Kabam's Vice President of Product Tyler Black and Head of Publishing Nick Anderson discussed how Unreal Engine can be used for cross-platform game development and explained how the engine's features helped them create King Arthur: Legends Rise.
80.lv: Please introduce yourselves to our readers. Tell us a bit about yourself and how Unreal Engine helped you in the development of King Arthur: Legends Rise.
Tyler Black: My name is Tyler Black, I’m Vice President of Product at Kabam. I’m in charge of new product development, prototyping and new product selection, as well as long-term product strategy for the company.
Nick Anderson: I’m Nick Anderson, I’m Head of Publishing for Kabam, I’m currently representing the King Arthur: Legends Rise project.
Tyler Black: We had to use a code name for this project for so long that it’s a bit retraining. So, let’s talk about Unreal Engine and what it meant for the team. From the get-go, this was an UE-powered project. We did do a port from UE4 to UE5 halfway through the project, and that was, I wouldn’t say easy, but straightforward. And it did not take that long, which was great, and we got a lot of support from Epic Games on that as well because they want to build people along as well.
What Unreal allowed us to do was make sure that this was going to be a good cross-platform game right out of the gate. We have history at Kabam of making mobile games and starting mobile and then evolving to PC as an example. But it was going to be a cross-platform game right away. And Unreal Engine was a big enabler of that. The other thing that Unreal helped us do is that Kabam has a history of making games in collaboration with big brands like Marvel and Disney. We have a really high bar for the kind of games we want to make. So, the bar on mobile might be a little different from the bar on PC in terms of visual fidelity and graphics, for example. Unreal allowed us to hit that bar that satisfied our own quality standards and expectations of the audience as well.
Nick Anderson: Effectively, Unreal Engine enabled us to have confidence, as we were going to move into this cross-platform and cross-play strategy. It is inherently built around being able to deploy to any surface. And the level of fidelity is remarkable.
Unreal's Multi-Platforming Capabilities
80.lv: Unreal Engine is usually viewed as an engine for PC and console games, could you tell us more about its capabilities when it comes to developing mobile games?
Tyler Black: We’ve used a variety of platforms in the past, but Unreal was a good fit here because it allowed us to be performant on mobile but still hit a scaling quality bar for PC, and we thought it was the best platform to do that and the best kind of toolset. There are three parts of where we made a good use of the Unreal tools: one was in animation, one was in lighting, and the other is in some of these features like the dynamic weather that we’ve put into the game.
80.lv: Let’s talk more about Lumen first.
Nick Anderson: Yes, Lumen has been fantastic for us and we’ve started exploring it because we created beautiful diorama set pieces, and lighting all those areas individually is not necessarily effective, so we wanted to create a sort of immersive environment for our players to be in. So, we started investigating and experimenting, and ended up utilizing Lumen technology for our project.
Tyler Black: Lumen also helped us shift the mood of a scene. We put a lot of effort into building the environment. With Lumen and with some simple settings changes, we can totally change the mood of an environment and create multiple quests and angles using fewer resources than having to create a whole separate experience and level.
Nick Anderson: As opposed to building a brand-new set, we can convey different moods and motions in time. We tell a story that crosses a great length of time, so it’s useful to be able to have these types of tools. It’s enabled us to be better storytellers.
Tyler Black: I won’t get into too many spoilers around the plot, but there are some good examples of gameplay that impact differently based on night or day and as the character progresses through the story, they start to get more control over that.
Setting Up the Animations
80.lv: So, let’s talk about animation. You think this is the second big thing that UE helped you out with?
Tyler Black: Overall, the benefit that Kabam realized working with Unreal was productivity. We were able to focus on other parts of the game, like storytelling, and not have to get bogged down in the nitty-gritty technical details and spend time making the game really something special.
When it comes to animation, we’re really good at making hero collectors, we’re really good at character-based games. We invest a lot in the characters that we create, whether they’re licensed from someone else or whether they’re characters that we’re coming up with on our own. And we have characters of all shapes and sizes in project Knights, of various races as well, again not getting into too much detail there. But we need them to fit in a combat model, we need to be able to run and control in a familiar way, we don’t want players to have to relearn the physics of a big brute versus the physics of little sprite or something like that.
The IK Rig Retargeting was also massive for us. Being able to take these animations from one rig to another of varying geometries saves so much time and so much hustle that we can focus on creating more. It reduces the amount of time that it takes to create a really compelling character, but it still has animations and controls that feel familiar.
Nick Anderson: Unreal Engine lets us focus on the details, and the fundamentals can be established rapidly utilizing the tools that are provided to us. Then, it’s about the nuances and the unique character expression, and there’s no wrestling with tools when we need to build something in order to get the results we’re looking for.
The Dynamic Weather System
80.lv: What other Unreal Engine tools do you use in your workflows?
Nick Anderson: Utilizing some of the engine's tools, we’ve been able to create the time of day, dynamic weather, with certain characters being able to perform actions that can cause things to dramatically shift. So, because of my ability now it is nighttime, and it is raining, because of my ability now the sun has come out, because of my ability now the things are encapsulated in fog, which is an interesting thing, and those would have benefits or detriments depending on who you brought into the field.
Tyler Black: And we have a squad RPG where every hero in your team brings a different kind of element, a different kind of approach. And then they all got relics, weapons that they use that add another dimension of customizability, and they have their own elements that they bring forward. And similar to “rock, paper, scissors”, one has a benefit over the other, these elements play with each other and play off each other, so if it’s raining, now I know that I can lean into my thunder abilities, and if it’s too dry, maybe I can bring some water to the fight and take advantage of weaknesses in these enemies.
And that dynamic weather that can change based on the player’s actions and totally shift the mood of the combat and totally turn the tide of battle in some cases is again something that with relatively light technical implementation, we were able to get this dramatic impactful piece of gameplay out of the technology.
Nick Anderson: This is, to some extent, an ongoing theme with our experience, like using the technology, there is this suit of tools that is available to us, that enable us to achieve a lot with very minimal figuring “How are going to do this?”, “How are going to do this particular thing?”, “How are we going to have this mechanic?” It sort of enabled unique gameplay experiences to be born.
Tyler Black: We can take bigger swings that would’ve normally cost us a lot more, and sometimes those big swings in terms of project timeline and project budget raise conversations like: “That would be awesome, but we just can’t afford it to do it, we just can’t afford to fit it into this project”. And we have less of those conversations working with Unreal Engine.
80.lv: So, Unreal Engine helps a lot with iterations, broadens the scope without increasing the resources that you need, and allows to complement gameplay overall, not just creating visuals for the sake of visuals?
Tyler Black: Yes, exactly. It lets our gameplay designers take these visual examples when they can see what the engine can do and be like: “Oh, I can do something with that, I can turn this visual expression into something that is gameplay and spark up this creative iteration”.
Working With Epic Games
80.lv: Some people say that they look at Unreal Engine, download the latest build, look at its tools and say: “Hey, I must have that, we can’t just compete with this or use our older technology.” This seems to be a recurring conversation because Unreal constantly gets not just new tools but also other services integrated into it by Epic Games. Are you relying on those services as well?
Tyler Black: We use the Epic Games Store already. Shop Titans is a game that we have live on the Epic Games Store, so we love that ecosystem that they are building. We are also a developer, so we love their ethos around enabling developers to cross-pollinate and take part in that marketplace a little bit better. And then I think in terms of other partnership, some of it is just around the technical help support from UE4 to UE5 and then any kind troubleshooting and handholding there was great, and then some of the opportunities to help each other market, each other service as well.
Being a part of the State of Unreal and being on the stage was awesome. And as I was coming off the stage, all the people at Unreal were super supportive and just happy that we were there as well, so yeah, it’s great to work with them.
80.lv: From a developer and publisher point of view, what else do you need in an engine? It seems like Unreal today is such a huge beast where they have animation, level design tools, and now they showed the texturing, the physics, but maybe there are some things that you would like to have more?
Tyler Black: I’m going to start by answering the opposite of the question. When I think what they’re really good at and what they provide, it’s all driven because they’re game developers first. Yes, they’re expanding into more than at Epic Games, but a lot of these advances that they’re making are because they need it themselves and it’s better for them to build it and add it to their ecosystem and then push it out.
And they make pretty good games, I’m really impressed by the games that Epic makes. They have run into the problems of what does a game developer need, what do we need to publish, what do we need to do these things. When it comes to what they’re missing for us, the only part of the ecosystem might be more on the publishing side.
Nick Anderson: The publishing platform itself on EGS continues to grow as we saw today. They’ve shown tremendous growth. So I think there’s a lot still to access, because it’s relatively new for us. We have some experience with working with EGS with Shop Titans, but again that was more of a beta project that we were working through with them and that would’ve been an unfair thing to access from that they were building, we were working together to solve this problem as fellow game developers.
Tyler Black: They seem to be one of those companies that they present things, and you like: “Oh. I didn’t realize I needed that, but yeah, I need that”. They’re often the ones to be first to show and that’s awesome, and we love having partners like that to work with.