July 30, 2013

Dontnod Entertainment Brings Neo-Paris to Life with Unreal Engine 3

By John Gaudiosi

As next-generation hardware approaches, Capcom is launching a brand new IP, having been captivated by French developer Dontnod Entertainment’s Remember Me, a science fiction action adventure that introduces a sexy elite memory hunter named Nilin. Set in Neo-Paris circa 2084, the game introduces new gameplay elements that involve entering the minds of characters. Dontnod has used the latest Unreal Engine 3 (UE3) technology to bring this sci-fi adventure to PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

“Technology is what you make of it, and we are in a very much technology-driven industry,” said Jean-Max Moris, creative director, Dontnod Entertainment. “We have the luck of having extremely talented concept artists, art directors and 3D artists who have created this wonderful, contrasted, colorful world of Neo-Paris with the Unreal Engine. We’ve made this game look very distinct, proving that it’s really about what you do with the technology. This industry is content-driven and Unreal allows us to focus on that.”

remember me Screenshot

Moris said choosing UE3 was a “no brainer.” Dontnod Entertainment CEO Oskar Guilbert said from the get-go, “We’re going to have Unreal. We’re not going to re-invent the wheel. We’re creating a new IP, a new studio, with a new team. If we had added new technology to that, I can assure you, we wouldn’t be here today.”

Remember Me has been designed to offer 50 percent action with combat and fights, and 50 percent adventure, with exploration, traversals, puzzles, and the like. Its gameplay offers a myriad of fighting options, including melee combat and sharpshooting weapons. 

One element that separates this game from the crowd is the _Inception_-like ability for Nilin to enter people’s minds and change or steal their memories. Dubbed ‘Memory Remix,’ Moris calls this unique gameplay “a super dynamic puzzle that is tightly interwoven with the narrative and the concept.” Entering a character’s mind can have huge consequences on the game’s story. 

A team of just under 100 people have been working on Remember Me for the past few years in Paris. According to Dontnod’s technical director Jerome Banal, there are a number of reasons that the team chose UE3. First and foremost is the fact that UE3 has proven itself consistently in the creation of many high-quality AAA titles, especially on consoles. 

“During our evaluation period we were impressed with its features and middleware to support a number of specific needs,” said Banal. “As UE3 is highly popular among artists and other programmers, it is easy to find people in France who are familiar with the engine. This considerably reduced any training costs and meant we had a team ready to begin development from the get-go.”

Remember me Art

Dontnod has worked closely with Epic Games’ engineering team at various points throughout the development process. The studio appreciated being able to work to its own schedule during the evaluation period while they consulted technical documentation and became comfortable with the engine’s source code. Seeing the game’s promise, Epic extended Dontnod’s UE3 evaluation as needed while they built out the game and polished it to the extent required to secure publisher funding. 

Dontnod also values the Unreal Engine development community. “The programmers have utilized the Unreal Developer Network (UDN) and mailing list a lot,” said Banal. “Some art departments have their lead or technical director summarize the content into a set of step-by-step instructions or checklists, as it can become very technical for pure artists, but the TDs are very happy that such information is readily available.”

All of that communication has resulted in a game that really stands out from a visual perspective, while pushing gameplay into new directions with its marriage of action and Memory Remix. 

“We modified Unreal Kismet to transform it into a finite-state machine with a lot of features inspired by UnrealScript, and coupled this with a large use of prefabs,” said Banal. “Together, it makes it easier for level designers to script the game and reuse various scripts, thereby improving productivity and reducing bugs and costs. 

“We switched the main shading model to a physically based model similar to the one presented by Tri-Ace to make the rendering even more realistic. We have added support for fast pre-computed and dynamic perspective-correct reflections – Epic’s Samaritan real-time UE3 demo inspired this technique which we presented at SIGGRAPH; our version has in turn inspired the UE4 team. These new reflective features make our wet world more believable. We also developed a memory-friendly rewindable particle system to make Memory Remix more impressive.”

remember Me

Remember Me also makes extensive use of Unreal Matinee. Banal said the whole Memory Remix gameplay is very cinematic and relies a lot on Matinee, with a few of Dontnod’s own internal enhancements. Multiple matinees are played at the same time, then selected and synchronized according to the player’s inputs. The real-time preview feature allowed iterating quickly over the scenes and the camera work, which was essential to achieving a superior level of quality with a small team. 

Like many other studios, Dontnod has used UE3 to develop Remember Me simultaneously across platforms. Banal said the engine enables the majority of the development to be led on PC with an easy-to-use pipeline that facilitates quick testing on console. In particular, the multi-threaded cooking was a real help with this.

The end result of all this effort is a new game that pushes the envelope of the action adventure genre. Aside from its gorgeous future Neo-Paris locale, entering the minds of characters adds a fresh twist to the genre. And the entire game came together, creatively, thanks to UE3 technology doing the heavy lifting, allowing Dontnod Entertainment to focus on raising the bar.