Hi Elliott, This is a great breakdown and very generous in sharing your process and insights, you came a long way from the vending machine days!
Are you planning on releasing the UE4 project to the public? Or only builds? I'd love to play around with it in the editor if possible!
Mojo Games Studio is currently working on a new role-playing game Aderyn’s Cradle. This is an impressive indie project with a very interesting development history. The game started as a Cryengine project with amazing visuals. The game tried to get additional funds on Kicsktarter but it didn’t work out. Later the developers changed the engine, keeping the team and the general vision intact. Right not they are struggling to conquer Indiegogo. If everything works out we might see the final game released someday in 2017. Check out our interview with the games director Hank Zwally, who talked about the project’s history and the features of UE4 he likes best.
An older vision of the game, recreated with Cryengine.
Mojo Games Studio
Mojo was founded based on of the idea that we wanted to be the change that we wished to see in the industry. We were all lovers of immersive and skillful games and we had an idea to create our own to combine a lot of components of gaming that we don’t usually see together. These components include a powerful story with strong, competitive, and skillful gameplay, and making sure those are both set in a truly immersive and beautiful world. So with the idea that we wanted to fuse all of those elements together into one game, we set out to make it happen.
It started as myself and a couple other co-founders who created the vision for the game, and we gathered others around us who shared that same vision and had the passion to produce something really awesome with us. We currently are based out of Ellicott City, Maryland and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and have team members who are globally distributed. We work with anyone who can share our vision and passion for the project.
What is Aderyn’s Cradle?
Aderyn’s Cradle takes place in the world of Anora, where you play as an exiled traveller caught in the struggle between humanity, nature, and the deities. You’ve committed blasphemy against your patron deity Ostia, and you have to then escape a curse that has been set upon you. You have to leave your homeland, and travel to the lost and forgotten world of Aderyn’s Cradle. As you travel each of the four open worlds, you will learn about what happened to Aderyn’s people, who Aderyn is (the deity of light and free will), and through discovering the bygone stories of these people, you will help restore balance to the world by bringing Aderyn’s Cradle back to the world of Anora, Aderyn’s banishment, and restoring the deity’s lands, powers, and people.
The gameplay of Cradle consists of exploring the four open worlds, which are the four regions of Aderyn’s Cradle. For each of the four regions, there exists a unique environment: the Bayou, the Desert, the Icelands, and the Q uarry. You will explore each world and overcome the forces that stand against you to light the Soulfires. Fighting off enemies, upgrading your armor and weapons, and using Medica to heal yourself and give yourself special stat boosts are how you progress through the game. There is also a big focus on progression based around the player’s ability to explore and skillfully play through the game. Frequently you will be able to go into much more difficult areas if you are strong enough as a player and have exceptional skill, whereas less skilled players will be need to continue forward without going into that specific area, and should return to it later once they have accumulated more power. There will also be jumping puzzles within the game and a number of obstacles to overcome, including adverse weather, which will play a big part into your experience throughout the world. You will also be guided through certain tasks by the four guides of Aderyn’s Cradle (one for each environment) .
The Switch from Cryengine to Unreal Engine 4
There are several reasons that we switched from Cryengine. We can’t go into detail with what all of them were, but a major one is that we had significant trouble implementing our combat system and some of the unique system features that we wanted to add in Cryengine.
So we shifted over to Unreal 4, mostly to gain the power of Blueprint. Unreal 4 also had some other interesting systems through the material settings and it seemed like a platform that we could work with for a long time that was much friendlier for an independent studio to work with due to its documentation and pricing.
We ended up having to recreate everything that we had in the previous engine in the new one except for a few of the models. We also shifted from the old ways of rendering to physically based rendering which made us recreate a lot of assets and shift the way we make assets in the future. We essentially had to redo and relearn everything for Unreal 4, but the choice has already proved to be worth the costs.
The Blueprint system is truly revolutionary in my experience in game development in that it allows you to leverage all of the power of the back end that you’d want to do normally in programming via the front end. It enables us to do all of the logic, which was once strictly back-end work, in the front end for our combat, our mana system, our augment system, and so on.
The only systems that we still have to work on in the back end are some of the artificial intelligence and a little bit of shader work. Most of the shader work can also be done with Blueprint along with material work. By providing that visually-based method for artists to work with logic that coders would normally have to handle, it really smooths out the process of implementation of our art as we get it and lets us build the unique systems that make up our game without requiring a large team of programmers.
To build the environments of Aderyn’s Cradle and keep them as beautiful as we want them to be, we do a number of different passes over the level and use heuristics to make that happen. When you look at an environment, you can separate its components into two categories: the pieces that affect a player’s motion, and the pieces that don’t.
For example, a lot of smaller plants will not really affect the way a player moves but will add beauty to the scene. So the first thing that we do is build all of our levels for functionality and we block them out and make sure they play just right. After that, we go back and think about the natural world. When we’re actually building these to be pl ayable we also think about real-world geology; how rocks would form, how elements would exist in the environment that we’re creating.
Given that information, we then build a playable version of the game with these rocks and rock formations and a myriad of other details in mind so we produce the right feeling of what we’re trying to build. Following that, once we know it’s playable and it feels good, then we go back and add the secondary elements that don’t guide the player’s ability to move. We continue that back and forth between the artist(s) and the level designer until we create a world that really matches our vision.
Furthermore, when building the individual assets and pulling together all the different pieces of art for the world, we have full descriptions and very in-depth explanations of what these worlds should be, what our inspirations are, and how they manifest. There is no special system that allows us to place objects in a scene or make anything happen like that. We take a lot of inspiration from the beauty of the natural world and we really focus on making that happen. It’s that back and forth integration of the design and the artist that makes that possible.
When we build our worlds, the thing that’s at the forefront of our imagination and understanding is the idea that this world existed far prior to when the player enters this universe. It is ancient. Aderian society was at least one thousand years old by the time the Soulfire Crisis happened. This means a big part of the work from our story writers is to build an entire history and context behind the ruins seen in the world.
To ensure that the world is as authentic as possible, we are creating history as far back as how the Aderian society was built, what made them band together, and how and when each of their cities and locations were founded. With that rich story context being made, it a ctually becomes easy to imagine the world as it was, then build ruins to fit the themes of dilapidation and destruction from the Soulfire Crisis. Furthermore, we think about how nature would have responded to the Soulfire Crisis and overtaken areas of cities and other buildings, combining architecture with vegetation, applying corruption themes to the environments, visualizing how nature would reconquer the places that Aderians once made civilized.
We also try to ensure that each of the architectures of our environment are unique from one another and showcase specific cultural elements that reflect the cultures of the peoples in that world. The idea of integrating story with design, building a history and a universe that existed prior to the player getting there and having all of this understanding of that world is what really enables us to bring those two areas together. It actually makes it pretty easy to bring the architecture and the nature together into one beautiful scene.
We use both static and dynamic lighting throughout the game in various ways. For example, in a linear sequence to start the game, or a specific sequence in the story, we might use static lighting to make sure that the environment has all the right cues, to fit perfectly to the emotioneering of that scene. For the general environment, we use dynamic lighting with specific static lights to highlight certain areas. A big part of game design, as any designer knows, is the placement of lights and good light design.
Lights can be used as a cue to the player to guide their path or show where goodies might be. It’s also a good indicator of direction throughout the game beyond using it as an expl icit sign. This is particularly true in our game because light is associated with our deity, Aderyn, who guides the player from within their own spirit. Also, Unreal 4 provides basic lighting tools, so we shift the atmosphere to fit.
To go into more detail: we have multiple atmospheric settings along with a skybox. We also use a dynamic weather system, that we’ve implemented ourselves, to overlay the time of day and give another level of lighting and immersion.
We generally take the same approaches to the way light should work in our real world and try to emulate the beauty that it makes. For example, rays of light shining through trees is something beautiful that we see and we want to have that experience happen here.
Building An Experience
What building an experience means, first and foremost, is not breaking the player’s immersion. Every time you break immersion you break the experience of the game. One of our top priorities is that in every single corner of the game we are focusing on making the most immersive experience that you could possibly have. For example, upon selecting a character class, you will physically walk up to a statue with armor and a starting weapon of your chosen character class, then donning that mantle rather than going through some external “choose your character” screen. Another example is that mana is shown and described to you by more than just bars on your screen, it’s physically buil t into the player’s gear. It’s elements like that which work together to build the immersion. There are also story elements that build the immersion. We don’t blow your magic immersion, your understanding of what magic should do doesn’t change at any point through the game.
Another element that makes our game an experience rather than an amusing project is the idea of emotioneering, that every instance you go through in the game, every sequence you could imagine, even if it’s just stumbling across a camp – that sequence has been created with the idea of a specific set of emotions and feelings that a player should go through in mind. Using this, we’re really able to guide the experience the player has overarching throughout the game. Everything is designed with a purpose in mind. There’s nothing that just acts as filler. Every time you experience something, it’s going to be just that – an experience.
We’re even making new species of flies, that’s how detailed we’re going with elements like our flora and fauna. How this relates to Unreal 4 and how the engine helps us build the game is that with all these intricate systems interacting with one another, you need something that makes it easy to leverage logic and make it less cumbersome to build this many robust systems. If you think about it, the graphics are part of that immersion as well, and Unreal 4 provides an incredible level of graphics and detail. With these things combined, this technology is essential to helping us reach the level of game that we’re trying to make.