Monday, April 21, 2014

We made the switch to Unreal Engine 4!!

TL:DR 
Unreal Engine 4 is awesome. Just scroll down for screenshots...we know that's what you want.

It has been just about 3 weeks since we got back from GDC...and this whole time we have been nose deep in learning the ins and outs of Unreal Engine 4. In those 3 weeks, we have accomplished a crazy amount of work, transferring and recreating the XING Rainforest Level.


Why did we do it?


There are several reasons why we decided to make the switch:

Being on the Cutting Edge
  • Now we can count on Oculus support for certain when the game is released
  • We can keep up with the times and continue to push for incredible graphics
  • Constant support from Epic for their new engine

UE4 is a more User-Friendly Engine to Use
  •  Blueprints makes coding far more enjoyable
  •  Workflow and speed have been amped up!
    • More streamlined import process
    • Better material editing
    • Art integration with Blueprints
  • We can implement things now we had only dreamed of before

We are trying out new ways of displaying text. In the first screenshot from UDK, we used a system of displaying text we created with Flash, Scaleform , ActionScript and UnrealScript. In the 2nd screenshot, we only used Blueprints, and a Built-in Text-In-Editor display.



Refocusing our Art Style
  • It's not just "better graphics" we are concerned with, we want to continue to make sure XING has consistent and visually rich environments
  • We walk a line between fantasy and realism with our art direction, and UE4 has made that even easier and  - more fun to implement (and more affordable graphics wise)
  • Better dynamic lighting built in = less compromises we have to make
We can better achieve what we picture in our heads

Creative Potential
  • The things we have learned in the past 3 weeks of using UE4 have been tremendous
  • It has shown us the true potential of XING - whether it be implementing mechanics, creating level-specific gameplay moments, or even making basic AI
UE4 Screenshot from the New Rainforest Level

Licensing
  • Instead of our previous deal of  $100 for the Dev Kit and 25% of our Net income after 50k, UE4 is only $19/mo. for the entire engine, source code included, with 5% of gross income going to Epic (they deserve it!)
  • The source code makes it so that, in the future if (when!) XING becomes popular, we can potentially port it to other platforms ;)

Using UE4 feels like using the future


Switching to UE4 was kind of like switching from a 2002 Toyota Prius to a 2013 Tesla Model S. The Prius was a great step in the right direction for efficiency and got you where you needed to go, but sometimes couldn't get past a certain speed. The Model S gets you where you need to go in modern style and more efficiently, and comes standard with navigation and smooth controls.



What does that mean for the release time?


Hopefully it shouldn't make too much of a difference! At first we decided to spend 4 days seeing how much we could learn and accomplish on the new engine. If we made our set goal after those 4 days, we agreed we would make the switch.

We almost met our goal, and decided to play with the engine some more. After recreating things in blueprints in minutes (that it took us hours to do previously in unrealscript+kismet), we decided that the time it took us to make the switch would most likely be made up by how fast we could get a lot of our mechanics back up and running. What that also means is that mechanics we hadn't yet figured out are also now closer within our grasp :)

According to the clock in XING, we are right on schedule...


Actually Making the Switch:


We're not going to lie, switching from UDK (UE3) to UE4 after about a year of development is a blessing and a curse...


  • The Cons
    • Having to relearn how to make the game work...
      • Epic's new "Blueprints" has replaced Unrealscript and Kismet
    • Recreating the map
      • Almost nothing transfers over...the landscape sort of can, but you have to re-size it and repaint it
      • To be honest at one point, staring at a blank map again with incorrect lighting, no painting and only 5 meshes in my arsenal,  I wanted to cry
    • Importing every mesh and texture again...
    • Recreating Materials (combining different texture layers to make a surface look correct in the world)
    • Now that we have so much more freedom and power at our command, it's easy to get caught up in "what if's"...which sometimes make it into the game. Is that really a con? Pro? Probably a little of both...
  • The Pros:
    • Better user interface!
    • Blueprints are a fun way to code and make things happen per level, or consistently throughout the whole game
    • Awesome light rendering - we can put in more static lights even though we have a dynamic sky system
    • Particles everywhere!
    • Source code (though we haven't touched it yet)
    • Constant support from Epic for their new engine
    • The new engine makes working on the game feel fresh again



*If you are a developer and have any questions about how we made the switch, feel free to email us at info@xingthegame.com

Screenshot Comparisons Galore!


The first level we have decided to tackle is the rain forest, since it was freshly viewed and tested at GDC. Check out the Results:

You can A-B them if you click on them :)

Rainforest Day


































Rainforest Rain










Rainforest Night















Thanks for looking and please let us know any of your questions/comments/concerns and general feedback :)

We are still taking Pre-Orders too ;)






Monday, March 24, 2014

GDC Booth Success!!

Wow! What a week!

Last week we took the opportunity to have a booth at GDC - where we were met with smiles, praise and compliments galore! It was seriously amazing and refreshing to have people who had never heard of our game come up to the booth, try out one of the two demos (or both!) and tell us how much they liked what we were doing. We certainly didn't expect so much warmth to come from having a booth set up at GDC Play, so it was a pleasant surprise!

We ended up documenting some of the experience with photos and even some video for you guys to see and enjoy too :)


Sunday


On Sunday we finished both builds of our demos, cut the GDC trailer, and set up a mock-booth space inside Koriel's house. We had tested the demos as much as we could, and the mock booth gave us a good idea of what we could bring in the cars (and what would fit in our 6x8 booth!). After all, we wanted to maximize space as much as possible.

Mock Booth

Yay buttons!


Monday


On Monday, we took off with 2 cars packed to the brim (one Compact SUV and one Sedan), holding all our clothes, computer towers, monitors, 2 spinning office chairs, one 6-foot table, 2 mini-tables, table cloths, banners, plants and all other booth decorations. Koriel, James and Koriel's Brother and friend made the drive from LA to San Jose, while John took a flight over.

Packing Up
We all got in Monday night around 10 PM, where we were greeted with dinner at James' parents' house. This was where we spent the next week sleeping, eating and packing and unpacking cars for our hour-long trips to San Francisco and back.

Putting John's NVIDIA Video Card in Koriel's Tower to make sure the Rainforest Demo runs extra smooth :)

Tuesday


On Tuesday we took James' mini-van and packed it with everything we needed to set up, including the 5 of us. It was a tight fit! When we got to the Moscone Center, we elected to park at a nearby parking structure and carry everything in to the expo floor ourselves. There was a service that would do it for you on a lower level for a fee, but come on - we are indies! It took several many trips by all of us to get everything from the car to the booth.


There we are! (at the bottom)

John waiting with our stuff for the rest of us to get our Exhibitor Passes

Setting up the booth

Unpacking the boxes and suitcases


The Monitor on the Dragon Table displayed anyone playing the Rainforest demo

Making sure all the displays are correct

Our excellent volunteers! aka Koriel's Brother (gray) and friend (red): Kruer and Hubbard

Once we were happy with the look of the booth, we tore some of it down and brought the towers and Oculus Rift back to the car. We spent the rest of the day in Japan Town while traffic around the city simmered down.

Taking the valuables back

Japan Town


White Lotus :)
That night, we all went to bed, not really knowing what to expect for the next three days. What we did know was that we had to get up at 6 AM every day, which is a big change from our usual late work schedule of 10 AM - 1 AM  ><

Wednesday


On Wednesday we drove Koriel's Compact SUV into San Francisco. We got to the booth area around 8:30 AM and set up till the floor opened at 10 AM.

We are officially ready!

The show was amazing.

Within the first few minutes, we already had people playing both demos -while other people were standing around the booth checking out the game, the trailer and other decorations, buttons and cards we had on display.

Note to other Devs looking to set up a booth at a convention: decorations, swag and even candy can really help get people over to your booth. Presentation is so important, so try to find a way to stand out and make your booth as attractive as possible :) We used fountains, lights, a dragon table, a tree table, banners, plants and even a carpet to define our space. Even if you are flying in somewhere and don't have much $ - a trip to the local thrift shop can really make a difference!








Video Interview



The Zen garden definitely got some love :)






Wednesday night we were also able to have dinner with one of our amazing backers! We chatted for several hours about team dynamic and production, working on games and more.

Thursday


By the time Thursday hit us, we had already started to lose our voices and were taking throat lozenges like they were candy. It was another early morning, but we were too excited to really feel tired.









During the show we were standing for 8 hours at a time, answering questions and getting people interested in the game. We tried to be very approachable :)

As far as eating is concerned, we brought a suitcase we deemed "lunchbox". We pulled it out towards the side aisle, where we took turns grabbing snacks. Nobody ever got mad at us for taking up the extra space.





You can see "lunchbox" here in the right hand corner...

Psychology: Putting Cards in the Candy box made it so that everyone who was drawn in to the candy grabbed a card.



Thursday night after packing up the booth the three of us were invited to the Epic party to chat. We got to talk to the people there about future plans for our company, their future plans and more. It was actually a very comfy and relaxing event - more like simply talking with friends.

If anyone out there is even remotely interested in using the Unreal Engine, (especially now since the new pricing model has made it so affordable), we would definitely recommend it to them. The people we have talked to at Epic have all been all helpful, fun and down to earth - so it is an excellent company to work with!


Friday


Friday morning we knew we would have to pack up all of our decorations from our booth, so we remembered to pack our towers in the van and take that instead of Koriel's Compact SUV.  When we got to our booth to start setting up, it was already about 9. It was then that one of us said "Hey guys, so where is the Oculus?"

Panic mode.

Yes, we had indeed forgotten the Oculus Rift.

It was about an hour drive back to get it, so we wouldn't have it back at the booth until 11 AM (one hour after the floor had opened to the public). We sent James out to drive the car to go back and get it - but instead he decided to walk over the the Oculus Booth on the other Expo floor just in case they could help us. He explained the situation, and lo and behold, they had a spare Dev Kit 1! Hooray! The day was saved!

We set up the booth with our borrowed Oculus and the day was smooth sailing after that.

Last day setting up

GDC Play floor setting up


By the final day we still had quite a few cards and buttons, so we put them all as up-front as possible!

Decorations


Video interview for VR Focus







At 3 PM we had to pack up everything and return the Oculus. When we walked over to thank Oculus VR for letting us borrow their DK1, we saw Palmer Luckey standing in the middle of the floor as people were tearing down the Oculus booth. We decided to thank him personally for letting us use their Rift for our demo, and he said he was glad they could help, and just told us to keep it! What a nice guy!

When we finished packing everything into the Van it was about 5 PM. We were all so exhausted that we just went back to James' parents' house to relax, eat and check out all the business cards we received.

One of the many stacks of cards we procured

Wrap-Up


The whole experience was well worth the time and money investment. We all had our pitch down, met some really awesome people, spent time with industry friends, and were able to share our game with the public and press.

Cheers from John, Koriel and James at White Lotus Interactive!