Unreal Engine 3 Kinects with Fable: The Journey

By John Gaudiosi

Lionhead Studios is embracing Microsoft’s Kinect for Xbox 360 with its latest Fable game. Fable: The Journey is set a few years after Fable 3 and unveils a brand new area of Albion to gamers.

Players take control of Gabriel, an outsider who becomes a hero as a result of the seer Theresa, who has been in the background of previous Fable games. The new game, which was developed using Unreal Engine 3 (UE3), was designed from the ground up to fully embrace Kinect technology.

“Kinect gave us the chance to let the player feel more involved with the world,” said Charlton Edwards, lead level designer, Lionhead Studios. “It gave a physicality to some interactions that a button simply can’t replicate.

According to Ben Brooks, senior scripter, Lionhead Studios, the company’s level design and gameplay scripting teams – 19 members in total – worked much more closely together on this game than previous Fable titles because the Unreal Engine’s game tools united these disciplines in a way that the studio’s old tools didn’t.

“Our level design and gameplay scripting teams have used Unreal Kismet extensively – it’s our primary tool for bringing the world to life,” explained Brooks. “It’s allowed us to very rapidly prototype, and the visual interface has opened up quest creation to people who might view themselves as non-technical. The accessibility of the tools has really helped us be self-reliant as a team.”

Fable: The Journey

Brooks said that Unreal Matinee, in particular, was something of a revelation. On previous games, the camera placement was done by noting camera location and facing vectors and interpolating between them with script, which was a slow and clunky process. Being able to craft cutscenes in Matinee gave the team much more control and really empowered them to finesse their work.

Edwards said a couple of the nine level design team members had Unreal Engine experience. For the rest it was a pretty gentle learning curve.

“The nature of the game means we didn’t need to get right under the hood and bang our heads on the bonnet,” he said.

Edwards said the level design team used Matinee and Kismet to quickly block out puzzles and environmental animations so they could get their vision across and try out ideas without just showing someone something scrawled excitedly on a piece of paper.

Fable: The Journey

“My main reason for choosing UE3 was tools and iteration,” said Marcus Lynn, technical director, Lionhead Studios. “I wanted to get a smile back on the faces of content creators again where they wanted to go and improve something and feel like they had the support and tools they needed.”

Lynn said his team started the evaluation with a skeletal team and quickly got up-to-speed on most aspects at a basic level. New engineers on the project were given a two-week period to write something fun using UE3, which proved successful.

>Lionhead adopted additional Unreal Engine technology tools such as Unreal Landscape and the foliage system, which helped reduce memory overhead and improve performance.

“We have managed to create a world that feels complete and cohesive,” said Edwards. “There is a real sense of scale and place with many magnificent vistas and always a sense of traversing a huge land.”

Fable: The Journey

The development process to bring Kinect functionality to life was a smooth one. The team ensured that they had Kinect initialized and updated at the correct points and that the interfaces were clear enough for the gameplay and level scripters to use in UE3.

“The Unreal Developer Network (UDN has been an invaluable resource for us in both discussing common issues among developers and Epic, but also for getting quick answers and resolutions using the forum history and the combined knowledge of the other developers using it,” said Lynn.

With the game nearing completion, the team is happy with what they’ve been able to accomplish.

“It is a lovingly hand-crafted world, and we have tried hard to marry a lot of detail with the need to keep the frame rate high,” remarked Edwards.

After three successful RPG adventures in the Fable series, Lionhead Studios hopes players will embrace the same type of innovation it pioneered in console games with Kinect technology.

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