November 27, 2019
A family bands together to develop pirate battle royale game Blazing Sails
In Blazing Sails, players will team up with other players to sink other ships on their quest to be the last pirate crew standing. Whether playing solo or with a crew of a variety of sizes in different types of ships, you’ll be able to respawn and keep fighting as long as your ship isn’t destroyed. To give themselves a better shot at victory, players navigate sea and land as they seek out resources, weapons, and upgrades for their vessels.
The ragtag Get Up Games crew hit some rough waters along the way and had to iterate on their project multiple times. They took some time to discuss how they got a better grasp of Unreal Engine throughout the process, share the inspiration behind the project, and elaborate on the landscaping tools that allowed them to build their environments. How did the team learn to use UE4 when starting the development process?
Technical Artist Gaetan Thibaut: First of all, Unreal Engine was well taught to us at Digital Arts and Entertainment in Kortrijk, [which was] the school the three developers went to a few years ago. Next to that, we learned a lot as well by making our own prototypes. A general curiosity motivated us to keep messing around in Unreal. The engine allowed us to easily convert ideas into real-time game concepts. While learning and working with Unreal, we constantly pushed the limits of what we thought was possible. The engine keeps amazing us with how far you can actually go with a modern game. We realize that without the current engine technology, we wouldn’t have been able to make Blazing Sails. Especially with only three developers. It’s really assuring to know that game ideas aren’t held back anymore by a lack of accessible, powerful engine software.
What was a key moment in Blazing Sail’s development or conceptualization that made the team believe they had something really appealing with the game?
Game Designer Frederic Degraeve: Before we started on Blazing Sails, we made a few prototypes. One of these prototypes was called “Skulls and Timber.” This prototype was created by the initial main developers/brothers, which include Programmer Frederic Degraeve and Artist Christophe Degraeve. The game was originally meant to be a pirate survival game (kind of like Rust in a pirate universe). After half a year of developing this prototype, it became clear that the idea was just too labor-intensive with only two developers. One thing we did learn from playtesting this prototype was that naval pirate combat was very fun. This was a key realization. So, we decided this would be the main focus of our final product. Next, we looked at the new battle royale trend that was then booming. We immediately realized this would be a great fit for Blazing Sails. So, the concept that we’re currently developing was born.
What Unreal tools helped the team create Blazing Sails’ environments?
3D Artist Christophe Degraeve: By using Unreal, we had access to the handy landscaping tools where we could easily make independent islands. By isolating all our islands in sublevels, we could effortlessly work on the world with multiple people at a time. Unreal allows us to make well-optimized maps, but also keeps everything modular without sacrificing performance. Combine this with the easy-to-use foliage tools and you have everything you need to build the base of a typical Blazing Sails island.
How did you use Unreal Engine for cloud and wind generation? Will clouds impact gameplay?
Gaetan: The clouds are purely visual. And just a panning skybox texture which really fits well in the stylized setting. We experimented a bit with 3D clouds, but it didn’t really fit the look and feel of Blazing Sails. However, there is a dynamically changing wind. Players have to adjust the angle of their sails to catch as much wind as possible in order to gain speed. The wind direction is also visually represented by translucent lines when manning the sails.
What inspired the team to create a battle royale pirate game as opposed to something focused on exploration?
Frederic: One thing we all agreed upon after making the first prototype is that we wanted to make Blazing Sails a pure multiplayer PvP game. Mainly because we, ourselves, as gamers enjoy online multiplayer games the most. The four people currently working at Get Up Games (three developers and one community manager) are all cousins and/or brothers. We grew up playing lots of multiplayer games together like: Counter Strike, Halo CE, Battlefield Heroes, etc. With Blazing Sails, we wanted to make a game we would like to play ourselves. Also, exploration type games are really content driven. This takes a lot of manpower or time to develop. Considering we’re a team with only three developers, that’s not really an option. The reason we eventually decided to go with battle royale was because the naval combat and island looting fit perfectly within this game mode. We played and enjoyed battle royale games quite a bit and know we can’t just make another BR game and expect [it to stand out]. Blazing Sails refreshes the genre in a positive way. It’s a concept you’re familiar with and yet feels like something completely new.
What type of research and development process results in a weapon as curious as the fish launcher? Is there a level of wacky the team won’t go?
Community Manager Gauthier Thibaut: Blazing Sails is set in a pirate fantasy world. This, of course, opens up a lot of possibilities for crazy weapon ideas. The fact that we’re also going for a more cartoony, stylized look also works really well with the fantasy pirate genre in our opinion. Next to that, we thought it was important to have a lot of weapons in Blazing Sails. Mainly because this adds replay value and makes the game just overall more fun. We received some really good weapon ideas from our Discord community and recently even added the “sword of the sea,” a vampiric sawfish inspired sword a community member recently suggested. The only rule [we have] is that the weapons need to stay “piraty.” Other than that, there isn’t really a level of wacky we won’t go.
How much did prior experience with the engine shape some of the decisions made for Blazing Sails?
Frederic: As mentioned before, we built all our prototypes in UE4. We basically started the whole project three times. So, a lot of lessons were learned along the way. The main lesson being structure and know-how. In the early prototypes, we used a lot of workarounds which ended up causing problems in the long run. At this point, we can say confidently that we know Unreal Engine quite well. All Blueprints are well structured and modular, which is important if you want to make changes and add new things in the future.
In a pirate game like Blazing Sails, the water itself can essentially be its own character. Were there any Unreal Engine tools that were helpful here?
Gaetan: We’re actually reworking the water at the moment. The ability to write shaders visually is an amazing asset to the engine and helped us a ton in creating the stylized water. The ability to iterate quickly and the extensive library of shader nodes was an essential part for creating something as complex as our water shader. Next to this, the ability to easily transfer variables to shaders with the help of parameter collections and dynamic Materials was important as well.
What classic pirate tales, across any media format, did the team take inspiration from when conceptualizing Blazing Sails?
Frederic: We’ve always been a huge fan of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Whenever the newest part of the franchise came out, we went to watch it together in the theatre. Also, Cutthroat Island, Master and Commander, but even The Goonies, Peter Pan, and Sinbad were movies we really enjoyed. We also drew some inspiration from the series Black Sails.
If you want to learn more about Blazing Sails, you can follow the game at: