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XING: The Land Beyond is an Atmospheric First-Person Puzzle Adventure game for the PC and Oculus Rift. Developed by three game development students this game features some amazing visuals, lots of secrets and some great gameplay mechanics, that let you to control night and day.
About White Lotus Interactive
We met in college and started working on the project together in a game development class. In March of 2013 we ran a successful Kickstarter, and after that we graduated and moved back to our respective cities. Our studio is currently digitally based – meaning that we live in separate places and work from home through video chat each day. There are just 3 of us working on this game, and XING: The Land Beyond is our first title.
XING was not born overnight with a clear vision and goal; rather, the story and game itself grew and evolved over the course of development (as with most projects). Our idea for the game was initially born thanks to our own limitations. We figured out our strengths early on, and decided to make a game that utilized those skills. Many features we wanted in this game have changed over time, but the ones that stuck deal with manipulating the environment and having the player’s presence matter.
The Choice of Unreal Engine 4
1) We love Epic Games, and the Unreal Engine is incredible for our needs functionally and visually.
2) We wanted to keep up with the times, and truly create a beautiful experience.
3) UE4 has a great UI that is preferable to UDK.
4) In order to fully support Virtual Reality devices, we needed to switch to a modern engine that was constantly making updates for VR support.
5) As if all that wasn’t enough, it’s also now free!
Unreal Engine 4 is very robust, and actually works for all sorts of game types. The built-in first-person controls work quite well out of the box, and with a few adjustments we were able to create the type of player we envisioned.
For example, instead of equipping the player with a weapon, the player is granted the ability to pick objects up and carry, place, or throw them to new locations. From a programming perspective, an early version of the “physics gun” used to pick up objects used some of the same code as other Unreal Tournament weapons.
When we transitioned to Unreal Engine 4, our programming tasks were made easier via Blueprints, a visual node-based code environment developed to ease the creation of mechanics and objects requiring interaction. Blueprints have allowed us to rapidly iterate and test gameplay features of our game. When we were creating the fire system for example, we could visually place the different particle, lighting, and sound components in 3D, and then create a Blueprint component out of those pieces which could then be made part of other objects.
If an object with the fire component touches the ocean Blueprint, the ocean can bypass the parent object and speak directly with the fire component in order to extinguish the fire. Of course, this might not sound too dissimilar from object-oriented programming in other languages, but Blueprints has the advantage of a visual node based environment which can be easier for artists or designers to understand (and also lets you adjust components in 3D space while you program them). It also becomes a lot easier and faster to make tools for the level designer, who if need be can easily jump into the Blueprint to make adjustments. Some examples of easy to use tools include torches, which can change color or intensity using sliders and a color wheel, or any objects with text-which can be edited on the fly.
There are a plethora of game mechanics built into existing Blueprints, such as characters or vehicles with locomotion animations and logic. It can become daunting with Unreal when focusing on larger systems such as level loading, save systems, or creating user interfaces. The ability to create these types of systems is certainly there, and the community has made plenty of tutorials and shared example resources on its own. However, Unreal Engine 4 gives you so much flexibility with how you can build these systems that it can become overwhelming, especially if you’re requirements for those systems are not discretely laid out.
The Production Cycle
Our production cycle is perhaps not like most others in the game industry – it’s a little out of order. We try to stick to a very organic workflow, so we use tools like ZBrush, xNormal and Photoshop to create content.
Here’s a little graphic we made to show our process:
The Technique Behind Controlling Night and Day
Given the demanding nature of VR development we are constantly looking for ways to create fantastic rendering and effects while minimizing performance costs. Exclusively relying on dynamic lights for our player controlled day night cycle proves to be an expensive feature to include, so we often look to the past to create effects that won’t break our performance budget.
Fortunately, our art style tends to focus on simple colors and shapes for magical effects, and when possible we shoot for a more impressionistic approach to detail rather than an overly realistic style. Unreal 4 has so far been very flexible with our somewhat unorthodox rendering requirements, and has given us lots of great post effects right out of the box, like eye adaptation, advanced bloom, and detailed ambient occlusion.
In the case of XING, the environments are a critical part of the storytelling and also the puzzle recognition and completion. Our puzzles are integrated into their surroundings, so there are many parts of them that are important (that might otherwise seem like a trivial decoration in a different type of game). Things that glow are generally important.
Winning The Crowd at Kickstarter
A nice presentation, both in content and visuals, is key to gaining support and proving to people that you can accomplish what you are setting out to do.
Thanks to Kickstarter, we are currently independent and don’t have any plans to work with a publisher at this time. Our sales will be digital, so look for XING: The Land Beyond in places like the Steam Store, the Humble Store and GOG. It’s definitely possible to launch the game on our own, but we will take any opportunities we think will afford the game a better chance at success.