#4 The Technology of Dead Block: an insight into the difference that using licensed technology made to development
Answered by: Claus Praefcke and Roger Joswig
1. From your point-of-view, what are the advantages of using licensed technology like the Unreal Engine versus developing your own proprietary systems and technology?
RJ: If you're looking to release your game on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC as we were, developing your own engine is a lot more expensive, takes a long time if you start from scratch and needs a lot of QA support – so it wasn't really a feasible option for us as a small, start-up developer.
The Unreal Engine is proven technology, state of the art, runs across Xbox 360, PS3, PC and, although we didn't make use of these formats for Dead Block, now also supports iPhone and iPad. It also has an excellent tool chain and tech support and due to our previous experience with the engine, it was an easy decision to go with it.
2. How did the relationship between Candygun and Unreal Technology start?
RJ: While we were in the process of starting Candygun, Epic announced a very independent-friendly Unreal Engine licensing opportunity for digital distribution games. It turned out to be perfect timing for us. When we read the news we were pretty excited and immediately contacted Epic. Since we already worked with the Unreal Engine before, we knew that the technology would be a perfect fit for Dead Block.
3. What have been the benefits of working with Unreal Technology from a production point-of-view?
CP: Working with the Unreal Engine meant that it was possible for us to start with game code from day one and have a very basic, first prototype up and running after only a few days.
Throughout development we have been able to concentrate on making the gameplay as good as possible, since we didn’t have to worry about the underlying technology side of things. We were also able to have very short iterations between versions, which allowed us to quickly try out various gameplay ideas that we had.
And finally, working with the Unreal Engine meant that the Artists and Level Designer had a lot of power and could do a lot of things without direct code support, which improved our efficiency. Many features were already present in the engine and did not need to be re-invented by us.
4. What were the challenges in developing the game simultaneously across 3 platforms with a team of 6 people, only one of which is a Programmer?
CP: The biggest challenge when developing a game simultaneously across three platforms is the regular testing of the game on all those platforms and to be aware of all the different technical requirements that are platform-specific. When there is some game behaviour allowed on the XB360, it doesn’t mean it’s automatically valid for PlayStation 3 and vice versa.
From a Programming point of view there were no special challenges – the biggest challenge was to fulfil all the wishes of the other five team member, fix all the bugs and implement all features at the same time.
5. How many of the Unreal engines technical features are you using in Dead Block?
AH: The game has a very dynamic environment. The player is able to destroy every piece of furniture he can see. This results in a very dynamic navigation area for all characters. The Unreal Engine allows us to update the navigation area in real-time, so every enemy does see the dynamic world as it appears to the player. Without this feature, enemies would need to walk around furniture that has already been destroyed earlier in the game.
Besides that, our game utilises a smart mixture of different special effects. For example, all the destroyable furniture shows dynamic deformation, so the player can see how damaged each piece of furniture is. This is done through a creative mix of vertex shaders in combination with vertex colours and delivers a nice result.
On top of the deformation, the surface system of the Unreal Engine allows us to “paint” each object differently in the game. This made it easier to create a unique tiled wall, where some of the tiles have fallen off, or to rip off some parts of wallpaper and put unique dirt on objects.
6. How was the AI for the zombies and the support characters designed?
JJ: Since we were aiming for the old-style (slooooow) zombies, which are quite limited in their actions, the AI was designed to be quite simple as well. The most challenging part was the way the zombies search for the player and how they spread out inside a building. They had to feel slow but deadly, like a flood of undead coming towards the player.
The support characters for the player only help with designated actions and only within the room they are left in or called to by the player. This makes them feel a little less independent but it helps the player to better manage the other two characters in single player.