January 11, 2019
Mutant Year Zero - from pen-and-paper RPG to pixel perfect post-apocalypse
Based on a Swedish pen-and-paper RPG of the same name, Mutant Year Zero brings this fantastical world to the digital age. Widely well-received amongst fans and critics alike, MYZ doubles down on a strong narrative and endearing characters that you can’t help but love. Its world, a post-apocalyptic landscape of overgrown cities and crumbling remnants of a civilization long passed, is beautifully brought to life with the power of Unreal Engine 4.
Having a chance to speak with Haraldur Thormundsson, CEO of The Bearded Ladies, and Technical Artist, Karl Söderberg, we dive into the intricacies of developing with UE4, creating these unique characters, and crafting a tactical strategy game that manages to break the mold to draw in new fans. For people unaware of the background behind the Mutant Year Zero franchise, tell us a bit about the inspiration behind the video game.
Haraldur Thormundsson: Several of the developers grew up playing the Mutant Year Zero pen-and-paper RPG in the 80s and 90s. The RPG was relaunched in 2014 and we felt that the universe would be a perfect setting for a video game.
The Bearded Ladies have been around since 2010 and have come a long way since your first game, Landit Bandit. How has your experience so far helped you in the development of your biggest game yet, Mutant Year Zero?
Haraldur Thormundsson: Having shipped three games before this has provided valuable experience for us, and many on the crew have experience coming from big studios with more resources. Being an indie studio for ten years now has given us a ton of knowledge and has helped mark the way we want to take the studio and the titles we make.
The debut cinematic trailer for Mutant Year Zero turned a lot of heads and interest for the game was strong... fans didn't even know the genre of the game yet! How has momentum built up for the game since then, and do you feel you were able to bring in fans that don't particularly play tactical, turn-based strategy games?
Haraldur Thormundsson: It was great to see how many people loved the first cinematic trailer! We have kept the momentum up with trailers, developer diaries, and full playthroughs of maps. Press has been very positive about the game all along, and we have built a community of fans.
It is always hard to know how many people are interested in your game before it launches though. We definitely want to appeal to both fans of tactical games and the people who love the characters and the setting.
Stealth is a huge component of gameplay in Mutant Year Zero so having the producer of Hitman on board had to have been a huge advantage for the team. Tell us about how stealth works in the game and why it's so important to the player's survival.
Haraldur Thormundsson: Using stealth to your advantage is critically important in the game. It is very rare that you can just tackle large groups of enemies head-on. Instead, you need to sneak around their camp, study their movements and take out targets that are alone silently. If you don’t take down some enemies silently, you will most likely get overrun and fail again and again.
Set in a post-human world, the environments that we know today are in shambles; crumbling cities overgrown with vegetation, highways left to fall apart in the elements. How did Unreal Engine 4 help you create the world that players experience so vividly?
Haraldur Thormundsson: Unreal 4 Engine is a great help for our designers. It is an excellent tool for creating maps and environments. It really helped us put the art, sound, and gameplay together exactly how we wanted.
Comparisons to XCOM are inescapable — so much so that you've embraced the fact that the series is a major inspiration behind MYZ. Can you tell us what about Mutant Year Zero makes it stand apart from its biggest influence outside of the pen-and-paper role-playing game itself?
Haraldur Thormundsson: Well, several things make it stand apart from other tactical games like XCOM — the stealth aspect is a major one. Being able to sneak around the world in real-time while planning your attack makes the moment-to-moment gameplay quite different. I would also say that just having a team of three active characters you can use in each fight (out of five to choose from in total) is also a way to stand apart – because it makes every action you have extremely valuable, and if just one on your team goes down it can be a massive blow. Finally, the setting, story, special mutations and characters make playing Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden quite a unique experience.
What was the process like creating and bringing to life these crazy mutant characters in-game? Bormin, Stella, and Dux all look fantastic! Were there any tools in Unreal Engine 4 that you found particularly useful for this portion of development?
Karl Söderberg: One thing that saved us a lot of time was using Epic’s Rigging Tool for Maya. We have four different body types in the game and the fast workflow for setting up rigs from scratch really helped. A great feature of the plugin is how easy it is to change proportions of a character without having to worry about breaking stuff further down in the pipeline. This was very useful in the prototyping phase before the design of all the characters was locked in place.
This might be a loaded question, but if you had to pick a single, favorite tool in Unreal Engine what would it be and why?
Karl Söderberg: A fantastic thing working in Unreal Engine is the standardized skeleton that is used by basically all animation assets you find in the Marketplace. We used a fair bit of custom motion-capture for this game, but when you realize that you missed something, or a feature gets added last minute, it's a lifesaver having access to this animation library. Once again, the rigging plugin made the process of importing these animations and re-targeting it to our animal characters very smooth.
MYZ mixes real-time exploration with turn-based tactical strategy in a way that brings two different genres together. How do you feel you did satisfying both RPG fans and strategy fans with the final product?
Haraldur Thormundsson: Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden has gotten a lot of very good reviews (9/10 from GameSpot!) and has been well received by the game’s community. The game is mainly a strategy game with some RPG elements, but it stays true to the universe and setting of the pen-and-paper RPG Mutant Year Zero.
For anyone hoping to learn Unreal Engine 4 for themselves, what advice would you give to them as developers experienced with the platform?
Haraldur Thormundsson: Unreal Engine 4 is a very popular tool so there are a lot of guides out there. Some good advice would be to watch or read guides found online while performing the steps shown in the guide at the same time yourself. Your needs may not line up fully with the guide though, so understanding the process as you go through it is also very important. Putting in time and effort are always the keys to increasing your skills and understanding.
Where are all the places people can go to find out more about The Bearded Ladies and Mutant Year Zero?
You can learn all about us at the following:
Editor’s Note: In case you missed it, we visited with The Bearded Ladies, winners of the 2018 Unreal E3 Award for ‘Most Engaging’ game of the show, to learn more about the development process behind Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden.