Dreadnought Takes to the Skies Powered by UE4

By John Gaudiosi

YAGER is bringing aerial armada combat to the free-to-play space

YAGER Development GmbH is entering the free-to-play video game space with a unique sci-fi multiplayer aerial armada combat game, Dreadnought. At E3 2014, the developer had five-versus-five gameplay running in pre-alpha, although from the gorgeous visuals and engaging aerial combat, the game looked much further along in development. That, in part, can be attributed to the game studio using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 4 technology. Unsurprisingly, sprawling lines waiting for a chance to play the alpha version stretched around publisher Grey Box’s booth at PAX Prime.

“Unreal Engine 4 makes it possible for us to very fast – a prototype,” said Eckhard Duken, technical director at YAGER. “We used Unreal Engine 3 for Spec Ops: The Line, so we are very familiar with the subsystems and underlying architecture, which hasn’t changed that much between the two versions. But new tools like Blueprint, which is the visual scripting language of Unreal Engine 4, give us an opportunity to let the designers do their own prototypes and then we can support that later on with engineers’ efforts and do it in a more efficient way.”

So far show attendees have been able to explore the Highlands level of the game, which features combat above rich mountain landscapes that can also be used for cover. Duken said his team in Germany implemented a lot of special shader features in the game.

“You see real-time damage on the ships through the shaders, which I think is one of the coolest features we have implemented today,” said Duken. “We’re still early in the development phase, so there’s a lot more to come. The possibilities with Unreal Engine 4 are very good. It’s a great tool.”


Dreadnought was inspired by great sci-fi television shows and movies, including Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica.

“We wanted to create a fantasy about spaceship captain and create a game that hadn’t been done yet,” said Duken. “There are a lot of very fast-paced fighter games, but there were no games that show the bigger ships like the Enterprise or Battlestar Galactica.”

Dreadnought currently has five classes of ships, the biggest of which shares a name with the game’s title. The tank class ship has heavy armor and powerful weapons, but is slow to maneuver and lacks speed. The well-rounded Destroyer class capital ship offers the perfect balance across speed, maneuverability, shields and offensive and defensives capabilities. The Corvette is the scout class ship, which excels at speed and flanking. The Tactical cruise serves as the medic of the fleet, which is easy to spot with its white metal and offers repairs mid-fight. Rounding out the classes is the Artillery cruiser, which serves as the sniper and can deliver serious damage from afar with great accuracy.  

“We wanted to cater to each player type we could imagine, so there is a very slow class with the Dreadnought and more difficult classes like the sniper, which needs to take cover and stay away from the main combat,” said Duken, who noted that cover will play an important part in some levels. “We have canyons where you can hide and if you’re up in the sky then you’re an easy target and you will not survive that long. We want to ship with at least four different settings. While one is a space level, we believe that having the fights going on over an epic landscape is a nice way to show off all the features we can do with the engine.”


Each of these ships has a primary and secondary weapon, four cool-down abilities, and the ability to adjust shields, engines and weapons during battles. YAGER has implemented an officer system in the game, which are similar to perks in a typical shooter. The weapons, navigation and engine officers will modify a ship’s attributes. They will also progress with the player over time, so they’ll have individual strengths and disadvantages.

“A typical strategy to use when playing Dreadnought would be to use the healers not only to keep the team alive, but also trying to lure opposing players towards them because the healers are very powerful ships,” said Duken. “If played the right way, you can lure people to leave the safety of their team and then they’re easy prey for your teammates. That’s one of the tactics we saw at E3.”

Although still early in development, the team was able to get an impressive playable demo up and running in time for press attending E3 to experience the multiplayer combat.

“The speed of development with Unreal Engine 4 is incredible,” said Duken. “Before, you always needed a coder for a small team. When we worked on Spec Ops, we’d have designers, engineers and artists working together on a specific feature. With Dreadnought, we were able to remove the engineer in the first part of the process from the team nearly completely and this increased the speed of development incredibly.”


Duken said the team didn’t have to crunch for two or three months to get the E3 build together. With Unreal Engine 4, they were able to shift some resources around and wow the critics with their very first hands-on of the game.

“Epic has given us great support,” said Duken. “The new subscription model for Unreal Engine 4 is great. We were in the position to get very early hands-on with the engine. And Epic was very open for feedback from our side. It’s been great working together with them on this project. The ability to get nearly instant feedback from engineers at Epic and share code with them, having a forth and back with them, has been great. I cannot imagine any better way.”

With the beta scheduled for 2015, players will soon be able to get their hands on the new free-to-play game. By that time, YAGER will have had additional development time to push their creativity forward utilizing Unreal Engine 4.

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