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It’s time to dust off those nostalgia goggles and get ready to dive into Rad Rodgers as it aims to bring the golden age of '90s era platformers back to life. Rad Rodgers embraces all the things we loved about games like Commander Keen and Jazz Jackrabbit while adding a few modern twists of its own.
Paying homage to beloved games of the past doesn’t mean that developer Slipgate Studios isn’t bringing something new to the table. Making the most of Unreal Engine, the Danish team has crafted an absolute stunner that is more visually striking than any game that inspired it. With quick wit and a sharp tongue, Dusty leads his pal Rad on an adventure that speaks to the kid in you, but sure as hell isn’t for kids.
Celebrating a massive update on PC and the release of Rad Rodgers on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, Slipgate Studios’ managing director Frederik Schreiber gives us the inside scoop on the journey of Rad Rodgers’ development and adapting the old school platformer to the modern age.
Rad Rodgers is inspired by '90s era Apogee platformers like Commander Keen and Jazz Jackrabbit. How did that inspiration lead to the idea and creation of Rad Rodgers?
We always wanted to create an old-school side-scroller in the same style as the games we grew up playing; Classic Apogee, Nintendo, and Amiga games.
The first inspiration was the Amiga classic “Ruff 'n' Tumble”, which Rad Rodgers is heavily inspired from. We loved the cartoony visuals, combined with heavy weaponry.
For the gameplay itself, we were very inspired by the precision jumping of the Megaman series, combined with the open level nature of Duke Nukem 2. We didn't want to go total Metroidvania but instead wanted to keep each level contained. The open level design philosophy is something 3D Realms popularized in the '90s, with Duke Nukem 3D and Shadow Warrior. We wanted to bring this to Rad Rodgers as well.
This means that each level has multiple paths, doors, and puzzles, which you can mostly approach in whatever order you like.
How did you go about paying homage to the old classics while tailoring a game towards a new generation of gamers with modern mechanics and sensibilities in mind?
It was important to us to focus on what we loved in platformers first and foremost. Highly skill-based precision platforming became the first core foundation, something we loved from classic platformers such as Super Mario Bros 3 and Megaman.
Secondly, we wanted to add the open level design philosophy which is at the root of all the games we develop. Precision shooting, and a unique and interesting take on ‘repairing’ the world, through the Pixelverse, added some flavor to the game, but most importantly, we wanted to make sure the game was extremely solid, responsive and fun to play. We feel a lot of innovative games forget about how important the core is.
If the game is solid and fun, everything else is icing on the cake, but the foundation is most important.
Last but not least, we had very high ambitions with our visuals. Our goal was to make Rad Rodgers look like a real-time Pixar movie. After reading one of the first previews from Destructoid, we were humbled and proud of having achieved that:
“I’m going to get the best feature out of the way first; the graphics are unbelievable. Watching that initial trailer, I thought I was looking at an FMV. Rad Rodgers runs on Unreal Engine 4 and looks phenomenal. This is like finally having a playable Pixar film as a game, something that only Ratchet and Clank ever managed to make possible.” – Destructoid
The dialogue between Rad and Dusty is one of the highlights of the game. Tell us about the writing process (and how much fun you must have had) putting together their banter.
When brainstorming Rad Rodgers, we wanted the chemistry between the two characters to be something of a mix of Bender from Futurama and the innocence of a child. Interestingly enough, while we were working on Rad Rodgers, Rick & Morty premiered and basically introduced the very idea we were aiming for.
The writing process was very adult at first, so we decided to turn it down a notch to appeal to a slightly wider audience. We always loved this mix of cute graphics and ultra-violent cartoon gore. With the quirky dialogue thrown in the blender, we ended up with this “Rick & Morty meets Pixar” mix we’re really happy with.
Ok, so you tamed down the banter a little bit. What else hit the cutting room floor as you furthered development in Rad Rodgers?
In the original design, Dusty's ‘Fly’ ability in the Pixelverse sections was depicted as him ‘farting’ for momentum. The constant fart sounds were later removed, as they became a bit too annoying. A leftover of the old design can still be seen actually! If you manage to zoom in on the back of Dusty in photo-mode, a small butt-crack can be seen under the back panel of his body.
Also in the original design, at some point in the game, Dusty was going to have the ability to pause the game. While all enemies were frozen in space, Dusty would use the “PAUSED” text as an in-game platform to reach an enemy, which he would then stab with a knife, while frozen in place. We later removed this as it was a tad too crazy for the character of Dusty.
During development, we revised how the Dusty abilities would affect the game many times, in fact. The point of Dusty was that he was the console powering the game, which means that he's able to alter and change the game on the fly. Ideas ranged from the ability to jump outside of the TV frame and enter the frame again from another side, to having different cartridges as pickups, which you would stick in his mouth to unlock different abilities and suits reminiscent of old-school video game characters. We ended up with the ‘Pixelverse’ as a good middle-ground.
We'd love to dive back into many of these early ideas for potential sequels to Rad Rodgers.
You hint at hard to find collectibles and even harder to find 'classic secret rooms' in Rad Rodgers. How hard is it exactly? Will only the best of the best conquer Rad Rodgers completely?
The secrets and hidden items are pretty hard to find, but not Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest hard. You don't have to stand still in a corner and wait for a tornado to pick you up in Rad Rodgers!
We have a general rule for secrets, which many classic platformers follow; Donkey Kong Country is a great example. In Rad Rodgers, you can almost always see the collectible, but how to get to it is the challenge. We wanted to continuously tease the player by hinting at secrets, but not showing the right path.
A great example of this in older games is the third level in Ruff 'n' Tumble for the Amiga. Right in the beginning of the level, you're presented with a jump pad, which takes you to this area. The only problem is that it's impossible to reach the platform through the jump pad.
The area is teased, but you have to find out yourself, how to get there. This is the same philosophy we use in Rad Rodgers.
Rad Rodgers was funded through a big Kickstarter investment. How has the feedback and interaction with fans impacted development of the game?
The fan feedback was key to the development of Rad Rodgers. We had an overall core of the game ready when we launched the Kickstarter, and we were pretty happy with our vertical slice, but we could never have imagined the impact it would have. The feedback from our backer community ultimately helped to shape the direction of the game.
During the Kickstarter, the game shaped into something tighter, smoother and way more interesting than we originally envisioned. All thanks to our backers!
You're dropping a big update to Rad Rodgers alongside its long awaited console release. What are some of the new additions you're most excited about? Can gamers expect an announcement on World 2 at some point?
With this update, we're adding a ton of new features. Alongside new mini-games, bonus artwork, and new unlockables, the features we're probably the most excited about are the leaderboards, hats and the new levels.
The leaderboards are a great way to challenge your friends. At the end of each level, your total score is calculated based on how fast you went through the level, and how many secrets, enemy kills, and collectibles you managed to find.
The Hat system was another fun way for us to add even more (and harder) secrets to the game. We now have some pretty crazy secret areas, where you can find and unlock different hats for Rad. They are cosmetic only but add something new and fun to the collectible part of the game.
Last but not least, we have three new mini-game levels, which introduces a Pogo Stick, and two massive new levels taking place in a rainforest and ancient ruins. We're also throwing new enemies, puzzles, and mini-bosses into the mix. It’s a ton of content and I assure you, we’re not finished yet!
How was the process of adapting Rad Rodgers across multiple platforms using Unreal Engine?
Unreal Engine allowed us to quickly get builds up and running for both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Getting cooked builds to run was our highest priority as we wanted stable code to execute on each platform as fast as possible. Unreal Engine made this very simple and straightforward, which allowed us to put all of our focus into optimizing and adding new content.
Tell us about a favorite tool or feature of Unreal Engine 4 and how it aided you in the development of Rad Rodgers.
Blueprints have by far saved us the most time. Without Blueprints, all gameplay programming and scripting would be left solely to our programming team. With Blueprints, everyone on the development team could easily assist our programmers by creating new features from scratch, while leaving the programmers with heavier C++ based tasks.
What advice do you have for burgeoning developers jumping into Unreal Engine for the first time?
Unreal Engine 4 is an open ecosystem, which means that you can utilize the engine to its fullest. Even though Blueprints are extremely powerful, our advice for programmers jumping into Unreal Engine would be to learn C++. Besides the performance benefits, you can extend the engine to suit your needs and add features you need along the way.
Where can people go to keep up on development and news for all things Rad Rodgers?
Mail.Ru Games Ventures (hereinafter MRGV), an investment division of Mail.Ru Group Limited, one of the largest Internet companies in Europe, announce a strategic partnership with Epic Games, creators of award-winning games and game technology, for assisting game development studios with expertise and support in development, marketing, analytics, as well as funding of the most prominent developers.
Under the agreement, Epic Games, which has licensed its award-winning Unreal Engine 4 to more than 4 million developers worldwide, will help MRGV to find the best teams for further cooperation. The selected multi-platform partner developers, curated by MRGV, will be able to apply for MRGV’s investment for scaling or developing their game projects. The financing will be made on a competitive basis through MRGV’s investment committee. MRGV-funded teams will also gain access to the division’s analytical data and tools, marketing instruments, data security technologies, and various gaming services including marketplaces.
Epic Games will provide its advisory on technological aspects of game development, including the usage of Unreal Engine, Epic’s complete suite of tools for building high-quality games across PC, console, mobile, virtual reality and augmented reality platforms.
“We are proud to become Epic Games’ companion in the creation of a global environment for enabling game developers to succeed in a rapidly changing and ultra-competitive industry,” said Ilya Karpinsky, Director of Mail.Ru Games Ventures. “Nowadays we see the unprecedented growth of game studios, and we look forward to connecting with the most talented teams to help them to create outstanding games that will shape the future of the industry.”
“We aim to give developers a competitive advantage, not only through Unreal Engine tools and technologies but also through strategic programs and partnerships designed to help them achieve their business goals,” said Mike Gamble, European Territory Manager at Epic Games. “We are very pleased to come together with Mail.Ru Games Ventures to open up new revenue streams for teams creating fantastic Unreal-powered games.”
As a part of the agreement, Epic Games and MRGV will also introduce educational initiatives and comprehensive events to generate professional discussion, and to share experience and best practices in game development to guide and inspire teams on their way towards creating leading-edge projects.
In this exclusive one-hour virtual event taking place on March 6, 2018 at 2 pm EST, we’ll share some exciting news about a new offering from Epic.
You can register for the virtual event here.
In addition, you’ll also have a unique opportunity to hear from the Director of Design Technology Innovation at HOK, the CTO of Glimpse Group, and 3D Lead of VR at Mackevision about the impact Datasmith has had on their workflows.
What we’re excited about:
- How easy Datasmith makes moving CAD data into Unreal Engine
- What’s great about Datasmith workflows from 3ds Max to Unreal Engine
- How the Datasmith’s Python scripting creates non-destructive workflows
- What the roadmap for Datasmith looks like
A Q&A session will be held at the conclusion of the event.
Don’t miss out on this free virtual event – register now!
“This caps an incredible year for us,” commented Ollie Lindsey, founder of winning company, All Seeing Eye. “It's been a once in a lifetime opportunity, and to actually win is a dream come true. It means we now have the opportunity to focus solely on a game that we're incredibly passionate about.”
Epic Games and Wellcome launched the $500,000 Developing Beyond competition in January 2017. The brief prompted developers to create new games exploring the theme of ‘Transformations.’ The games took inspiration from scientific ideas and used Epic’s Unreal Engine 4.
Game developers were matched with researchers to explore the science behind their ideas and begin to transform science into an entertaining video game.
Winning game Seed by All Seeing Eye uses virtual reality to turn players into plant breeders with advanced genetic engineering skills. Historian Dr. Helen Anne Curry shared her knowledge of plant breeding history with the development team to help explore their ideas. Players take on missions to breed new plant species in a virtual potting shed that can influence food production, reflect geo-politics or even create new poisons in an imaginary world.
Chair of the judging panel comedian and broadcaster Susan Calman said: “With Seed what All Seeing Eye has delivered is an immersive, enjoyable experience that hit the brief of transformations. All of the judges wanted to return to to the game again and again. I never knew being in a VR potting shed could be such fun!”
The three finalists made it through semi-finals at Develop:Brighton in July 2017, earning $60,000 to improve their game. Developing Beyond received over 100 games applications overall.
In picking the shortlist fellow judges also considered games that transformed scientific ideas about microbial quarantine, human evolution and artificial learning.
Second place and $50,000 went to Winter Hall by Lost Forest Games. In third place Terramars by Untold Games received $30,000.
Winter Hall is an exploration game that draws the player into a different time in human history where they can influence the legacy of the Black Death.
In Terramars players explore the mental and physical health challenges faced by a team of six astronauts as they try to build a new human colony on Mars.
Developing Beyond was designed to provide a sustainable platform for studios to create new minimum viable products. Developers retain rights to the intellectual property they created over the course of the challenge. The aim of the competition is to prepare the teams to ship new commercial games with the help of investors, publishers or partners.
Iain Dodgeon from Wellcome, said: “Seed mimics the fun and wonder of scientific discovery. It captures how creative the scientific process can be. The seed experience was so delightful we all wanted to get back into the potting shed.”
Mike Gamble, European Territory Manager at Epic, commented: “The jury was unanimous in voting for Seed as the deserved winner of this year’s Developing Beyond. All Seeing Eye have created a beautiful place to explore and spend time in, as well as delivering great gameplay and hitting all the scientific beats on right on the mark.”
“The quality of all three games has been incredible and the decision to split second and third was agonising. All three games are more than good enough to be picked up, developed further and taken to market, where I’m sure they will all shine.”
Numerous Unreal Engine developers earned top honors in key categories during The Lumiere Awards, which took place at Warner Bros. Studios in Hollywood on Monday evening.
From Best VR Location Based Animated Short to Best Augmented Reality Experience, the impact Unreal Engine developers are making in the realm of immersive storytelling has never been more evident.
Best VR Location Based Animation Short
New Reality Company
Best Location Based VR: Animated
Raising A Rukus
The Virtual Reality Company
Best Augmented Reality Experience
Netflix (MacInnes Scott)
Best VR Brand Experience: Motion Picture
Spider-Man: Homecoming VR Experience
Sony Pictures Entertainment (Create VR)
The Lumiere Awards recognize outstanding international achievement in the creation of immersive storytelling using advanced visual technologies, including virtual reality, augmented reality, high dynamic range, stereo 3D, artificial intelligence, real-time rendering and more.
Congratulations to all of this year’s nominees and winners.
Recent Unreal Dev Grant recipient, Pakistan-based 3rd World Studios is on a mission to produce high-quality animated features for local and international audiences, exposing a side of Pakistani culture that doesn’t get covered by the mainstream media. “Allahyar and the Legend of Markhor” is the company’s first feature film about a young Pakistani boy from the North setting off on a journey to save his friend Mehru. The 3rd World Studios leadership team has extensive experience working on AAA game titles and drew on that knowledge to develop an Unreal Engine-based film animation workflow.
“Allahyar and the Legend of Markhor” is the first feature film from 3rd World Studios and was released to rave reviews in Pakistan, with plans underway for global distribution. The film’s stunning environments were inspired by the majestic landscapes of the Hunza and Astore valleys in northern Pakistan, and more than 100 characters bring its story to life. The film was completed in a year and a half with a team of 50 artists, animators and engineers.
We interviewed 3rd World Studios Head of Production Usman Iqbal to find out what it took to produce the first animated feature film to be rendered entirely in a game engine.
Tell us a bit about 3rd World Studios and the backgrounds of the company founders and creative leads.
3rd World Studios was founded for the purpose of making quality animated movies for local and international audiences. We want to promote Pakistani culture and values and show the world the real Pakistan, which is mostly not covered by the mainstream media.
Uzair Zaheer Khan is the founder of 3rd World Studios and director of the film. He is a Vancouver Film School graduate and previously worked as a director on the animated television series “Burka Avenger.” Collectively, all of the technical and creative leads in the company have worked on multiple AAA game titles and international broadcast and interactive projects.
How did 3rd World Studios get introduced to working in Unreal Engine?
Since we have a wide range of experience working in broadcast as well as games, we are always exploring new technologies and looking into nonconventional production solutions. We’ve always been fascinated by the ever-improving technology in game engines. When the Unreal Engine 4 “A Boy and His Kite” demo came out we were quite excited to delve into this powerful engine to see what could be achieved in terms of production quality, utilizing its amazing real-time results.
Before the formal production of the film began, we spent around a year and a half researching the toolsets we were going to use for the production of the film. We had to completely revisit the conventional animated film pipeline and do various changes to mold it according to real-time game engine requirements for production.
At the start, everyone around us in the industry was a naysayer and was in complete opposition of using a game engine for an entire film production, but in the end it all paid off.
Describe your production workflow.
We are using Unreal for all the lighting, layout and set dressing requirements of the film. All dynamics and visual effects were done inside the engine. For modeling and animation we use industry standard software products. Since we opted to use UE4, which fully supports PBR-based materials, we had to switch from older tools to recent state-of-the-art texturing solutions.
How long have you been working on “Allahyar,” and how many artists did you have on board?
This film took around one and a half years to complete from initial concepts to final renders. The maximum team size that we reached was around 45-50 people, which includes artists, animators and engineers.
How long is the film, and approximately how many characters are there in it?
Our film is around 95-100 minutes long, with around 60-65 unique characters and multiple variants, which would take the character count to 130+.
Can you talk about a particularly demanding sequence of the film and how UE4 streamlined the production process?
Scenes comprised of birds with feathers and yaks with heavy fur were some of the most challenging and GPU-intensive scenes in our film. When we started our lookdev, the only timeline management solution was in the form of Unreal Matinee. But thanks to the 4.16 release of Sequencer, our workflow improved ten-fold and now we can manage our timelines more systematically with better control over spawnable objects, attribute keying, material overrides and sequence shots.
Now we can review multiple takes of the same shot and change cameras according to the director’s feedback. The latest version Sequencer is faster and more stable than ever and proved to be a lifesaver as we approached the end of our film’s production.
What are the benefits of doing this sort of large-scale project in Unreal Engine?
Unreal Engine provided us with a one-stop solution to all our rendering needs.
- Super high-poly meshes with all materials and lights could be worked on in real time.
- Landscape sculpting tools are super powerful. You can make changes on the fly – even when you’re working on your final scenes.
- UE4 Content Browser filters are really helpful in managing long lists of folders, files and items.
- The Material Editor with its powerful shading nodes is amazing to work with.
- Sequencer has evolved into a very fine toolset for managing scenes, sequences and the timelines.
- On the technical side, Blueprints have been very helpful as well.
Are there creative flexibilities that this Unreal Engine pipeline enables versus working in a traditional CG animation pipeline?
You can quickly change from being hyper realistic to a completely different and stylized look using just Unreal’s built-in tools. Its real-time capabilities really let you explore various render style options at a blink of an eye.
What is the per frame speed for final renders?
Unreal Engine is being used to render out the final frames of the film with render times varying from scene to scene depending on the amount of detail it has. On an average, our single scene consisting of around 3,000-4,000 frames usually took less than a couple of hours to render out, with a single NVIDIA GTX 1080 Ti card on a machine using Intel Core i7 6700 processors.
Unreal has saved us months and months of rendering time. On average in a traditional pipeline, film quality renders take around 3-4 hours per frame and depending on the scene’s complexity this time can increase exponentially. In UE4, we never worried about render times.
How did your team learn how to work in Unreal Engine?
Each team member was motivated and trained on-site by all the leads who themselves were getting accustomed to the unique pipeline and tools that were being used. Unreal’s thorough documentation and livestreams played a vital role in our learning and R&D.
Why did you choose to use Unreal Engine in the full production of this film?
Unreal Engine gave us almost all the solutions required for the production of this film. Artists always suffer from slow render times which in the end affects overall production cost and time. With conventional pipelines artists’ creativity is hindered by huge render times, but with Unreal our artists didn’t have to worry about that since render times were already down from several minutes/hours to multiple frames in a second compared to the conventional pipeline.
Join design visualization expert Craig Barr on February 22 as he details invaluable tips and techniques for getting the most out of VR for design visualization and review in Unreal Engine.
You can register for the webinar here.
In this fourth and final installment of the Product Design and Manufacturing Visualization in Unreal Engine webinar series, Craig will explore the value of using VR for design visualization and highlight useful tips and use cases to help you integrate VR into your design workflows.
- Explore what VR looks like in Unreal Engine
- Learn about Unreal Engine’s powerful capabilities for VR
- Experience stunning examples focused on Product Design
- Walk through the typical workflows of creating a VR project in Unreal Engine
- Discover best practices and tips and tricks for VR
Don’t miss out on this free online webinar! Register today!