Creating new experiences that push the expectations of genres has been core to the beliefs of Flix Interactive from day one, and with their latest project, Eden Star, they are giving players the tools to shape experiences of their own.
A tense game of survival within a science-fiction universe, Eden Star combines construction and destruction in equal parts. To survive in the hostile landscape, players will need to harness their own creativity as both offense and defense using a free-form crafting system in an expansive world.
The team members at Flix Interactive are fans of the open and unscripted nature of the survival/crafting genre, but have long desired a more mature sci-fi experience without the restrictions of traditional, grid- or voxel-based building systems.
The ability for objects to ‘snap’ together in Unreal Engine 4 via sockets is an integral component that gives Eden Star players far more freedom to construct and manipulate the environment than if tied to a grid, but creation is only one small portion of Flix’s goal. They’re out to realize a new level of dynamic interaction.
“Each of our trees for example is a giant physicalized group of objects, that when interacted with, react dynamically,” says Lead Designer John Tearle. “This is a challenge in order to keep it efficient, but by combining this with UE4’s instanced foliage system we have recently been able to create highly populated forests but with massive dynamic interactions. The end result is that if you break assets apart they will react dynamically; trees and buildings topple to the ground and if on a slope, the parts will roll down a hill gathering momentum, causing further damage as they go.”
More than just interacting with the environment, Flix want players to feel like an organic part of the world, and for the players’ actions to extend beyond their immediate surroundings, having real impacts that cascade into the world at large.
No action is inconsequential. Objects are able to interact across sprawling distances, such as an explosive flung far off into the distance and destroying a structure that the player has never seen or even knew existed, simultaneously heightening the player’s senses of immersion and trepidation toward the unknown.
“To create a feeling of isolation, scale was hugely important to us,” said Tearle. “The technology at our disposal has not only enabled us to create that feeling, but to also breathe life into our world.”
The world of Eden Star is as expansive as it is interactive, extending far beyond what the eye can see. The scale and scope of the highly complex environmental systems that Flix have constructed are awe-inspiring, as is the fact that they were created using almost solely tools found in Unreal Engine 4.
Key to achieving this has been a combination of the the powerful level streaming capabilities of Unreal Engine 4, out-of-the-box integration of Nvidia’s PhysX, and source code access to tweak the implementation of the APEX destruction system to remain effective, yet cheap performance-wise.
While the concepts of Eden Star are familiar, its scope has presented Flix with a considerable array of challenges, such as refining crafting tools for players as new ideas take shape, and creating AI capable of adapting to and navigating environments in constant states of fluctuation.
Unreal Engine 4’s visual scripting tool, Blueprint, offers designers an approachable and highly capable system for prototyping ideas and allowing creativity to flourish. It has been invaluable to many developers. For Flix Interactive, Blueprint has been essential to Eden Star’s existence.
“Using the Blueprint system has allowed for iterative rapid prototypes to evolve quickly from initial ideas, enabling everyone in the team to do this,” explained Tearle. “It is probably the key feature in our development cycle that has pushed us towards more ambitious and experimental development goals, providing the whole team the power to bring ideas to life.”
Having the flexibility and the tools needed to create your vision and see it evolve is vital to the development process, but according to Tearle the most beneficial attribute of Unreal Engine 4 may just be the peace of mind that each build delivers.
“The greatest part about Unreal Engine 4 is the stability that we have been able to produce in the public releases of Eden Star. There are always bugs in early development, but releases are not plagued with bugs and that is in part to do with the toolset.”
With plans to launch a huge amount of content later this year including multiplayer support and custom mod toolsets for the community, Flix Interactive is building Eden Star into a great Unreal 4 experience that aims to defy genre limitations and impress players with out-of-this-world levels of scale and interaction.