Deadlink: How to Develop a Cyberpunk FPS With Unreal Engine

The Gruby Entertainment team has told us about their recently-released cyberpunk FPS Deadlink, discussed the tech behind the game and how it was developed with Unreal Engine, and shared some thoughts on the gamedev market in Poland.


Gruby Entertainment came to life in late 2020 courtesy of four former People Can Fly programmers. Our bond from working on the Outriders project made it an easy call for us to kick off with a high-energy shooter game as our debut. Our partnership with SuperGG boosted our team to around 15 members, all working together to bring our first creation, Deadlink, to life.

Beginning amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, we tackled the hurdle of most project components being developed remotely. While this posed a test for our brand-new team, it also turned out to be a blessing, enabling us to tap into specialized expertise from different corners of Poland and beyond.

Game Development in Poland

When considering the statistics, Poland stands as Europe's second-largest game development market, immediately following the UK. The industry's rapid growth challenges are keeping up and addressing the need for more specialists. Businesses and studios expand swiftly, which strains the academic training of new developers. This phenomenon accounts for the increasing number of experts from other countries arriving here to contribute to game development within studios like CD Projekt, Techland, or 11 bit studios.

The best part is that studios here don't compete with each other; instead, we collaborate and support each other's growth daily. Sharing knowledge, outsourcing, and co-development are regular components of game development in Poland, making it a fantastic place to bring your game development dreams to life.

The Birth of Deadlink

It's evident that Polish developers have a strong affinity for the cyberpunk genre. Just look at this list: Ghostrunner, Observer, Gamedec, Slavicpunk, Ruiner, Cyberpunk 2077, and Deadlink (obviously). Yes, all of these were created in Poland, and it's fair to say that several of them enjoyed considerable success. I believe this trend can be attributed to the influence of the post-Soviet era, where a generation grew up with cutting-edge technology from the West while living in cities steeped in communism and an overarching dystopian atmosphere.

We fondly describe Deadlink as a fusion of Doom and Hades set in a cyberpunk backdrop. These two games were our primary inspirations, as we were avid players of both titles. After all, mixing two Game of the Year winners should theoretically result in a stellar game, shouldn't it? Naturally, crafting a roguelite FPS turned out to be more challenging than we initially thought. Nevertheless, some fantastic games like Roboquest, Gunfire Reborn, Ziggurat, and Immortal Redneck have successfully ventured into this territory. Thus, we took the plunge and committed to doing our best, all within an original cyberpunk setting unique to this genre.

The Technology Behind the Project

Considering the team's limited size, as our core team comprises four programmers, we leveraged this situation to establish a convenient working environment conducive to developing a high-quality game. This is where the concept of automation comes into play. We devised in-house automated pipelines to streamline the development process alongside the usual tools, such as version control systems and project planning tools.

The first system we implemented was a build machine designed to compile all incoming changes from the version control system and identify potential errors. With each small or significant modification to the project, the builder validates it using the "treat warnings as errors" rule and generates a new game version. If the builder detects an error, we halt our ongoing tasks to rectify it promptly. This approach ensures that the game remains in excellent condition and can be played anytime.

Another invaluable system that greatly aided us is the daily Steam upload. Every day, a fresh version of Deadlink is uploaded to a designated Steam branch accessible to developers and other project members. We no longer need to create unique builds whenever someone requires one, as they consistently have access to a daily updated, functional game.

Leveraging Unreal Engine

Deadlink was developed using Unreal Engine 4. This decision was based on two key factors. Firstly, our technical team comprises developers who have been working with this engine for years, some with over a decade of experience. Secondly, Unreal Engine is renowned for its capabilities in creating FPS games, having been initially designed for Unreal Tournament.

While there are numerous ways to implement visual elements in games, we opted to chart our own course. Given the relatively small size of our team, we chose to maintain a minimalist and efficient visual style. One of the most intriguing aspects of Deadlink's distinctive appearance is the deliberate avoidance of complex textures. Instead, we employed a technique known as rim lighting to achieve the stylized, cartoonish aesthetic. For a deeper exploration of these visual techniques, refer to a lecture by our Technical Art Director from the latest Digital Dragons conference:

In terms of gameplay, we adhere to the standards set by Unreal Engine for FPS experiences. Additionally, we leverage the Ability System to manage all the mechanics associated with roguelite gameplay. Sound implementation is directly integrated within the engine, while the FMOD system handles music. This choice ensures smoother crossfades and dynamic changes in music during gameplay.

Unreal Engine has undoubtedly proven to be a time-saving tool for us. Consequently, the decision to utilize Unreal Engine 5 as the development environment for our next project was an easy one to make.

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