Image courtesy of 34BigThings

The real engine driving Redout 2’s liquid-fast graphics

Brian Crecente |
March 9, 2022
34BigThings is one of the biggest independent game studios in Italy. Born out of sheer passion and self-sustained throughout, it's a variegated group of game developers making games they love in a laid-back working environment. 34BigThings was acquired by Saber Interactive under the Embracer Group in November 2020.
The original Redout was an anti-gravity racing game set in 2560 and inspired by the likes of other racing greats like F-Zero, Wipeout, and POD. In some ways the sequel isn’t much different, but in deciding to make Redout 2, Italian studio 34BigThings first reexamined the franchise’s entire narrative universe.

It was through that process, they say, that the team realized there was more to explore in terms of both story and racing than a simple expansion of the original could deliver.

Redout 2 was designed to be an entirely new experience. We chatted with them about everything from the game’s look and maps, to the audio design and how Unreal Engine empowered the game’s evolution.
 

What was the inspiration for the original Redout?

Valerio Di Donato, CEO:
Redout is a tribute to the old racing monsters such as F-Zero, WipeOut, Rollcage, and POD. Everyone in the studio is a long-time fan of pretty much all of them and we often discuss their approaches to speed, gameplay, cameras, and a lot more.

Originally, we fell in love with the idea of a low-poly, small game about anti-gravity (AG) racing. We started working on that idea when we were just three people. Then the team grew and the idea with it. We started focusing on building the fastest game ever made and we have been spending the last decade studying everything that makes a game feel fast.

We wanted to deliver on that premise: we tweaked cameras, motion blur, reflections, real-time FOV adjustments—the entire package. But apparently, that wasn’t enough. We worked a lot on the physics of our vehicles, making sure the players could feel the weight of these ships launched at more than 1400km/h. We started from the same physics that controls the flight of quadcopters and their stabilization and built a model that could have them stable at the insane speeds we reach in Redout.

And even then, it wasn’t enough. Speed is a complex concept and needs literally every sense of the human body to work together to achieve it. The research done by the audio department was part of understanding this: every beat, every passing by sound, every preparation sound… everything works together to deliver the Redout-branded racing experience we envisioned.

What inspired you to make a sequel instead of just extending the original with new content?

Ivano Zanchetta, Creative Director:
We always start working on all our titles with a franchise approach, envisioning the entire narrative universe and where each game finds itself in a coherent timeline. With Redout we realized that we were creating more than just a context to justify the sci-fi behind the AG racing. We realized that we had something more to explore in terms of racing experience and narrative. Redout 2 expands this universe with new teams and locations that shed some light on different ages humanity went through to reach the end of the 26th century.

Di Donato: This franchise approach allows us to plan a bit further than usual, invest more into our games and, in the end, build better games.

On top of all of this, starting from scratch with Redout 2 allowed us to use everything we learned about building a huge title in the past years and focus on the most important and critical aspects of a next-generation game. Everything Redout needed wasn’t possible with the old architecture: full ship customization, cross-gen multiplayer, async multiplayer requests, hot-seat join, even bigger environments (it’s amazing how everything becomes short when you are flying at 1400km/h!).

Redout 2 isn’t about providing “more Redout” to our players, it’s a new experience built for them and everyone who loves racing.
Image courtesy of 34BigThings
Why do you think so many people are drawn to futuristic, anti-gravity racers? What appeal do they have that more traditional arcade racers don’t?

Zanchetta:
Anti-gravity racing had a long and shining past since the first Nintendo release of F-Zero and the Wipeout saga on PlayStation. We thought a lot about why this genre was appealing at that time and slowly disappeared from the market. The answer we found was that despite the great arcade feeling and the speed of those games, the overall racing genre evolved from the pure arcade of the ’90s to something more physically accurate during the last 15 years. While pointing towards the extreme simulation, we did lose some of the creativity in the whole racing genre. 

Now, there are a lot of good, yet “normal,” racing experiences out there, with an incredible technical effort to achieve outstanding graphics and simulative environments, but few of them stand out for the sensation and the feeling of speed.

With Redout we tried to bring back those vibes with a novel approach.
 
The early anti-gravity racers had stiff controls and unrealistic physics. We wanted to create something more accurate in terms of controls and feeling as the modern players require. Taking advantage of new technologies and some out-of-the-box thinking, we freshened up the racing scene with our dual stick handling that enables deeper controls and recreates part of the old arcade feeling we were looking for, yet with a believable physics model that simulates what driving a 1400km/h monster could be. 

In Redout 2, as per modern racing games, players will find total freedom on ship customization from performance tuning to aesthetics. You can set up your rig according to your drive style and express yourself with tons of cosmetic components, liveries, and color combinations.

With Redout 2 we are not only making the fastest game ever made, we are creating a whole new racing experience for every racer.
Image courtesy of 34BigThings
Were there any lessons you learned making the original Redout that you applied to the development of Redout 2?

Zanchetta:
With Redout we wanted to create something unexpected and unbelievably fast; something hard, but satisfying. We nailed it, but we went too hard on the learning curve and the lack of proper tutorials on how to control a 1400 km/h ship with unique handling and physics was daunting for too many.

On Redout 2 we addressed this issue in two ways: players will find an extensive set of tutorial levels before starting the campaign, explaining tips and tricks on how to handle strafe, pitch, flight, turns, boosts, and so on. At the end of the tutorial races, the game will automatically set up driving assists based on your own pace and driving style, which gives time to everyone to get used to and enjoy the mechanics with less frustration. All the assists are completely configurable at any time. We want everyone to enjoy the speed!

Oh, I almost forgot to mention the most incredible feature we will have on Redout 2 that was missing on Redout: rebindable keys! I know, nothing fancy, but incredibly useful.

Still sorry to any non-QWERTY keyboard owners that were forced to cross their fingers in an unnatural way to play Redout. Well, this time no more!
Image courtesy of 34BigThings
The original Redout was praised for its campaign mode and the look and feel of the game’s liquid-fast racing but dinged over multiplayer that was deemed a bit lackluster. What are you doing to address those concerns in the sequel?

Giuseppe Enrico Franchi, Lead Game Designer:
We worked hard to streamline access to multiplayer races, first and foremost. 

Redout 2 will feature asynchronous matchmaking, meaning that players will be able to play single player (or do whatever they want with the game, really) while looking for an online race. 

We also went ahead and implemented hot join, meaning that players won’t need to sit in a lobby waiting for it to fill up before finding an active race, but can be dropped right into the action, just behind the last ship racing.

A frictionless multiplayer experience is key to building a competitive racing scene. It did happen in Redout, to an extent: with all the limitations that system had, players organized and gathered autonomously for weekly multiplayer sessions, and formed a wonderful community. We want to give them the tools they need to make this experience easier and more enjoyable.

How has the campaign mode been adjusted?

Franchi:
The length of the single-player campaign reflects the amount of content that was added to the game. With 12 teams, an extensive amount of unlockable customization options for each team (both aesthetic and functional), and a whopping 36 racetracks (also playable in reverse), there will be tons of races to enter and rewards to win in the Redout universe!

We maintained the progressively fast structure, from slow to fast classes, allocating a whole lot of extra attention to the two opposite ends of the spectrum: the tutorial, and the fast classes.

Not only did we introduce the Redout Academy, in which we make sure that all players have their bases covered before facing off against AI opponents; we also created challenges that are progressively unlocked as they progress in the campaign, to deep dive into specific parts of the driving model. So, you’ll learn how to tackle wide and narrow corners, slopes, twists, and banked turns that require steering and pitching, how to customize your ship according to the track, and so much more.
Image courtesy of 34BigThings
Both the original Redout and Redout 2 were developed on Unreal Engine. What drew you to the engine to make this game?

Di Donato:
To be honest, we built the first prototype for Redout using Unity. Mostly because that’s the engine we graduated university and had the most experience with. But we had the chance to try a beta release of UE4 back in 2014 and we just fell in love with it: Everything we wanted to do for Redout was there or easier to achieve. 

We loved the power of UE in terms of lighting, VFX, shading, and the existing integration of next-gen graphics “essentials” like screen-space reflections, sub-surface scattering, and so on. We took everything, literally everything, the engine had to offer to build our vision and used it. 

With time, UE only got better: more mature, more stable, more usable. We also got to know the ins and outs of it much better, integrating it deeply into our workflows or changing the source code of the engine to our liking. 

I don’t think there's a better engine out there to build games.
Image courtesy of 34BigThings
Were there any particular advancements in Unreal Engine that helped to push the look and feel of Redout 2 forward?

Michele “BUDELLO” Bertolini, Lead Artist:
Development started in pre-production with a freshly released 4.19 and we had a pretty clear idea on what we wanted to push further on the visual level: actually a lot of what happened on newer releases of UE was a perfect fit for our needs!

First of all, Cascade was already good, but the amount of power and control over your particles and VFXs that Niagara put on the table is a totally different beast; being a VFX artist too, I’ve had the chance to work on it directly and potential and performance-wise it is a real game changer. Pushing on particles and VFX was easier and more effective, we could achieve what we had envisioned with less work and better results.

The physically based Sky Atmosphere component greatly improved the overall feeling of our environment, being powerful and flexible enough to create alien worlds and everything needed for our artistic direction.

You want me to point a finger towards another great feature that helped a lot during the production?

The Mesh Creation Tool.

We loved it because of the tight integration we managed to achieve within our classic 3D pipeline. Even if the more complex parts of our 3D pipeline happen outside Unreal (using Blender and some proprietary plugins), the mesh creation tool helped us solving tasks within the engine, removing the need of asset re-importing and all the issues related to it.

Besides new tech introduced by Epic during Redout 2 development, Unreal Engine is a solid framework that can support pretty much any kind of visual style.
Image courtesy of 34BigThings
How did the game’s maps evolve in Redout 2?

Franchi:
We wanted to convey the atmosphere of interplanetary and extremely popular motorsport: we wanted each location to feel like an autodrome, rather than a series of disconnected track sections. Something that was built for a purpose, in harmony with the landscape, or in contrast to it. A Redout 2 location has a definite starting grid that now is brimming with life: spectators on the stands, commercials, sponsor panels, a pit lane. The track develops and forks, creating alternative paths but also different layout possibilities, from which we derived the three racetracks per location. Low sections run on the ground or on water, also posing interesting driving challenges, while elevated sections are supported by arches and pillars (sometimes suspended mid-air through helicopter blades) and are generally made of lighter frames or fully transparent glass. We very much kept the “race on a rollercoaster” approach of the first Redout, with a mix of short and long tracks, but all of them containing some gravity-defying twists or jumps. We even race at the outskirts of a black hole!

How did you re-envision the look and feel of the vehicles in Redout 2?

Bertolini:
We want to push it in a stylized but more realistic direction, to help convey the “future motorsport” feeling without sacrificing too much of our aesthetic touch. We needed our ships to be fully customizable by players, still recognizable in their dominating shapes but shinier, cooler, and full of little details that we’ve no chance to show with our previous “low-poly” aesthetic.

The work of re-interpreting the beloved franchise was exceptionally well-interpreted by our concept artists but was a real test for their skills: bringing the exaggerated shapes of an ESA to a new visual world needed at least three design iterations, with fully completed concepts being trashed because didn’t reach the quality we wanted.

After the concept phase, problems were obviously just at the beginning: what kind of shading? How many textured, fully interchangeable pieces floating all around the ships needed to be animated, modeled, and shaded to work accordingly in every possible combination?

In the end, we came out with pretty solid solutions and we’re very proud of the look and feel of our brand new main characters.
Image courtesy of 34BigThings
What were the inspirations for your choice of musicians for the game’s soundtrack?

Paolo Armao, Audio Director:
The entire studio agreed that music is one of the essential tools that we had to use to support the player in empathizing with the driving experience. Past titles established the pillars and defined most of the musical qualities that inspired us since the beginning of the music design research and development.

The first Redout chapter was welcomed with enthusiasm from the players. Our tracks have been played live by orchestras in several events all over Europe. Creating a connection with these tracks was necessary while moving forward from the roots, shaping our style, and defining the rules for our interactive music system.

We wanted to honor artists that framed the "recent sound of the future" and—where possible—to open a dialogue with involved composers to show them the structure of our music system to dissolve the boundaries between composition and implementation.

We started digging into the various branches of music genres with a list of words and moods—our team listened to more than 10,000 tracks and came back with the best references we found for each genre. Once we made our selection, we had to fine-tune our choices to create coherence between the different styles.

A special connection was born with Zardonic, an amazing world-renowned artist who composed 15 original tracks and intensively collaborated with our sound team during the whole development of the game.

Lastly, all sound effects—from ship engines to collision sounds—have been created using approaches and tools borrowed from the music production standards. We are happy to consider them as instruments of the orchestra that compose the Redout 2 sound experience.
Image courtesy of 34BigThings
Were there any particular design challenges that the Unreal Engine helped you overcome?

Franchi:
We were able to expand on the engine to integrate our working pipeline and create internal tools for quicker content generation. For example, we were able to build on the landscape spline tool to build our racetracks and integrate them with the landscape, but also we created a tool to automatically place track modules, curbs, walls, sponsors, and other track elements based on a series of rules such as track elevation, turn radius/banking, and so on.

Are there any particular upcoming advancements in Unreal Engine that you are looking forward to and if so why?

Bertolini:
Lumen. Unreal Engine 5 is flexing as much as possible for a real-time graphics engine, but what really excites me the most is real-time lighting: this is the Eldorado of computer graphics, keeping the same visual quality while changing lighting conditions, no wait for baking, change your vision and direction without any compromise in no time.

Nanite is really exciting too, not having geometry limitations especially on environments can cut down the production time, letting you put more and more effort into visual quality and less on optimization.

I would really like to see what Epic can do in fluid simulation. It could be really interesting to have an accessible and “out-of-the-box” simulation directly in UE5 to explore new gameplays and visuals.
Image courtesy of 34BigThings
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Where can people find out more about Redout 2 and 34BigThings?

Di Donato:
In many places, actually! Depending on the platform of your choice, you could join us on our Discord Server ( discord.gg/redout ), check the website, or any of the social platforms: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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