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An all-new, immersive adventure game from the award-winning creators of Myst and Riven.
An all-new, immersive adventure game from the award-winning creators of Myst and Riven.
22,195 backers pledged $1,321,306 to help bring this project to life.

“Making Of” - Part 3

Posted by Cyan, Inc. (Creator)

Hey, kids. Eric here - back for the third (and final) behind-the-scenes post on the creation of the the Obduction teaser trailer. This one’s all about the game engine: Unreal 4! So for realsy-reals this time... there are no spoilers in here. Like... none at all. But some of the user interface graphics look super dry and boring, and surprisingly like work... so I’ll just leave this here:

(SPOILER ALERT: We’re going to reveal some things. If you don’t want to know anything - STOP HERE!)

Nope. Still no spoilers down here... We sure fooled them, huh?

The Engine

As stated in the Kickstarter materials, the game engine we’re using for Obduction is Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 4.  I’ve worked with Unreal before, specifically UE3 and UDK... but getting to dive in with UE4 has been really fantastic. They’ve added some powerful tools and really ratcheted up the rendering technology... to a point where even a grizzled, jaded game developer like myself was picking my jaw up off the floor the first time I really took the new engine out for a test drive. This thing is elegant. Oh, and before anyone complains... yes, we got permission from Epic to show some in-editor screenshots... so neener-neener.

I’m just going to hit on a few features that really made it possible to get that trailer done on a very restricted timetable.

First off... the environment. Originally, I thought I wanted the forest to be very subdued - essentially a silhouette of a treeline. But by leveraging some of Unreal’s landscape tools, I was able to do something much, much more complex and interesting without destroying the scene performance. And a big "thanks" goes out to Melinda Rose for lending a hand and creating the 3D tree models that were used in the promo:

The landscape underneath is essentially a large, undulating sheet of geometry (sourced from a geologic survey of some local Spokane hills!) that I then “painted” a couple of trees all over... replicating them thousands of times, resulting in the rolling ridgeline. This ended up being a really good solution, as the trees all pick up lighting from the Seedpod as it passes by... which is so much better than a flat silhouette would have been.

Next up... the materials. So... full disclosure... While I may be a fairly technically-inclined artist, I’m no programmer. I know just enough coding to be dangerous but not enough to actually be useful in any capacity. So I’ve always been super jealous of programmers who could create really cool shader tools and effects algorithms (and I’ve had the good fortune of working with a few stellar graphics programmers over the years). I know the theory behind these kinds of shaders... but theory and implementation are two different things. Except... all that goes out the window with Unreal. The Unreal materials editor is set up so that not only can technically-inclined art dorks like me get away with writing our own custom shaders, the entire engine is built from the ground up to excel at that. It might look like a spreadsheet... but it’s math, man... MATH:

And lastly, Unreal 4 has really boosted up their particle tools with the addition of hardware-accelerated particle systems that make use of both local and global vector fields for complex, subtle, and natural motion. I apologize to anyone who had to read that last sentence. Translation: This engine makes great sparklies! Which is good, because that trailer had a LOT of sparklies.... a few million, by my count.

So, I guess all this is to say: The UE4 engine is a great fit for Obduction. It’s really geared towards helping a small team do big, big things. It’s a force multiplier that will allow Cyan to be lean and mean during production and will enable us to bring new worlds to life in ways never before possible.

Hey... do you guys remember that one time we all raised like a million dollars to help make the kind of games we love? Ahh, it seems like only yesterday. *sniff*

Thanks, everyone. For serious. Thank you!


“Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.”

-Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Alex Tardif, Derrick Robinson, and 109 more people like this update.


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    1. Damien Vacaflor on

      Thanks for the 101. I swear I was thinking the exact same thing as I was reading that sentence. In your free time, learn some new code. It might help with your modelling in exciting new ways.

    2. Missing avatar

      Martin Timusk on

      Eric thank you so much for sharing the background detail. I am sure I am not alone when saying the Cyan experiences have always been engrossing. Once drawn in you have to see it all, and then find out more. Keep it coming. Since were backers and all. Covered by NDA somewhere no doubt. But no plot-lines please. We have to solve things by ourselves.

    3. light487 - Kickstarter Junkie on

      Thanks for an excellent, spoiler-free update :)

    4. Rodney Recor on

      I enjoyed reading this update to see Eric talk about how much he seems impressed with the Unreal engine. This is the kind of discussion I enjoy. I agree. I've 'messed around' with Unreal myself and was equally impressed with how easy it is to use and how "elegant" it is. As an openURU enthusiast, I have wondered how nice it would be to build URU ages with it, if such a thing was possible.

    5. Gavin Lambert - Tormented Dreamer on

      @Jon - the only way you can make a contingent pledge is to Manage Your Pledge to increase it now, and then remember to check back in just before the deadline and lower it again if your contingency isn't met.

    6. Coyote Hubbard on

      Woo! its met its goal!

    7. Missing avatar

      Gary Sawtelle on

      Absolutely Awesome!!!

    8. Barbara Szlovak on

      Yes, we did it!!! Congrats!
      Myst and Riven have influenced my life in so many ways - I'm doing a happy dance now, I was so on the edge in the last couple of weeks.

    9. Aaron Williams on

      This takes me back to the glory days of beta testing Uru. I'm so excited, words just can't do justice! Thanks to everyone for making this happen!!!

    10. Missing avatar

      Jon on

      Congratulations too. Looking forward to this a lot.
      Incidentally, is there any way to make a further pledge contingent on reaching the next threshold - for oculus rift support...?

    11. Mathieu Lacombe on

      Can't wait to play to game now. I will be following the advance on the game with great anticipation. Ah and btw, congratulation on hitting your mark !

    12. Missing avatar

      August Hill on

      Congratulations and well done on a successful project!!

    13. Al Edwards on

      Congratulations, I am so very happy that you have made it.:-)

    14. Natalie Manahan

      Hey! You guys just made your goal!

    15. Blake Bjerke on

      Glad to see some screens of your art process - always cool to see.
      Wish I could get my hands on that material editor!

    16. Athalean Larnayé on

      I'm still amazed that the trailer video is real-time (plus, seeing Eric just playing around with the scene during the Hangouts was super cool!) and I'm really looking forward to seeing UE4 in action in your game. I feel like a state of the art game engine is exactly what Obduction deserves. I trust you guys do your best to keep this level of quality up for the real game. :)

    17. Rainer "tachzusamm" Kesselschläger on

      By the way, that "math" spreadsheets you mention remind me on the node editor of Blender.
      I've worked with it before, and it's just awesome. Nice tools you've got at your fingertips.
      I'm sure what you will do with it will blow us all away once we start Obduction.
      Thanks a lot for sharing, Eric - and have fun with your creation of worlds.

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      George on

      Thanks for the update Eric! I'm glad to see that you guys are still pushing the limit in game design, and making these awesome toolset choices!

    19. Lisa C on

      Love the effects. We're gonna make it, including at least 1 stretch goal! It's math, man... MATH.

    20. Missing avatar

      Michael Cook on

      14k more to go! SOOOO CLOOOSE!

    21. Zuccamburg on

      @Rainer we all are kids inside :-)

    22. WormSlayer on

      Unreal 4 does look sweet, I'm slightly jealous :P

      I hope you guys are going to support the Rift even if you dont reach the stretch goal, I'm actually surprised you are not making it a core feature, this sort of game is perfect for VR.