Devil's Hunt leveraged Blueprints and source-code access to turn a fantasy novel into a game
The trio talk about their influences developing Devil’s Hunt, discuss why they put a focus on hand-to-hand melee combat, and share how they created the game’s world. Speaking on the technical front, Leśniak reveals that Devil’s Hunt was originally prototyped using a different engine and was actually cancelled at one point because they weren’t happy with the initial results. Moving to Unreal Engine, however, Layopi Games found success and speaks to how they created Devil’s Hunt’s awesome particle effects and highlights the benefits of having source-code access. They also detail when they leaned into C++ juxtaposed against when they leveraged Blueprints. Finally, the developers share lessons learned from forming a new studio. Can you describe the studio's goals with Devil's Hunt from the onset?
Creative Director Paweł Leśniak: Our goal from the beginning was to follow our passion to create an ambitious story-driven adventure game with combat elements that we would be proud of. The first step was to build a solid core team of experienced people and make the beginning of a franchise that players would love and have a lot of fun playing.
With the narrative being such a core component of the experience, can you provide us a high level overview of what the story entails?
Leśniak: We wanted to start things differently compared to similar games [in the genre], where you [typically] play the son of the strongest devil or the son of a god, and they have you being an epic character from the beginning. In our game, just like in the book, [protagonist] Desmond is just a random guy in Miami living a normal life. But all of this is taken away from him in a second and he ends up in hell. After that, he gives his soul to Lucifer, who gives him a chance at vengeance. A point that we want to show in the story is that even if you have horns on your head, it doesn’t mean that you have to be evil.
Were there any particular games that influenced Devil's Hunt's design?
Leśniak: We were inspired by a few different games; for combat, we thought that Batman and Mad Max provided a really good start. We really like the feeling of the combat, and the satisfaction of putting enemies down in a brutal, [impactful] way. For the storytelling, we looked at The Last of Us and The Order 1886. They are both great games with excellent narrative designs that make you really feel for the characters. We wanted that in our game. We wanted to show the story of our Savior and Destroyer to that level.
Unlike many other third-person action games, Devil's Hunt puts an emphasis on hard-hitting hand-to-hand combat in lieu of swords and guns. Why was this important for the project and can you walk us through how the studio approached designing combat?
Leśniak: In games where you play a very strong and skilled combative character, they often rely on their weapons. In our case, Desmond himself is the weapon. When he gives his soul to Lucifer, Desmond’s soul starts to burn with hellfire. Considering human weapons can’t penetrate the skin of a demon or angel, he uses this fire to create a dark rock skin with sharp claws that allow him to damage and destroy his enemies.
Can you talk about how you built a skill tree that allows players to customize their playstyle?
Leśniak: There are three different schools of fighting in our game. Demonic is when you use your hellfire to help you kill your enemies. Unholy is when you use weapons to fight angels, and Void powers act more like crowd control. There are three talent trees that allow you to upgrade your character with new skills and combos. We decided that the player can reassign skills at any point in the game. This allows them to experiment and choose a style of play that suits them.
Considering players will have to fight angels and demons alike, can you walk us through how the studio created all the enemy creatures and bosses in the game?
Leśniak: Our hell is not just a realm, it’s a place ruled by demonic princes who control different areas. We didn’t want to just make different kinds of enemies, but we wanted them to have stories behind them. That’s why there are enemies that are scattered across different places. For instance, you will not fight demons on earth as their place is in hell. On earth, you will fight executors who have similar powers to Desmond and Angels, who are really hard to kill. The boss fights are also deeply implemented into the story and have good reasons to confront you.
With Devil's Hunt taking you to the depths of heaven, hell, and, well, Miami, can you delve into how you created the game’s world?
Leśniak: It was one of the hardest things to do. Because we knew from the beginning that it would be a challenge for us to create three vastly different worlds while giving players the impression that they were playing the same game. It was also challenging giving players time to travel between these worlds to enjoy these experiences.
The game features slick attack animations interwoven between real-time combat. Can you delve into how you pulled that off?
Lead Combat Designer Natanel Brański: It took many iterations to get what we have now. Most of it is just proper blending between animations with proper start and end poses. We used Unreal Engine’s animation state machines to achieve the perfect blend between all the states of our characters. This gives us the advantage and full control of player animation states, which is crucial for smooth combat.
Devil's Hunt features some great particle effects with fiery animations and explosions. How did the studio create these visuals?
VFX Artist Dominik Gajewski: Particle effects were created using Unreal Engine’s Cascade tools. Niagara was still experimental when we began the production. Particle effect assets are placed by VFX Artists with correct timing for animations as AnimNotifies. Particle effects are also triggered from code when more complex interactions are needed for skills, finishers, or other encounters.
With almost two hours of in-game cutscenes, can you explain how you produced Devil's Hunt cinematics?
Leśniak: We start with the script for all the cutscenes. We had numerous meetings discussing how the story should unfold to find the best way to present it to players. It took a couple of months before we were ready to start working on the pre-production in the way of storyboards for each scene. Cutscenes were one of the hardest things to do during the production in regards to facial animations, lightning, etc. We were looking for the right people with the proper skills for cinematics like that, and were able to find the right people in the end and are really happy with the final result.
How has it been adapting the book into a story that fits well within a videogame format?
Leśniak: It was much harder than I thought, since the game needed more content in terms of combat missions and puzzles. What was even more challenging was bringing the same personality of the characters into the game. When you are writing a book, you can describe your thoughts and feelings for the character, but in the game, you need to show these emotions through dialogue and movement. It was really great seeing all these characters and places that I imagined almost seven years ago come to life for the first time. I will never forget that moment.
Roughly how many people worked on the game?
Leśniak: It is really hard to say how many people worked on the project because we were building the team while we were developing the game. Two years ago, we had 14 people, but now we are at 36, but in the meantime, when you build a team like this, people come and go, so you need to make quick choices. But I’m very happy and proud that we managed to find the right people to make our game.
How long did it take to make Devil's Hunt?
Leśniak: We’ve been working on Devil’s Hunt for two years.
What made UE4 a good fit for the game?
Leśniak: Four years ago, when I started the company, it was hard to find talented people who were ready to start a project like this using Unreal Engine, so we decided to develop the game using Unity. But after six months of work, we were not happy with the results, so we decided to cancel the project and start again using Unreal Engine. We have a lot of artists on our team and Unreal was the best fit for us since it provides many more tools that showcase our game in the way we wanted.
Did the studio have any favorite UE4 tools or features?
Programmer Igor Berus: Perforce integration, Blueprints, and source-code access. Another convenience is the file history within the Content Browser and Diffs in Blueprints.
In regards to Blueprints, this feature was very helpful with fast prototyping and allowed us to test different approaches. Without this, looking for the right solution would have taken a lot longer.
The source-code access was also important. Reading code for different functions allowed me to program better solutions. Also, it was faster to navigate to function comments than finding documentation on the web.
What can you tell us about the team’s use of Blueprints, C++ source code, or both?
Lead Programmer Michał Kłoś: We used both Blueprints and C++. We favored C++ for maintainability and the backend and leveraged Blueprints when it came to gameplay and asset-related scripts.
What lessons have you learned forming the studio to create your first game?
Leśniak: The biggest lesson learned was that we should focus more on the pre-production process. We rushed many things in the beginning to try and make it close to final as fast as we could, and because of that, we had to make compromises. We are learning from our mistakes and will certainly not make them on future projects.
Thanks for your time. Where can people learn more about Devil's Hunt?
Leśniak: Devil’s Hunt launched on September 17! You can play it today.