Since 1997, Japanese game development studio iNiS has focused primarily on rhythm and music console games such as Gitaroo Man, Elite Beat Agents, the Lips series and The Black Eyed Peas Experience. But that last title for Ubisoft marked the company’s first experience with Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 3 technology. Now, iNiS is using UE3 to develop five new mobile projects, including Infinity Blade Cross (developed in cooperation with DeNA and ChAIR Entertainment, only available in Japan) and its most recent original project, Eden to GREEEEN, a tower defense game developed for NVIDIA Tegra 3-powered devices.
Game designer Keiichi Yano, director and vice president at iNiS, said that The Black Eyed Peas Experience project started its life as a first-party project with Microsoft Studios when Kinect was in its prototype phase. It was Microsoft that suggested the developer use Unreal Engine 3 to leverage technology that would significantly shorten the time to get the final product to market.
The company’s transition to mobile game development was a direct result of their involvement with UE3. While high-end smartphones and tablets were still very new to Japan, they were making an impressive impact on the market. That’s when iNiS received a call from DeNA, the company behind the Mobage platform.
“We were adding the final touches to The Black Eyed Peas Experience and DeNA approached us to work on a game they had just licensed, Infinity Blade,” said Yano. “They wanted a studio with deep Unreal Engine 3 experience to handle the creation of a free-to-play version that would run on their social game platform. That game was Infinity Blade Cross, our first foray into high-end smartphone game development.” Yano said that UE3 allowed his team to rapidly prototype ideas and get them to a graphically polished state quickly. The process worked so well with Eden that the studio now has five UE3 projects in development.
“Our in-house pipeline is now seriously geared towards making UE3 sing, and it was no different when creating Eden to GREEEEN,” said Yano. “In a short time, we were able to get the game running well on the latest NVIDIA Tegra devices, including smartphones and tablets.
“The combination of a strong tech base and a powerful chipset really allowed us to give Eden an ambiance, an atmosphere that we just couldn’t have achieved previously on mobile devices. We have fire, wind, dust and shadows from overhead clouds… a smorgasbord of effects. It’s nice to be able to rely on proven tech and platforms to make Eden come alive.”
iNiS plans to utilize the cross-platform capabilities of UE3 with Eden by releasing the game on Android, iOS, Windows, Mac OSX and Flash. From a development standpoint, Yano is extremely pleased to be able to create a base that can be quickly ported to other platforms.
The studio makes extensive use of UE3 tools such as Matinee, which Yano values as an ideal system to create cinematics that blend seamlessly in and out of gameplay. “It’s very cool that we can impact the cinematics in a way that emotionally connects with the player,” said Yano. “Cascade is another favorite, and we make heavy use of it to bring ambiance to the world of Eden.”
Additionally, when it comes to troubleshooting and researching, the team found the Unreal Developer Network (UDN) to be an indispensable tool. iNiS was able to work with other developers, as well as Epic, to solve development challenges and enhance productivity. Yano explains it was particularly helpful when developing for Android, “It really helped to be able to share ideas with others who had already gained some knowledge and experience deploying UE3 games on the platform.
With Eden to GREEEEN, Yano’s goal was to create a new type of experience in a strategy game. While the game has elements of tower defense, Japanese role-playing games, turn-based strategy and Pixar movies all rolled into one, the end result is something he calls “tower defense.” In addition to his creative aims, Yano also sought to create this game for the burgeoning free-to-play gaming space, opening up the game experience to a wide audience across many platforms.
With its beautiful stylized graphics and vibrant backdrop, Eden to GREEEEN looks unlike any other game currently available. With its humorous storyline of invading alien machines trying to destroy an Eden defended by 18 unit types of towers, plants and trees, Eden to GREEEEN offers fast-paced multiplayer gameplay and a never-ending challenge of new maps. Powered by Unreal Engine 3, iNiS’s new game is helping the game developer forge its way to the top of the mobile development community, much as it did its rhythmbased console games.