January 30, 2015

A Designer's Perspective on UE4

By Marc Janas


My name is Marc Janas and I am the project architect/systems designer from the upstart studio Fugitive Games.  We are a four-person operation out of Los Angeles, CA, currently working on a PC project titled “Into the Stars.”  We’ve been in development for several months now and using UE4 since our studio launched.  My main focus is the creation of systems and guiding the overall feature implementation for the game. 

Into the Stars

A Designer’s New Best Friend

I’ve personally found UE4 to be the most designer friendly engine I’ve ever worked with in my 10+ years in the industry.  The ability to rapidly prototype in the beginning couldn't have been more valuable for us.  The past few engines I’ve worked with were extremely difficult for a designer to stand up any kind of gameplay without engineering support, which would leave me, and a lot of co-workers frustrated that they couldn’t share their vision for a feature in an actual playable state. 

At the beginning of our project, our Artist was able to stand up his vision for the external camera + internal bridge camera positions while flying in the player ship without any outside help in just one weekend.  From this little prototype we were able to quickly test out different control schemes, perform scale tests for the world and talk big picture flying experience.  Very quickly his little prototype catapulted us from concept to a playable game.  This kind of versatility saved us a lot of the rework headaches we’ve run into at previous studios where the tools would prevent someone from testing out an idea in a matter of hours (it’d often take days of engineering support).

Working Engineer-less

Currently we’re working without an engineer… which, when you think about it, is pretty amazing.  The tools provide so much accessibility for a systems designer like myself that for our little project, having an engineer isn’t really necessary.  That’s not to say we wouldn’t benefit from having one, just that with the budget for our little operation we’ve been able to scope our feature set in such a way that doesn’t require one.  It’s safe to say without UE4, this probably wouldn’t have possible.

Using All of Our Resources

Another tactic we’ve used to a great degree in this project is utilizing the sample projects and content examples provided by Epic to assist in the prototyping process.  They’ve helped me out on countless occasions to create something new, try out a radical idea, or just create a test case for a simple mechanic.  They’ve been a great resource, and the thinking for me has always been, “why build something completely from scratch when I can piggyback on something that already works in half the time to try something out and get my point across?”  For example, I quickly created a planet orbiting prototype just by using the provided flying blueprint.  I dropped a sphere into the existing map to be my planet, and immediately started testing out different logic to trigger and execute the maneuver.  By iterating on it in a controlled environment, I was quickly able to test out which aspects of the mechanic worked or didn’t work, without the hassle of a full implementation into our game.

In Closing

I think the major takeaway from all of this that I’d like to share to all the other upstarts, student teams, and future devs out there is that you no longer need to feel limited in what a single person or small team is capable of.  This toolset empowers a user more than anything I’ve seen before, and you’d be quite surprised by how much it's capable of.  Furthermore, use the example content provided to help create prototypes and test out game ideas before you jump head first, creating a full game from scratch.  Find out what works and what doesn’t in the fastest way possible, and share that prototype with your teammates to help everyone understand the vision long before the game is even built.

For more info on “Into the Stars”, please check out our kickstarter page here: