Martian Survival: ROKH Uses UE4 to Colonize the Red Planet

By Brian Rowe

From pop-culture plots to the scientific endeavors of the curious, society's interest in space exploration has been rekindled with a burning intensity. And, as it has for centuries, one planet in particular has become the epicenter of human imagination; Mars.

"Man needs to dream and to explore," says Marc Albinet, Game Director at Nvizzio Creations. "We’ve almost mapped the whole planet, the remaining part being the very deep sea. So, we now raise our head and look at the stars. At the same time, we also have to address the question: where are we going to live in the future?"

With this question in mind and the desire to create a believable sandbox experience for players, it's only fitting that Darewise chose the red planet as the setting for ROKH; an upcoming, multiplayer survival game that combines inventive crafting mechanics, including the ability to program devices, and the inhospitable environment of a foreign planet.

400 square kilometers in size, ROKH's environment was drawn from NASA data, but even Albinet admits that accuracy does not always make for fun gameplay. Drawing upon his experience as the Game Director for Assassin's Creed Unity, he and his team set about molding that raw material to create a more enjoyable environment for players while also representing the often-overlooked diversity of Mars' biomes, resources, and landscapes.

With a fast-paced development cycle of only 12 months ahead of them, and a number of complex gameplay mechanics to create from scratch, using Unreal Engine 4 was an easy call for the team. In Albinet's own words, "We had to focus on making a game, not the tech."

Prototyping had to move fast, and Albinet cites Blueprint along with the simplicity and depth of the editor as features that have helped the team to win time and keep budgets down. Within four months, they had a demo up and running in time to show at events and begin building a community - a crucial element of ROKH's gameplay.

Although players in ROKH can venture out alone, or even work against one another, gameplay is largely focused around cooperation. As Albinet explains, "It’s inherent to the way we design the various gameplay systems, including architecture, programming, crafting, and collecting. They’re so deep that one player should not be able to become an expert in all of them. And, as these systems have complex connections, several specialists will need to work together in order to complete the most epic creations."

The scope of ROKH's crafting stretches well beyond the standard 'X+Y=Z' implementation. Players are able to create a vast array of tools, weapons, robots, vehicles, and more, but crafting isn't just a matter of collecting and combining a checklist of resources to create a predictable item. Instead, basic materials such as titanium and iron can often be used to create the same items, but each material has its own characteristics that carry over to imbue the final product with different properties.

ROKH allows players to create completely unique structures by placing interlocking tiles, which can then be socketed with electrical conduits, vents, and other crafted devices. But, it's the addition of an in-game programming system that takes players into new territory. To keep a structure pressurized, for example, you need to properly program a pump, tank, and generator to create an airlock. Get it wrong and you'll be facing a blow-out or depressurization.

While Darewise might provide the in-game tools, they want players to be able to define the rules and goals, and to shape the overall experience themselves. In keeping with this philosophy, the team tries to be as transparent as possible throughout development, communicating regularly with fans and even inviting the community to join their public Slack team.

When asked about the team's experiences interacting with the Unreal Engine community, Albinet says, "Unreal support is fast, precise, and efficient, and the community is now so big that you can easily find what you're searching for when you have a question or a problem. I’ve no doubt that Unreal Engine is the best choice we could have made, and I’m glad we chose it."

For more details and the latest news, be sure to follow ROKH via the Dev Blog, Twitter, or Facebook. And, to chat with the developers directly, you can join their public Slack team.

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