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Unreal Engine 3 Enlists with Army of Two: The 40th Day

On the heels of their success with the original, critically-acclaimed Army of Two game, Electronic Arts’ Montreal Studio has returned to the battlefield with a sequel, Army of Two: The 40th Day. Like the first game, the sequel is powered by Unreal Engien 3. Reid Schneider, executive producer on the Army of Two franchise — a Hollywood movie adaptation is also in the works — has been working with Epic’s game technology for years.

“Many of us first started using it when we were at UbiSoft Montreal working on the Tom Clancy Splinter Cell titles,” said Schneider.  “Also, since we shipped the original Army of Two on Unreal Engine 3 we had experience with their engine structure, shader/rendering pipeline, and animation system.  We have a great relationship with Epic, as well. They have always been very helpful to us. I think the core benefit of using Unreal is that so many artists/animators/engineers have experience with it now. This means the ramp-up time to become effective is minimized when they start on the project.”

Army of Two: the 40th day

Schneider said his team has always been focused around building content, rather than developing technology.  They like Unreal because it’s a very solid cross-platform solution and editor. The team has also done an extensive amount of optimization work on the engine since the first game, so using it for the sequel just made sense.

“When we started on the original Army of Two, we had to figure out everything because it was an original IP,” said Schneider.  “We were not starting with a universe, but rather crafting one.  I think the main difference of the development from the first game to the second was that we really kept the team focused on features that would end up in the final product.”

For both Army of Two games, EA Montreal used all the tools available in UE3. Schneider said his level designers do almost all their scripting in Kismet. He said this was especially useful for setting up triggering-events since the game is relatively linear. They also used Kismet for the morality choice moments, as well as pre-combat interactions with the NPCs.    

“We used Matinee extensively for two types of cameras in the game,” added Schneider. “We had ‘focus cams’ where the player would see what civilians were being held hostage. We also used Matinee for our ‘Destruction Cams,’ and regular cinematics. We spent a lot of time blowing up buildings/structures in this game and needed great camera work to show it off.”

Army of Two: The 40th day

Schneider said that Army of Two: The 40th Day was influenced by Hollywood films like Die Hard and Cloverfield. In this game, the goal was to make it a personal story where the players have to “get out alive,” rather than focusing on globetrotting and political conspiracy. The team was able to utilize Unreal Engine 3 to build environments that accentuated the danger that surrounds the players at all times. 

Players now have two co-op choices within the Army of Two franchise on the gaming side, and Schneider said Universal Pictures is developing a feature film based on the games. When gamers pick up the latest game, the expanded customization options and destructible environments that they’ll fight through were all made possible with Unreal Engine 3.

Gearbox Software’s Borderlands More Awesome Than Ever with Unreal Engine 3

Gearbox Software has reinvented its sci-fi shooter, Borderlands, with a new distinctive look and gameplay experience. The game, which has always been powered by Unreal Engine 3, got an extended development timeline last year when the decision was made to launch in holiday 2009. The larger window proved to be a crucial opportunity for the team’s art department.

“From a small group of artists came an initiative to render the concept art style in the game,” said Randy Pitchford, president of Gearbox Software. “Have you ever seen a really cool looking concept car? Concept cars are always amazing. But we never get to drive them. Something always happens between the concept car and when it’s finally manufactured and all the coolness is stripped away. I think our artists asked themselves why we couldn’t just make the game look like the concept art. So they did it.”

Borderlands

The prototype blew away management at Gearbox and publisher 2K Games. Pitchford said when people see screenshots, they want to know what the game looks like when it’s moving in real-time 3D. And when they see it moving, they want to pick up the controller and walk through the world themselves.

“Unreal Engine 3 is a great platform for the art direction because it supports so many great features for the kinds of materials we want to render,” said Pitchford. “It’s also extensible; our engineers have added to and extended the engine’s rendering features to make lighting and shading changes necessary for this distinctive look. We’ve been able to do this and remain compatible with the Unreal Engine 3 code base and accept new upgrades as they come from within Gearbox and from Epic Games, who are constantly improving the technology.”

Gearbox’s programmers have worked with its artists to add new rendering techniques that work with the content to create the astonishing look of Borderlands that is unlike anything seen before. Pitchford said it’s an amazing testimony not only to the technical flexibility of UE3, but of the possibilities that can be unleashed when talented artists, designers and engineers are empowered to be creatively flexible.

Borderlands

Pitchford said his Borderlands team has also capitalized on the advancements from Epic’s own Gears of War 2.

“With the success and quality of Gears of War 2, we leverage a huge amount of technology value,” said Pitchford. “We use this to ensure that Borderlands looks amazing and runs fast on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC. But the look of the game is not even half of the story. The gameplay is amazing, too, and the results we’re seeing are only possible with strong talent using great tools.”

The Borderlands team also used UE3 to develop a data-driven system to support the creation of an artificial intelligence that procedurally generates each of the millions of different weapons in the game. This Gear Builder system and AI is new technology that Gearbox was able to seamlessly layer on top of UE3 without compromising systems or complicating the team’s ability to take other software or engine updates from Epic Games.

Borderlands

The end result is a game that looks and plays like no other experience out there. Pitchford said that one look at Borderlands is all that’s needed for someone to see that Gearbox has used UE3 technology to create a look that is familiar yet unlike anything that’s ever been seen before.

Pitchford concluded that Borderlands is a very robust, rare and valuable game experience that’s all been created from the imaginations of Gearbox Software’s talent using the tools of Unreal Engine 3. In essence, it’s the perfect marriage of creativity and technology.

Softmax and Namco Bandai Build Fantasy RPG Magnacarta 2 with Unreal Engine 3

Korean developer Softmax first gained experience using the Unreal Engine to develop its 2005 PlayStation 2 and PSP role-playing game, Magnacarta: Tears of Blood, which was powered by Unreal Engine 2.

This time around, a team of 40 at Softmax partnered with Namco Bandai to create Magnacarta 2 for Xbox 360 using the latest Unreal Engine 3 technology.

“There were some big improvements added to Unreal Engine 3 regarding toolsets and rendering abilities,” said Yoshihisa Kanesaka, producer, Magnacarta 2.

“We frequently consulted the Unreal Developer Network (UDN) during the early stages of the development process. Using the UDN archive search is very useful in getting immediate answers on everything imaginable.”

On top of the processing power that Microsoft’s Xbox 360 brought to the table, Kanesaka believes his team benefited from two key aspects of Unreal Engine 3.

Magnacarta 2

“The Unreal Editor, which has been vastly improved from Unreal Engine 2, has always been a long-time merit of the software,” said Kanesaka.

“The other advantage would be the engine’s versatility. It would have been possible to develop an engine on our own if we wanted to, or to use a different middleware engine. But Unreal Engine 3 contains everything we needed to develop the game, and we thought it was useful since there is no risk in adding any other middleware to it.”

From a gameplay perspective, Softmax was able to use UE3 to create a powerful loading system that allowed for the creation of huge environments. In addition, Kanesaka said they were able to create a new battle system that is both seamless and occurs in real-time.

Magnacarta 2

All of the game’s elaborate cut scenes were developed using Unreal Engine 3, which Kanesaka said saved Namco Bandai time and money.

“We also developed this system that blows away enemies with physical attacks using PhysX,” added Kanesaka.

“Big RPG titles developed by Japanese publishers use fancy effects. That’s the style that is currently popular, and we can easily develop these effects with Unreal Engine 3 by using its particle and material editors.”

Kanesaka believes Unreal Engine 3 can bring great RPG stories like Magnacarta 2 to life. He said one of the best features of UE3 from a development standpoint is its excellent editing capabilities, which are mission critical for game engines today.

Magnacarta 2

Thanks to a talented development team and publisher, and to the technology within UE3, Kanesaka hopes that Magnacarta 2 shows critics that RPGs are, in fact, evolving. He said the team’s goal is to create a new standard in excellence and presentation that sets the bar for what is considered a great RPG game.

“I think it is mandatory to use a middleware engine which minimizes the risks of developing next-gen console games, so I assume more developers in Japan will use the Unreal Engine,” said Kanesaka.

Japanese studios that have shipped Unreal-powered titles include Feelplus, which licensed UE3 for its collaboration on Lost Odyssey for Xbox 360 with Mistwalker. Square Enix also licensed UE3 to develop The Last Remnant for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.

Last fall, Grasshopper Manufacture licensed UE3 for its new multiplatform action horror game directed by innovative game designer Suda51 and produced by legendary Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami. 

Prometheus

Prometheus is a mission-based, single-player co-op game in the spirit of “Portal” and “Mirror's Edge.” By using the Prometheus Device, players bend the laws of Einsteinian physics using the theory of quantum states, meaning that goals are accomplished by completing missions with your past, present and future selves.

This standalone version of "Prometheus" was created using UDK. You'll need to keep your wits about you and your memory sharp in solving puzzles presented with this unique game play mechanic. Progression through the story introduces new challenges, with tasks increasing in difficulty, and a final dramatic conclusion questions present loyalties and even your own existence.

More information is available on the developer's website at Quantum Flux Games. You can also chat with the developers at Quantum Flux Games on the UDK Forums.

Batman: Arkham Asylum Packs a Punch with Unreal Engine 3

The door to a part of the DC Universe never seen before outside of comic books is about to be opened: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Eidos and Rocksteady Studios are using Unreal Engine 3 to bring Batman: Arkham Asylum to PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on the heels of The Dark Knight’s box office tidal wave.

“We have always seen technology as a means to an end, so for this reason we switched to middleware as soon as we moved onto PS3 and Xbox 360 development,” said Sefton Hill, director and owner, Rocksteady.

“We evaluated the different options in the marketplace, and Unreal Engine 3 was the best choice for us for two main reasons. First, the creative tools for artists and designers are excellent. Second, the design of the tools is driven by a game development studio which shares a similar philosophy to us – that the creative staff must be empowered to unleash their imaginations to create great results. This gave us every confidence that, as Epic developed Unreal, it would remain consistent with Rocksteady’s requirements in the future.”

Batman: Arkham Asylum

Development started with a team of 40, many of whom had been working with UE3 on various game concepts. That team eventually grew to over 60. When the game ships, total development time will be 21 months from start to finish including pre and post-production.

“Using Unreal allowed us to start work on the gameplay from day one,” said Hill. “When creating your own technology, the game team is often waiting for the technology team to deliver their tools before they can start work, which means that even games that have been in development for over two years have often had less than one year of work on the gameplay.”

Hill believes UE3’s tools remove technology hurdles that restrict many creative professionals from being able to realize their potential. He said the tools are powerful and versatile, making game development about the talent and imagination of artists and designers as opposed to just engine programmers.

Batman: Arkham Asylum

“This also frees up your engine team to be much more creative, as well,” said Hill. “I know some of our engine team have found ways to use the tools which has surprised even Epic.”

Another advantage of using UE3 is its cross-platform interoperability. Hill said each platform has its own inherently unique requirements, so it’s important to tailor content to maximize cross-platform results. He added that using UE3 allowed the team to get all three platforms up and running very quickly and easily.

“We have an excellent relationship with Epic, and I cannot speak highly enough of them,” said Hill. “They have developed such powerful technology, provided great hands-on support through the Unreal Developer Network, and have been excellent hosts when we have visited them. All this, and they still find time to develop such amazing games!”

Rocksteady’s team makes full use of UE3 technology to bring Batman’s spectrum of dark environments to life.

Batman: Arkham Asylum

“This universe is so rich and diverse; we set ourselves the goal to build a game world with the Batman DNA flowing through its veins,” said Hill. “A key reason to set the game on Arkham Island was to have the player see and feel the history of this universe as they play.”

“Our overall goal was simply to deliver an authentic Batman game that was great fun,” said Hill.

Batman: Arkham Asylum is the third game featuring the Caped Crusader that’s powered by Unreal Engine 3. Midway Games released Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe last year, and Sony Online Entertainment is developing the massively multiplayer online game, DC Universe Online, for release early next year. Also check out Batman: Arkham City, Rocksteady's latest in the series using UE3 game technology

Chair Entertainment’s Shadow Complex Shows Off Unreal DLC Potential

Before being acquired by Epic Games, Chair Entertainment impressed the gaming world with its introductory use of Unreal Engine 3 for the critically acclaimed and successful downloadable shooter, Undertow. Now with Epic’s full resources behind them, the studio has created Shadow Complex, an old school-inspired, side-scrolling action game that further shows off the downloadable content (DLC) potential of the Unreal Engine and also illustrates how this technology can be used beyond the first-person shooter genre.

Donald Mustard, creative director at Chair Entertainment, said his team was inspired by Nintendo’s Super Metroid from a gameplay standpoint. He said the goal was to take the best of that "Metroidvania" style design and combine it with modern design ideas and their own sensibilities.

Shadow Complex

Shadow Complex, which won nine accolades at its publish unveiling at E3, was created with a team of 11 people, including six artists, three programmers, and two business and marketing reps. Mustard said it was having the full support of Epic and the Unreal Engine that enabled this project to become a reality.

“We shipped Undertow in November 2007, and by February 2008 we had a fully playable version of Shadow Complex up and running,” explained Mustard. “With technology this robust and full-featured we were able to totally focus on crafting a fun and polished game experience, and at the end of the day that's what is best for the gamer – one hundred percent of our development time was spent creating the game, not the tech. Unreal Engine is the best and most stable game technology in existence, and we were lucky to have it.”

Mustard said the biggest lesson Chair learned from Undertow came from Xbox LIVE Arcade's original 50 megabyte size constraint. It forced the team to boil the game down to its core essence of fun, and that really carried over into the design of Shadow Complex.

Shadow Complex

“Undertow was pretty full-featured with 16-player multiplayer, co-op, etc, and it was a great exercise for our team to do all that in just 49 MB,” said Mustard. “Shadow Complex is all about the evolution of the player character. When the game begins you are armed with nothing more than a flashlight and your wits. But as you begin to uncover and explore the shadow complex you will discover that your only chance of survival is to find the Restoration's high-tech weaponry, steal it, and then use it against them. By the end of the game, you will have transformed from a regular dude into the ultimate engine of destruction.”

Shadow Complex is the first game from the Empire universe. Chair partnered with bestselling author Orson Scott Card to create the universe, which already has a New York Times bestselling book called Empire. Card is authoring two more books, and Warner Bros. and producer Joel Silver have signed on to develop the movie adaptation. And now Shadow Complex offers the origin story for what will ultimately become a modern-day civil war in the United States between the red and blue states.

Shadow Complex

“In launching the novels first, our intent was to create a universe that would inspire games that complement the story,” explained Mustard. “We wanted a universe that was big enough and rich enough that there could be lots of stories to tell across any medium. With Shadow Complex, we wanted to tell more of the origin story of the Restoration – the fanatical military group whose goal is to collapse America into a new civil war. We thought it would be cool to reveal that story through the eyes of a regular guy who just happens to stumble across one of their secret underground facilities. Plus, it worked perfectly with the type of gameplay we wanted to feature.”

Mustard said that from a premise standpoint, his team grew up with the opinion that G.I. Joe was one of the coolest things ever. They loved the dichotomy of high-tech bad guy versus low or regular tech good guy. That core idea was the catalyst for the Empire franchise. And that plays out in the Shadow Complex game.

shadowcomplex

“Working together (with Card) on the books and game designs really allowed us all to develop the larger plot and ideas that are core to the franchise,” added Mustard. “Once we had firmly established the who’s and why’s, we were able to map out how we wanted everything to fit together. It has been amazing to work with Scott on something from the ground up that we can fully collaborate on together.”

Mustard said that most gamers will take anywhere from 10 to 12 hours to get through their first play-through of the game — and they will have just begun to uncover all of the mysteries of Shadow Complex.

“There is so much in the game for the player to explore and discover – there are over 120 power-ups, and tons of secrets to find,” added Mustard. “We think this really adds to the replayability factor of the game and will have players going back again and again to find new ways to complete the game.”

One of the unique weapons in the game is the foam gun, which is a device that allows players to shoot quick-hardening foam anywhere in the environment. This lets gamers build their own cover, make their own bridges, and even clog up the rotors of helicopters so they crash to the ground. Mustard said this weapon really encourages some crazy gameplay and will let players pull off some incredible moves.

Looking ahead, Mustard believes Shadow Complex will show other game developers, as Undertow did before it, that Unreal is ripe for DLC content.

Shadow Complex

“I am thrilled to see some of the truly awesome games that are being released digitally by smaller teams,” said Mustard. “I know for us UE3 is the backbone of our success. We are able to make games much quicker and at very reasonable cost, but still achieve a very high production and content value. We have a very small team but because of the Unreal Engine, we don't have to make small games – they get to be epic.”

It’s fitting that this epic game comes from a studio now owned by Epic Games. Shadow Complex will deliver a full game experience for a fraction of the cost, allowing gamers to download the action-packed experience straight from Xbox LIVE Marketplace and into their living rooms. 

Who Needs Retractable Claws When You Have Unreal Engine 3?

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Once the team behind Marvel Ultimate Alliance at Raven Software saw the Singularity prototype featuring Unreal Engine 3, they were hooked. The fruits of their labor, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, hits PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 May 1 in tandem with the 20th Century Fox film starring Hugh Jackman. It’s the first UE3 game from the studio, although Singularity is coming out, also from Activision, later this year.

“We had just struggled to make Marvel Ultimate Alliance next gen and then we saw Singularity and we were like, ‘Holy crap, that’s the type of tech we want to use,’” said Dan Vondrak, project lead on X-Men Origins: Wolverine at Raven Software. “At first everyone was wondering how we were going to turn the engine from a third person shooter into an action game, but we had the experience from Marvel Ultimate Alliance as well as the core combat systems and we rewrote re-wrote them all and applied them right to Unreal and it took. It was a good six months before we felt like we had everything we needed to get in there, but it's totally worth it.”

wolverine1

The new action game puts players in control of one of Marvel’s most popular characters, Wolverine, and offers a full array of abilities and attacks ripped straight from the comic books. Although the game was started long before the movie became a reality, Raven worked with Fox, as well as Jackman, to bring that storyline to the game. But this interactive adventure goes far beyond the cinematic origin story by adding classic villains from the comics and introducing more action and unique set pieces to the adventure.

Vondrak said that during production, UE3 allowed the artists to jump ahead of the rest of the team. They were able to create these huge jungles with sun rays coming through and leaves blowing and water puddles. 

“It was like they were making alkali lake stuff with details like fog around your feet and snowflakes in the air for the mountain level,” said Vondrak. “Working with Unreal allowed us to add depth to the game. That’s why we were able to create a Wolverine model with three layers of regeneration. We have the skeleton, the meat, and the muscle and skin, plus the clothing on top of that. That's all made possible using Unreal materials and shaders.  It's really powerful when we coupled it with our smart tech guys who put everything together to make it work.”

Wolverine 2

Vondrak said the designers utilized Matinee to create the bigger moments from the game, some of which were original and others were expanded from the movie. Matinee allowed the team to create action sequences featuring moving trucks and flying helicopters. While the final animations were done by animators, Unreal aided them in getting everything just right – like Wolverine’s perfect landing atop a whirring helicopter in mid-air.

“The Kismet tech is really powerful,” added Vondrak. “When you look at what Epic has been able to do with this technology with the Gears of War games and then look at Wolverine, you can see the type of meaty combat translates across genres. Kismet allowed us to throw all of these huge sequences into our game, which gives players a very cinematic experience. All of these set pieces like when Wolverine is in the air skydiving from helicopter to helicopter were done by our designers using Kismet.

Wolverine 3

One example of Unreal Matinee, Kismet and AI all working in tandem can be seen in the epic battle between Wolverine and the 100-foot-tall Sentinel robot. Players will pit the tiny, but powerful, Wolverine against this monster in a three-pronged battle that will start on the ground and then take to the air. Vondrak said that all of the sequences, including what traditionally would have been cut scenes, were made playable thanks to Unreal.

“Unreal Engine 3 was just fantastic to work with,” said Doug Smith, senior technical artist on Wolverine at Raven. “One of the challenges with Wolverine is that we wanted to make a game that's true to Wolverine without spending a ton of time building up our tech. The Unreal engine was a great stepping stone to make that happen quickly. It was a great way to actually give something to artists and designers that was mature and fully flushed out. We knew we could make a good-looking game if we worked it right, and I loved working with Unreal.  I think a lot of our team can say the same thing.”

Smith said Raven’s Wolverine team really pushed the shaders in Unreal. Wolverine is a Mature-rated game on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC. That game’s gore system is a shader, primarily.

Wolverine 4

“We have a separate mesh underneath Wolverine, but we have the ability to pop holes  uniquely in Wolverine with bullets tracing through, blood oozes down, and you can see the normals on the skin be pushed out where the wound opened up,” added Smith. “You can see on the edges of the blood.  We push in the normal so you can see the specular highlights on the blood.  Everything then nicely closes up and these bruises are all shaders. It’s really powerful and cool technology.”

Raven also empowered the artists on the team by authoring a snow shader that allowed anyone to add snow to objects in the environment like rocks and trees. This shader would automatically ensure that snow would rest accurately on top of the object regardless of how it was placed in the game environment.

“If an artist had a log for the environment, he could place it one way and the snow would automatically fill in the cracks,” explained Smith. “This gave us a lot of flexibility and enabled the artist to create very realistic and rich environments the way they wanted without have to worry about spending a lot of time going back and painting or redoing things to get all of the details right.”

Raven was able to utilize Epic’s Unreal Development Network throughout the project, as well as tap into the work that the Singularity team was doing in-house.

“I think the expertise that the guys were able to gain importing over our combat node system into the engine was beneficial to everyone,” said Smith. “We had layers of animation with sequences like Wolverine in Sentinel’s hand and we had to make sure our fight style worked throughout the game’s many action sequences. Some of our tech guys have gone back to Epic to add some of these changes into the engine and Epic has been very responsive to that and put them in. Of course, everyone gains benefit from that.”

Gamers will benefit from all of this work when Activision ships X-Men Origins: Wolverine across all platforms on May 1. This is a virtual Wolverine who’s as brutal and strong as he was in the comic books. And Unreal Engine 3 brings this superhero to life like never before.

Pamoja Mtaani

RALEIGH, NC – Serious videogame developer Virtual Heroes, based in Raleigh, North Carolina, partnered with the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment (WBIE) to create a game to influence HIV risk perceptions, attitudes and behaviors among young people in Nairobi.

The game, Pamoja Mtaani (“Together in the Hood”), is an open-world game that allows up to five players in select youth centers throughout Nairobi to work together through a collection of twitch mini-games. Each player will take on the role of a unique character and play through a quest that has been developed to be both fun and educational. Top Kenyan hip-hop artists were tapped to provide relevant and inspirational original music for use exclusively in the game.

pamoja Mtaani

“This game has unique and fairly low system requirements, so using Unreal Engine 2.5 allowed us to create an open-world game with the look and feel for three distinct parts of an East African city in the highest quality possible without affecting gameplay,” said Kirsten Gavoni, producer of Pamoja Mtaani at WBIE. “Unreal Engine 2.5 also enabled us to create a large number of NPCs with thousands of lines of unique dialog, adding to the immersive feel of the city.”

To make this five-player, LAN-based PC game experience a reality, Virtual Heroes opted to use the older Unreal Engine 2.5 rather than Unreal Engine 3 in an effort to reach the widest dissemination possible across the available hardware in Kenyan youth clinics, schools, and other facilities.

A team of 25 people spent 10 months working on the game. Under normal circumstances, a game of this size generally takes two years to develop from scratch. Unreal Engine 2.5 forms the low-level foundation of Virtual Heroes’ platform and provides core functionalities, such as 3D rendering, audio, networking, and physics.

Pamoja Mtaani

“We ended up producing an open-world, multi-player environment with four large, distinct outdoor areas, several hundreds of interactive NPCs and a few dozen vehicles, resulting in a total of almost ten thousand game objects, all being processed simultaneously on the game server,” said Virtual Heroes' tech director. “From a resource point of view, this put tremendous strain on the game logic and networking side of things. With a balanced mix of UnrealScript and native C++ code, the fully integrated networking layer of Unreal Engine, as well as a few extra techniques, we were able to optimize performance and tune game play. We used the conversation engine from our Advanced Learning Technology Platform to facilitate complex NPC interactions using thousands of lines of branching dialog.”

On top of that, Virtual Heroes’ platform implements a generic game framework and a multitude of general-purpose functionalities, including things like conversation engines, user-interface controls, movie playback, or database connectivity. This allowed the team to spend most of the development time focused on game-specific features.”

To ensure these features connected with Kenyan youth, team members from Virtual Heroes and WBIE traveled to Kenya to get a better understanding of the culture that plays a larger role in the serious game. According to the game's designer at Virtual Heroes, Pamoja Mtaani consists of four large and unique environments based upon the different socio-economic regions of Nairobi, Kenya. The regions (Chini Ya Maji, Ulamini, Jijini, and an open-air Youth Festival) were designed using extensive in-country research with the ultimate goal of creating a truly immersive and culturally accurate living world.

Pamoja Mtaani

“From our initial research, we realized that this game had to take a different approach from the conventional HIV/AIDS awareness didactic approach,” he explained. “We knew that the youth would resist an ‘in your face’ educational game, but we also wanted to avoid a simplified game that rewarded players for choosing the correct path to avoid ‘risky behaviors,’ because we felt that the youth would only make those decisions because the game would reward them for doing so, not because of any actual behavioral change within the player. Instead, we incorporated a ‘stealth learning’ approach that is concentrated within the game’s cinematics and character interactions.”

At the beginning of _Pamoja Mtanni_, each of the five playable characters practice a specific risky behavior that makes them more susceptible to contracting or spreading HIV. Throughout the course of gameplay, and reinforced through cinematics and in-game interactions, each character comes to realize the risks that they have been taking and the proper steps with which to avoid them.

Several production staff spent a lot of time in Africa to get up close and personal with the people and the environment. Aiding the team in bringing this virtual Kenya to life was Unreal Engine 2.5 technology. During development of the game, the team heavily used Unreal Engine tools like UnrealEd for level creation and content management, the UCC script compiler for game script creation, and a few other small tools such as font converter and Maya plug-ins.

Even though the game was initially deployed only in selected locations in Kenya, the original intent was always to increase HIV/AIDS awareness on the entire continent of Africa and to distribute the game in multiple countries. The differences in regional requirements for a videogame can be quite drastic, not only because of the different languages spoken in different areas and countries, but also ethnic and cultural differences.

In addition to future expansion of the game across Kenya and Africa, Pamoja Mtaani is part of a multimedia push by Warner Bros. across multiple divisions. Each of the five characters from the game are featured in a series of computer-animated shorts created by Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging that will introduce them to the target audience of Kenyan Youth. In addition, Warner Bros. Advanced Digital Services has created a website that will provide information on the Partnership for an HIV-Free Generation Initiative. Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging also created film trailers to raise awareness and drive viewer traffic to the PEPFAR documentary, “Saving Lives, Creating Hope” detailing the program.

Zero Hour: Virtual Heroes Uses Unreal Engine 3 for Real EMS Training

RALEIGH, NC — Raleigh, NC—Virtual Heroes is a leading creator of serious games. So when it came time for the George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute to take training of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) online, Greg Lord, associate director of the National EMS Preparedness Initiative, looked no further than Jerry Heneghan’s studio. After all, Heneghan, founder of Virtual Heroes, had worked on the Department of Defense’s America’s Army online game, so Lord felt this team was best-suited for their virtual training game, Zero Hour: America’s Medic. Heneghan decided the best tool for the job was Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 3.

Zero Hour is intended to fully take advantage of all the bells and whistles of Unreal Engine 3 while creating a uniquely suspenseful, immersive, virtual world for training real medics,” explained Heneghan. “UE3 features that we took advantage of included volumetric environmental effects, on-the-fly real-time shaders, pre-computed shadow masks, directional light maps, particle physics, and environmental effects.”

The game, downloadable from <http://www.nemspi.org>, puts players through training exercises that include four of the 15 national planning scenarios from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. After a quick tutorial level that instructs the player how to navigate the virtual world (Lord expects a large segment of older specialists will not have any videogame experience), the game opens up to unique disaster scenarios that escalate as the player investigates and journeys from one situation to the next.

Zero Hour

In essence, the game offers 3D puzzles with lifelike environments, like an exploding stadium and victims that respond to questions. Heneghan said with UE3 his team was able to show minute details like blood in a patient’s eyes, which is a key symptom that will unlock one major scenario in the game.

“One of the challenges we face is that people rarely get to practice response to large-scale events because, thankfully, we don’t have many of them,” said Lord. “Even ambulance rescuers and EMTs who work in a large city might see a large-scale event with 50 to 100 patients occur maybe once or twice in a career. The expectation to be prepared for these types of events is more difficult without practicing it.”

Zero Hour allows personnel to experience unique issues around managing an emergency incident, like an earthquake or terrorist attack, while triaging a large number of patients and maintaining an operational environment. The ability to diagnose a large number of patients in unfriendly surroundings, like the aftershocks of an earthquake, will challenge even seasoned EMS personnel.

Zero Hour

“Look at Katrina. What made things difficult were the logistics and command and control, the communication and the process by which you accessed and moved assets to affected areas… all those inherent operational issues in a large-scale event that are difficult and that we don’t get to practice on a daily basis, much less a monthly basis. Most places may do this once a year, and ultimately, when a disaster happens, it will probably be the biggest event of your career as an EMT.” said Lord.

Lord said that Virtual Heroes’ use of Unreal Engine 3 technology has created a virtual environment that’s vividly detailed and also great from a cost perspective. Although the game was designed for EMS personnel to use as part of their real-world certification for emergency response, anyone can play Zero Hour from anywhere, on any PC. Lord doesn’t know what impact this game will have on the public and non-EMS players who download and play it, but he noted that with America’s Army, there have been instances where medical expertise learned in a game led to a real-world, life-saving incident (in Raleigh, NC).

“Someone who’d played America’s Army was able to save someone’s life in an auto accident from the medic role he had played in that game,” said Lord. “I think that’s one of the spectacular things you’ll see out of Zero Hour. People will better understand what EMS is on a day-to-day basis and in a disaster. And people will learn the right things that can be done to save people’s lives. For the public good and the community we serve, there will be great benefits to this game.”

Zero Hour

Zero Hour measures how players respond to incidents through a defined process. They’ll perform within the incident the primary roles of medical command, triage, and treatment. Based on their virtual performance, players will receive an after-action review of what they did right and wrong. At end of the game, they’ll take a post-test. Lord and his team will track the improvements of personnel after playing the game.

“Our hope is that the government will view this as a good thing, and we validate our hypothesis by this educational process, and they’ll fund more of this,” said Lord. “We believe very strongly that we can move this toward the real-time, live Internet-based gaming you see with some of the higher-end stuff. This will allow us to interject problems into the process to dynamically configure a scenario. With this iteration, we weren’t able to accomplish those things.”

The reason Heneghan and Lord went with Unreal Engine 3 was to take advantage of the online capabilities of the engine. The plan is for Zero Hour to be the first step in an ongoing serious game initiative. “Each environment we created was designed so that multiplayer gameplay/training could happen in later versions of the game,” explained Heneghan. “The game was built using Virtual Heroes Advanced Learning Technology Platform elements to facilitate after-action-reviews, links to learning management systems, and framework for modular, scalable expansion of the experience over time.”

Zero Hour

Lord has even loftier dreams for Zero Hour’s future growth. He’d like to see Zero Hour expand to incorporate training for Red Cross, fire, police, and all emergency management.

“Think of what you could do if you could create what amounts to a Second Life for disaster response,” asked Lord. “Providers across all the disciplines of a large-scale event could operate in real time and on an ongoing basis. We could design a program for the city of New York, and they could run their own virtual drills. The same could be done for San Francisco and Los Angeles.”

Although ultimately the cost of developing out what Virtual Heroes has started with Zero Hour will be high, Lord said the payback on this type of virtual training game would be priceless. Right now, the future of Homeland Security’s serious games initiative rests on Zero Hour – a simulation that wouldn’t be possible without Epic’s Unreal Engine 3 technology.

American McGee’s Grimm Brings Fairy Tales to Life Courtesy of Unreal Engine 3

American McGee has always had a unique perspective on the world of games, and that vision is coming to life exclusively through GameTap with his first episodic endeavor, Grimm. The long-time id Software creative turned to Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 3 to tackle his new take on traditional fairy tales, which presents an accelerated production schedule for the game’s 24 episodes. The model requires that McGee’s Shanghai-based development studio, Spicy Horse, go from concept to shippable content in 12 months. In that regard, McGee said that UE3 works ideally because it allows his studio to prototype an innovative game concept, establish a unique art style, and build large amounts of content in a rapid and efficient way.

American McGee's Grimm

“The funny thing is, because of my background with id Software, I always thought of Epic and their technology as ‘the other side,’” said McGee, creative director, Spicy Horse. “In the early days, we’d play around with Epic’s engine just to see how it might have solved problems with tools, interface, etc. I always felt the tools were clunky, but in hindsight, it’s probably no more than what I was used to. Over the years, the change has been phenomenal. The toolset has evolved into a mature, robust, and flexible total solution. These days I feel confident we’re working with the best total solution for our needs.”

McGee’s core team actually explored several engines before settling on UE3, including Valve’s Source engine, the Gamebryo engine and id’s technology. Ultimately, they found that they were able to integrate content and achieve the visual results they wanted faster and easier with UE3.

“This was primarily attributable to the superior reference materials, tutorials, and content pipeline and tools,” explained McGee. “Once our decision was made, attracting other team members with UE3 experience and gaining critical knowledge on our own was easy. Because Grimm is such an experimental game concept, rapid prototyping was essential to proving our new ideas. Being able to quickly build a world from near-final content allowed us to focus on the challenges of implementing original ideas.”

America McGee's Grimm

Although the initial core team of 10 last year had very little experience with UE3 outside of what they gained while doing their evaluation, it had no problem meeting all of the game’s deadlines throughout the development process, even as the team grew to over 35 internal employees, 20 external artists and a handful of people in the U.S. When it came to the UE3 toolset, McGee said they utilized every aspect of the technology to some degree or another.

“And everything was useful,” said McGee. “Because Grimm contains a large amount of narrative cinematic elements, we spent a lot of time editing content inside the FaceFX and Matinee tools. Custom modifications we made often had to do with ‘old-schooling’ something. Take the FaceFX tool for instance; we had to gut it in order to get the sort of simple animated faces we wanted. It’s not easy to get ‘South Park’ style facial animation out of a next-gen game engine!”

GameTap backed McGee’s concept of taking a fresh, fun and funny interactive take on traditional fairy tales, while focusing on the concept of transforming environments from light to dark. McGee said Grimm is a truly episodic “experimental” game, delivered in 24 unique episodes, and is initially targeted at the PC. Since the beginning, McGee has intended Grimm to be for a mainstream casual audience.

American McGee's Grimm

“I’d really like to see people who’ve never played 3D PC games before be able to enjoy the story, visuals, and game mechanic,” said McGee. “To that end, we’ve kept things as simple as possible. Controls are as simple as a single two-button mouse, or you can use standard WASD keyboard controls.”

Gameplay is wrapped around the idea of transforming things from light to dark; wherever the main character Grimm goes, darkness follows. He’s like a dark paintbrush in a cute cartoon world. As he converts the world to dark, his power grows, and as his power grows, he’s able to transform larger objects, move faster, and jump higher. Each episode focuses on a traditional Grimm fairy tale.

“There are standard 3D platform game elements layered on top of the transformation mechanic,” explained McGee. “The end result, we think, is a visually compelling, compulsively addictive play experience with rich story, and a lot of humor. I think we can honestly say there’s nothing else out there like Grimm. It’ll be interesting to see how the world reacts to it!”

American McGee's Grimm

McGee said UE3 provided his team with the ability to go from concept to playable concept in record time – something that the episodic game’s development cycle required. In simplest terms, the model has forced Spicy Horse to break 12 hours worth of game content into 24 smaller games. This means the development cycle for an individual “game” is measured in weeks, not years. Yet despite the accelerated cycle, the team has not had a single crunch time, missed milestone, or even a minor production mishap.

“The development process follows some standard schedule beats like design, concepting, first playable (alpha), beta (content lock), and final, but the whole process is accelerated–each major phase taking no more than six weeks,” said McGee. “The combined process takes 18 weeks for a single episode. Additionally, we have multiple development cycles running in parallel, with content moving from designer to designer, from concept to final. In many ways, it’s a mini model of larger-scale development efforts.”
 
The result of all this is that Spicy Horse will release its first Grimm episode about one year after its first pre-production meeting. Subsequent episodes will be released weekly for eight weeks. The team will then take a short break to make any adjustments to content based on user feedback and suggestions before embarking on the remaining episodes over another eight-week period.

“Episodic content, or whatever it evolves into, will continue to be interesting to us – and to our audience, I hope – for a long time to come,” concluded McGee. “There’s definitely something worthwhile about the process and the result. Grimm is just another step in the evolution of the idea for how to build, distribute, and consume games in an episodic fashion.”