Image courtesy of historia Inc.

The Market of Light is a gorgeous, playable UE5 experience

Jimmy Thang
We, historia Inc., are a Japanese software development company dedicated to Unreal Engine. We have two pillars: the game business, where we develop console games, and the enterprise business, where we provide non-game industries, such as the automobile and architecture industries, with content created using Unreal Engine technology.

We also help get the Unreal Engine community get active by hosting a game production contest (UE4 Peti-Con, whose purpose is to provide opportunities to learn Unreal Engine), we offer information through the weekly updated Unreal Engine tech blog, and operate a user participation type event at Unreal Fest Extreme, which is an official Unreal Engine conference in Japan.
The Market of Light is one of the first playable tech demos developed using Unreal Engine 5 Early Access. The gorgeous experience was developed by a small core team of seven from Japanese studio historia Inc. The title leverages next-generation features like Nanite and Lumen and features meticulously detailed assets predominantly built using Quixel Megascans. 

Available to play for free on Steam, The Market of Light currently boasts a “Very Positive” community rating. The development team sought out to inspire the UE developer community with the project, and we caught up with them to hear what it was like developing a game using Unreal Engine 5 Early Access, their thoughts on the next-gen tech, and more.

What can you tell us about The Market of Light?

The Market of Light is a short game as well as a tech demo created using an Early Access build of Unreal Engine 5. You play the game as a firefly and collect balls of light scattered across the market. Even a small market in the town is a vast field for our small firefly. The market consists of about 4.9 billion polygons and 253 8K textures plus 1,065 4K textures. We then let the player fly freely around it.

Can you tell us more about historia Inc.'s background?

The company was established as an Unreal Engine-dedicated company almost at the same time as when Unreal Engine 4 was first released. It has been growing as the engine has been growing.
Can you outline some of your goals coming into the project?

There are three main purposes for the project. Firstly, we purely wanted to try using Unreal Engine 5. For us, as a studio that specializes in Unreal Engine, it was natural to want to create something using UE5 faster than anyone else. When UE5 was first announced in May last year, we got very excited. With the excitement that a new era had begun, we immediately got to creating this project.

Secondly, we wanted to know how Nanite and Lumen would change content production in the future. Nanite can use a near-infinite number of polygons, and Lumen utilizes complete dynamic lighting. These features have the potential to change both the content and workflow of projects. This second purpose is to gain insight that would help us create projects in the future by actually using and getting experience with these two features. So, for this project, we chose a setting where Nanite would become helpful: We decided to create the game using a firefly's viewpoint that seamlessly moved from distant views to super close views.

The third purpose is to help the Unreal Engine community get active. When UE4 was first released, people in the community were passionately discussing what potential each feature of UE4 had and what era this generation was going to be. It was an enthusiasm specific to the moment when times were changing. 

I'm sure that UE5 has the same potential to change real-time graphics as UE4 did. Like the time when UE4 came into existence, we expect that we'll have that same community excitement.

With beautiful fruit and vegetables scattered about a realistic-looking market, the assets in the game are meticulously detailed. Did the studio leverage Quixel Megascans or Unreal Marketplace assets at all?

About 90% of the fruits, vegetables, and vegetation were created using Megascans. Overall, 50% of the game was created using Megascans. We also used some assets from the Unreal Marketplace. There were only two background artists who mainly worked on the project. So this game could not have come into existence if we had not used Megascans. Even at the beginning planning stage, we knew we were going to use Megascans assets.

The new function, which has been added to UE5, to place such assets by directly dragging and dropping from within the Editor can speed up iterations to a great degree. This can also help improve creativity because it allows us to quickly place them. 

We also bought assets that were sold for movies and used them almost without reducing them. Thanks to Nanite, we were able to implement such a workflow.
Can you share your approach to designing the game's believable environments?

The game is set in a downtown market in Italy. Impressive scenes during an actual trip to Italy were reproduced. Pictures taken during the trip helped us design the game as a whole. The main character, a firefly, can approach far smaller places and objects with close-up views than you might normally see. We fine-tuned the layouts to make the content look good even when the firefly is coming up or flying away.

Can you elaborate on what it was like using Lumen for the project?

It's a great advantage to see the final picture in real-time when adjusting the lights and layout. Without Lumen, much of our production time would have been wasted on building lights. Also, when discussing ideas with the director, we were always able to preview the final picture so that there was no communication discrepancy.
The game features a brief day-to-night transition. Were there any special considerations when incorporating that aspect while using Lumen?

In the UE4 generation, we had to choose between whether we should bake lighting or use dynamic lighting with reduced quality. From the very beginning of the project, we wanted to apply dynamic yet beautiful lighting, which is a characteristic of Lumen applied to our content.

We considered two representations to show off Lumen’s capabilities. They included a collapse of a cave ceiling or the changing of sunlight. For this project, we chose the latter. Since it's set in a market, we added the representation of the market’s lit street lights and light bulbs, in addition to directional light changing. We believe this allowed us to represent Lumen’s dramatic lighting capabilities.

Can you share how you developed the game's luminous particle effects?

It was created using Niagara

How did the studio use Nanite?

To show the impact of Nanite, we introduced the viewpoint of a small firefly and set it within a market because it allowed us to place in a large number of fruit and vegetables. We used Nanite for most of the assets in the scene and not just for vegetables and fruit. With Nanite, not only can we deal with a large amount of ultra-high polygons, but we can also reduce the rendering load of Lumen and Virtual Shadow Maps. For those reasons, we make it a rule to use Nanite for as many things as it can handle.

In addition, Nanite has relieved us from LOD popping. We used to accept the popping as a matter of course, but now Nanite has achieved a sense of immersion and reality that those in the past couldn’t compete with. You can get closer to objects without having to notice LODs changing.
Can you walk us through the studio's art flow?

Firstly, we created gray boxes in Unreal Engine and made a rough layout. Then we replaced them with the production version of models created using Maya and Zbrush. Textures were created with Substance Designer and Substance Painter. We used Reality Capture and Zbrush for photogrammetry assets.

With UE5, Quixel Bridge can be used from within Unreal Engine, so you can now lay out props by dragging and dropping them while seeing the scene.

We also used Unreal’s modeling tools. Deformer allowed us to fine-tune mesh shapes. With Megascan's displacement textures, we made high detail meshes out of plain meshes for cobblestones on the ground.

What are your thoughts on Unreal Engine 5 Early Access thus far?

Although UE5 is in Early Access, it was more robust than we had imagined. We were able to use new features such as Nanite and Lumen without stress. We were happy to research and develop next-generation technologies in advance and were surprised when the package was achieved without failure.
What have you learned about UE5 while shipping a title during its Early Access state?

We found that as Nanite freed us from the limitation of polygons, we could achieve a sense of immersion that is incomparably better than ever before. Users upload screenshots of vegetables, fruits, and desks to the internet that they took from various angles as they approached those things. Thanks to Nanite, their details are maintained, and no matter what part of them you cut off, they can still be used.

Also, we found that Nanite and Lumen could change the workflow to a large extent moving forward. Nanite can now significantly reduce the cost of our own assets and assets sold for movies as well as Megascan ones. We used to be under pressure when trying to create in-house assets that rival movie-level assets. We think we will shift to a new workflow based on Megascans as well as the Marketplace and other sold assets.

Because Lumen easily introduces dynamic lighting, it is possible to light-heartedly plan and try an idea where the player's actions may change the lighting environment or an idea that accompanies changes in the environment.

What do you hope to accomplish with Unreal Engine 5 moving forward?

In terms of game production, we expect that dynamic expression will evolve to a great degree in the UE5 generation. Not to mention, Nanite and Lumen should evolve. What's more, we expect Niagra will operate with surrounding meshes. Also, we'll benefit from procedural animation and sound functionality that makes it easier to achieve reality with the environment taken into account. Moving forward, we would like to create content where dynamic elements, such as models, motions, lightings, effects, sounds, and UIs, are fused rather than independent fields.

With Nanite and Lumen, we also feel that UE5 has great applications to non-gaming content as well. When it's officially released, we'll switch to UE5-based content production.

Thanks for your time. Where can people learn more about historia Inc.?

We'd appreciate it if you could visit our website and Twitter page. As a note, both are written in Japanese.

    Get Unreal Engine today!

    Get the world’s most open and advanced creation tool.
    With every feature and full source code access included, Unreal Engine comes fully loaded out of the box.