Oleg Klaus talked about the development process behind CIRCULATION, explaining how Unreal Engine's Blueprints are used in production and discussing the game's puzzle mechanics.
My name is Oleg Klaus. I am a full-time Graphic Designer and Indie Game Developer in my free time. I studied Industrial Design (Product Design) which helps with game development as well. However, game development was something I have been passionate about since childhood.
Together with friends, we were trying to make little prototypes or recreate our favorite games. But as it often goes, people just lose interest or become too busy with other things. For a long time, I thought games could only be made by a big team. But around 2016, I started discovering the indie scene. I learned that it was possible to make a game on your own and it motivated me to try it myself.
Getting Started With Unreal Engine
After developing my first commercial game SWORDSHOT, I proved to myself that I could create a game from start to finish. Even though it was a very simple 2D clicker, this gave me the confidence to keep going. The game was made with a simple tool, so it was time to move on and look for a professional solution. I tried a couple of different game engines but nothing felt quite right. With Unreal Engine, it clicked almost immediately.
Based on the learnings I made with my first game, there were a couple of points I was looking for in a new engine. I am not a programmer, to say the least. So the first important feature that got me excited was the native Visual Scripting System – Blueprints. And although it is important to understand the logic behind the nodes, with Blueprints, I can work more intuitively. A quick tip is to organize your BPs into groups and sections with proper comments so you remember what you did there.
I was also looking for a powerful engine with longevity that wouldn't become obsolete in a couple of years or stop being supported due to a lack of funding. UE5 came at the perfect time. It is new, but it has an established professional community from UE4. For the most part, I can learn from older tutorials, as well as profit from the new capabilities.
And speaking more practically from the standpoint of a product designer, I like the idea that Unreal Engine is being used by professionals in many industries. So even if I decide to focus on other things than games, I am also learning a lot about visuals, sounds, rendering, and FX that might come in handy later on in other areas.
You Can Only Create Realistic Games And Shooters With Unreal
Just because you can, it doesn't mean you have to. If you can make ultra-realistic games with Unreal, I don't see why you shouldn't be able to make a stylized platformer, for instance. Unreal is only a tool, a very versatile and powerful tool nonetheless, but it doesn't dictate your vision. Take advantage of Unreal's powerful capabilities. Enrich your game with amazing lighting, awesome visuals and sounds, and a unique personal style, and put your spin on it. In the end, you are only bound by your imagination.
Before picking up UE5, I was kind of stuck with pixel art. My excuse was that I only wanted to make simple and minimalistic 2D games. It's very convenient to stick to what you already know. But honestly, I was dreading the challenge of 3D.
At some point, I started experimenting with the engine, mostly focusing on simple cinematics and prototypes. Still not being comfortable with rigging and animations, I decided to make a small project with a rolling ball character with simple controls. And from there, the game constantly grows and becomes more complex.
What I am trying to say is that Unreal provided the tools needed so that I can level up my Game Developer and Designer skills. It's a big engine with lots of features and systems, and it helps overcome the hurdle for more advanced game ideas.
Setting Up Puzzle Mechanics
I am trying to establish simple controls and intuitive mechanics. The challenge lies in the correct manipulation of the environment. For instance, one core mechanic is the rotation manipulation of the platforms.
I developed two different Blueprints that communicate with each other. The first one is the circular maze platform. It can rotate on its own, or it can be bound to a “rotator” mechanism. The “rotator” uses PhysicsConstraint and can only rotate along the Z-axis. So when the player pushes the handles of the “rotator”, it sends the rotation data to the platform. For more variety, the direction and the speed of the platform rotating can be set separately.
Regarding the difficulty of custom mechanics. It often feels like patchwork. For example, there are definitely a lot of tutorials for the standard third-person character. Setting up footstep sounds isn't that difficult when you just follow along. However, if you have a different Player Character that uses different mechanics, you have to patch things together. But honestly, it's a great way to learn and get deeper into the matter.
To be honest, I do everything in Blueprints. And for my purposes, it's the perfect solution. As someone without a programming background, such a sophisticated and powerful visual scripting tool was the exact system I was looking for. The magic of BPs, if you will, is the freedom it provides to experiment. Even if you don't have a clue what you are doing, you can solve the problem by trial and error. If something is not working correctly, I sometimes just rearrange nodes and all of a sudden the issue is fixed. It doesn't work like that every time, but the node system helps me visualize the functionality better.
Lately, I am getting more and more into Construction Script. It helps me build “tools” to iterate faster by simply scrolling through an array of different meshes or bringing more visual variety through material parameter randomization. I enjoy the node workflow in general because it's very experimentally friendly and in Unreal you will find them in many areas like Materials, Sounds, and Actors.
As I am getting more and more familiar with Unreal, I am starting to appreciate the amount of tools it provides and how intertwined everything is. For instance, I make the majority of the shaders directly in Unreal, so I don't have to bake or rebake the textures each time I need to make small adjustments.
With Blueprints, I can influence the materials' parameters in-game. The same thing applies to sounds. MetaSounds are so powerful that they could be considered a completely separate system. With it, you can create complex, interactive sound effects and control them through Blueprints. There are many more powerful tools for all sorts of things that I might not need yet, but it's good to know they are there if I need them.
For now, I am working towards a vertical slice of the game and establishing mechanics as well as the core game loop. But I am also using this project to practice Blueprints, 3D modeling, level design, and the engine in general. At some point, I imagined it as a PC-only game. Although It might be a good fit for mobile as well It's very early to tell. You are welcome to follow me on Twitter, my Instagram, or my YouTube channel.
You should also check out Epic Developer Community. There are many threads for common “beginner” issues, but also really good video tutorials from the community and Epic Games themselves. This might be somewhat specific but, for anyone interested in destructible objects and particles, I suggest this tutorial. It combines Unreal's Chaos Destructions System with Niagara Particles.
And of course, there is YouTube. Here are some of my go-to channels for more general tutorials:
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