Image courtesy of Flying Wild Hog

Unreal Engine’s tech unleashed Shadow Warrior 3’s devs

Brian Crecente

Kuba Opon, Shadow Warrior 3 Game Director, is a Flying Wild Hog veteran, who has been emotionally and vocationally involved with the Shadow Warrior series since its first installment. Opon started his game dev adventure as a gameplay programmer and got promoted to Shadow Warrior 2’s lead. Opon currently has the pleasure of being Shadow Warrior 3's game director, where he fulfills his long-lasting love for hectic shooters and action games, which don't like to treat themselves too seriously.
When Flying Wild Hog decided to reboot classic 3D Realms shooter Shadow Warrior, the team knew it had to walk a fine line. They wanted to sanitise some of the cheesy one-liners and ‘90s crass humor of the original, but not strip away so much that the game lost its character. That first reboot hit in 2013 and managed to do what few other reboots from that era achieved: create an enduring success that would become a foundation for a new series based on the franchise.

Shadow Warrior 2 received equal acclaim, quadrupling the sales of its predecessor, and laying the groundwork for this year’s Shadow Warrior 3.

This time around, the studio decided to go back to that source game, and pull forward a renewed focus on a story that was historically an “insane, bombastic adventure.”

We chatted with Shadow Warrior 3 Game Director Kuba Opon about that refocus, how the developers worked to inject more verticality into this third entry in the franchise, and why Unreal Engine was a good fit for the first-person shooter.

Going back to the original reboot of the original Shadow Warrior from 1997, how did the team at Flying Wild Hog recreate the best elements of that game while leaving behind some of the less desirable elements?

Kuba Opon, Shadow Warrior 3 Game Director: When we started working on Shadow Warrior, our writers reimagined Lo Wang as a younger goofball who considered his jokes a divine power. If you’re a fan of his cheesy one-liners, it's fair to say that you can expect that same energy in Shadow Warrior 3!

We were aware that not everything had aged well since 1997, times have changed and we decided to keep the outdated stuff out of our series. Obviously, Shadow Warrior is a franchise that is intrinsically edgy. However, we believe that edginess also should have its barriers in order to not turn into disrespectfulness. It took a lot of evaluation but I think we pulled off a really good job!

Where the 2013 reboot proved that the game could be modernized and successful, Shadow Warrior 2 built up its audience and helped reestablish the title as series worthy. What do you hope to achieve with Shadow Warrior 3?

Once work on the third installment had commenced, we had this sense that we had lost a portion of the story element—that focus on this insane, bombastic adventure that Shadow Warrior 2013 had, especially if you take into account the relationship between Lo Wang and his sidekick. We also took a closer gander at the classic Shadow Warrior and realized that we’re working on a legacy and need some of those idiosyncratic features that made the classic game so special. That’s why we at Flying Wild Hog virtually unanimously agreed that we’re going with a linear campaign with a single-player focus.

Shadow Warrior and Shadow Warrior 2 were both built using your internal Road Hog Engine. What made you decide to change to Unreal Engine for Shadow Warrior 3?

Utilizing an engine that is being actively developed and has proven itself in a lot of productions reduces the occurrences of risks that emerge when you develop your own technology. UE enables us to stay up-to-date with modern technology in game development. Besides, it’s way easier to find developers experienced in UE than teach everyone how to use a proprietary engine.

As of now, we have four games in production and all of them are powered by Unreal Engine.
Image courtesy of Flying Wild Hog
What challenges did you face when shifting to an entirely new engine for Shadow Warrior 3?

Unreal Engine is really intuitive to use. The first prototype of the game was created in just three months, which is really fast. The only minor obstacle we came across was the need to focus more on the basic systems that you need to get the game running, which we’ve worked on once before. At the same time, a lot of our devs were already acquainted with UE, so that helped immensely.

Shadow Warrior 3’s design seems to be focused, in part, on reexamining some of the core systems built into the gameplay. Can you talk about how you refined some of those systems, added to them, and, in some cases, got rid of them?

Shadow Warrior 3’s core loop is based on quick, seamless gameplay and acquiring Gore Tools. That’s why the remaining mechanics had to get adapted to this system in order to support and cooperate with it. Due to the quick pacing of the gameplay and a more focused structure of the locations, we went back to using the classic skill tree character progression system and Lo Wang’s arsenal.

You’ve said you want to make the player feel overpowered in this latest Shadow Warrior. What are some of the things you’ve done to achieve that?

Lo Wang has a set of tools that allow him to always be one step ahead of his formidable foes. Traversing via the grapple hook grants him an extreme velocity. That, in connection with his crowd control skills, always allows him to be the one to deal the first blow. His arsenal, alongside the iconic katana, gives gamers the possibility to deal damage in all sorts of ways. On top of that, the arena is littered with traps that mutilate, crush, or straight up eviscerate Lo Wang’s opponents. Even if the player gets cornered, one strategically placed finisher move can turn the tide and quickly knock out the strongest enemy, thus providing Lo Wang with a weapon of mass destruction.
Image courtesy of Flying Wild Hog
The movement system seems to be adding a lot for the player. How is that changing the gameplay and the levels you’re creating for Shadow Warrior 3?

One of the foundations of the game is dynamic movement, so we obviously want it to be polished and make sure it looks/feels/sounds better than ever.

We’re also introducing brand new elements to the gameplay that have never been seen in the series before. For instance, we‘ve added sliding, wall running, and a grappling hook.

Sliding is awesome because it allows you to avoid certain projectiles aimed toward the player’s upper body without losing momentum.

Wall running is something we’ve discussed briefly during Shadow Warrior 2’s development, but at the time, we were so occupied with other features that this feature needed to be put on hold. This time, we knew that in order to give the player a complete “ninja experience,” this feature needs to be in the game, especially since we knew from the start that Shadow Warrior 3 will have much more complex and vertical levels, so adding cool movement options that support this new approach for the level design was no brainer.

Moving on to the grappling hook, this addition has various applications that are useful in both exploring and in combat. When exploring levels, players now have the option to attach and pull themselves to anchor points attached to various architectural structures, or swing above huge gaps where other movement options are not enough.

With all those movement options, we wanted to turn our environments into what we’re calling a ninja playground, where using your agility, you can seamlessly move around arenas in order to use the full potential of your surroundings and approach enemies from different angles.
Image courtesy of Flying Wild Hog
What sort of anime has influenced some of these new design choices when it comes to movement?

Mechanics like sliding, wall running, grapple hooks, or double jumps aren't something new to the world of video games, some of them are even rooted in warrior ninja-related pop culture. Anime helped us find context in the environment to creatively use these skills. Fighting amongst the canopies of trees or quickly scaling large monuments are inspirations that we drew from the brutally grim Ninja Scrolls and bright images from Studio Ghibli animations.

Can you talk a bit more about how you went about designing combat areas with more verticality?

One of the ways of dealing with the increased verticality was adding new movement types.

Actually, the combat arenas in Shadow Warrior 3 have never been more vertical! Not only did we keep all types of movement from previous Shadow Warrior games but also added the grappling hook and wall runs. They improve the overall dynamics of the game and allow for loads of creativity when dealing with enemies.

One more important thing to note is that the grappling hook can also interact with certain enemy types, allowing Lo Wang to quickly close the distance between himself and enemies, or throw explosive barrels straight into incoming groups.
Image courtesy of Flying Wild Hog
How did Unreal Engine help you achieve some of your goals when it came to both the look and new feel of the game?

Thanks to UE, we changed our approach to designing levels. Our prototypes were way more developed and elaborate than before and allowed us to more quickly determine what the vision of the location was much earlier. We could also create more dynamic custom sequences that won’t let the player get bored.

Shadow Warrior 3 seems to be refocusing a bit on the series’ protagonist Lo Wang. What drove that decision and how did you tap into Japanese and Chinese culture to deliver on his backstory and the world he inhabits?

Our plan from the very beginning was to create a character-driven story and explore the complicated relationship between Lo Wang and Orochi Zilla and see what might come out of it. In terms of the architecture and setting of the game, we drew a lot of inspiration from traditional Asian architecture and demonology. At the same time, we want the locations to be one of their kind so we added some off-beat comedy motifs, Flying Wild Hog-style.
Image courtesy of Flying Wild Hog
What excites you and your team the most about the long-term possibilities of next-gen hardware and Unreal Engine?

From a game developer's perspective, powerful machines and up-to-date tools which eliminate tedious, time-consuming activities from the process, are crucial. The less we’re concerned with overcoming technical limitations, the more time we have to spend on games that are creative, innovative, and deliver tons of fun. That’s why we’re super psyched every time a new piece of technology appears.

Thanks for your time. Where can people learn more about Flying Wild Hog and Shadow Warrior 3?

Well, we have several places that people can draw information from. I would say that the most comprehensive sources of information would be the studio’s and the game’s websites.

Obviously, there are other ways to learn about us and the game. I would suggest following both the studio's and game's social media.

We’re present on all social media, so you can follow us on whichever platform tickles your fancy the most including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for Shadow Warrior 3, and Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for the studio.

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