Making a First Person Shooter with Unique Mechanics in Unreal Engine 4

Ferran Perez, a Co-Founder and Creative Director at Rolldbox, has told us about designing a game where you play as a dummy, talked about working in UE4, and shared some thoughts on learning at CG Spectrum.


I started my journey into games when I was 12 with Sparta: The Battle of Thermopylae. With the game's editor I could modify all the maps and create new ones. Since then, games have become my passion. I had played games for as long as I can remember, but that particular game changed everything.

After developing a number of my own games and working at Sekg (a UX/UI & Game Design third party) and Social Games Online, I co-created Rolldbox Games, a game development studio based in Barcelona, Spain.  The motivation for creating Rolldbox came from the need to generate positive games, and step out from the "dark side". It is a company based on constructive energy and innovative creations! We are introducing a new tweak in the industry with a non-combat-based RPG.

Studying at CG Spectrum

I was looking for an extra burst of Game Design knowledge, and wanted to improve my skills as a System and Level Designer. Looking at courses available all over the world, I felt most of them were at an introductory level, whereas with CG Spectrum's industry mentors, I could dive as much as I wanted and could.

The course is designed in a way that anybody can begin to learn game design, and at the same time, more senior game designers can learn and discover more elements. Game Design is a professional role that has not been around for a long time, making it incredibly hard to “study” or “theoretically learn”. Here is why you need to test, play, implement and iterate constantly. At CG Spectrum this is the day-to-day basics. To me, that is the best way of learning: learning by doing.

The Shooter for Dummies Project

This project started as a class assignment in CG Spectrum's game design course where
I needed to simulate a real situation as you would find in the industry: I get to a new company, and am given a set of features. Then, I must find a way to put them together, and create a simple feature to transform the given tools into an interesting game experience.

At first, the project was going to be level design related, where I was implementing a custom distribution, making it feel different from other shooters. But, after it, the “dummy” concept appeared. What if only a player can do the objectives? (Well, that exists already, is commonly known as the “VIP” game mode) What if the common goal does not decide the winning condition? (Here the dummy appeared) Which element throughout the history of video games has been bullied across all game genres? The dummies.

Let us make a game where a player is a dummy, and the rest of the team needs to protect him, while this dummy is the only person who can score on the game objectives (when possible). And there it appeared – Shooter for Dummies, a game where the winning team needs to have a healthy dummy and creates incredible new dynamics at the end of the games, because players stop looking for the common goals, and start chasing the dummies!

I was looking for a non-obvious “VIP” character and put some humor inside the game. Using dummies makes the game have this perfect balance between usability and understanding of the objective while keeping this “friendly” joke around dummies and their bullied life. The dummy is immortal and has a special skill: dummy punch. It will make the target fly backward creating a satisfying effect for the dummy.

When using dummies, it is crystal clear that they will be a target inside the game. This cultural association makes them perfect for the game.

To make the dummies feel right was the task of balancing the punch strength, charging, and speed. Simple variables, quite common in FPS, but the most important as well.

Using Plugins

The actual project was already built-in. I had to understand how exactly it was created so I could add the new feature: the dummy's behaviour. Aside from the project template I had to use, there were other plugins that helped me to be able to launch the game on Steam:

  • SteamBridge: this plugin makes all the Steam SDK callable from blueprints, so I could use them inside the project.
  • Steam SDK: the Steamworks framework to be able to connect the game to steam and use achievements and the beacon (to create parties inside the game)
  • Advanced Sessions: this plugin is an enhanced version of the UE multiplayer framework, letting me create custom settings on the sessions to apply filters such as the game mode (available at the game).

Balancing the Game

Game balance in FPS games is one of the most important elements. There are 2 types of FPS balance in relation to this point:

  • High damage: games like CS:GO or Valorant, where 2 shots kill you with almost any weapon.
  • Low damage: games like Overwatch or TF2 where you need to hit lots of shots with most weapons

In Shooter for Dummies, the first version is used, keeping the gameplay focused on fast-paced combats and making the dummies vulnerable to constant fire. As the dummies are immortal (they absorb the damage and increase their health), using the high damage style leaves less space for mistakes.

The balance behind this game involves all the common settings: weapon damage, cadence, spread, character health, jump force, collision size, ammo, weapon types, and so on.

As the project was based on a defined template, I had to stick to the built-in features for balance as well.

Single Player vs Multiplayer

If you have limited tools, the best way from my point of view to present a complete experience is the use of multiplayer and people in the game. Creating a multiplayer experience, ensures uniqueness in every single game, because it is not predefined. That was the main reason at the beginning to decide to move into PvP and Multiplayer gameplay and not Single-player FPS experience.

In terms of self-development, I have built lots of single-player experiences locally, and I felt this project was the perfect opportunity to improve my multiplayer knowledge of UE4 and integration with Steam.

Shooter for Dummies has been the perfect intro to the Steam workflow to publish games and understand how Steam works in relation to multiplayer-based games and connections, as well as the internal features: beacon, achievements, stats, etc.

So, could this project have been a single-player? Yes, but not for me. I knew I wanted to step up even in this part of the experience, as I like to learn and grow from anything I can.

About Rolldbox Games

Rolldbox is a brand-new company created by 3 people, and now we have a team of 12 people working with us, plus advisors and collaborations. We decided to create a company based on an agile and co-creation environment, looking for a refreshing and social impact experience. We are now working on our first game: Those Who Came; with Scot Bayless (Game Designer and mentor at CG Spectrum) as an advisor.

My plans are to develop Rolldbox and make it grow! All my energy is on this project (and the rest is put towards CG Spectrum). We are launching the game in March 2022! But until then, the only thing I can say is we are creating a non-violence-based RPG because it is possible to have a complete and immersive experience without the need of killing creatures.

Lessons Learned at CG Spectrum

There are two main things I learned at CG Spectrum. One is related to the technical terms and their spelling. I learned them in Spanish/Catalan, and although I read a lot of papers in English, there is always that word or expression missing, and this experience helped me a lot to recover my technical glossary.

The other key lesson is related to game deconstruction. I’ve been working on Those Who Came since almost the first day of course, and therefore, I’ve been deconstructing every week’s content into the deepest concept to rebuild it with the proper shape for TwC. This process has helped me a lot to learn better ways to deconstruct games, faster and more efficiently.

My mentor Scot Bayless has been an incredible helper throughout the Game Design Diploma. With my background in games, I had already experienced a lot of the content in the course, but with Scot, I have been able to get deeper into the concepts and extract the essence of every “dynamic” to find new ways to implement them.

One example of changing dynamics is in Shooter for Dummies. Changing the winning condition transforms the whole experience into a tactical / strategic gameplay, where we can appreciate behaviours commonly seen in 20-30min game-experiences, but in a reduced gameplay of 5min game-experience.

Check out Ferran's game Shooter for Dummies on Steam, or learn more about the game Design Course at CG Spectrum, an Unreal Academic Partner

Ferran Perez, Game Designer

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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