Image courtesy of Game Science

Black Myth: Wukong wows with UE5 Early Access visuals

Jimmy Thang |
September 22, 2021
Developed by Chinese studio Game Science, Black Myth: Wukong made headlines when it was first unveiled in 2020. The title immediately garnered international attention due to its AAA-quality visuals, which were backed by top-notch environments, characters, and visual effects.
 
The game recently made another big splash when Game Science revealed that it would switch from Unreal Engine 4 to Unreal Engine 5 partway through development. In our interview below, Game Science Co-founder and CEO FengJi and Co-founder and Tech Director Zhao Wenyong talk about that transition and elaborate on how UE5 features like Nanite and Lumen not only raise the graphical bar for Black Myth: Wukong but help improve the studio’s workflow.
 

Considering Black Myth: Wukong is based on China's famous Journey to the West novel, was there a conscious effort to retell that story to a wider international audience?
 
Game Science Co-founder and CEO FengJi: We are glad that so many gamers outside of China enjoy seeing this retelling of Journey to the West, but we didn't mean to ingratiate a specific group of people initially, neither Chinese players, nor others. We've just been obsessed with this Chinese mythology. It has a history of more than 500 years and also encompasses a vast worldview, exciting stories, as well as many intriguing characters. It's unfortunate that people overseas have hardly ever heard of it. Our study of the literature began a decade ago when we developed a 2.5D game themed around Journey to the West. It seemed quite natural for us to develop another action RPG based on it.
 
Outside of Journey to the West, did Black Myth: Wukong have any other influences?
 
FengJi: There are many more famous myths and legends in Chinese history, such as The Classic of Mountains and Seas, Investiture Of The Gods, Strange Tales from Liaozhai, and more. They directly affect and inspire us a lot. So do other excellent Chinese literary works, including Wuxia novels written by Jin Yong and Gu Long, and science fiction stories by Liu Cixin. 

From a global perspective, we admire Berserk, Alien, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, A Song of Ice and Fire, Dune, and more. Each of them stands out from fantasy works and has a deep impact on us. But we still want to impress our players with our own innovative elements.  
Image courtesy of Game Science
Can you briefly talk about what it's been like switching from UE4 to UE5 partway through development?
 
Game Science Co-founder and Tech Director Zhao Wenyong: It went unexpectedly smooth. It was even faster than when we switched from UE 4.24 to UE 4.26. The team spent more than one month solving the problems caused by refactoring FProperty API when we upgraded to UE 4.26. Hence, it surprised us a lot when we migrated our game project to UE5 easily. We only needed to do a few API usage-adaptation changes.
 
Does the team have any favorite Unreal Engine 5 features?

Wenyong: Definitely Nanite and Lumen, the two features our developers are most familiar with when referring to UE5. In addition to enhancing graphics quality, they can also improve the efficiency of creating art assets.

Nanite significantly reduces the difficulty of performance optimization for environments. And with the help of Lumen, we no longer need to bake the lightmaps or use point lights to fake global illumination. Lumen can be a shortcut to achieve real-time lighting performance and create levels with realistic lighting.

Another surprise is that the UE5 editor performs much better. Shader compilation, distance field generation, and other tasks running in the background don’t cause as much latency. We don't need to worry about how importing new resources or modifying shaders will affect editing anymore. And as previously mentioned, our efficiency to create art assets has been improved.
Image courtesy of Game Science
What are your thoughts on Unreal Engine 5 in its Early Access state thus far?
 
Wenyong: UE5 Early Access has been stable so far. Our team agreed that it was stable enough for game development, at least on Windows, which is also why we chose to fully migrate to UE5. However, in regards to developing for other platforms, we do suggest waiting for a more mature version.
 
People are really impressed with the snow, in particular, with the way it deforms around characters' feet as they walk and run through it. Can you delve into how you've achieved that?
 
Wenyong: We used Unreal Engine's Virtual Heightfield Mesh (VHM) to create dynamic snow. VHM itself could help add more details to terrain. Coupled with high-quality textures made by our colleagues, we are able to make a relatively realistic snow scene. Considering VHM is currently at an experimental stage, there are still some unsolved problems left. But overall, we think this feature is worthy of further study.
Image courtesy of Game Science
What is one thing you would like people to know about the game?
 
FengJi: Our monkey character can turn into more forms, which we haven’t revealed yet. If you are interested in learning more, we suggest diving into the original Journey to the West text!
 
Thanks for your time. Where can people learn more about Black Myth: Wukong?
 
FengJi: Check our official website

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