RetroPixel Digital's Nick Romick told us about the tech used in Green Hawk Down, talked about how worldbuilding is done, and shared the company's plans for the future.
My name is Nick Romick, and I’m currently the Creative Director and Virtual Production Manager at RetroPixel Digital in Vancouver, BC. I also develop Unreal Engine courses for Epic Games as a consultant.
I originally studied 3D Modeling, Animation, and Digital Compositing at Dev Studios (now Pixel Blue College) in Edmonton back in 2006. In 2014, I took Houdini courses at CG Masters Academy in New Westminster and have taken about 100 courses and upgrades in between. I love to learn!
Previously I’ve worked for companies like Method Studios (working on VFX for Marvel movies, etc.) and more recently, worked on the set of Warner Brothers productions like The 100, DC Legends, Nancy Drew, and other local productions. In 2018, I was a producer of a fun indie fan film Galactic Battles, which featured Star Wars, Star Trek, Mass Effect, and Halo, and got over 5.7 million views on YouTube.
The Origins of Green Hawk Down
I had just finished working on a movie right before Christmas, and I just needed a break. I got a bit sidetracked and started working on a game that featured little green soldiers. It was supposed to be just a little fun project. I remembered games back years ago that had these little soldiers battling in bedrooms and back yards and loved the idea.
I guess the goal was just to play around and make something fun. Once the boys at RetroPixel Digital saw it, we decided to take it on as a full-time project.
Right now, the goal is to release the game on Steam in July/August as a free-to-play game, releasing additional DLC later in the year.
So far, the entire RetroPixel team has joined in on this project, so right now our core team is at 6.
We’ve got a few Unreal Engine Artists, Motion Capture Techs, an Art Director and Animator, a Writer, and myself, so far. We have sound designers and voice actors ready to go, but we will need a few more game developers that specialize in Unreal Engine as we pick up a bit more.
Having a small team means that a few of us have to wear different hats. I find myself doing marketing, producing, development, and asset creation.
We’re using some really cool tech to get this project done. We have a few Xsens MVN inertial motion capture suits, complete with Manus VR gloves and we’re using Faceware software and facial head tracking to get a complete motion capture solution. We use motion capture for cinematics and character movements. It’s really neat using this tech!
We’ve developed our own pipeline for getting our cinematics out, using a mix of Unreal Engine 5 (mostly for cinematics) and Unreal Engine 4.27 for the game (for stability)
We even regularly book studio days for motion capture. We really had a lot of fun on our last day for the cinematic trailer, where Brad had to jump off a stunt rig over and over, capturing inertial mocap data the whole time.
I love using Unreal Engine because there is so much support for our motion capture workflow. It’s nice to use the same engine for our cinematics and the game itself. Eventually, once the third-party plugin support for UE5 is set up, we hope to switch over to UE5. There are some really cool features of the program that we really want to add to the game.
Xsens, Faceware, and Manus have been directly supporting us and working with us for quite a while now. They’ve been supplying us with hardware, answering any questions we might have, and letting us test new software and hardware as soon as or before it comes out!
This has given us an amazing opportunity to be able to make projects like this a reality, where we normally wouldn’t have access to these types of tools and resources. The quality of our projects is significantly better when using tech that would normally be out of our reach.
I love to think about where these little soldiers would be fighting, what they would be hoping to achieve (capturing territory, eliminating the other team, etc.), and what tactics they might use to gain the upper hand. This helps me get a good picture in my head of what the level might look like, what kinds of traps and props need to be in the level and what the overall feel should be for each level.
We love having regular meetings with the core team members and doing brainstorming sessions. We just hang out, spitball ideas, and just have a good laugh. This is where most of the best ideas have come from so far.
Typically, we use Maya to build the 3D models, animate, texture, and rig them. Then we port them into Unreal Engine and get them looking nice and working in the game.
We’re not using any procedural tools right now, since we want the levels to be very specific. We may change that further down the road when we start releasing bigger levels in our DLC later this year.
The Mechanics Design
At first, when we add a new feature, we need to make sure it is replicated properly in the engine. We start by running multiple multiplayer instances inside the engine and verifying that it all looks good. We then have regular multiplayer game nights with the team to make sure everything is working well… you know, to work those bugs out. It’s really a tough job, but someone has got to do it!
Network Replication is a major undertaking. We need to ensure that every action looks the same on all machines in a multiplayer session. Making sure that it can’t be exploited, and that people can’t cheat once the game is released is another challenge that we need to be aware of.
The Business Side
It’s really hard to put all your focus into the game while at the same time promoting it on social media, coming out with new content to share (screenshots, videos, etc.)
Before releasing anything, we need to run it past the Art Director first. He’s really on our case about quality and art direction (rightfully so). Releasing content that isn’t ready is something we don’t really want to do as it can give the game a bad look.
The main challenges are trying to run ad campaigns, answer emails, get multiplayer demos ready for pre-alpha testers, cinematics, planning motion capture days, social media, tools, bringing on new artists, creating workflows, testing, and finding time to meet up, talk about direction, and trying to sleep somewhere in between.
I think it’s especially difficult being such a small team that’s trying to push the envelope with new tech and workflows.
The Future Plans
The cinematic trailer is being worked on right now, which will be finished by mid-April and released by May 1st. So, we may be a bit quiet until then. But once we do release the trailer, you’ll be hearing a lot from our corner.
We’re just in the process of getting a tech demo of the game done for our pre-alpha testing team, then we’ll be releasing a Kickstarter campaign by May to get a bit more revenue to throw into development to make sure it’s polished before the release in July/August.
We will have the game all set up and submitted to Steam by late July to mid-August. This is when it will go live for the general public as free-to-play. And, of course, additional DLC will come out later in the year.
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