which then drove the planet to extinction. In ARK: Extinction, we will learn what exactly happened to planet Earth that caused that downfall to happen, and if we are able to save the planet and start its return to glory.

Where does Extinction fit in with the company’s overall vision for the ARK franchise?
 
Extinction is ultimately the conclusion to ARK’s current storyline. The burning questions in everyone’s mind have always been: how did we get here, and what exactly is an “ARK” anyways? Extinction finally answers both of these questions and more. Over the past few months, we have been teasing this storyline through events called the Extinction Chronicles. Each month we released new Explorer Notes into the already released game and expansion packs that hinted on the story that will unfold in Extinction. 

Can you talk about the new environments, like the overgrown city, you’ve built for the expansion?

Since the expansion is located on Earth, players can expect to see some things that would be familiar to home. However, the Earth, prior to its present day downfall, was progressed further along than current technology has allowed in our lifetime. For example, one of the main areas as you’ve mentioned is the City, now overgrown and decayed, but still surveillanced by a protection force of Scouts and Enforcers. Players can discover other biomes with giant overarching domes, “Proto-ARKs,” containing within them the desert, tundra, and failed experiment: the Crater forest that lies beneath the city itself. The terrain outside of these areas has been ravaged by element, sulphur, and corrupted creatures. 

Studio Wildcard has revealed new, inventive beasts, with creatures such as the seemingly cute Gasbags to the perplexing Gacha. How many new creatures will the expansion introduce and how might they affect gameplay?
 
Extinction offers many new creatures: Velonasaur, Gasbags, Managarmr, Gacha, Snow Owl, as well as temporary tames—the Titans—and craftable creatures like the Scout and Enforcer. There are also the corrupted creatures of which there are many different types, but they are untameable due to their resistance to narcotics and aggressive tendencies. Each creature serves a specific purpose to the player and to Extinction as a whole. For example, the Gasbags is a beast of burden capable of hauling extensive amounts of materials and weight for long distances. It breathes in air and expels it through the lining on its stomach to be able to float gracefully–perhaps awkwardly–through the air. With each of these new creatures we sought out to fill gaps in our current lineup of creatures that allows them to be individuals and useful among hundreds of already established creatures.

How will the new untamable corrupt dinosaurs in Extinction affect the world and gameplay?
 
They are located in the most dangerous area on the map known as the Wasteland. True to its name, the Wasteland is extremely harsh and nearly uninhabitable to humans due to the ever dominating presence of corrupted creatures. While treacherous, this biome remains one of the most valuable to players, too. Players will be able to find Orbital Supply Drops in this biome which they must defend from waves of corrupted creatures at varying levels of difficulty. If successful, they will be awarded top-tier loot, some of which can only be obtained through these drops. Players can base up in this environment if they are able to protect their home from the corrupt, which are able to damage all structures, but it will be a very challenging experience for even for the most veteran of players. 

How does the studio come up with all of the interesting creature designs? Do members of the team research paleontology for inspiration?
 
At the beginning stages, we like to pool ideas from everyone at the studio, this is something that we continue to do throughout the entire creative process. Everyone throws out ideas on what they’d like to see and we pick at the things that stick the most. By keeping everyone involved in the creative process, we are able to produce many unique ideas that may not be possible if we completely segregated the roles at our studio. We do also like to take influence and inspiration from many things, paleontology being one of those. We also have a deep appreciation for games of the past and pop-culture references. 

Can you talk about the massive roaming Titan mini-bosses in the expansion? Will players be able to tame them?
 
Yes, some of the Titans can be tamed for short periods of time! Each Titan uses a different set of mechanics in order to take down the beast and convert it to your side. This also requires a decent amount of teamwork, as these are boss-level creatures and, once summoned, will be difficult to tame. Once tamed, they have saddle platforms and players are able to build defenses in their backs like a giant moving fortress. 

Does Extinction introduce many new weapons and armor?
 
The (literal) biggest addition would be both a combination of armor and weapon: the Mek. Mek’s are crafted by the player and then the player climbs inside their giant weaponized creation. There are multiple weapon types and ammo that can be given to the Mek to change its purpose. You can choose to shield your allies or shoot down your foes with a giant cannon strapped to the back of your Mek. A Mek is required for some of the highest difficulty gameplay on Extinction including Orbital Supply Drop (OSD) and the final boss fight.

Extinction will allow players to freeze creatures into little ice cubes so that they can more easily carry them around. That’s a really interesting mechanic. Can you talk about how you came up with this concept and what it might add to the game?
 
One of ARK’s long standing requests has been a way to manage players hoards of tamed creatures in a meaningful and impactful way. ARK does encourage players to tame large amounts of creatures due to needing a variety of harvesting creatures, egg laying creatures, and creatures for fighting. This new cryo feature allows people to pick and choose what creatures they have around their base at any given time without the negative side effects of having hundreds of mouths to feed, and does come with a performance boost especially if players cryo a majority of their tames. The actual implementation is very reminiscent of Pokémon, which is something many of us have played and enjoyed over the years. 

Extinction will introduce a new PvE event that incorporates tower defense-like gameplay. Can you explain how it works?

This new mode is called Orbital Supply Drop (OSD). Essentially, players will trigger these randomly as they walk throughout the Wasteland. Once a supply drop plummets down from the sky, a tribe of players must defend it from taking damage against waves of corrupted creatures. If successful, they will be rewarded with loot that coincides with the difficulty level of the supply drop. There are four different difficulties: easy, medium, expert, and legendary. At the legendary difficulty it may be one of the hardest things we have ever introduced into ARK and will require substantial teamwork and investment to complete successfully.

Does the team have a favorite UE4 tool or feature?
 
Without a doubt it’s the UE4 Editor itself. All of the tools allow us to build content at a speed that we could not achieve any other way. Whether it’s materials, particles, gameplay scripting, or level design – we can build better things faster than we could anywhere else.

Did the team use UE4’s visual scripting language, Blueprints, for Extinction’s development at all?
 
We use Blueprints extensively in gameplay development. They empower us to make numerous diverse mechanics. In addition, the iteration time when working with Blueprints enables us to develop more with less, keeping the indie vibe while working on a massive game. Beyond that, we use Blueprints as a platform upon which we enable users to mod our game and then drop in their own logic and content, which allows them to take the mechanics even further.

What has been the biggest developmental challenge to overcome?
 
Balancing our team’s passion for the project against time. There’s so much creativity and enthusiasm for what we work on, day in and day out, that it can be tricky at times to rein in our ambition and shelve really cool ideas to ensure we hit our deadlines. That said, this “abundance of imagination” internally along with great feedback from our players allows us to have a pretty vast store of features to think about for the future.

 
What has the studio learned from working on the franchise?
 
ARK is our first game as a studio which I think comes as a surprise to people who have not known us since the beginning. We began as a very small team of developers working out of a team member’s house in the early days. Since then, we’ve grown considerably. There were growing pains as we had to scale up very rapidly to keep up with the demand from our audience. We wanted to deliver our passion to our players just as much as they wanted to experience it but ARK’s immediate success took us by surprise and it was difficult, and still is, to onboard people at a rapid rate who can keep up with the development process that is ARK. Over the years we have made significant progress. We now have two studio locations and dozens of remote employees from around the world. One thing we haven’t learned is to not underestimate your audience. Many times we think we have adequately prepared and our players show up in ways we didn’t expect and we have to scramble to online servers, for example. The amount of dedication from our players is something that we honor very much, but it still takes us by surprise.

ARK: Survival Evolved has been one of the most played games for several years. What do you attribute this to?
 
There is nothing else quite like ARK. That, as well as just how customizable the game is, has kept people playing for thousands of hours. There is a little something for everyone to enjoy. This was quite intentional when it came to developing an open-world game. We wanted all player experiences to be valid, up to and including plenty of modding support for those so inclined. This has allowed many talented creators to develop their own maps, creatures, and content for the game that benefits the entire ARK community greatly. Players can build, fight, tame, explore, and create stories of their own in the world of ARK and we think that is something very special. 

Thanks for your time! Where can people learn more about ARK: Extinction?

ARK: Extinction is available now on Steam and is free to all ARK survivors who own the season pass. PlayStation and Xbox One players will be able to jump in game on November 13th. For any questions, you can also visit our community forums at survivetheark.com.

Considering Studio Wildcard was able to make such a fantastically wonderful world with UE4, if you’d like to experiment building your own virtual world for free today, download and explore Unreal Engine.

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
 

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

Thriving in Early Access, AMID EVIL is a Retro Fantasy FPS with a Modern Mind

If you knew nothing of AMID EVIL and fired it up for the first time, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’ve already played it at some point in the distant past. Upon further inspection, you’d discover a modern game with crafty AI, blistering fast gameplay, and ultra cool, out of this world weapons. 

Built with a healthy respect for the games that inspired it (DOOM, Quake, Heretic, and more), AMID EVIL wears its inspiration on its pixelated sleeve, but that doesn’t mean it lacks modern mechanics that make today’s games great.

 
Recently releasing its fifth of seven distinct and unique episodes, AMID EVIL has enjoyed great success in Early Access and received a ton of input from its dedicated fanbase. Not letting the community’s valuable feedback go to waste, Indefatigable has taken the time to read comments and implement changes based on what they’ve seen. Showing their fans they value both their input and their faith in the game’s direction surely lends itself to AMID EVIL’s 98 percent ‘very positive’ rating on Steam.
 
To learn more about the project, we took a moment to chat with Simon Rance and Leon Zawada from Indefatigable about their game, their journey to indie development, and their experience with Unreal Engine 4. Stock up and reload as we talk modern-day retro shooters below!
 

AMID EVIL is the first game from your studio, Indefatigable. Tell us a little bit about what brought the team together and why you decided to jump into indie development!
 
Well, we (Simon & Leon) have been friends since 1994. We grew up playing games and making mods. Most notably Return of the Triad – a full Rise of the Triad total conversion mod for GZDoom. This eventually led to us joining Interceptor Entertainment to work on the official Rise of the Triad reboot in 2012.
 
That was our first jump into indie, so I guess this isn’t our first rodeo. After shipping some other titles with Interceptor, we left in 2016 to start on our own thing, which we had wanted to do for years. By that point, we had a lot of experience and the time just felt right. And so… Indefatigable was born!
 
A few friends who also used to work at Interceptor have joined us as well, such as the mighty Andrew Hulshult, who’s making the (seriously great) music and also doing some sound design. Daniel Hedjazi has helped us out with some of the level design. Chris Pollitt made the really awesome key art for the game, as well as some dope concept art pieces. James Miller (who was the ROTT 2013 QA lead) has helped a lot with QA. Finally, we teamed up with producer Dave Oshry who also worked with us on ROTT 2013 and now runs New Blood Interactive – our publisher. So, to make a long story short – Rise of the Triad brought us all together!

 
The studio name, the word ‘Indefatigable’, carries the definition of ‘incapable of being tired out; not yielding to fatigue, untiring’. How do you bring this philosophy to your studio, game development, and AMID EVIL in particular?
 
We got the name “Indefatigable” from the Horatio Hornblower stories. It was the ship of Admiral Sir Edward Pellew. An amazingly successful ship, in both fiction and real life – hopefully, our studio can be, too.
 
But we do run on low-stress levels at our studio. We don’t crunch and tend to work whenever we feel like it. Some days you just get tons of work done in no time, other days there’s just no mojo flowing and nothing happens; but we don’t sweat it. Trying to force creativity can burn you out easily, and by countering that we’ve gotten a ton of work done between us. Luckily our publisher is also pretty chill about it.

 
You make no qualms about your inspirations for AMID EVIL. Built on the Doom Engine, and released in 1994, Heretic is looked back upon fondly by genre fans. What was your biggest reason for using a game like Heretic as the inspirational building block for a game released into Early Access in 2018?
 
Well, it’s not just Heretic – we set out first and foremost to make a Fantasy FPS game with gameplay inspired by many of the classics such as Doom, Quake, Unreal, etc. A core gameplay loop focused on fast movement, cool weapons, cool enemies, fun levels, and lots of action.
 
There’s Heretic DNA for sure. We got inspiration for soul mode from Heretic’s Tome of Power – which is a really satisfying mechanic. Heretic also had a lot of color going on, which we’ve got happening in AMID EVIL as well.
 
And what most people don’t know is that AMID EVIL actually started as a Doom mod when we were kids way back in 1997. It then evolved into a top-down game. We even made a prototype of that in UDK. That prototype design had a sword that would transform into different weapons, which eventually evolved into the Axe that the player wields now. There are other elements from those old design docs we used in the current game as well. Maybe we’ll dig them up some day.
 
What features does AMID EVIL have that sets it apart from Heretic and other old-school FPS games?
 
Thanks to Unreal Engine’s versatility and use of modular assets, we’re able to have seven distinct episodes – each with a unique setting and unique enemies. This gives the game a ton of variety and means we can constantly keep it feeling fresh. There’s no being stuck in ancient Egypt or Atlantis or military bases or whatever for an entire game. We can change it up.
 
We’ve also got weapons the likes of which have never been seen before. Like an interdimensional mass of glass ribbons that shoots literal black holes and a staff that pulls planets out of space and launches them at enemies; sometimes even Earth (sorry, Earth!).
 
Soul mode is another cool feature which upgrades and overpowers your weapons for a short amount of time, allowing you to shred enemies. This was inspired by the Tome of Power from Heretic but we use it to a much more devastating effect. We don’t think anyone has ever turned a battle axe into a boat propeller… until now!
 
Not to mention that the AI is much more crafty than in most classic FPS games. They path extremely well and will jump up and down ledges to get to you. Some reflect your attacks back, some are able to dodge and flank etc. It adds a lot of depth that the classic games just didn’t have – but also a lot of strategy and fun.
 

 
What were some of the developmental challenges of bringing a retro-FPS to life in the modern era? How did Unreal Engine 4 aid you in realizing your vision?
 
Development wise – it’s been pretty easy! We have a lot of experience with Unreal Engine, so the challenge for us is mainly in our small team. We wouldn’t have been able to make this game if it wasn’t for our experience and Unreal Engine 4’s amazing tools and workflow.  We’d say the real challenge with any retro FPS is trying to appeal to both fans of the classics while trying also appeal to newer players. And creating kick-ass levels.
 
Has anyone on the team worked with Unreal Engine before? If so, how has that experience benefited you in development of AMID EVIL? If not, how difficult did you find it jumping into Unreal Engine 4 for the first time?
 
We’ve been working with Unreal for… six years? We first started using Unreal Engine 3 with Interceptor Entertainment on Rise of the Triad 2013. We jumped to Unreal Engine 4 for the development of Rad Rodgers. The jump to UE4 wasn’t difficult at all honestly. It’s got the fastest workflow of any engine we’ve used by far. You can rapidly turn your ideas into something working in no time. We’re big fans.

 
If you had to choose a favorite Unreal Engine 4 tool, what would it be and why?
 
It would definitely be Blueprints. The iteration times and ease of visual scripting etc. has been one reason why we’ve been able to make this game in less than two years. The game mainly relies on Blueprints, in fact. We don’t have much C++ going on.
 
The visuals in AMID EVIL are very unique. How did you manage to blend ‘90s FPS and modern looks so well? Is it true the weapons are actually sprites?
 
What we’ve created is a style that combines full PBR rendering and other features that Unreal Engine 4 offers (such as volumetric fog, GPU particles, extensive use of the robust material system, and reflection captures) with the old school, unfiltered texture look of the mid-90s FPS games.
 
And yes, for example, the first-person weapons and pickups you see are actually sprites with individual frames using masked materials, complete with normal, roughness, and metalness maps. They’re then baked with perspective from hi-poly 3D meshes, with a fairly unique workflow. We’ve actually got an upcoming technical blog about this aspect of the look we’ve gone for and how it’s done. Stay tuned!
  
Recently launching your fifth of seven total episodes, the feedback from fans and critics alike is hugely positive. How important has feedback been to the further development of AMID EVIL since entering Early Access in March 2018?
 
The feedback has been amazing and we’re truly blown away by how much people like the game. Early Access turned out to be a much better idea than we thought, mainly because the game is practically bug-free because of it!
 
Moreover, the episodic release schedule we’ve taken on has kept players interested and engaged during Early Access as well. So it was definitely the right decision. It’s allowed us to read nearly every comment and suggestion people leave during development since there’s always room for improvement and new ideas. We’ve taken many of these player suggestions into account and implemented them into the game, too – which is cool. Having a community invested in helping you make your game better every day is something seriously invaluable. AMID EVIL wouldn’t be what it is without them.

 
With two episodes to go, has your approach to development changed in any way since that initial release? Have you ‘course corrected’ on anything realizing it could be done better or more efficiently?
 
AMID EVIL’s development is actually quite unusual for us. We don’t really have much in the way of documentation or concepts. We basically just experiment with ideas until we build something cool, then iterate on it ‘til it’s solid all around. It’s neat because each episode has its own feel because of that. Sure, there are always things that could have been done better, some systems could be more modular, more optimized, etc. But it’s been fairly smooth sailing. And Unreal Engine 4 definitely helps with that.
 
What have you learned along your journey so far that you’d pass onto another developer jumping into Unreal Engine 4 for the first time?
 
Unreal is its own thing, some things within it are very similar to other engines, but others definitely not. Take time to read the documentation. Use the tutorials. And remember that the Unreal developer community is huge and welcoming, so there’s a lot of help out there if you ever run into anything. Talk to them!
 
Where are all the places people can go to learn more about AMID EVIL, New Blood Interactive, and Indefatigable?
 
●      http://AMIDEVIL.com
●      http://Newblood.games
●      http://Indefatigable.co.nz
●      https://twitter.com/TheNewBloods
●      https://twitter.com/indefatigablenz
●      http://discord.gg/newblood