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Project TH: Using UE5's Nanite & Lumen To Develop a "100% Korean" Game

EVR Studio's Dong-Jun Min has returned to 80 Level to provide an update on their upcoming game Project TH, explain why Unreal Engine 5 was chosen for the game, discuss the engine's perceived difficulty, and share how its Nanite and Lumen features help in producing a 1-to-1 recreation of Seoul.


80.lv: Please introduce your team to those who missed our last story and tell us a bit about Project TH and its current state.

Dong-Jun Min, Co-Founder of EVR Studio: Hello, 80 Level readers. I'm Dong-Jun Min, the Director of Project TH. The company I work for, EVR Studio, is a newly established game development studio located in South Korea, and we are currently working on the Korean-style AAA console game – Project TH.

Our team is comprised of experienced game developers, as well as professionals from various creative fields such as movie VFX, costume designers, writers, and more. We are working diligently to create an immersive story set in Korea, featuring talented actors you may already be familiar with. Along with exciting action sequences, we are also dedicated to bringing you captivating content with a Korean twist, including K-pop elements.

Why Unreal Engine?

80.lv: How and when did you choose Unreal Engine for the project? What influenced your decision?

Dong-Jun Min: Project TH is a story-driven action-adventure genre game. Our goal is to deliver extensive cinematic and action experiences with movie-like photorealistic graphics. To achieve this, we utilize internally developed, highly detailed data based on optical scanning technology.

To efficiently process this data, we actively leverage Unreal Engine's Nanite and Lumen, which we consider to be powerful features that transform our ambitious goals into more achievable objectives. Initially, we worked on our project using Unreal Engine 4, which lacked these features, making us occasionally face challenging situations. With the release of Unreal Engine 5, we made the decision to switch engines from UE4 to UE5 without hesitation. This transition was not only straightforward for me but also for the entire team.

Learning the Toolkit

80.lv: How difficult is it to find Unreal Engine specialists these days? How difficult is it to learn this toolkit, in your opinion?

Dong-Jun Min: Currently, many development studios in South Korea are actively working on projects using the Unreal Engine. This indicates that there is a growing number of developers who are proficient in using Unreal Engine. However, there is an issue where games developed using Unreal Engine in Korea tend to be biased towards the mobile RPG genre.

In the case of Project TH, the technical goals differ from those of mobile games. It is a game of a different genre, a single-player action-adventure game based on narrative storytelling. It can be challenging for Korean developers to gain experience in developing this genre due to the prevalent focus on mobile RPGs.

To address this, EVR has been running a "toy project" since the early stages of the project, aimed at incubating new developers. From EVR's perspective, this is a highly challenging investment program specifically designed to cultivate Unreal Engine developers. Over a period of approximately six months after joining the company, individuals are systematically trained, providing education on what is required to be a developer for Project TH and engaging in group assignments to learn the fundamentals of Unreal Engine.

There is little doubt about the difficulty of learning Unreal Engine. As developers, they support each other, inspire one another, and continue to set higher goals, fostering an environment where they can learn and grow together.

Working on Digital Humans

80.lv: Your team is known for advanced top-notch digital humans. How easy is it to integrate such humans into Unreal without compromising on quality?

Dong-Jun Min: Surprisingly, many people mistakenly believe that the digital humans appearing in Project TH are created using Unreal's MetaHuman. While the production process of MetaHuman is impressive, our goal for Project TH is to accurately capture the unique facial expressions and acting of Korean actors, achieving 100% representation in digital humans. 

This goal can only be accomplished through EVR's proprietary digital human solution. Our aim is not just functional retargeting of expressions and lip sync. It goes beyond that. We want to capture the subtle nuances of an actor's lip shape and muscle movements, all coming together to perfectly portray the characters in the game. 

As a result, this production process is extremely intricate, and great attention must be paid to transferring data into the engine. Fortunately, Unreal Engine is capable of running EVR's digital human data at peak performance. Also, it is very important to pre-establish data optimization technology as it is a crucial task in this process.

Proudly, EVR's data optimization technology garnered significant attention at the recent 2023 SIGGRAPH conference, and it received high praise from Tim Sweeney, the CEO of Epic Games, when he visited EVR last month.

Recreating Seoul With Nanite & Lumen

80.lv: One of your goals is to create a 1:1 digital copy of Seoul in 3D. How does Unreal help you with that task?

Dong-Jun Min: As mentioned earlier, Nanite and Lumen are powerful solutions that, without a doubt, enhance the realism of Project TH. We are actively utilizing these features and are consistently amazed by their capabilities and updates.

Project TH unfolds its story against the backdrop of various locations in Korea, including Seoul. Seoul, in particular, stands out as one of the world's megacities, with a population exceeding 10 million. The city is richly infused with the lifestyles of its residents, and it's densely packed with a myriad of experiences. To accurately represent such a city, an efficient system for handling vast amounts of data is essential, and Unreal's Nanite plays a crucial role in this regard. Additionally, Lumen enables us to brilliantly depict Seoul's unique lighting, colors, and the physical representation of various materials that make up the cityscape.

Unreal's Complexity

80.lv: Some say developing in Unreal is too complicated and that the toolkit is only meant for AAA games. How would you respond?

Dong-Jun Min: I believe that each commercial game engine reflects its own development philosophy. While I can empathize with the perception that Unreal Engine may seem to have a high initial learning curve, I don't agree with the notion that it's exclusively designed for AAA games.

Even engines that appear to have a lower initial learning curve ultimately require a high level of understanding and experience with the engine to reach the creator's desired goals. Especially in recent times, it's evident that all commercial engines provide various features tailored for the convenience of game development, showcasing excellence not only in AAA games but also in indie games. I think it's important to recognize that the quality of a game is determined not by the engine's characteristics but rather by the developers' proficiency and experience in utilizing that engine.

Furthermore, having a continuous interest in the characteristics and underlying philosophy of commercial engines is crucial. This helps developers make informed decisions about selecting an engine that aligns with the core of their content and intentions. Preparing for this choice is vital in ensuring that the engine chosen complements their content and aligns with their intentions.

Porting Project TH to Consoles

80.lv: Have you already tried porting the project to different consoles? If yes, what are the difficulties when porting Unreal Engine-powered projects?

Dong-Jun Min: We are currently in the process of porting our project to consoles, and we consider porting to be a process that involves a deep understanding and utilization of the hardware advantages of each console device.

So far, the process has been progressing without significant difficulties, and most of the issues that arise are well within the control of our development team, which is why we are not overly concerned.

Recently, we have been closely observing cases where optimization issues have posed challenges on consoles and PCs. We are taking this matter very seriously and continuously addressing it with the development team, checking and discussing it with each build to minimize any potential risks.

The Roadmap

80.lv: What are your current plans for Project TH? What features are you working on? What milestones did you plan?

Dong-Jun Min: Currently, we have developed key systems, including stealth mechanics using electronic warfare equipment, deception gameplay, and various combat scenarios with weapons, and we are in the process of validating them.

Additionally, we are in discussions regarding shooting schedules with renowned Korean actors for in-game and cinematic sequences. Project TH is closely collaborating with Sony, Microsoft, and Unreal, sharing builds and conducting reviews. We are also in the process of planning for a more detailed game information release, including an official release schedule for early next year.

Dong Jun Min, Co-Founder at EVR Studio

Interview conducted by Arti Burton

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