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Dovetail Games (also known as RailSimulator.com Ltd). This game studios is mostly known for its incredibly popular series Train Simulator (RailWorks), which continues to be one of the most realistic simulators of trains. This British company also worked closely with Microsoft, revitalizing the Microsoft Flight Simulator. Together partners released Microsoft Flight Simulator X: Gold Edition on Steam in 2014. Right now Dovetail Games is embracing the Unreal Engine 4 technology to build better and more realistic games like Dovetail Games Fishing. We’ve sat with game designer Luke Herbert and discussed the benefits that the new middleware tools bring to the development world.
I’m Luke Herbert, game designer for Dovetail Games Fishing. Dovetail Games is most known for developing Train Simulator, which was going through separate development stages, spawning a number of sequels. We’ve also worked with Microsoft on publishing the Microsoft Flight Simulator. What we did was take a game, that has been without any sort of direction for a few years, and put it all together for the community. If they want their mods, new vehicles and other stuff, they get it all through Steam now. It gets a lot easier to access content that way.
Developing Dovetail Games Fishing
Dovetail Games Fishing was a completely new game for the company. The studio wanted to experiment with a new idea and essentially to figure out what haven’t been done in simulation games before. We’ve decided to make an accurate physical fishing game. For Flight Simulator and Train Simulator we’ve used our old engines, but for the next fishing game we wanted to use a new next-gen technology. We’ve looked at different engines all around the world but ultimately decided to use Unreal Engine 4. It’s brilliant. With this tool we can build content quickly and it’s incredibly flexible, so we expect to use it in our upcoming games as well.
Advantages of Unreal Engine 4
Unreal Engine 4 is great for prototyping very quickly in small teams. Dovetail Games is not exactly small. We have over 100 people, but still we see UE4 as a huge advantage. We have three projects running simultaneously, and the team size constantly changes. So the Dovetail Games Fishing development team right now is just 15 people and UE4 comes as a great help for us.
With Unreal you don’t need massive huge teams to develop realistic AAA-games. The development tools are so much more intuitive and we can create content a lot faster. It’s a matter of days to get a playable version of the project, while back in the day it could take a couple of teams of engineers and artists just to make a small playable level.
With UE4 you get all those assets pretty quickly. We use third-party tools like Max and Maya to make 3d models and texture the assets with Substance Designer. It’s all very handy for us. We are using real locations in Fishing, so we want to build them as realistic as possible.
When we first had Unreal 4, we actually got one of the first versions that didn’t have any gameplay content whatsoever. It was basically just a rendering engine and some scripting tools. But I think it was a huge advantage. We’ve started with a blank sheet and it was very easy for us to build the game the way we wanted it to be. It wouldn’t remind a first person shooter, or any other type of game, traditionally associated with Unreal Engine 4. We’ve actually built in our own custom physics system to simulate all the little details of the fishing process. The great thing about Unreal Engine 4 is that it’s completely open and can work with various plugins. Thanks to our updated physics system we can do a lot of cool things like water simulation, dynamic light casting. In our game, light is affected by a lot of factors like wind and quality of the water. We can customize as much as we want, which is great.
UE4 is also great when you want to have more real-time collision systems, more particle effects and all those other things that bring the game to life. We want to make the game as real as possible, so technological power is very important to us.
Building simulators is obviously a little bit different from creating other video games. I believe the key here is all about understanding your audience. You need to understand what is your audience so passionate about when it comes to simulation games. When it comes to “normal” games you can do a lot of cheating, in terms of development. For example, when the hero jumps, he can jump for 4-5 meters high, cause it’s not really grounded in reality.
Doing a simulation is quite different, since you’re simulating someone’s experience. You are actually giving your players the feeling of what’s it actually like flying a plane or driving a train. When you think of fishing it’s all about this feeling of catching a massive 25 kilo fish. In this scenario, you have to simulate a whole bunch of different things: how to get the fish to the top of the water surface, how to use the netting mechanics to catch it and a lot of other things. All these normal things we do in reality ordinary games would tent to avoid, cause it’s too complicated and requires a lot of thought and power. It also requires having a lot of creative thinking to pull out something interesting from something like fishing. With games like this we can evoke incredible emotions in players, just by simulating these experiences.
The Changes in Game Development
I would say that the way we make games, especially simulation games, have changed significantly. Now we have incredible tools that allow to simulate the realistic physical qualities of objects. This allows us to use assets throughout the whole game, building models, which correctly behave themselves under different lighting conditions or in different settings. This gives us a lot more flexibility and allows to create much more realistic games.
Overall, looking on the production of games today, you feel like the whole process had become much faster. You can now build content in no time, you can use photogrammetry to make virtual copies of real environments and all those things. With a 3D scanner you can scan an object in a matter of hours. It would take month to model without this technology. Photogrammetry is great for environment building. It basically gives you the whole scene in 3D, but leaves out the lighting.
You can build your own lighting and create a whole new scene. It’s incredible what you can do now. Can’t wait to see what’s around the corner.