Inside the development of Beyond the Grave’s return to Scumland

Brian Crecente
IGGYMOB whose name means "special monster," is a professional console game development studio in South Korea, the powerhouse of mobile games and PC online games. It is made up of directors and managers from compnaies like Sega, Epic Games, NC Soft, and Sony Interactive Entertainment, as well as developers and artists from all around the world, all of whom collaborate to share their experiences and create fun.
Revenge is a dish best served Beyond the Grave.

In 2002, Gungrave—an over-the-top, third-person shooter created by Yasuhiro Nightow and starring protagonist Beyond the Grave—hit the PlayStation 2 like a bullet-laden anime tidal wave.

People instantly fell in love with the game’s distinct look and design. It even spawned a Japanese anime television series that ran for 26 episodes, and a sequel that hit in 2004. But that seemed to be Gungrave’s swansong—until 2017, when Korean developers Iggymob and Blueside revived the series with a virtual reality game.

And this year will finally see a return of Grave to his familiar world of Scumland, guns blazing, in Gungrave G.O.R.E,  Recently, we were able to snag some time with the team at Iggymob to talk about their work reviving the decade-old franchise, what to expect from the Epic MegaGrant recipient, and the impact talented artist Ikumi Nakamura had on the game.

This is the second Gungrave game developed by Iggymob. How did the studio get involved in the series?

Kay Kim, IGGYMOB general director:
We all feel nostalgia for heroes of the past. Marvel's superheroes are awesome, but we were missing a hero with a slightly different feel—a dark, somewhat grim-looking hero. And that was Beyond the Grave. At the time, Souls-like games were expanding their dominance in the market and we wanted to create an easy and stylish action game that wasn't a Souls-like. Gungrave fit this description well. There was no news of a sequel for a very long time, so we decided to make the sequel ourselves. As fans of the series, and also developers, it was a new challenge.
What made Iggymob decide to use Unreal Engine to develop Gungrave G.O.R.E?

Dongjin Park, IGGYMOB lead programmer:
With Unreal Engine, we are able to develop for multiple platforms simultaneously—and it has good modifiability since you have  access to the full source code. We could use various plugins to easily implement different features into the game, and we believed that the powerful Blueprint system would help us greatly in achieving our goals. The rendering pipeline is also very good, which led us to think that it would be advantageous for producing animations and VFX.

The original game and the animation that preceded it has a very distinct look. How did you go about translating that into something that worked well inside Unreal Engine?

By using layered animations provided by Unreal Engine and a combination of Blend and Transform Bone nodes from the Blueprint system, we were able to make smoother transitions between animations. Grave’s animations are very difficult for a real human to recreate. Our designers and programmers spent a lot of time crafting Grave's animations.

Beyond the existing Gungrave works, what animation, film, and video games influenced your designs for the new game?

Daehoon Kim, IGGYMOB producer:
Aside from focusing on the previous Gungrave games, we played a variety of shooting and action games. As for movies that influenced our designs, we watched a lot of Equilibrium and Desperado.

Ikumi Nakamura worked alongside you on a number of character designs. How did her unique style and approach influence the game’s look and feel?

Kay Kim:
First of all, she is very cool. Her working style, communication, and her final products were amazing. Ikumi was involved in boss character designs and advised us on some other visual aspects of the game. She also designed something that we are very excited about; I cannot reveal here what it is, but it is definitely something to look forward to. Her designs added sophistication and uniqueness to the characters. Some of the existing bosses that were flat and had no personality were completely reborn. For example, one character used to look like a run-of-the-mill ninja type but now has six arms and four katanas. This is an example of how she was able to bring strong personalities to once plain-looking characters.
What impact would you like this game to have on the existing Gungrave franchise and its fans?

Daehoon Kim:
We want to use the unique charm of the Gungrave series as a foundation, but showcase evolved visuals and gameplay through new technologies.

Gungrave has been resurrected after a long time. We took Grave out of the coffin. Instead of going back into the coffin, we want players to continue looking forward to meeting Grave again through new games in the future.

In developing this game, how are you balancing the desire to appeal to long-time fans of Gungrave while also bringing in new fans who may not have heard of the franchise?

Mincheol Seong, IGGYMOB senior designer:
In the beginning, we thought a lot about whether to showcase the Grave from the previous series or a brand-new Grave. However, we thought we needed to satisfy both fans of the previous series and new fans coming into the franchise.

We are going to appeal to fans of the previous series by inheriting the devastating power of Demolition Shots and high-tempo shooting with infinite bullets from the previous games, while giving them a more stylish look. To new fans, the appeal will be the stylish and destructive shoot-em-up action. Fans who like action but feel intimidated by difficult games will be able to experience and enjoy impactful and stylish action.
Are there particular elements of Unreal Engine technology that helped you develop the look and mechanics of Gungrave G.O.R.E? If so, could you walk us through one that stands out for you?

Changhee Lee, IGGYMOB engine programmer:
In order to run Gungrave G.O.R.E on PS4 and Xbox One, we relied heavily on features such as Proxy Meshes, Hierarchical Instanced Static Meshes, and HLOD. Python scripting support was also very helpful in automating tasks to be applied to each individual object. As for appearances, the groom system that replaced the usual hair system was impressive in terms of both quality and flexibility.

Iggymob received an Epic MegaGrant for Gungrave G.O.R.E in 2019. What impact did that have on the game’s development and the studio?

Kay Kim:
Receiving the Epic MegaGrant was a big source of motivation for us. Small developers always struggle with financials and motivation. When you are lacking funds, you keep asking yourself, "Can we really see it through to the end?" In that regard, Epic MegaGrant was also a great boon for us financially, and it showed people that we were a valuable team and this was very helpful in keeping us motivated.

What are your future plans for Unreal Engine?

Kay Kim:
Aside from BTS and Squid Game, Korea still has a lot more awesome things left to show the world—and the Medieval Joseon Dynasty is one of them.

We are currently developing an action game, set in the medieval Joseon era, targeted at next-gen consoles. It's going to showcase the incredible Joseon Dynasty, something that has never been seen in console games before—and it's being developed with Unreal Engine 5.

With the full release of Unreal Engine 5 looming, what excited you and your team most about the long-term possibilities of next-gen hardware and Unreal Engine?

With next-gen hardware performance being equivalent to high-end PCs, we are able to move away from existing constraints and reallocate all the time we used to spend thinking about minimizing load spikes and efficient loading methods. The features we are most excited about are, of course, Nanite and Lumen; Nanite is very practical because you can get good performance without spending time and effort on HLOD. Additionally, the lighting that was managed separately with features such as SSGI, DFAO, and SSR is now integrated and managed by Lumen, making it easier to set up. The new emissive materials lighting feature with no additional performance cost is particularly attractive.
Were there any particular features of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S that helped shape the game or improve how it functions?

Daehoon Kim:
Gungrave G.O.R.E has some powerful and explosive action, and we actively utilized PS5’s DualSense controllers' haptics to deliver satisfying feedback from the action to the player. We also applied adaptive trigger functionality to certain features to improve the feel of shooting.

Were there any particular design challenges that the team overcame, or elements of the game that you’d like to call out in this interview?

Daehoon Kim:
We wanted to make Gungrave a more stylish game than before. But while we were trying out new things, we also had doubts. there was confusion and doubt, leading us to think, "Is this really Grave?" With the gameplay reveal, we were able to get a feel for the fantasy that players wanted to feel from Gungrave G.O.R.E.

Instead of a game that copies the style of others, with Grave just a reskinned main character, we focused on his explosive attacks and action. Rather than using the trendy Souls-like games or other existing action games as benchmarks, we focused more on Grave as a character and the world of Gungrave.

On-screen, Grave uses all sorts of powerful skills to eliminate his enemies. But for the player, the controls are easy. This is an important point that we want to show with Gungrave G.O.R.E.

Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. Where can people learn more about Iggymob and Gungrave G.O.R.E?

You can find us on Twitter.

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