Every once in a while a developer comes along with the capability to redefine a genre. Formed by Tim Harris, Bungie co-founder Alex Seropian, and Dreamworks alumni Brent Pease, Industrial Toys stands poised to take on mobile shooters with the sci-fi game and multimedia experience for iOS, Midnight Star.
Shooters have had a rocky history on mobile devices, with most games achieving less than ideal results by attempting to mimic console and PC gaming experiences. Instead of treading the same path, Industrial Toys reexamined the ways in which people used mobile devices for entertainment and started from scratch.
Harris says, “We set out to create the definitive shooter for touch with no virtual controls, pacing and design that’s true to the way mobile devices are used, and an epic storyline that gets told in a bunch of different ways. It’s designed from the ground up for mobile. It’s crazy fun, amps your adrenaline when it gets difficult and takes you on a ride far from Earth to fight bad guys on an impossible mission you never expected.”
Requiring a powerful toolset that caters to mobile game developers, Industrial Toys quickly turned to Unreal Engine technology. As Harris explains, “It delivers the best visual experience on mobile, and most of the beautiful hit games aimed at our audience are on Unreal Engine 3. Also, many of us have shipped commercial products using Unreal Engine and all of the guys we hired out of school cut their teeth on Unreal Engine 3. The decision was very simple.”
Since Industrial Toys set out to uproot old conventions and pioneer a new form of touch-based controls, ensuring that their ideas translated into a fun gaming experience have been among the team’s chief priorities. With Unreal Engine 3, they were able to rapidly produce prototypes and create a basic template for the game within a couple of months, allowing them to concentrate more deeply on elements such as AI and further refining controls.
Key to quick progress was the ability for team members to work in conjunction across disciplines. With Unreal Engine 3’s team-friendly development tools that offer real-time results, Industrial Toy’s artists, engineers and designers are able to cooperate simultaneously on game assets and features.
As one example of cooperation, Harris shares how these features have aided them during level creation. “The ability for designers to work in an easy-to-understand, visual scripting language is amazing for creating complex levels that incorporate cinematic elements, as well as for interacting with engineering. The communication between Unreal Kismet and UnrealScript allows everyone to work together to ensure stable level creation without affecting one another’s workflow.”
Harris highlights the Unreal Content Browser, level editor, and Unreal Matinee as some of Unreal Engine 3’s defining tools that provide developers with a complete and highly organized workflow.
“The Content Browser acts as a hub for all of our in-game assets, making it is easy to view, organize, arrange, and make batch changes using a variety of view modes and filters. The level editor encourages content modularity by offering a robust grid-based workflow and a prefab system that promotes reutilization of assets. Matinee provides a bridge between design and art in the cinematic pipeline, and it uses an interface that is similar to the animation timelines present in all digital content creation packages.”
As Harris points out, Unreal Engine 3 contains features that are especially beneficial to mobile developers. “If the Lightmass static lighting system wasn’t present there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth at Industrial Toys. Lightmass is a fantastic lighting solution that makes approximating realistic global illumination possible on mobile devices.”
Even teams as highly experienced as Industrial Toys face unexpected obstacles, especially when attempting to create a wholly unique style of gameplay. Harris calls the Unreal Engine community a “family,” and praises both Epic Games and fellow game developers for their encouragement, collaboration, and cross-pollination of ideas.
Midnight Star is currently in closed beta, and is the first game in a planned series encompassing a massive narrative that includes Midnight Rises; an interactive graphic novel by author John Scalzi and artist Mike Choi. Midnight Rises will be released a few weeks prior as a separate app, and will unlock special rewards for Midnight Star players.