Hi Elliott, This is a great breakdown and very generous in sharing your process and insights, you came a long way from the vending machine days!
Are you planning on releasing the UE4 project to the public? Or only builds? I'd love to play around with it in the editor if possible!
Fantasiam has been richly featured in various game development communities recently. You can hardly miss this game, because of its interesting look, vivid colors, beautiful natural lighting and rich natural environments filled with hundreds of different objects. We had a short talk with Belmin Kozlić about the game development and about the way modern middleware tools such as Unreal Engine 4 and SpeedTree help to build more impressive looking games.
We are based in Bosnia and Herzegovina, city of Zenica. A few of us, the core members of the team, are based here in the same city. We also have developers working on the project all around the world including USA, Portugal, UK, Austria. Basically, it is an international team which follows the spirit of the team, which is multi-cultural and spread all around the world. When it comes to experience, I (Belmin Kozlić) have been working in indie development for 5+ years as level and game designer.
I worked on various projects, but I decided to follow my own path and dive into creation of my own world. Luckily, a few of my friends followed me including Tarik Husremović, Belmin Alagić and Semir Buro. They are not experienced in game development, but they are helping me to design the game, and make the story for it. Developers that are based in other parts of the world are working on modeling, concept art, animation, etc.
Fantasiam (latin “unreal“) is the name we found interesting before the actual first presentation of what the game will be about. But it follows the rule and concept of the world that we are creating, it has fantasy look and on various moments it looks truly unreal. Because we are living in Southeastern Europe, where centuries ago Slavic people have lived, we found that Slavic mythology could be the best story to explore and investigate.
The word mythology is something that is helping us a lot. We can discuss various aspects of the story and in some moments change it to fit the game and design, so it means we can make our own mythology and dive into the creation of a more immersive story experience.
Also, another thing I need to mention is that Slavic mythology is not a theme that is often used in games, Witcher is probably the only exception.
Gameplay and mechanics are always tough aspects of a game that are going through the process of refinement through all of its development. We want to involve the exploration factor with a beautiful multi-region world, and if you explore more, the game will reward you more. Same goes for the story, the more you explore, the more you will discover about yourself as the character and about the world in general.
There will be no hand that will guide you, players will be on their own. A huge part of the gameplay are puzzles. It is always hard to make new and innovative puzzles for players to dive in. We’ve also included a combat system in our gameplay. Players will be able to choose between multiple ways to go through the game: solving the puzzles or killing everything that is coming our way. The combat system will also be greatly improved by spells. We are currently creating a special skills/spells tree.
The game will also have an inventory system where players will be able to place all of the items that are found in our massive world. These items will help the player to solve quests. The story is an important part of the game, so we will include a special journal system, where all books that player found will be stored.
I have been using Unreal technology for more than six years. With Unreal Engine 4, Epic made everything easier for both indie and AAA developers. Talking about rendering and lighting possibilities in Unreal Engine 4, we can quickly and easily achieve spectacular visuals. The blueprints system is also great. You can make your game work just like you want in terms of gameplay. It is easy to use in general and all developers have great support and backing from Epic Games.
We just used World Machine to sketch out our world, other than that, everything is made straight inside the Unreal Engine 4. It comes with powerful landscape tools, which help us to make vast terrains. The Fantasiam itself will be somewhat an open world game. I will be more precise and be a multi-region world. This way we can focus on creating each area with one hundred percent focus on visuals, optimization, but more importantly gameplay. We will probably have five different huge areas with different settings and stories for itself, but at any moment the player will be able to switch to whatever area he wants.
Unreal Engine 4.8 was a huge step into open world creation, following their release of the Kite demo project. So far, we didn’t have any problems in terms of optimization for the huge world with amazing amount of flora.
Unreal Engine 4 has the Cascade VFX editor and within the tool, you can create any kind of particle you want. The thing that is more important is that it’s super cheap in terms of optimization and it works on GPU. To make it more interesting, you can even simulate collision with it and millions of particles can collide with the world and at the same time emit light. We are still far from more in-depth particle creation for the game, but I will just say, the blue thing that people call a magic effect that flew around the level in our first trailer was actually the nymph.
Colors of Nature
We decided to create our own color palette with saturated and numerous colors. The community seems to like it a lot. It’s great to mix a lot of colors and to go away from boring brown and yellow tinges that are used in many games. We were really inspired by CD Projekt Red and the Witcher series in general.
We are using standard tools for game development these days. Like I mentioned earlier, we used World Machine to sketch out the world, and yes, SpeedTree was used because it’s super powerful and at the same time a super easy tool to build natural assets really quick. It is more easier for us as developers because SpeedTree and UE4 work so well together. Other than these two tools, we used standard tools for game models and concepts.
Building the Lighting
Lighting is a super important part of every game. If you match the lighting, you can make the whole atmosphere fit the game and tell its own story. We use totally dynamic lighting inside UE4 and we have full control of every aspect of lighting at any game time. That means, we will have dynamic day and night cycles, and depending if it is day or night, there will be different things going around the player. Also, I need to mention that we used post processing effects greatly to fix the whole lighting and achieve the desired effect.
The Biggest Problem of Game Production
I guess every second indie developer will say that TIME is the most concerning factor and problem. We are all going to universities and have jobs, which means at some moments during the game production you cannot focus totally on the game itself and the whole project suffers. The best possible way to cope with this situation is to make the best possible game with resources you have so far. I am pretty sure the community will respect and recognize this. Money is also an issue. I am also looking into the ways to finance the whole project through publishers, investors, or maybe Kickstarter so we could focus ourselves one hundred percent on the game and on the community.
We will have our first playable version of the game by Q1 next year. It may be an alpha or beta but it will be playable and the community will be able to give us suggestions. We are aiming to publish the whole game by the end of 2016 with focus on PC as we can achieve best results possible. If interests raise, we will gladly think about next-generation consoles, but we are far from that.