“Making Of” - Part 3
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?
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