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Public Speaking for Indies

Introduction

For many people, the words ‘give a presentation’ are enough to send them running or into cardiac arrest. We’re faced with the embarrassing memories of awkwardly facing our class at school, mumbling about some topic we were forced to talk about by the teacher. If you told me 10 years ago that I would happily be getting up in front of hundreds of people and giving speeches and presentations I would have laughed in your face and, not very eloquently, told you where to go.

But things change. For one, I’m no longer being forced to make a presentation, I normally get to choose whether or not I say yes, and the audience is no longer required to spectate, they can choose to come or go so only attend if they are actually interested. And for another, I’m talking about what I love – games. With these thoughts combined, suddenly speaking to a group of people doesn’t seem so scary.

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When someone mentions the term ‘public speaking’ our minds often jump to a certain scenario; a conference, a stage, a mic, and slides. But public speaking isn’t just limited to this setup.

Every day you are using public speaking skills, whether you are discussing your latest work with your team in a meeting, networking at an event, or presenting options of your project's direction to clients. It’s something we all do in one way or another so becoming comfortable with speaking is beneficial to everybody.

The Benefits of Public Speaking

The most obvious benefit of speaking is improved confidence. I won’t lie, public speaking is down-right nerve-wracking and those nerves never fully go away. No-one wants to embarrass themselves publicly by saying the wrong thing, falling off the stage, passing out from nerves, or knocking somebody out in the front row by pitching over the microphone.

But here’s the thing, no matter how many times you do public speaking and how good you get at it, things still go wrong. What changes is how you deal with the situation.

One of my favourite memories of a GDC talk is from three years ago when Mike Bithell was closing the Animation Bootcamp. All day there had been ongoing technical issues and when it came to Mike’s presentation, none of his videos worked; which was a rather big problem given he was showing off animation cheats and optimisations from his different games. Instead of getting flustered or angry, he simply moved on with his presentation and got some tech help at the end to show them off! People hold a lot of respect for those who can keep it together and make the best of a bad situation, and this case was no different. He made something that could’ve been awkward both fun and entertaining.

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When things go a bit awry, in most scenarios, you just need to keep calm and carry on; and that ability to stay calm comes from having a little bit of inner confidence. To know the audience won’t mind a couple of minutes hiccup if something breaks, or you mis-click on a slide, or recite the wrong number and then correct it. We are all human.

To have that confidence to get up in front of people and put yourself out there has other benefits. You give yourself more chance of discoverability, for people to take notice of you and take an interest in what you are saying or working on.

It’s a great networking tool as most people don’t like asking questions in front of a group, so they will often come up and chat one-to-one when you finish, which starts a personable relationship.

You also become better at listening (yes, you did read that right!). The more you speak in front of people, the better you become at listening to your audience (and not just in the audible sense). You become aware of the energy in the room and how to guide it, you pick up on feedback on whether your points resonate with them or if you need to change your tone, and (most importantly) you can take note of everything that didn’t work as planned and use it to adjust future presentations until you hit the sweet spot.

It’s really worth reflecting for a few minutes after a presentation on what you could improve, but also to compare how it went with how you thought it would go – nearly always it’s going to be better than you thought!

Different Types of Speakers

As with most things though, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution for how to be a perfect public speaker. Everyone has different methods of preparing, with each way having pros and cons, but what is vital is about finding a method(s) that feels comfortable to you.

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Below are four common presenter types that I often see.

The Panicer: leaves it until the last minute

Can be both the result of bad time management or an unfortunate turn of events. Often the presentation is being worked on until the day/night/hour/minutes before the allotted time. Not only does this cause headaches for the speaker, but also for the organiser as they chase to get hold of the slides to pre-upload them onto the machine. This situation often creates extra pressure on the speaker making the whole experience more stressful. As it is so last minute, due to lack of review or practice there can be issues with flow, content relevancy and nerves. I’m yet to find a pro for this method, so I would suggest avoiding it at all costs.

The Ad-Libber: makes it up the spot

Not to be confused with the Panicer, the Ad-Libber often has a general slide deck and skips through the points based on the relevancy to the audience. This provides a flexible presentation that can be suited to the specific listeners interests and needs. It often flows and is interesting to listen to. However, this format requires the speaker to thoroughly know the topic so they can adapt on the fly and can be difficult to keep on time. They may end up running over before all points are covered and it can also easily become ‘waffly’ if there’s a lack of focus on which points to hit.

The Noter: uses bullet points as reminders

Creates the presentation using a series of bullets as reminders, which can range from a couple of words to key phrases to sentences. These can be easily adjusted to improve the flow beforehand and helps keep the speaker on topic without being rigid.

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These presentations often feel natural as the speaker holds the point in their head and let the words flow. The only potential downside is if the speaker is very nervous, they may need more heavy prompts than a couple of shorts notes when starting off.

The Scripter: pre-writes everything before hand

The entire presentation is written out before hand into a script. This can be useful for making sure the flow works, key phrases are used, and tight timings are abided too. However, this format can easily become flat, monotonous and cumbersome if the speaker reads directly from the monitor and loses their inflection or place in the script. It’s also not flexible in anyway, so research must be done to make sure the presentation relevant to the upcoming audience.

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Personal note: I’m a scripter. When I build a presentation I start with bullet points to get the overall gist before writing a full script. I find it helps me get a good flow to the presentation, stops me from repeating myself (both in words and ideas) and makes sure I can nail my timings (around 2,000 words is 10 minutes of talking). All of this being said, I don’t fully read from the script when presenting. I have a background in amateur dramatics, so have had practice memorising and reciting scripts whilst keeping interest in vocal tone. I still keep the script there when presenting in-case I forget my next topic, as a prompt to get me back into the rhythm, but don’t rigidly adhere to it. I also find it useful as it’s an easy way to get precise feedback on wording and to convert my talks into blogs for reference after the event.

As mentioned before, you need to experiment with different methods of presenting to find what works for you. It may be a combination of the above types or it may be none of them. However, no matter which method you use there are still key areas which all speakers need to be aware of.

Presenting Overview

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Effort

You have to put in some effort. This is a bit of a bugbear to me. If an audience has made the effort to attend your talk, to arrive on time and listen quietly, then as a speaker you need to respect that effort and put in some of your own so the exchange is mutual.

I’m sure we’ve all been to a poorly prepared presentation, one we were really excited to hear but were utterly disappointed in after it was finished. This isn’t always the speakers fault, due to circumstance they may have had very little time to prepare (such as filling in for someone else who has had to pull out) but, in some cases, there is no denying the speaker simply hasn’t made time to work on it.

And part of the problem is the lack of awareness of how much time you need to put into a presentation to make it great. It can take weeks of work, from research to creation to practice to refinement to final presentation.

Which is why, if you have the option, you need to choose something you are passionate about. It’s a common complaint that we never have enough time, but it’s amazing what you can make time for if you truly enjoy it.

Who are your Audience?

But I’m afraid, it’s not enough for you to then just brain dump on the audience all the things you find exciting; you need to work out who you audience is. Factors like their age, skill level, standing, discipline and exposure to game development all need to be considered. If you were to give a talk to first years at university compared to a presentation at GDC, there would be big differences in the content and how it was delivered, which would differ again if you were doing a pitch to a potential publisher. Identifying who will be attending your presentation is key.

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Once you know who you audience is, you can work on what they want to hear. A lot of this comes from personal experience. When I was a student, a lot of industry talks we were given were presented well but the takeaways were often vague and lacked clarity. So now if I go talk to students, I make sure I give clear ‘here’s what you should do and why’, which is appreciated. If you are talking at a consumer show, I’ve found they are more likely interested in how the ideas for how the project came about, rather than how you implemented it, which is the opposite to a developer conference.

If you’re not sure who will be attending, social media is wonderful for reaching out to an audience and getting their ideas. Do a short poll to see which topics you are considering are of most interest, or ask a few people directly what they would hear about in their ideal presentation.

Keep it Simple

Whoever you are talking too though, it’s always best practice to make your presentation as easy to understand as possible. Even simple hooks, like the first time you use a piece of jargon or abbreviation, briefly explain it so everyone is on the same page.

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Take a Texel for an extreme example. In computer graphics terms it’s the array of elements which contain colour and alpha values that make up a texture. If you’re Dutch, it’s an island in the north where the specific sheep breed comes from. Given the context of the presentation it’s unlikely they will be confused, but you don’t know what other acronyms or names have different meanings in different cultures to yours.

Jargon aside, if you can, try to keep your language as simple as possible. Think back to Friends (The One with the Letter) when Joey is writing a letter of adoption referral for Monica and Chandler and discovers the thesaurus. Yes you could be ‘humid prepossessing Homo Sapiens with full sized aortic pumps’ but ‘warm, nice, people with big hearts’ definitely gets the point across more clearly. In fact, the term ‘short and sweet’ is most definitely applicable!

Timings

Which brings me nicely to timings. If you have a half hour slot, but your presentation only takes 20 minutes, don’t pad the talk out unless you are adding meaningful information. Stick with 20 minutes and use the remaining time for an open floor Q&A. If there are no questions, then everyone has 10 minutes to grab a coffee or nip to the bathroom. 20 minutes is, approximately, the optimum time a person can listen to a speaker (hence why TED talks are kept to 20 minutes).

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With timings you also need to be respectful of other speakers. If you’ve taken an extra 10 minutes, that’s 10 minutes the next speaker has lost. I sat in on an event once where one speaker was given a 45 minute slot and went on for nearly an hour and fifteen, which sadly meant the last speaker had only 15 minutes to cram in their talk.

Part of the responsibility does lie with the organiser to give you a heads up when you are approaching time, but they should not need to be your mothers, yelling at you to stop playing football because your tea is getting cold. We are adults and, more notably, professionals, we should be able to do our own timekeeping and stay within the agreed limits.

Be Prepared

One way to make sure you can stick your timings is to fully prepare, including doing fully timed run-throughs. These can be on your own, but if it’s a big presentation that you really want to excel at, I’d encourage you to practice in front of others. If the content is under NDA, grab a couple of your authorized colleagues and practice on your lunch break. If not take it to a smaller event and present it. However you do it, get some outside eyes on both your presentation skills and your slides (if appropriate).

Before I gave my talk at Develop this year, I gave it at some local Meetups with a similar profile and asked a couple of audience members I knew well to give me feedback afterwards. This meant I could polish my presentation by adding in some content for clarity (based on questions from the audience), fix a couple of hard to read slides, and adjust my pacing.

The more you prepare and practice, the more comfortable you become with the content and flow, which in turn lessens the nerves you feel when presenting.

Structuring your Presentation

I’ve talked a lot about presentation flow, but what does this entail? There are many different ways to build a presentation, and they all hinge on what message you are trying to impart to the audience, what story you are trying to tell.

Storytelling

Storytelling may not be the first word that comes to mind when you sit down to plan out your tech presentation for the new animation system you implemented in engine, but it’s something you should consider. Oral storytelling was the main method of communicating wisdom and advice before we developed written language, and there’s a reason why it still successfully persists today.
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Good stories grab our attention, and once our attention has been sustained long enough we are transported into the story, and become chemically, physically and emotionally involved. Adding in these ‘hooks’ to get our attention and then taking us on a journey with the characters is something that films, tv, and games all do.

But why should you use stories in your presentations?

Stories are easier to recall because they can activate up to seven different parts of the brain. Audiences are also more likely to act on emotions than logic; and as stories are emotionally engaging, it’s a strong tool to help you connect with the audience and to persuade them to your motion.

Stories tend to be innately personal. Our perspective influences how we retell something we’ve heard or experienced, giving the audience a chance to humanise us and avoid the ‘corporate’ label.

There are many different ways to tell a story (if you want to know this in depth I’d recommend reading Christopher Bookers ‘The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories’) but I want to highlight four common methods that can be used in presentations.

Three Act Structure

The most common storytelling method is the three act structure, or hero’s journey. It revolves around three main acts; a setup, a confrontation, and a resolution. Many books, films, tv shows, and games (like Journey) are based around this structure, where the hero starts off on a path, is interrupted by a conflict that drags them down, before rising up to settle the conflict and finish their path.

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Bringing this back into presentations, you can use this structure to tell the story of most topics in games – what you were trying to achieve, the problems that you ran into and the solutions you implemented.

Tell Them Once, Tell Them Again

Another method is to tell the audience what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. Contrary to what you might believe, repetition is a big part of effective presentations. Some of the most successful speeches of all time, contain repeated phrases and ideas to drive their points home. When speaking you are always battling audience retention, so the more ways you can explain and illustrate your point, the more likely they are to remember your point.

Begin at the End

One way to grab your audience’s attention quickly, is to start with the conclusion/punchline/big reveal and then go back to the beginning and build up to it again. This allows natural repetition to form throughout the presentation as you can constantly link back to the main point. It also allows the listener to frame everything you say with context so they can understand why your point is relevant. 

Demonstration

If you have something to show off, show it off. Give an introduction into why your project is useful/amazing/inspiring/helpful and then give a demonstration. Grab your audience’s attention by showing them something cool and teasing at other features before dropping a big reveal.

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At GDC in 2015 we showed off our advancements in character animations with a new clip from Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. At the end of the clip, we dropped a cloth to reveal that Senua’s performance had be captured and rendered in real-time live from an actor who had been on stage the whole time – it went down a treat!

Alongside these main structures, there are some other sub-methods to bear in mind.

Limit your Messages

If you’re lucky, your audience will walk away remembering three key points from your presentation. Realistically, it's more like one. In a pitching scenario, you’ll want that one point to be the unique selling point of your game. In an internal meeting, you’ll want it to be that piece of work you’ve done well.

But depending on the type of presentation you are making, you can throw this out of the window. If you have pre-warned attendees that it’ll be a heavy learning session, hopefully, they’ll come prepared for note-taking so they can easily follow up on points after the session. If not, help them out by popping your slide deck up somewhere for them to download afterwards.

S.T.A.R. Moment

During your presentation have a ‘something they’ll always remember’ (STAR) moment. An iconic example of this is when Bill Gates gave a TED talk on Mosquito’s, malaria and education and opened a jar of mosquitos during his talk stating, ‘There’s no reason only poor people should have the experience’. (Note the mosquitos were not infected!)

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End with a call to action

Whatever your main message is, make sure to end your presentation with a call to action. Direct people to go and do something, like play your game, or research an area, or solve a problem. Keep it short so it can be framed into a soundbite or a Tweet so attendees can share that call to action with others.

Building your Slide Deck

Not every presentation you make will use a slide deck, but for those that do, slides still play a big role in emphasising what you are talking about. Note that I said emphasising, your slides should provide the visual impact for what you are saying, instead of detracting from you. If someone can gain everything by just reading off your slides, then there’s not much point in you giving a presentation.

I’d always recommend you build your slides last; if you can build the content and flow of your presentation first, it becomes a lot easier to build your slides around your key messages. It also helps you save time by not building more slides than you will use.

You Can Never Have Enough Slides

I’m a big believer in that there is no ‘right’ amount of slides. If your presentation makes 80 points, then there’s nothing wrong with having 8 or 80 slides. As long as each slide is relevant and reinforces what you are talking about then you can work with as few or as many as you want.

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Slides can often help emphasise points of pacing; in one presentation where I was talking about things snowballing with a game project, I had eight slides with pictures showing the different events that happened and tapped through them in a few seconds whilst naming them. This stressed how quickly it all happened in a visual way far better than if I’d had all the pictures on one slide.

Contrast

As with most things ‘variety is the spice of life’. If you spend your whole presentation racing through slides you are probably going to exhaust your audience. Have a mixture of slow moments to let the audience ‘sit’ on a vital point before moving on.

Contrast also extends to your slide deck content, highlight important information/points/headings with contrasting fonts or colours to make them stand out, or change up backgrounds across different topics.

Consistency

Having said you need contrast, you also need to maintain a consistent style across your slide deck. This can be difficult if you are pulling random images/charts off of Google, so if you have the time to build your own slides (be that pictures, infographics or layouts) I’d recommend doing so. This means you can be consistent with highlight colours/fonts/backgrounds across the deck which in turn acts as a visual cues to the audience that this is important or the topic is changing.

Text

This is always a hot topic when it comes to slides. I used to be vehemently opposed to any text on slides, but I’ve eased off slightly to a position of ‘less is more’. Having a key point or phrase on screen can be really useful to the audience; they can take a picture to remember later or share it with others in the moment.

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I’d steer clear of anything more than a few words. You’re then asking the audience to split their attention between what you are saying and what you are showing, and they are more likely to ignore you and read the slide. Also, the more text you have the higher chance of a typo.

If you are displaying text, make sure it is clear and legible. Use a font that’s easy to read (please not Times New Roman or Comic Sans) and suits the style of the presentation. Also be aware, not every computer has the same fonts installed. So, if you are not running the presentation on your own laptop make sure to either embed your font in PowerPoint or to bake it into the slide’s image (I normally use Photoshop for this).

Images/Gifs/Videos

A good rule of thumb is to show not tell. If you can capture the sense of what you are talking about in a picture, do so. Use visuals that supplement your story rather than repeat what has already been said. Illustrate your points either figuratively or literally, just do so in a clear manner.

If a static image is not enough to show this, then use .gifs or videos to illustrate your point. Especially as we are in games, if you are talking about a new mechanic you’ve implemented show a clip of that mechanic in action! That being said, using videos comes with a warning: they are the most common thing to break during a presentation (especially if they require audio) and if they are long clips, you can lose the audience’s attention.

I find it can sometimes work quite well to start a presentation with a one or two minute video, whilst you wait for stragglers to arrive and for people to become comfortably seated with full sound effects. After this though, unless audio is essential to your point, it’s better to remove the audio and talk over the video so you can explain your point whilst the action is in motion. If you’re using PowerPoint, I’d recommend converting your videos into .wmv for smooth playback.

Make sure to also double check with where you are speaking what the aspect ratio of their projector is. I’ve been caught out a couple of times by 4:3 ratios instead of the standard 16:9.

Side note: It’s also good practice that if you use an image that’s not your own to credit the original source.

Contact Details

Contrary to advice, I’m a fan of putting your contact details on every slide. This means if anyone takes a photo at any point, they have your details and can reach out to you. Or if they want to share a point you are making, they don’t need to wait until the end to find out your handles to include you.

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Make it Modular

If you have to give a recurring presentation, like at a stand-up, then build a format which you can easily update each week. On one project I worked on, we were creating an animated short over a two month period. Each week we played the short and included the progress we made, with shots moving from storyboarding to blockouts to playblasts to renders. We built our file structure in Premiere in such a way that the updated files were pushed into a single folder during the week so it would auto-update in Premiere and we could quickly grab a new export before the meeting.

Presenting your Presentation

You’ve done all the prep work, you’ve practiced your slides and now it’s the day of your presentation. There are a few last things to bear in mind.

Don’t Forget to Eat

As you get closer to your presentation, your nerves get worse so make sure to eat something sensible a couple of hours before you are on. I’ve seen speakers near-on collapse after a presentation because they haven’t eaten and had very little sleep in the last day, so help your body cope and try to nibble when you can.

Also remember to bring a bottle of water with you. It’s amazing how quickly your throat dries out with continuous talking so a quick sip here and there is helpful. You can also use it as a sneaky break tool part way through your talk if you can’t remember what’s next and you need a moment to think.

Dress the Part

Personally I prefer to dress a little bit smarter when presenting than I would normally. If I feel good in what I’m wearing, that gives me a bit more confidence when I know people will be watching me.

Whatever you wear, make sure you are comfortable. Supportive shoes are a must, and I’d recommend wearing layers. You might start off feeling cold but I can guarantee you will warm up as you present.

Bring Everything

If you are using your own laptop, make sure to bring connectors and adapters. If you only have a HDMI port bring a VGA to HDMI converter – it’s amazing how many places still use VGA. If you are using a Mac, definitely make sure to bring converters and spares. I’ve seen many a pre-presentation panic because the right converter isn’t to hand or it’s suddenly stopped working.

In most cases (but not all) the conference will provide you with all the leads and converters you need, but if you need anything specialist (like HDMI to mini HDMI adapter) I’d always recommend you bring your own and to check with the conference what their setup is. It’s unlikely that you will have internet so make sure you have an offline version of your presentation and it’s worth bringing a backup on a USB stick in case you need to change machine.

The Audience doesn’t want you to Fail

And the most important point to remember is the audience doesn’t want you to fail. They have come to see you because they are interested in the work you are doing and are keen to know more. They are there to learn from you and encourage you, not to laugh at you or find holes in your topic. So keep that in mind, take a deep breath, smile and talk!

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Once again, a big thank you to Chris Wilson (Cardboard Sword) for his contributions to this article! If you enjoyed reading this article, check out the other blogs in this series ‘Marketing for Indies’ and ‘Expos for Indies’.

Further Reading

Resonate by Nancy Duarte

slide:ology by Nancy Duarte

10 Tips for Better Slide Decks by Aaron Weyenberg

8 Tips for an Awesome Powerpoint Presentation by Damon Nofar

It's Showtime! Richard Butterfield's Power of Persuasion

The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories by Christopher Bookers

Hunting Behemoths and Crafting a Legacy in Dauntless

Currently in beta and set to launch as a free-to-play title in 2018, Dauntless is a cooperative action-RPG that has you and your friends venturing throughout the Shattered Isles to hunt Behemoths; massive, ferocious creatures that draw aether from the land, destroying it in the process.

Dauntless breaks from roleplaying traditions by not only removing classes, but levels as well. Instead, both your abilities and your prowess as a hunter are tied to your gear, crafted from the spoils of battle and heavily customized to forge your own unique identity.

As Executive Producer and Phoenix Labs Co-Founder Jesse Houston explains, Dauntless was created to be a long-lasting social experience; a world in which players can feel connections to their characters beyond stats, and friendships run deeper than just sharing a guild name.

Tell us a little about the history of Phoenix Labs and how it came to be.

Robin Mayne, Sean Bender, and I all worked together at Riot Games on League of Legends. Prior to that, Robin and I were together at BioWare on the Mass Effect franchise. We've all been in the industry for a long time, but we've always worked for large teams and publishers.

We started Phoenix Labs to carve our own path in the games industry and build new and memorable gaming experiences. We believe that playing together is the best way to experience a game. We're dedicated to creating new and exciting gaming spaces for players to share together.

What inspired you to create Dauntless as your first project?

We knew that we wanted to establish a social experience — a game in which people could play together for years to come — before we even explored genre.

We chose PvE because we believe in the power of players collaborating and sharing victory. We landed on the concept for Dauntless because we wanted to innovate on a genre that we feel hasn't been heavily explored. A game like Dauntless doesn't quite exist yet. We want to take the great social experience of a modern MMORPG and bring to it the high-fidelity combat of the action-RPG space.

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Can you give us a quick overview of the combat system and why you chose this route?

Combat in Dauntless is all about choice, whether it's the strategy behind picking your weapon and armour skills to best suit your playstyle, or tactical execution and split-second decision making in the heat of combat to survive.

Skill is a cornerstone of the Dauntless experience. Because Dauntless is challenging, every victory should feel rewarding and every defeat should still be visceral. You need to internalize the impact every sword swing, feel bones crunching every time your hammer makes contact. Whether it's an aggressive attack or a calculated dodge, every decision a player makes must feel responsive and tight. We often joke that button mashing is the fastest way to an early grave for any Slayer in Dauntless.

Instead of traditional levels and classes, character progression is dependent on a player's gear. Can you tell us a little about how this system works and the reasoning behind it?

Although progression and leveling are central to any RPG, we saw an opportunity to depart from traditional class systems and linear progression with Dauntless. While everyone has a preferred class (shout-out to my fellow WoW Shamans!), we wanted something more flexible. We expect players will spend hundreds of hours in the Shattered Isles and didn't want them locked into their first decision.

In Dauntless, changing your play style and capabilities is as easy as swapping gear. There's a fresh new experience behind every weapon, even if you've spent 50 hours with your love. Put down a hammer, pick up the Chain Blades, and you're ready to go.

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Character customization seems to be a major focus. In what ways can players create unique identities for themselves?

Dauntless is about forging your legend. This starts with character creation. We're trying a fresh take on how you realize your legend in Dauntless, starting with your ancestry and body type, then making that character your own through customizing facial features, hair, eyes, and the options you would expect of a 2017 RPG.

But, that's just the beginning. You'll unlock hundreds of weapons and armours as you progress through the story. Each is customizable with dyes, shaders, and tins, turning your kit into your calling card. Because gear is varied in both appearance and utility, we're offering a transmogrification system for players who don't want to compromise. Ultimately, we want every player to feel like the star of the show when they stroll through Ramsgate.

What sort of tactics will players need to employ to take down the Behemoths?

Each Behemoth provides a unique challenge to players where no two encounters will be alike. Players will need to coordinate their attacks and plan ahead if they want to survive a hunt. While we don't feature classes in Dauntless, we want players to be able to set themselves apart through gear choices that allow for specialization. Players can keep the team healthy by selecting a lantern (our version of the accessory slot) that focuses on team heals, stocking up on Revive Talismans, and using armor that provides AOE perks. In contrast, players with the Berserk Potions enjoy a risky offense.

Behemoths will unleash a variety of attacks to take down players. A good team will recognize when to go on the offensive and when to disengage. Certain body parts on a Behemoth can be injured to remove combat threats, such as severing tails, cracking teeth, and bruising ribs. Not only does this give you an advantage in combat, but damaged parts also provide unique loot options upon completion of the hunt.

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With such a heavy emphasis on co-op, how are you shaping the guild system around that?

You've probably noticed that creating a social experience is important to us. Guilds play a huge role here. Accomplishment and achievement is always better when shared with friends. Currently, guilds provide players with a means to coordinate, communicate, and find other like-minded individuals to play with. We're currently expanding this system to include things like shared progression, rewards, and in-game items.

Why did you choose to use Unreal Engine 4 on Dauntless?

We require something that will scale with our needs. Dauntless is a AAA online game and everything from art and animation to gameplay and online service needs to feel premium. Unreal is a great engine and many people from the team have direct experience shipping games on the platform. So, it was an easy choice.

Seeing Dauntless in motion is like watching a digital painting coming to life. What can you tell us about your approach to visual design?

Dauntless features brave heroes, ferocious Behemoths, and the majestic Shattered Isles. We want them to look and feel iconic. Our art style is best described as low-frequency of detail with high-fidelity lighting. The end result is sharp lines, shapes, and profiles punctuated by robust colors and spectrums.

Our approach is to create something timeless and durable. We plan on supporting Dauntless with new content and expansions for many years to come and we want the art style to always feel modern and exceptional. Unreal offers the flexibility, technology, and ongoing support that we demand to achieve this vision.

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Tell us about a favorite tool or feature of Unreal Engine 4 and how that aided you in the development of Dauntless.

We love Blueprints at they allow us to be agile and spread the load of creating new and interesting content easily across all team members.

With the alpha behind you and the closed beta now underway, how have players helped to shape the future of Dauntless?

Community collaboration has been huge for us. Seeing the reception and feedback from the community has been overwhelmingly positive for the studio. We're completely floored by the great quantity and quality of the feedback we receive. Every day the community is helping us make Dauntless a better game.

A great example can be seen in tutorials. Shortly after launching the tech alpha, we saw a certain pattern of behavior. Either people played dozens of hours or five minutes, with little middle ground. Upon digging deeper we discovered that many players were getting stuck at the beginning of the game. Several friction points made it difficult for new players to understand how to progress, where to go, and essentially how to play the game. It was a great moment for us as a studio when we were able to identify the feedback, quickly pivot to fix the problem, and beginning rolling out improvements.

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How can people get involved and where should they follow you for more information?

Players can sign up for the Dauntless closed beta at www.PlayDauntless.com. If you want to get in today, you can purchase a Founder's Pack complete with exclusive rewards and in-game items. Hit us up on social media @PlayDauntless.

 

 

Epic Games Teams with NVIDIA to Deliver Enterprise-Grade Platform for Virtual Reality Application Developers

Epic Games today announced it has teamed with NVIDIA to deliver enterprise-grade solutions to help application developers create better, more immersive VR experiences.

Enterprise businesses have been among the most enthusiastic adopters of VR to improve production workflows, visualize CAD designs, boost safety and training, and create better experiences for customers. This requires sophisticated and reliable VR platforms and tools.

To ease enterprise VR adoption, Epic has integrated NVIDIA Quadro professional GPUs into the test suite for Unreal Engine 4, the company’s real-time toolset for creating applications across PC, console, mobile, VR and AR platforms. This ensures NVIDIA technologies integrate seamlessly into developers’ workflows, delivering excellent results for everything from CAVEs and multi-projection systems through to enterprise VR and AR solutions.

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“With our expanding focus on industries outside of games, we’ve aligned ourselves ever more closely with NVIDIA to offer an enterprise-grade experience,” said Marc Petit, general manager of the Unreal Engine Enterprise business. “NVIDIA Quadro professional GPUs empower artists, designers and content creators who need to work unencumbered with the largest 3D models and datasets, tackle complex visualization challenges, and deliver highly immersive VR experiences. By combining NVIDIA hardware with Unreal Engine, developers are ensured excellent performance and productivity.”

One project that has driven this effort is Epic’s collaboration with GM and The Mill on “The Human Race,” a real-time short film and mixed reality experience featuring a configurable Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, which was built using NVIDIA Quadro pro graphics.

Another company that has benefitted from Epic’s collaboration with NVIDIA is Theia Interactive,  a pioneer of  real-time architectural visualization. Stephen Phillips, CTO of Theia, added, "NVIDIA Quadro provides an incredible amount of computing power for running beautiful VR experiences within Unreal Engine. Having 24GB of VRAM allows us to use hundreds of high-resolution, uncompressed lightmaps for incredible real-time architectural visualizations that rival the quality of the finest offline renderers.”

“As the market for VR and AR content expands, professional developers in industries such as automotive, architecture, healthcare and others are using Unreal Engine to create amazing immersive experiences,” said Bob Pette, vice president of Professional Visualization at NVIDIA. “Unreal, from version 4.16, is the first real-time toolset to meet NVIDIA Quadro partner standards. Our combined solution provides leaders in these markets the reliability and performance they require for the optimum VR experience.”

To see more from the Unreal Enterprise team, look for them in Munich, as sponsors of GTC Europe, October 10-12, 2017.

For more information, visit unrealengine.com/enterprise.

Don’t Miss the Second Product Design Visualization Webinar with Chris Murray and Craig Barr

Join our visualization specialists Chris Murray and Craig Barr on October 19 for the second of four free webinars focusing on the use of Unreal Engine for product design. You can register for the webinar here.

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Using assets from various CAD systems, Chris and Craig will illustrate how Unreal Engine brings the power of real- time visualization and interactivity to product design workflows for all disciplines. In this webinar the focus will be on:
 

  • How to visualize CAD data in a real-time environment
  • Considerations for preparing data for Unreal Engine
  • Exporting and importing workflows for CAD to Unreal Engine
  • Tips for geometry and texture preparation for Unreal Engine

Interested in attending the free online webinar? Register now!

Rewind & The BBC – Creating an Out-of-This-World Experience

As a joint collaboration between the BBC and digital production studio Rewind, BBC Home: a VR Spacewalk is a truly award-winning project. It won a Silver Lion award at the prestigious Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity and was recently nominated for VR Experience of the Year at the UK’s VR Bound Awards.

The VR spacewalk experience came about after a conversation the BBC’s Tom Burton had with British Astronaut Tim Peake. Tim shared with him that one of the experiences he had really enjoyed during his preparation to go to the International Space Station was an emergency training scenario. It was from this start point that the BBC and Rewind started to plan how best to deliver a VR experience to users across the globe that could also align with the BBC’s mission to inform, educate and entertain its audience.

As Rewind’s Head of Special Projects, Oliver Kibblewhite, explained: “We were looking to push the boundaries and to cross the border from being a form of entertainment to being a life experience.”

The project was built entirely to scale. This means that the earth itself is 1:1 size, giving you a panorama within your field of view that is, at times, genuinely breathtaking.

Doing things this way presented the teams with some problems (the datasets were huge!), but UE4 allowed Rewind to work in the way that they wanted, and re-create the exact lighting effects and physical properties that an astronaut circumventing the ISS would experience.

This was further validated by two astronauts who tried the experience in New York. Their response: “Wow!”

With a Silver Lion in the trophy cabinet, this mesmerising VR space experience is now both inspirational and award winning.

Unreal Dev Day Montreal Presentations Released

Epic Games recently held Unreal Dev Day in Montreal where veteran developers from Epic Games shared best practices and advanced techniques in Unreal Engine 4 with attendees. 

In an effort to extend these productive sessions to the entire Unreal development community, we have uploaded the presentations to our YouTube channel for public viewing.

The sessions focused on a range of material including the Unreal Engine profiling tools and deconstructing the Paragon character texturing pipeline as the developers reveal how their workflows benefitted projects like Fortnite and Paragon.

You can check out the presentations below in their entirety. Enjoy!
 

UE4 Performance and Profiling | Unreal Dev Day Montreal 2017
This session by Sr. Dev Rel Tech Artist Zak Parrish explores performance concerns for shipping games, focusing on how to track down problem areas on both the CPU and GPU. Learn how to set up a test environment and how to employ the necessary tools to identify key performance problems as well as some guidelines on how to address these concerns once located.​
 

Paragon Character Texturing Pipeline | Unreal Dev Day Montreal 2017
In this Unreal Dev Day Montreal presentation, Technical Artist Harrison Moore goes through the texturing pipeline used on Paragon from start to finish, breaking down the steps and techniques the team uses to texture hyper-realistic characters in UE4.
 

Creating Complex In-Game Effects | Unreal Dev Day Montreal 2017
In this presentation, Sr. Dev Rel Tech Artist Alan Willard walks developers through the process of creating complex in-game effects using Blueprints, particle systems, and shaders. Learn how these three systems can be interwoven to create complex dynamic effects for in-game use.
 

Lighting with Unreal Engine Masterclass | Unreal Dev Day Montreal 2017
The session by Lead Artist Jerome Platteaux focuses on the different ways to light a project in Unreal Engine and covers the basics of physically based rendering and how to choose between the forward and the deferred render. The session also explains baked lighting with lightmass, dynamic lighting and image-based lighting while highlighting the advantages for each technique.
 

Fortnite Trailer Pipeline | Unreal Dev Day Montreal 2017
The Fortnite cinematic trailer represents a new level of visual quality for companies wanting to implement real-time technologies into their linear animation pipelines. Join Media and Entertainment Solutions Engineer Brian Pohl as he reviews the trailer's creative workflow and technical pipeline from preproduction through post.

Guns Become Building Blocks in Mothergunship

Rocket-blasting flamethrowers, building-sized bosses, attention-craving hugbots – it’s all business as usual in Mothergunship; an over-the-top FPS that combines the intensity of bullet-hell shooters and gun customization that breaks rules you never even knew existed.

A spiritual successor to the developer’s previous game, Tower of Guns, Mothergunship ups the ante with eye-catching visuals and incredible mobility. But, what truly sets it apart are the guns. Using a modular crafting system, Mothergunship lets players’ imaginations run wild, grafting weapons onto weapons to build outrageous conglomerations of destruction.

But, making a game like Mothergunship requires more than just obscene amounts of firepower. As Director Joe Mirabello knows, wrangling all that chaos into a fun experience for players requires both creativity and control.

What made you decide to create a spiritual successor to Tower of Guns instead of branching off in an entirely different direction?

It would have been a shame to waste the lessons learned from Tower of Guns. Tower of Guns was definitely a smaller, more experimental project, but Grip Digital and I built up a strong relationship while working on it. Moving from that to Mothergunship was a good way for us to continue that relationship on a new project. We were excited about the potential we saw in elements from Tower of Guns, and we really wanted to explore that together.

That said, while Mothergunship does inherit some of the unique bullet-hell and randomization aspects of Tower of Guns, it adds a lot of new elements to the mix. That’s the reason this isn’t a sequel; the more we scoped out what we wanted to build, the more we realized this thing needed an identity of its own.

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How does the gun crafting system work and what sort of possibilities are open to players?

Gun crafting in a first-person shooter is generally a grounded system with realistic art and preservation of the developer’s original design. There’s nothing wrong with that, however, Mothergunship is by nature far more over the top and open-ended with its crafting, taking more cues from modular shipbuilding in space simulations than from other first-person shooters.

In Mothergunship, you’re adding whole weapons onto weapons, attaching rocket launchers to flamethrowers, and adding unique modifier pieces that alter the entire gun’s behavior. We basically give the player a collection of building blocks and then do our best to get out of the way. If players want to build a gun with thirteen barrels that all have bouncing projectiles with splash damage, we let them.

There are, of course, some limitations for balance. The player must judge firepower against the gun’s power consumption, but overall we place very few restrictions on the player. This leads to really interesting results that can be both unpredictable and wildly entertaining.

Now that you have brought the game to conventions, what are some of the wildest guns you have seen people create?

There have been some really awesome guns made by people during the conventions; guns that take up the whole screen, guns that have fifty barrels, and guns that are hilariously top heavy. My favorite guns are always the ones that cause the players to really see the potential of the crafting system. It’s that moment when their eyes widen and they look at me and ask something like, “What happens when I add a bounce modifier to this triple-barreled flamethrower?” The answer: exactly what you think, and it’s glorious. That’s the moment where I feel the most pride in this game.

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What kinds of bosses will players have to go up against?

The bosses in Mothergunship are intimidatingly, ridiculously, large. They’re also delightfully evocative of games like Contra and Metal Slug. This is not a game that holds realism in high regard, and so these bosses match your firepower toe to toe. A good example of the bosses in Mothergunship is the Pit Crawler. It’s essentially a gargantuan drill bit the size of an office building that chases you down long tunnels of lava. Players are immediately taken aback not only by the sheer size of the thing, but also how quickly it comes chasing the player, forcing them to carefully weigh whether or not running is the wiser option.

We typically hear "bullet-hell" in combination with shmups. Besides loading the screen with projectiles, what other elements go into translating that experience to an FPS?

In a single word; mobility. Bullet-hell games aren’t just about filling the screen with pretty patterns of bullets, although that’s by far the easiest element to describe. There’s also a sort of zen-like zone you can get into when it comes to dodging them, and much of that comes down to the accessibility of the mobility system.

In Mothergunship, for example, strafing is not something bound only to lateral ground movement. It can happen vertically as well. Mobility is a currency in Mothergunship, and we treat it as preciously as we treat a player’s health or a weapon’s energy. Some enemies, for example, aren’t designed to hurt the player directly, but rather, to support other enemies by disrupting your flow of movement through a map. The flipside of this is that we give the player many tools to help them get around efficiently, be it through mobility upgrades, environmental features, or even elements added to your gun in crafting.

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Ludicrous guns, colossal bosses, bullets everywhere – was there ever a moment you worried that you pushed too far?

Well, that depends. Pure chaos in a game is only fun for a short while, and what we really aim for is controlled chaos; setting up the player to feel overwhelmed for a brief moment, but also tempering that situation with a bit of restraint so that players can quickly read it and see a path to success. Performance is always a big consideration. I don’t want to have to cull out any more bullets than I have to in order to hit our desired performance targets, and so we’re constantly on the lookout for more tricks to squeeze out even more bullets.

Why did you choose Unreal Engine 4 on this project?

I’ve used Unreal Engine for 10 years now and have become quite proficient with it. Tower of Guns was built in Unreal Engine 3 as was a number of Grip’s Digital’s projects, so we both had a solid amount of experience. I had also had a positive relationship with Epic during the development of Tower of Guns, and I continue to foster that relationship even today. Put simply, I like Unreal Engine. Other engines are powerful too, but I was interested in hitting the ground running and making this project as awesome as possible, as fast as possible. UE4 makes that possible.

Is there a feature that has stood out as being particularly beneficial during development?

Rather than a specific feature, I think it’s better to call out the core philosophy of giving more power to artists and designers. This must have been a terrifying plan back when Epic’s team started down that road, but the results are clear; the less time artists and designers spend going back and forth with engineers, the more time they have to iterate on their own work and make it stronger. Whether it’s the material tools, the cinematic tools, or even Blueprints themselves; UE4 does whatever it can to place creative control in the hands of those who need it, rather than requiring it to be chained through several disciplines.

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You were recently awarded an Unreal Dev Grant. How has that aided development?

It made things like bringing the game to trade shows, increasing staff, and creating additional content much more feasible. The grant also brought with it a bit of prestige and validation. It’s easy to have faith in your own project, but it’s something else altogether when an external judge tells you they have faith in it as well. It’s a massive morale boost and the value of that cannot be overstated.

Where should people go to stay up-to-date on Mothergunship?

The best ways are to follow the Mothergunship Facebook and Twitter pages, and to sign up for the mailing list on www.mothergunship.com. They can also add the game to their wishlists right now on the Mothergunship Steam landing page.

 

Hello Neighbor Mod Kit Released, Mod Contest Announced

Hello Neighbor is the latest Unreal-powered game from tinyBuild and Dynamic Pixels heading to PC and Xbox One later this year. Working against game AI that adapts to actions taken, players are encouraged to break into their neighbor’s house to uncover the juicy secrets they’ve been hiding in the basement. The Beta build of the game is available now for those that preorder the title via the Hello Neighbor website

In preparation for the game’s December 8 release, tinyBuild has released a mod kit for Hello Neighbor via the Epic Games launcher, bringing the community on board to create all-new content for the game.

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Also, they’ve partnered with ModDB to launch the inaugural #hellomods competition, a mod contest with accompanying prizes consisting of both cash and games! Modders are invited to build total conversions, submit cosmetic changes to the game, replace aspects of gameplay, or simply create fan art and take part in the event.

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The #hellomods competition runs from now until the December 8 launch, so head on over to the Modding tab of the launcher to start building your submission today with the Hello Neighbor Mod Kit. You can visit the official competition page on Mod DB for more information about the event.

Looking for help getting started? Check out Mod DB’s Hello Neighbor tutorials page for resources. Don't have the Epic Games launcher? Download it here.

Announcing the 2017 Epic MegaJam

It’s time for our third annual Epic MegaJam, our largest #ue4jam of the year! Game jams are a great way to test-drive Unreal Engine, learn new skills, or try out a swanky new team. And why not give it a shot when you could earn sweet prizes from our amazing sponsors?

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The Epic MegaJam will kickoff on November 2nd, at 2PM ET, where we’ll announce the theme during our regularly scheduled livestream on Twitch, Facebook, and YouTube. This is a seven-day event and submissions will be due on November 9th.

We would like to extend a huge thank you to this year’s sponsors, which include Intel, Falcon Northwest, Allegorithmic, Speedtree, and SideFX.  There are a few more folks lined up, so stay tuned as we’ll announce additional sponsors and prize information in the coming weeks.

Be sure to check out what great games have been created in the past on our Hall of Fame. We are always excited to see the amazing games that come from our jams, especially with the extended event.

We’re mixing up the submission process a bit so if you’ve participated in the past and even if you haven’t, make sure to give our guidelines a solid read-through. Additional details about submission and prizes can be found on our forum announcement, which will be the official information center for the jam.

Mark your calendars and prepare to jam!

Unreal Engine Improvements for Fortnite: Battle Royale

What is Fortnite: Battle Royale?

We recently released a new PvP mode in Fortnite: Battle Royale. This new game mode drops 100 players into a large 5.5 km^2 playable area to duke it out and see who will be the last player standing. The scale of these requirements presented the Fortnite development team with several challenges, which will be discussed here.

In the course of developing the Battle Royale game mode we’ve made many performance, memory, and workflow optimizations that not only benefit Fortnite: Battle Royale but every developer using Unreal Engine 4, especially those building games with similar requirements.

All of these improvements are already available in both Perforce and GitHub. Many will ship in Unreal Engine 4.18 this month with the rest shipping in 4.19.

Dedicated Server Performance

Our first challenge was to optimize the dedicated server so that it could handle 100 simultaneous players, maintain 20hz, and minimize bandwidth.

With every frame the server sends updates to all actors near that player. That means for each player we need to determine all relevant actors, figure out what has changed on those actors, and send a packet to that player with the differences. In order to minimize CPU time and bandwidth we need send the minimum updates needed to provide a good experience for players.

Much of this work was profiling and optimizing the game code but we also found many engine optimization opportunities along the way.

Here are some of the dedicated server optimizations we made for the engine:

  • Batched level streaming RPCs to reduce the number of RPCs that need to be sent to clients when they connect. (Will be in 4.19)
  • Make the OS socket buffer sizes configurable and raise them for Battle Royale. This prevents simultaneously connecting clients from overflowing these buffers resulting in excessive server load. (Will be in 4.19)
  • Reduce bandwidth for CharacterMovement RPCs when the character is not standing on any component, such as when jumping or falling. (Will be in 4.19)
  • Added the ability to limit how many players receive updates from the server per frame. We set the limit to 25 in the lobby and 50 during gameplay. (Will be in 4.19)
  • Limit the rate at which clients send movement updates to the server. Prevents clients running at high framerates from causing excessive load on the server. (Shipped with 4.17)
  • Added an option to not replicate client ping times to other clients as it results in a lot of network traffic when there are many players. (Will be in 4.19)
  • Removed several memory allocations during replication in FArchive::SerializeIntPacked and changing how CompatibleChecksum is calculated. (Will be in 4.19)
  • Switched property type comparisons from strings to FNames for speed during replication. (Will be in 4.19)
  • Added a way to view a dedicated server's network stats on a client in real time to more easily see stats for cloud-hosted servers. (Will be in 4.19)
  • Changes to the ability system to better account for relevancy, which greatly reduces replication cost when using the ability system. (Will be in 4.19)

Building and Rendering a Large Map

The map in Fortnite: Battle Royale has a playable area of 5.5km^2. You can see the entire map at once when parachuting in and we wanted to support long view distances during gameplay. We knew that we needed to optimize our level-of-detail solution to make that possible.

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We used the Hierarchical LOD (HLOD) feature in the engine, backed by Simplygon, to combine regions of the map into single low-poly meshes that could be drawn in a single draw call when viewed from a distance. Those tools already exist – we use them in Paragon – but we needed to make changes to allow our artists to be more efficient.

The way the map was broken up so that artists could collaborate on it didn’t mesh well with our HLOD tools. We made some changes to HLOD to better support that workflow and added a commandlet to rebuild all HLODs in the map that could run overnight rather than requiring artists to rebuild HLODs locally. (Will be in 4.19)

Shipping on Console

The extended view distance and player counts of Battle Royale presented several performance and memory challenges on console requiring us to make improvements, particularly relating to memory. Much of this work was game-side content optimization but we also made a number of improvements to the engine.

Here are some of the console improvements, which will ship in 4.18:

  • [XboxOne + PS4] Improved our low-level memory tracking tools to better identify potential memory optimizations.
  • [XboxOne + PS4] More efficient volume texture updates, which reduced peak memory by 240MB+.
  • [XboxOne] Added options for different render target layouts to maximize bandwidth utilization on the GPU depending on what rendering features are enabled.
  • [XboxOne] Reduced memory overhead in D3D12 descriptor heaps, and saved 120MB.
  • [XboxOne] Allocated and freed render targets on-the-fly to reduce memory usage by 100MB+.
  • [PS4] Optimized how we handle the texture streaming and defragmentation pools, saving 300-400MB.

While working on Battle Royale we identified some issues with input latency in the engine that particularly affected 30Hz games. We were able to make improvements to thread synchronization, reducing latency by around 66ms (the reduction will be around half that in a 60Hz title) to address this problem. These changes make a noticeable improvement to the feel of the game, making it more responsive and easier to aim. (Will be in 4.19)

More to Come!

These are just the engine improvements that came out of shipping the first version of Fortnite: Battle Royale. Having had this experience, we’ve identified further improvements we’d like to make, especially related to level streaming and editor performance when working with very large maps, that will make our game teams and our users across the industry more efficient.