A Boy and His Kite: How Epic Changed Open World Games With UE4

At the Epic booth during GDC we talked with Epic Art Director Wyeth Johnson about the company’s new Large World Demo (“A Boy

At the Epic booth during GDC we talked with Epic Art Director Wyeth Johnson about the company’s new Large World Demo (“A Boy and His Kite Demo”). This short open world proved to be one of the most beautiful and popular demos among game developers.

The demo we’ve seen was a short step away from the word “magical”. Imagine a colossal plain with rivers, hills, animals, and flowers under the blue sky; everything running in real time. You could fly over the terrain and drop down to the ground to see the grass moving in the wind. The whole demo looked incredible and kept us wondering how the whole thing worked. Luckily Wyeth Johnson was happy to help with the comments.

Large World Demo is a 10 mile by 10 mile landscape. 10 square miles total. We had a lot of conversations with developers at different conferences and events. Everybody says EU4 is an amazing engine but it wasn’t perceived as the right tool for creating open world experiences. This is why we created Large World Demo. Everything you see in the distance is actual terrain. The only skybox in this is for the clouds.

To create the demo we did some sculpting ourselves to make some of the rocks and mountains more aesthetically pleasing. But the vast majority of this project was created in a quite interesting way. We’ve downloaded US Geological Survey Data and imported the heights data from the US Geological Maps. Then we did some modifications such as erosions, rivers, and so on. Then the whole thing was imported into the engine and it worked. Once the data is in, you can modify it as much as you can. You can sculpt it, paint it anyway you like, add trees or decide where the grass is going to go, and put the rocks and other objects.


Wyeth Johnson, Art Director, Epic Games

Moritz Weller, a German 3D/Postproduction artist, has a wonderful analysis of the new Large World Demo. The most interesting topic touched by Moritz is the environmental lighting. Here are some GIFs that illustrate the usage of Distance Field rendering technology and “delighting textures”.




The whole reason we’ve wanted to showcase this aspect “large world” of the Unreal Engine 4 technology is because everybody wants scale like this but they often have to compromise because their tech does not support it. So we thought, why don’t we do 10 square miles which is pretty much bigger than any open world game ever made? Can we push the technology hard enough to support that? The answer is obviously “YES!”. We wanted to show everybody who wants to do these things on large scale that you can do if for real with UE4 and you don’t have to fake anything. The greatest thing about this, is that the landscape is only just the beginning. You can fill it up with castles, roads, villages – whatever fits your game. You just drag it in and build your game.


Wyeth Johnson, Art Director, Epic Games

The Large World Demo was shown unlike a usual tech demo. The developers wanted to create the story instead. One of Epic guys, Gavin Moran who is the animator and director, thought that the team should really tell a nice tale and not just show some impressive features. The demo was also created in a style that is not characteristic of Epic Games. The artists managed to create a lighthearted look that still manages to showoff the amazing technology behind this cheerful story.

There’s some hardware innovations behind the demo as well. NVIDIA Titan X graphics processor powered the demonstration, which helped to put the power of the graphics to a whole other level. The demo was running 30 frames per second with no hiccups or lag. The amount of effects was impressive and a lot of people couldn’t believe they saw the real thing.

With all that incredible tech it seems only natural for Unreal Engine 4 to become the next best tool for game development. There is a lot of competition out there but Epic and thousands of other developers over the world have all the right tools to succeed using UE4.

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