Mathieu Pascal has told us about the concept of the upcoming survival game Rooted, spoke about gameplay mechanics the team plans to implement in the game, and shared how Unreal helps the team streamline different production tasks.
80.lv: Please introduce yourself and your team. Where did you study? What companies have you worked for? What project have you contributed to?
Mathieu Pascal: Hi! I’m Mathieu, game director, and developer of Rooted. I have the pleasure to work with a talented team of developers, environment artists, 3D artists, and game designers. As a small team, most of us are multi-skilled and it helps a lot.
Personally, I started as a web developer in a communication agency and then on my own for 10 years. In 2018, a bit bored with web development, I took a look back at my childhood passion – video games. I discovered Unreal Engine and went for it.
I’ve learned how to use Unreal Engine. It was the opportunity to share my knowledge on YouTube and other networks. I am also a certified online instructor on the french platform Tuto.com, followed by more than 10,000 students.
In December 2020, I got an Epic Megagrant for helping the French community, and NVIDIA joined later as a partner.
I've contributed to projects using Unreal Engine, from companies wanting to integrate the engine into their workflow, to game creators who needed support.
80.lv: How did you get started with Rooted? What inspired you?
Mathieu Pascal: Rooted was born on a late night in March 2022. I was chatting with some of my friends who create video games as well. We were talking about the indie game market, the evolution of software and engines, and how it was more accessible for people to create video games.
Sometimes we tend to think a genre is dying, so we just don’t create the game of our dreams. That’s the first obstacle an indie game dev meets – not giving a shot to what could possibly be a great game. Which is sad with nowadays tools, right?
At some point in the discussion, I said "let’s go, I'll do it!" Within a few hours, we sketched our ideas in Unreal Engine using placeholders. We were creating short videos to illustrate what we would like to achieve.
It was late, so we posted only a 15-second video on Twitter and Reddit to see if we could get some likes and upvotes. A way for us to monitor potential interest in the project. We then went to bed! The truth is we didn't sleep because we kept getting likes, follows, and comments notifications on our smartphones. It was crazy. Rooted was born.
Our inspiration is multiple. The most important is unfortunately real life and the evolution of our World. Our lore is totally based on that. Without getting into any political debate, we don't understand the world as it is today and the direction it is taking. The constant nuclear war threats, the famine situation, the will to colonize austere planets instead of doing everything to preserve our beautiful Earth... It is unfortunately not complicated to imagine a post-apocalyptic world from these points.
In terms of environment, The Last Of Us is a strong reference. The work done by Naughty Dog is incredible in every way.
We also draw our inspiration from the cinema. I'm a Legend is very inspiring for us. The way the movie jumps from one emotion to another is interesting. The scene when it gets dark and he's lying in the bathtub with his gun and his dog is extremely strong. We are working on recreating that kind of power situation.
In a post-apocalyptic world, the player will be the subject of a rollercoaster of emotions. From happiness and cheerful moments to survival mode and violence, Rooted will offer a variety of moods through music, depending on where the player is in the world. We are working on that with the talented composer Manaberry.
The Game's Story
80.lv: Could you tell us about the game’s story? What happened with the world?
Mathieu Pascal: Be ready, I’m gonna talk about a dark version of the future but all our team wishes the best for all of us in real life!
By 2080, the world has experienced an escalation of violence. The constant threats of nuclear warfare have grown the population to an unbearable level of stress.
Civil war has broken out. Civilians feel they no longer have control over their lives. To overcome this situation and maintain order in the streets, the police along with the army have mandated a powerful corporation specialized in new technologies for safety. Boston Dynamics' robots could serve as an illustration. Having one entity in control menaced people’s freedom. Rebel organizations have formed.
The breaking point was when, during what appeared to be a conventional war, a country used a cutting-edge bacteriological weapon for the first time. The collateral damages were so big that the situation escalated into global chemical warfare. The human race was on the verge of extinction.
20 years later, you take control (single or multiplayer) of a survivor. That’s the beginning of your post-apocalyptic journey. You must adapt to a scarred world, with evidence of past civilizations. The bacteriological residue from the war has created a dangerous zone, especially in cities, which are hardly accessible. Nature, on the other hand, took back terrains, healing zones from the dangerous bacterial leftover. Forest expanded, creating more and more safe zones for life to thrive.
To improve and expand your camp, and get better living conditions, you must explore (alone or with your friends) to find scraps and items from the past civilization, in order to restore objects or build new ones. Salvaging is a big part of Rooted. Beware of where you go. Scout the surrounding; as the danger can appear in many forms.
You will encounter animals, other humans looking at the same items as you, and a third entity coming later in the game. No, no zombies in Rooted!
80.lv: How and when did you choose Unreal? What made it perfect for your needs?
Mathieu Pascal: I have been using Unreal Engine since 2018. I have taken the time to analyze 3D engines on the market, and I chose UE for some solid reasons: features, the update rate, native multiplayer support, and the business model making the engine accessible for free to the community.
I also keep an eye on other engines, which make beautiful proposals. But to date, I personally find that Epic Games offers the most powerful and reliable engine for any type of project.
With the release of Unreal Engine 5, Rooted's perspectives have increased. Thanks to Lumen, Nanite, and the World Partition which help a lot for open-world games. These technologies are game-changing for an independent studio like us.
The UE eco-system has become powerful with the Megascans library and Quixel Mixer which, in the context of a project like ours, represents an incredible amount of time saved. It provides a great render quality, whether it's a 3D asset or a material.
80.lv: What gameplay mechanics do you plan to implement in the game? How difficult is it to build a survival title that keeps players entertained?
Mathieu Pascal: The gameplay is based on:
- Building, crafting and salvaging. Salvaging is a big part of the game because we find it very interesting to be able to rely on everything that the previous civilization has created and used. Whether it's in everyday objects, tools, accessories, weapons, transportations... Your character will learn new skills and blueprints as he/she analyzes and dismantles in-game items, in order to recreate them in his camp.
- Hunting, fishing and gardening. That’s what will produce food. I make it short as there are many features behind this to make it interesting for players.
- Exploration. Exploration is scalable and interesting in Rooted. At first, you will be able to access only safe zone, and some more dangerous ones require better gear and items. Items that we call “deployables” are able to scout those zones from a distance. The drone, for example, will allow you to do that.
- Evolution. We consider Evolution as a gameplay mechanic in Rooted, as nearly everything evolves in our game. You can grab, analyze, craft, build, and interact with all the items. And everything evolves depending on the weather and other variables. The areas the player has access to also evolve with the player's experience and equipment. Even the map will be affected by a major evolution at some point in the game, bringing freshness to the gameplay and the environment over time.
To keep players engaged, we focus on the post-apocalyptic experience. The environment, the oppressive ambiance of a village in ruins, the imposing city partially destroyed and deserted just to name a few... Many places become accessible during the game, thanks to the player's skills and gear allowing further exploration. Each place has its own challenges.
The gameplay also evolves with the discovery of deployables, which allows the player to reach unknown places, spy on enemies, or even attack targets. The world will also change after key events, opening new gameplay possibilities, new enemies, and even new "biomes" in some streets and buildings.
We are developing with this idea in mind: an evolutive world.
The Game's World
80.lv: How do you approach the production of the game’s world and its city in particular? Do you use some kind of a modular system to assemble everything quicker?
Mathieu Pascal: Yes, absolutely. We have, at first, made a sketch of the city, including a downtown, with skyscrapers. We have a list of points of interest. They are very important because as I said earlier, we want the player to experience different levels of emotions in Rooted. The best way to do that is to confront players about something they know: coffee shop, cinema, woo, funfair, restaurant, hospital, train station…
While the POI does not use any kind of procedural generation as we create it from scratch (of course we use tools to generate certain things quicker), the approach is totally different for the city.
We are modeling assets in a modular way, for both the interiors and the exteriors of the buildings. To do so, we use Houdini to handle the procedural stuff. The real challenge here is to match both the interior and the exterior. But this technology is essential for us to be able to create large-scale buildings and blocks.
First, we determine the building category. Each category has its own specifications (offices, residential, commercial). Then we create the so-called modular assets with these params. The core challenge is creating a powerful tool with Houdini to bring the city to life.
For smaller-scale residential such as houses, streets, and some other things, we currently use semi-procedural generation in Unreal Engine. Why semi-generation? Because we want to control the creative aspect of the map. A kind of "best of both worlds" approach. Tools in Unreal Engine are good to do this kind of job.
80.lv: The project already has awesome dense vegetation. How do you produce it and scatter it around different areas of the game?
Mathieu Pascal: The vegetation is dense in the forest of course but also in small towns and cities because the story takes place 20 years after the apocalypse. Nature took over. Moss, dust, dirt, mud, branches, leaves, and many small details add a lot to the player’s environment. But indeed this has a cost.
To create something convincing, with time efficiency in mind, we use different methods. Placing assets one by one may be mandatory in key spots of the world. We really want the "wow" factor to be there. We use Unreal Engine’s foliage tool and some material functions on small-to-medium scale areas, which is faster but still provides artistic control. There are many parameters that allow us to work faster, with a clean result.
For large portions of the forest, we may use procedural foliage volume, a quick and efficient way to produce stunning vegetation.
The Build System
80.lv: You recently shared a look at the basics of the build system. How difficult is it to set up such a system in Unreal? What are the main challenges?
Mathieu Pascal: The build system is exciting to create! The constraints are numerous but they are not really technical constraints. Unreal Engine already has a lot of features to make a basic, yet powerful, building system. We develop our extra features on top of that.
The challenge for us is to succeed in creating a build system that matches the post-apocalyptic environment in Rooted. The player must be able to build a cabin in the forest or take over an abandoned house. Setting a base in an apartment can be a thing too, or building a wooden wall in an office skyscraper to make it yours.
Our build system must adapt to any of these situations. It's very challenging! We have the basics of the system, and we are working on making it as modular as possible, so it can adapt to players’ choices.
Build systems are becoming more and more complex while being easier and easier to use. Players often don't realize the incredible work behind these systems to make things accessible for them. I'm thinking in particular of Grounded. They have done an amazing job. Congratulations!
The Scope of Game
80.lv: The scale of the game looks enormous. How big your title is going to be? How do you balance ambitions and production resources?
Mathieu Pascal: The scope of the game is indeed quite large. To be honest, due to the interest of the players in our game after showing the first images, we think that this is probably the opportunity to push further our objectives, but without losing sight of what is doable.
Keeping control of our project is important for us. It must be balanced. As all things should be. Luckily, we have experience as developers and project managers, so yes. Keeping control is the most important thing. A little piece at a time.
For this reason, we are developing the game in the most modular and scalable way possible, so that we can adapt our production to the funding and the team size. We built a solid foundation and mindset. We know today what we are capable of producing, and we know tomorrow how far we can go. The size of our team allows us to move the cursor in real-time.
Parts of the game are developed as modules. Allowing us to release core features even when the rest may not be ready on time.
Optimizing Production Tasks with Unreal Engine
80.lv: How does Unreal help you streamline different production tasks? How good is it when it comes to building open-world games?
Mathieu Pascal: Unreal Engine is powerful, and designed to work with multiple team members. Once you get organized, it's a real pleasure. We use Source Control, which is native to Unreal Engine, coupled with a Perforce server to be able to operate as a team and get versioning of our work.
Everyone has their tasks defined according to their specialty and pushes their modifications when they want. The whole team can instantly benefit from the latest updates and any new features or assets. It's an environment that greatly simplifies production in a small team like ours.
Technically speaking, the management of our items is done through Data Assets, allowing 3D artists to easily create a new item when they import their products into the engine, without having to ask a developer for any action.
The World-Partition system and One File per Actor are the perfect solutions to work on the open world. It makes the workflow easier for teams and facilitates the optimization phase even if, of course, this kind of game is far from being easy to develop.
Building an open world with these tools and methods makes it possible for smaller teams. It is a real pleasure to build our world. Combined with procedural generation, everything becomes possible. But of course, it requires dedication and skills. Thanks again to my team for being part of this unique adventure.
80.lv: What are your next steps? Where can people follow your progress?
Mathieu Pascal: Our next steps are:
- the upcoming Kickstarter campaign, already in pre-launch;
- closed alpha sessions, to get feedback on some core features;
- hiring a tech artist for in-depth procedural tools with Houdini;
- open alpha in 2023;
- Early Access once we are ready for that. No date as it depends on funding and other variables.
Mathieu Pascal, Game Developer
Interview conducted by Arti Burton
You may find these articles interesting