How ARK: Survival Evolved Made the Move to Mobile

When Studio Wildcard announced that ARK: Survival Evolved would be coming to mobile platforms earlier this year, the news stunned the video game industry. Considering the graphically-intensive open-world game takes full advantage of high-end PCs and modern consoles, how could it possibly run on significantly less powerful smartphones? 

To turn this monumental task into a reality, the publisher enlisted the help of War Drum Studios, a seasoned developer who’s worked on acclaimed mobile games that include Bully, Grand Theft Auto, and Auralux. The recent release of the mobile version of ARK: Survival Evolved sets a stunning example for how developers can port AAA console-quality titles to mobile devices.

The mobile version of the action-adventure survival game offers an equally thrilling experience as its PC and console counterparts. Available across iOS and Android, it features a massive island, over 80 dinosaurs, and the same crafting and building mechanics from the established game. While many mobile ports of AAA games offer watered-down mechanics, players of the mobile version of ARK: Survival Evolved largely get the same great experience. This certainly isn’t a heavily trimmed-down version of the base game. To see how War Drum Studios accomplished this colossal task, we interviewed CEO Thomas Williamson and Community Manager Jordan Kleeman to learn how they were able to port such a gargantuan title to the smallest of platforms using Unreal Engine 4

Uncompromised quality

One of the main goals that War Drum Studios set out for itself was to faithfully recreate the desktop version for phones and to maintain its high-graphical pedigree in the process, but even they questioned whether they would have to make significant compromises. “Early on, we weren’t sure if we’d be able to support the aquatic and flying creatures,” they told us. Fortunately, they were able to engineer a solution.

While War Drum Studio did tweak some elements of the mobile version to run optimally on phones, they assert that the game is very similar to its desktop counterpart. The developer elaborated that the port was based on the PC’s Early Access 2017 build, “We feature all 50 square kilometers of the island and its surrounding body of water with only a few caves omitted. We removed the boss fights due to size constraints, but we’ve got over 80 different creatures in addition to all of the engrams from the original PC release.” 

Whether you’ve played the mobile version of ARK or have just seen snippets of its gameplay, you know that it looks visually amazing. It raises the bar for how good games on phones can look. Like the desktop version, it features vast draw distances, an immersive day-to-night cycle, and great water and fire effects. The development team is impressively squeezing every ounce of performance from mobile processors. 

How did War Drum Studios get the mobile version looking so good? The developer credits UE4 for much of the help, “Unreal Engine 4 enthusiasts will be very happy to know that 95 percent of this happened just in the editor! This is not too hard if you are working with a complete game that already has an established look and feel, it’s just a lot of asset work.” To keep frame rates smooth, War Drum Studios employed a few intelligent performance-saving measures. “First we created about 20-30 simple materials that replicated the general look of each type of asset (dinosaur skin, beach sand, building materials). Then we re-parented all of the MICs in the game to these new materials and tweaked values,” they added, “New assets entirely consisted of some detailing textures we sampled on top of diffuse textures to get away with a lower texture resolution. That’s where most of our memory savings came from, along with determining which high-level features just wouldn’t fit in memory, such as the bosses.” The developer reiterated how integral UE4 was in the porting process and stated, “It would have taken twice as much time without the Unreal toolset.”

The mobile version is all the more impressive when you consider that it was predominately ported by just 13 people working on the title for a little over a year. “We handle everything in-house: from programming and art, to QA and community management. Studio Wildcard helped us build promotional content, plan the launch, and get our server infrastructure off the ground. By title, we have five programmers, three artists, three QA, and two community managers, but every single person here wears all the other hats in some regard. You have to have that in a small team.”

Team tactics

One benefit of such a scrappy studio using UE4 is that they can quickly iterate to push updates. “Due to our small team size, we’re quite agile and can implement changes rather quickly. For example, we can have a discussion with community members about a new feature on Wednesday, implement it on Thursday, QA it on Friday, and our players are downloading it in an update on their devices by Monday,” the developer exclaimed.

One of the reasons why the port was able to come together so quickly and efficiently was due to UE4’s Blueprints system, which allows non-programmers to code in an easy-to-understand visual-scripting way. “There is no better interface to have between all of the team members. Programmers, artists, and our QA department were able to work with Blueprint graphs and fix bugs and work together,” the developer remarked, adding, “It’s a great common language because it’s so easy to pick up. Because everyone was able to work with Blueprints, user interfaces, gameplay features, and other new content came together very quickly.” 

Mobile evolved

The seasoned developer had a lot of great things to say about UE4 as a mobile development platform, “Frankly, if you have a high-end game that you want to adapt to mobile, Unreal Engine 4 is far and away the best toolset. Things are simple to scale. Every aspect of the engine framework is tweakable. Integration of third party services, if it hasn’t been done already, is trivial.” The company expanded upon how working with UE4 serves as a beneficial long-term investment, “It’s a proven commodity. If you are an independent game developer breaking into the industry, consider this: if a big studio is looking to hire someone or a team for a project, which engine can you sell your experience on? With Unreal Engine 4, you get all the selling points. It’s known to scale well, is used by all the biggest names, and it gives you access to and experience with bleeding-edge technology.”

Even though they had a competent team and the tools to excel, the company still faced challenges along the way. At the onset, the developer questioned whether faithfully recreating the massive and graphically lush world of ARK: Survival Evolved on significantly less powerful mobile devices would be possible without major sacrifices. “Early on, [our build] only ran on the highest-end devices and took up much more memory than we had available,” the developer explained. An easy way out would have been to scrap a ton of features, which was a direction the team flirted with. “We almost didn’t include underwater exploration, but [publisher] Wildcard encouraged us by giving us a few extra months to work on the problem,” the developer stated. The studio was able to engineer a solution that changed how the mobile version streams in level content to solve this issue.  

Optimizing controls from the PC version’s keyboard-and-mouse setup so that gameplay would feel natural on a smartphone’s touch screen was another obstacle for the studio. Luckily, the developer had an esteemed history of porting AAA console games over to mobile platforms and had the experience to tackle this issue. War Drum attributes iteration as the key to their success here, “Our design philosophy stems from one specific mantra: avoid making the player have to know where their thumbs are as much as possible. You end up wasting a lot of attention with a ton of virtual buttons that could be spent on the game experience otherwise,” they added, “You’ll notice this with ARK’s default control scheme. For 95 percent of your in-game actions, your thumb placement on the screen is unimportant to your next action.” The developer elegantly implemented many context-sensitive controls that are intuitive to a touch screen. For instance, while running, players will automatically jump over little hurdles in their way. They also added an undo button to help players finetune their builds. These quality-of-life tweaks make it feel like ARK was built from the ground up to be a mobile game. 

Despite having a large phone-based audience, War Drum Studios found that many players loved having complete control and designed the user interface to suit their needs. “For almost everything we tried to automate, we’ve added the option of a dedicated button, including an on-screen hot bar.” But the mobile version of ARK: Survival Evolved isn’t just for hardcore players. The development team made tweaks to make the game more accessible, too. “We added feedback, such as meters to let you know how much time is left when cooking items or taming creatures. Many of the game’s timers for things like breeding and imprinting creatures have been reduced,” they stated. They also added a casual mode that prevents players from losing all of their equipment and blueprints when they die. This makes the experience much less intimidating for newcomers. In addition, the studio created a Pursuit system, which acts as a tutorial to ease new players into the game and helps veterans adapt to the new mobile control scheme. The Pursuit system provides additional focus and guidance to players as they journey across the game’s island.

Players will also be able to explore ARK’s vast world with numerous others online, as the mobile version supports crossplay between Android and iOS. The studio praised UE4 for being instrumental here, “Unreal Engine took us 95 percent of the way with compatibility between the platforms.” They added, “The engine design makes it very simple to integrate new systems such as metrics, ad services, and networking solutions with new modules. We’re very fortunate to have such a leg up with this project because of Unreal.”

The mobile version of ARK: Survival Evolved represents a landmark title that changes the landscape of what mobile games can be. It proves that a small, scrappy team can produce a AAA-quality experience in a relatively short amount of time. You can download ARK: Survival Evolved for free on iTunes and Google Play today.

If you’re interested in creating your own game, download and explore Unreal Engine 4.20 for free now.

Keep on Rockin’: Startup Develops AI for Mapping Tunnels and Mineshafts

RockMass is digging a niche for itself in mining and tunnels. The Toronto-based startup is developing an NVIDIA AI-powered mapping platform that can help engineers assess tunnel stability in mines and construction. Today, geologists and engineers visually assess the risks of rock formations by standing five meters away from the rock as a safety precaution. Read article >

The post Keep on Rockin’: Startup Develops AI for Mapping Tunnels and Mineshafts appeared first on The Official NVIDIA Blog.

Kiwi Delivery Robots Tackle Student Snack Attacks

What’s not to like about food delivered by a cheery little robot in about 30 minutes. That’s the attraction of Kiwi Bot, a robot hatched by a Colombian team now in residence at the University of California, Berkeley’s Skydeck accelerator, which funds and mentors startups. The startup has rolled out 50 of its robots — Read article >

The post Kiwi Delivery Robots Tackle Student Snack Attacks appeared first on The Official NVIDIA Blog.

Learn How to Develop High-End Mobile Games with the Action RPG Sample Project

Recently shipping alongside Unreal Engine 4.20 is the Action Role Playing Game (Action RPG or ARPG) sample project. As the name suggests, Action RPG is a fast-paced, third-person hack-and-slash game that was built from the ground up to help developers learn more about how to use UE4 to develop high-end mobile games for both Android and iOS. 

Inside of the Action RPG sample project and accompanying documentation you will find a wide range of topics that any UE4 developer will find useful. Some of the topics that this sample covers are.

  • Utilizing C++ and Blueprints together in a UE4 project.
  • Setting up and using certain aspects of UE4’s Ability system.
  • How to support multiple platforms like Android, iOS, PC, Mac, and consoles.

Things to Consider:

  • Due to the complexity of UE4’s Ability system, ARPG only utilizes a small subsection of the available features.
  • Certain aspects of this project also require that you have a good understanding of how C++ works.

Related Links:

We hope you enjoy this sample project and we look forward to seeing the projects you develop!

Epic Games Announces $1 Million in Unreal Dev Grants

Epic Games has announced the recipients of its latest round of Unreal Dev Grants, with 37 teams and creators receiving a total of $1 million in no-strings-attached funding for games, tools, broadcast and beyond. The Unreal Dev Grants program was established in February 2015 as a $5 million fund for promising developers working with Unreal Engine 4; awards range from $5,000 to $50,000 with no restrictions or obligations to Epic Games. This latest round of Unreal Dev Grants underscores the variety of applications for Unreal Engine, with software plugins, VR games, AI-driven educational platforms, and healthcare tools all receiving financial assistance.

 
“The Unreal Dev Grants program was designed to give studios and other developers a boost to bring their promising working prototypes to market, and to give back to the wider Unreal developer community as they use the engine in interesting ways,” said Chance Ivey, Partnership Manager at Epic Games. “This new round is our biggest yet, and we are blown away by the potential of projects like Kara Education, an AI-driven online educational platform for kids with hearing difficulties; VStore, a VR tool for quick and portable early dementia screenings; and Anima, a robust crowd simulation plugin for Unreal that can be leveraged by any game designer or VFX artist working with Unreal. Congratulations to all of these recipients on their exciting work; we can’t wait to see what’s next!”
 
The new round of grant recipients includes:
 

 
Amid Evil by New Blood InteractiveSteam Page
In this 90s-inspired FPS adventure, players take on evil hordes with sacred magical weaponry and spells. Travel through seven distinct episodes to hone your skills against evil and reclaim your world.
 
Anima Plugin for UE4 by AXYZ DesignWebsite
anima© 3.0 by AXYZ Design is a robust crowd simulation plugin for Unreal Engine that helps architects, designers and visualization professionals to populate hundreds of 3D characters and bring them into Unreal Engine 4 scenes with just a few mouse clicks.
 

Atomic Heart by MundfishWebsite
Atomic Heart is a first-person shooter that takes players inside an alternate universe during the high noon of the Soviet Union. Follow a Soviet special agent to unlock thrilling secrets and show the Motherland what you’re made of.
 

Brief Battles by Juicy Cupcake Website
A hilarious platform fighter, Brief Battles uses underpants as a weapon. Players can choose from a variety of super-powered underpants and different game modes as they compete to see who has the mightiest buns.
 
Project “Caillou” (Working title) by AwacebVideoWebsite
Awaceb is a small indie team of two childhood friends from New Caledonia in the French territory of the Pacific. Project “Caillou” tells touching, poetic stories in an open, physics-based and dynamic 3D world.
 
Desolate Sands by Blacksmith StudiosWebsite
Desolate Sands is a VR puzzle game set in an ancient pyramid. The objective is to reach the bottom by leveraging nearby movable objects and levers to solve a series of complex puzzles.
 
ELLI by Bandana KidWebsite
In this puzzle platforming game, players travel as ancient time guardian Elli on a journey to recover the stolen sands of time.
 

 
Feri VinczeWebsite
Feri Vincze is a freelance 3D artist and videographer using Unreal Engine 4 to render elegant animated films such as “The Chest.”
 

Ghost by Sky Machine StudiosWebsite
Ghost is a sandbox stealth game set in a Victorian era world, where players seek to uncover the truth about Arthur Artorias’ past. In this game, light is the enemy – stay in the shadows and explore the darkness to survive.
 
Guntastic by Ludicrous GamesWebsite
Guntastic is an arcade-inspired game involving shooting and mayhem. Battle with up to four local or online players in fast-paced, one-shot one-kill, nonstop matches over continuously changing levels.
 

 
Headsnatchers by IguanabeeSteam Page
Headsnatchers is a multiplayer party game where players each try to keep their heads on their shoulders while trying to remove everyone else’s. Play across four different game modes in over 25 unique environments, each with different rules and attributes.
 
Hear No Evil by Rockodile GamesWebsite
Hear No Evil tells the story of humanity’s last remnants, who return to earth to fight for their future. This game is a visually spectacular top-down action shooter inspired by Alienation and Helldivers.
 

 
Hellbound by Saibot StudiosWebsite
Hellbound is a demonic first-person shooter game inspired by classic 90s games like DOOM and Quake created by an independent team of developers in Argentina.
 

 
Kara Education by Kara TechnologiesWebsite
Kara is an online education platform for children with hearing difficulties. The platform delivers educational material using an avatar, driven by Kara’s AI and machine learning algorithms and Unreal Engine.
 

 
Kine by Gwen FreySteam Page
Kine is a 3D puzzle game about three whimsical machines that aspire to be musicians. Players embark across a theatrically rendered cityscape and solve increasingly difficult 3D puzzles to help the machines form a band and catch their big break.
 

 
Little Devil Inside by NeostreamWebsite
Little Devil Inside is an engaging 3D action adventure RPG game where players are thrown into a surreal environment with elements that challenge their survival instincts. Explore, adapt, and fight to survive.
 

 
M.A.S.S Builder by Vermillion Digital Co., Ltd. – Facebook
M.A.S.S. Builder pits humans against invading aliens in the fight for the Earth. Players will build, customize and control the ultimate M.A.S.S. (Mechanical Assault Skeleton Suit) in an effort to save the world.
 

 
Midnight Ghost Hunt by MellowsoftWebsite
Midnight Ghost Hunt is a multiplayer hide-and-seek game that pits a team of Ghosts against a team of Ghost Hunters. The hunt begins at the stroke of midnight, and it’s a race against the clock to either stay hidden or uncover the ghosts.
 

 
NanoSpace by Synthetic SystemsSteam Page
Nanospace is a 3D platformer with elements of real-time strategy. Players take control of three “nano-mites” in levels full of riddles, monsters, inventory and more.
 
Neon Giant – Unannounced TitleWebsite
Neon Giant is a group of game veterans with a experience in some of the world’s biggest action game franchises. The studio is hard at work on its first title, set in a brand new cyberpunk world.
 
New Reality Co. – Unannounced ProjectWebsite
New Reality Co is a creative studio by Milica Zec and Winslow Porter, dedicated to synthesizing storytelling, art, and technology into groundbreaking and emotional projects. New Reality are the creators behind the award-winning Giant and Tree VR experiences, both of which are built with Unreal and previously benefitted from Unreal Dev Grants.
 
NotMyCar by NMC StudiosVideoWebsite
NotMyCar is a white-knuckle, lead-footed massive multiplayer vehicular combat battle royale game. Drop into the battleground and use cool weapons and abilities to fight your way through single-elimination combat and become the ultimate survivor. Customize your ride to make it a beast of a vehicle to take on anyone, anytime.
 

 
Oceanhorn 2 by Cornfox and Bros.Website
Oceanhorn 2, which was showcased in the Unreal Engine booth at GDC 2018, is the upcoming sequel to the action-adventure mobile game featuring exploration in a colorful world with items, puzzles and battles.
 

 
Origin Zero by Black Amber Digital – Website
Origin Zero is an episode-based, sci-fi animation project lovingly crafted by a small, dedicated team using Unreal Engine 4.
 

 
Paradise Lost by PolyAmorous  – Website
Paradise Lost is a non-linear narrative driven adventure game with meaningful, kinesthetic interactions dynamically changing both the environment and the story you are experiencing.
 

 
The Path of Calydra by FinalbossWebsite
The Path of Calydra is an 3D adventure platformer set in the fantastic world of Calygore. Explore as suburban teenager Matheus, who has been transported to Calygore and must rely on an unusual entity named Calydra to seek out four powerful crystals and return home.
 
Point Cloud Plugin by PhobozForum Post
The Point Cloud Plugin by Phoboz is a free plugin for Unreal Engine 4, developed to help with importing, processing and rendering of point clouds. It is currently in beta for Windows.
 

 
Raji: An Ancient Epic by Nodding Head GamesWebsite
Raji: An Ancient Epic is an action adventure game set in ancient India. Raji is a young girl chosen by the gods to stand against the demonic invasion of the human realm, saving her younger brother in the process.
 
Rocket Jockey by Burn Ward Games – Website
Rocket Jockey is a team-based game that plays like a cross between Rocket League and Super Smash Bros. Fly on top of modern jet engines with classic car chassis at break-neck speeds.
 

 
Scene Fusion by KinematicSoup TechnologiesWebsite
Scene Fusion for Unreal Engine makes real-time editor collaboration possible. Developers can build all sorts of content together in real time, resulting in significant time savings.
 
Second Order
Independent developer Second Order, creator of Claybook, is being recognized and awarded for contributing numerous fantastic rendering features and optimizations to Unreal Engine 4. This is the team’s second Unreal Dev Grant.
 

 
Session by Crea-ture StudiosWebsite
Inspired by the golden era skate culture of the late 90s and early 2000s, Session is an upcoming skateboarding game that is all about authenticity, creativity and the freedom of expression that skateboarding provides.
 

 
SMALLAND by EMBU GamesWebsite
With SMALLAND, the survival genre gets a tinier take that lets you appreciate the little things, or flee in terror of the little things. The slightest breeze can sweep your items or even your house away from you. The simplest rainfall can form puddles the size of lakes in a matter of minutes.
 

 
Solar Warden by Polar ZenithWebsite
Solar Warden is a six-degrees-of-freedom space shooter combined with an overarching campaign with real time strategy elements. Jump into your fighter and combat the silicoid menace up close, while you command and dispatch the Solar Warden fleet for reinforcements.
 

 
Someday You’ll Return by CBE SoftwareWebsite
Someday You’ll Return is a story-driven psychological horror game about a desperate search for a missing daughter deep in the woods where you swore you’d never return.
 
Twenty StudiosWebsite
Sweden’s Twenty Studios, together with SuperFly.tv and LeViteZer, is crafting intuitive open source software that brings the power of Unreal Engine 4 to live mixed reality production and video compositing pipelines.
 
VStore by VitaeVRWebsite
Vstore, which recently entered wide clinical trials, is a fully functioning virtual reality supermarket which offers a fast, accurate and portable method of screening for early indicators of dementia. Diagnosing dementia at the earliest possible stages is critical because that is when treatment is at its most effective.
 
To learn more about Unreal Dev Grants and to apply for a future award, visit: http://unrealengine.com/unrealdevgrants

Class Is in Session: AI App Schools on English Pronunciation

Isthmus. Nuclear. Anemone. Tricky English pronunciations are a challenge for many immigrants to the U.S. and native-born speakers alike. ELSA — which stands for English language speech assistant — aims to help with that. The three-year-old Silicon Valley startup offers an English-pronunciation app, dubbed ELSA Speak, that’s geared toward American English and available for Android Read article >

The post Class Is in Session: AI App Schools on English Pronunciation appeared first on The Official NVIDIA Blog.

Aspyr Media Hot Topics: Q1 2018

Where’s Civilization VI cross-platform, KOTOR 2 Mobile, and Stubbs?!  And answers to other Hot Topic questions…….
The post Aspyr Media Hot Topics: Q1 2018 appeared first on The Aspyr Blog.