Courtesy of Latest Past

Two high school friends used Unreal Engine 5.1 to create atmospheric retro shooter Kvark

Brian Crecente
Latest Past is a Czech indie game development studio. Founded by programmer Radovan Šťastný and 3D artist Petr Pavlík, the studio emerged from the Perun Academy initiative focused on supporting game development in the Moravian-Silesian region in the Czech Republic.
Retro shooters seem to be making a comeback as of late, but even amid the influx of pixelated graphics and over-the-top first-person action, Kvark stands out. Set in a fictionalized version of the Czech Republic, Kvark’s low-poly look is driven by Unreal Engine 5.1 and the game’s ‘80s vibe by a local’s understanding of the country. Two locals actually.

High school friends Radovan Šťastný and Petr Pavlík found in one another not just friendship born from a mutual love of video games, but talents that neatly supplemented one another. Šťastný was an artist in need of a programmer and Pavlík a programmer in need of an artist.

After some game jams and a bit of work on their idea for Kvark, the two pitched the title to publisher Perun Creative, which became the game’s publisher.

We chatted with the two—two-thirds of the game’s entire development team–about the run up to Kvark, how Unreal Engine served as the perfect tool for creating their retro-styled shooter, and why the world is ready for a game filled with shouty Czechs.

Developer Latest Past was formed by two high school students. Can you walk us through how that came about?

Radovan Šťastný, co-founder and 3D artist:
We met in the first year of high school. When we were talking, we realized that we both wanted to make games. But one of us lacked a programmer and the other an artist. So it was clear that we would join forces and try to make a game together. We started with a two-week project in a game jam where we found out how to work in a team and how development works in general. Everything worked out nicely and we decided that we wanted to do something bigger. And that's how the Latest Past was formed.
How did the two of you first get into video game development?

Petr Pavlík, co-founder and programmer:
Since I was a child, I always enjoyed playing games and one day I wanted to create my own. When I was eight years old, I created my first 2D game in the Game Maker Studio, which was about driving a tractor and cultivating fields. After that, I created a few more games and then I wanted to create a 3D game. I was thinking about Unity but Unreal Engine appealed to me because of its features and easy coding using Blueprints. The first Unreal Engine version that I used was 4.17 and I really liked it. I have created a few shooters which were fairly simple without much content and some adventure games that I have never completed. Thanks to these projects, I now have a good knowledge of Unreal Engine to create games like Kvark.

Šťastný: When I was younger, I started learning Blender because I always liked to do creative stuff. I created some simple low-poly scenes and designed weapons, but for a long time, I didn't know how to utilize this skill or where I could use it. So, I would just make something and render it. However, everything changed when I met Petr, and we started working together on some small games. It was there that I discovered my passion for making games.
How did they come up with the idea of Kvark?

It was after we finished our game for game jam when we decided that we wanted to make some bigger project. It was around that time that the UE5 first preview was released and we decided it would be a nice opportunity to try it. And that's how the idea for a shooter game started to emerge. At first, we didn't know what it was going to be and we spent a long time developing it, not knowing what it would be in the end. After a few months of that kind of development, we decided it wasn't going to work that way and we sat down and wrote out all the mechanics, the setting, and that's how the vision of Kvark as we know it today came about.

Why did you decide to start developing the game using Unreal Engine 5?

We wanted to use the new technologies and features that come with Unreal Engine 5. When we started, Unreal Engine 5 was just in the preview version but we liked it so much we decided to go with it and started to work. We also went with Unreal because it's really user friendly with Blueprints and we can quickly iterate on puzzles designs, mechanics, and more. Overall, Unreal seems like the best fit for our style of the game and development needs.
Courtesy of Latest Past
How did Perun Creative get involved in the game’s development and what is its role?

One and a half years ago, our high school graphics teacher, who knew that we loved to create games, told us that we can show Perun Creative our game during their Perun Academy talk at the local college. We told Perun about our game and they liked the idea, so they wanted us to create a design document to show it at the next talk. The next week, we showed them our game design document and they were interested enough so we started cooperating. So they are now helping us with a lot of stuff, for example, public relations. They let us use their state of the art motion capture system for animations and they provided us with a sound designer. We have a meeting every two weeks and discuss what has changed, what we created and such. They also help us sometimes with the development, assist us with planning the game roadmap, and tell us how to improve the game.

What is the current size of the development team?

There are three people actively working on the project: Petr Pavlík is programming, I, myself am working on graphics, and Jakub Řehoř from Perun Creative is creating sound effects and music for the whole project. And if we ever run into a problem, someone from Perun will always help us. For example, we've worked together on the save system and animations.
Kvark is a very distinct looking game, drawing heavily from the look of early shooters like Half-Life, but using the cutting edge technology of Unreal Engine 5. What drove that decision?

The main thing of our artstyle when I designed it was to take the retro-games style and give it a modern spin. So we have very low poly models, pixelated textures and we needed an engine that will be able to give us great lighting, materials, and post processing. Unreal was quite an easy choice for us because of this. We can easily create great looking scenes with amazing light and effects. The hardest thing for us was to make the Unreal Engine look retro which was quite a bit of work but I think we got it in the end.
What are some of the other features of Unreal Engine 5 that you’re using in the game and how are you using them?

We use one file per actor for all of our levels because it’s a great feature that doesn’t create merging problems and more people can work on the map together if needed. Another feature is layered material, which we are using for highlighting pick up items to make them more visible to the player. We aren‘t using Lumen or Nanite because we don‘t need it with our stylization.
Courtesy of Latest Past
Why did you decide to set your game in a fictional version of the Czech Republic in the ‘80s?

We are familiar with the Czech Republic because we live here. We also found it interesting to have some other language other than English as the main language of the game, so enemies will shout to you in Czech and you can just guess what they are saying from their tone. There are also many signs that you need to hover over to show translation. We also really love the socialist concrete style of building and bunkers which was, in our opinion, a great place for a first person shooter to take place in. And we set it in a fictional version of the Czech republic so we would have the freedom to do basically whatever we would want. We can create robots, mutants, and much more.

There are a lot of fun ways that the game feels like it takes place in that decade, from the antiquated electronics found in the game, to the green text on black background screen used when you die. How did you walk the line between delivering a game that taps into nostalgia without dipping so far in that the game feels outdated?

It was quite a challenge, mainly because we didn‘t live during that era so we had to rely on old media like photographs, commercials, or on what our parents told us about that time. The thing that makes our game not feel outdated is in our opinion exactly this detachment from that era. Because of this, we don‘t look at that time with too much nostalgia and we can take just the good and interesting things. Another thing is that thanks to using Unreal, we can have modern looking rendering that nicely elevates the game’s feel and look.
Kvark released in Early Access in June. What have you learned so far from that experience and how is the game evolving?

We definitely learned a lot and are still learning. For example, we are learning how to properly communicate with our community as this is something we’ve never tried.

The feedback we received from everyone was priceless and we are working hard to improve the most requested things. The first update based on feedback from the community is almost ready and we will release it soon. So the game is currently evolving quite quickly because we are incorporating many points from feedback and are working on new features players requested.
Courtesy of Latest Past
The team decided to upgrade to Unreal Engine 5.1 after the game was in Early Access. What drove that decision?

This decision was mainly driven by major improvements in the physics engine. We had a lot of problems with physics props or ragdolls twitching, glitching through ground and when we tested 5.1, we noticed big improvement in physics behavior and performance. This was the main thing, but we also liked many of the quality-of-llife features introduced in 5.1, like overlay materials, improved shader graph, and much more. The other reason was that Perun is making their main game Kromlech in 5.1 and it was quite tedious to maintain our internal plugins to support both versions of Unreal.
How hard was it to transition to UE 5.1 with the game live?

Transition to Unreal engine 5.1 was surprisingly easy. The only problem we faced was with third-party plugins and our plugins that we had to slightly modify for them to work. We also had to tweak lighting in every level due to changes that were made to light mapping. But, as I said, this was quite trivial as we were able to do all this in like two days.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Where can people find out more about Kvark, Latest Past, and Perun Creative?

Thanks for this interview. If anyone wants to check out Kvark there is early access available on Steam and if you are interested in development we post regular updates on X (formerly Twitter).

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