Unreal Engine 3 is Grasshopper Manufacture's Weapon of Choice for Shadows of the Damned

By John Gaudiosi

Epic worked with Grasshopper on this story, and at their request, some individual names have been withheld.

Acclaimed Japanese game developer Grasshopper Manufacture’s first Unreal Engine 3 game, Shadows of the Damned, has already seen critical and commercial success in the U.S. for publisher Electronic Arts. The innovative action horror game, unleashed in North America in June, is set to haunt Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in Japan on September 22. Throughout game development, Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 3 played an important part in enabling top Japanese game designers like Goichi Suda, Shinji Mikami and Akira Yamaoka to create the survival horror game’s unique world.

“Unreal Engine 3 has a long history and many features that helped us take the development process to the next level,” said Satoshi Kawakami, Grasshopper Manufacture CTO. “The game engine's speed allows for trial-and-error testing of gameplay right from the start of development, optimized video effects with a perfect balance of performance, system updates that always include the latest technology, and a level of stability that greatly reduces debugging time in the late development process.” 

Shadows of the Damned

In Shadows of the Damned, players assume the role of Garcia Hotspur, a demon hunter who travels to the City of the Damned to rescue his girlfriend from Fleming, Lord of Demons. Accompanied by a former demon named Johnson, who can transform from a talking skull into deadly weapons, and an assortment of very big guns – all of which can be enhanced through the power of light magic – Hotspur hacks, slashes and shoots his way through a grotesque army of monsters and hulking, disgusting bosses. The game is a unique experience, unlike any other game in its class, with Unreal Engine 3 bringing every outlandish creation to life behind the scenes.

Kawakami called Unreal Engine 3 “the premier game engine middleware in the world," saying that before licensing this technology from Epic Games, Grasshopper Manufacture wouldn’t have been able to tackle the first-person shooter genre.

“Game development is making progress from day to day, and so is the development of game engines,” said Kawakami. “It’s been moving at an incredible pace. I’m very happy that we didn’t waste any of the effort of Epic’s engineers when we created Shadows of the Damned.”

Shadows of the Damned

Kawakami said that using middleware does more than increase the efficiency of game content development, “Unreal Engine 3 helped us gain expertise related to content development methods, development systems, and everything from pipelines to management methods,” added Kawakami. “I really think we grew a lot as developers. This project also taught me that people bring a wide variety of experiences with them when creating games like this.”

A programmer at Grasshopper Manufacture believes the company was able to reduce development costs by utilizing Unreal Engine 3 because the technology is constantly updated with the latest visual effects and technology on a monthly basis. The team also was able to save time and costs in streamlining its cross-platform development of the title.

“Multi-platform support was a big reason that we chose Unreal Engine 3,” said one of Grasshopper Manufacture's programmers. “We looked into how to avoid risks when developing titles for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. By using UE3, we were able to create the game without being conscious of the fact that we were performing multi-platform development.”

Shadows of the Damned

The programmer also liked the fact that Unreal Engine 3 allowed programmers to concentrate on gameplay. In the past, programmers were also tasked with things like level design, effects, and shaders, a time-consuming process

“For asset management as well, the control that UE3's integrated environment gave us made development smoother, without any wasted effort,” said the programmer. “And being able to test behavior on the PC made implementation and testing easier.”

Throughout the development process, the team at Grasshopper tapped into the extensive resources of the Unreal Developers Network, which opened up a vast amount of information from the growing catalog of triple-A Unreal Engine 3 games.

“With all of the information being exchanged and the advice we got from other companies, it was quite stimulating,” said the programmer. “I was able to experience the engine's long development history in the way it enables you to work systematically with its many features supporting the developer. When I think about how pleasant it was to develop with Unreal Engine 3, I definitely want to use it again in the future.”

Grasshopper is already working on its second Unreal Engine 3 game, the action game Lollipop Chainsaw, which Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment plans to publish in 2012 for Xbox 360 and PS3.

From a level design perspective, one of the game’s level designers said that using new technology provided by Epic online and using other licensed tools merged or shared with another code base allowed Grasshopper instant access to a development ecosystem giving them a high degree of freedom — examples include adding in crowds or landscapes, all done with far more ease than other options..

“Using BSP prototypes allows you to easily set up or change the level layout before creating the art,” said the level designer. “Personally, I found UE3 to be much faster and simpler than MAX. Using GUI scripting (Kismet) was very efficient. Plus, it’s easy for new people to learn. And since it’s scripting, you can copy and paste it as text just as if you were using a text editor. The Matinee tool has multiple features for cut scenes and gameplay, making it quite powerful.”

The level designer went on to say that using the animation system to set up events in Shadows of the Damned was easier than with engines he's used previously. With Unreal Engine 3, his team set up events from anim-notifies with Kismet. Players experience this first hand in-game when the lights in the castle flicker during the Antenna Survive charge animation, or during the shadow event occurs when buying energy soup from a vending machine in the lake.

“Using Unreal Engine’s visual GUI and Kismet, which has been refined over many years by adding the calculation function, you can set up more refined gameplay battle logic,” added the level designer. “With the package system and sub-levels, the workflow and editor make management more efficient compared to other editors. With no need to wait for artists or programmers to create new assets, the animators were able to finish a level’s cut scenes without waiting for the level design to be finished. The level designers can still easily make changes. And the map build time was less than it has been with the other tools I’ve used in the past for lighting, navigation data, and geometry.”

Shadows of the damned

Members from across the development team were happy to log into UE3's streamlined pipeline. Within a week, artists on the team were able to have the protagonist, Garcia Hotspur, run around a small map holding a torch.. As character evolved over the course of development, so did the engine.

“Throughout the project, we saw many improvements and additional features get added to Unreal Engine 3, and of course we used as many of them as possible,” said one of the game’s artists. “We really were able to let our creativity loose when using the Material Editor to make backgrounds and a variety of character effects. The materials were all made by the artists, everything from subtle random shading of background props to dramatic lighting and target flame effects.”

Perhaps the artist best sums up Unreal Engine 3 calling it Grasshopper’s “weapon of choice."

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