Courtesy of Purple Ray Studio

Winning Epic’s MegaJam was the spark that ignited the creation of UE5-powered platformer Boti: Byteland Overclocked

Brian Crecente |
June 29, 2023
Kornelia "Nel" Błażyńska, the art director and co-founder at Purple Ray Studio, is experienced in lighting, 3D Modeling, texturing and shader creation. With a foundation in traditional art that comes from Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts, Błażyńska focuses on creating immersive and believable stylized worlds. In her current role, she is leading a team of talented artists at Purple Ray Studio to bring its first independent project - Boti:Byteland Overclocked to life. Błażyńska previously worked on a couple of stylized titles but the most prominent would be Kao the Kangaroo by Tate Multimedia where she was Lead Artist.
The colorful idea for BotiBoi came together during a brainstorming session for 2021’s Epic MegaJam. The team of five reminisced about their child-like views of computers: electronic creations that were more like miniature cities than dusty circuit boards and crimped wires.

Combining that Tron-like view of computers with the year’s theme of “Running out of space” fueled the idea for a simple arcade platformer that had players controlling a piece of software trying to collect files before the system crashes.

Winning the MegaJam with their creation spurred the team to form an indie studio and turn the fun little prototype into a full-blown game.

We chatted with Kornelia Błażyńska, Purple Ray Studio’s art director and co-founder about that journey from game jam to full release, why Unreal Engine 5 was the team’s “go-to engine” for their creations, and delved into some of the inner workings of the upcoming, Pixar-like video game treat: Boti: Byteland Overclocked.
 

How was the Purple Team formed and who was in that initial group?

Kornelia Błażyńska, Purple Ray Studio’s art director and co-founder:
The original Purple Team consisted of me, Robert, Kuba, Łukasz and Marcin. Robert and I spotted the MegaJam while scrolling through social media and decided to reach out to Jakub, with whom we’d already taken part in a game jam before. We each have different backgrounds: I’m a 3D/environment artist, Jakub is a programmer, and Robert a level designer. We asked around if some friends with other skills would like to join us, which is how we got Łukasz (game designer) and Marcin (sound designer) involved. We had varied experiences with Unreal, so we were learning along the way from each other.

How did you come up with the original concept for the 2021 Epic MegaJam entry?

Błażyńska:
The theme for the 2021 contest was “Running out of Space.” As we were brainstorming how to approach this theme, it suddenly dawned on us that “running out of space” could just be about disk space! Simple as that. But how could we visualize and gamify that? 

As children, some of us used to imagine that devices like computers, TVs, and radios looked like miniature cities inside, with tiny robots moving stuff around them. When this concept came up during discussion, we quickly connected it with disk space in a computer, and there we had it: data in computers is managed by tiny robots moving it around! I started sketching some concepts for how the character doing such a task could look, and that's how I got the first drafts of Boti.

As everyone agreed that this was a simple-but-good idea for the theme, we started figuring out the gameplay. All of us had really fond childhood memories of old-school platform games that were simple but lots of fun, and it seemed like a good idea to stick with those inspirations from childhood. So, we set about designing the basic loop of the game.

We couldn’t do regular, old-school platforming stuff like progression and such, so we came up with this arcade-ish mode in which players have to collect as many files as possible before the disk is overrun; the faster you collect, the longer you can play. It seemed simple enough to create in a week, and fun enough that someone might enjoy playing it.

How is the Epic MegaJam different from other game jams you’ve participated in?

Błażyńska:
As I mentioned, Robert, Jakub, and I had previously taken part in a game jam together, and our other teammates had also tried doing some game jams before. I think the biggest difference we noticed from the outset was that the Epic MegaJam attracts a lot of amazing entries, like The Rat Way Home (which had a unique atmosphere) and Reclaym The Kingdom (with its brilliant animation style). Competition like this kinda made us feel like we had to step up our game and try to deliver the very best we could!

What impact did winning the 2021 Epic MegaJam have on the studio and the game?

Błażyńska:
For us, it was the spark that ignited the idea of us embarking on a journey to set up our own indie dev studio. It gave us confidence that we could create something enjoyable and recognizable. As a team, we really liked how our jam game turned out; we had a lot of fun working on it, and we wanted to do something more with it–to turn it into a full game. So, we started to rebuild the prototype that used to be BotiBoi into what is now Boti: Byteland Overclocked.
Courtesy of Purple Ray Studio
How did the team evolve into what is now Purple Ray Studio?

Błażyńska:
The studio’s core team has remained the same since the MegaJam, but as we were planning what to do with the project, we decided to seek investment to scale up – and the success of our game-jam prototype definitely made that easier. We reached out to friends we’d worked with before and gathered a team we knew would share our vision for the studio, as well as for Boti.

How has the game evolved from that initial game jam entry into what it is now?

Błażyńska:
We were all so happy with how the prototype turned out and wanted it to become a full game. It was important to us to keep the spirit of the game-jam entry as we developed the project into something larger, while also adding lots of things that make for a fuller experience. We came up with an idea for the main plot that was later developed by our narrative designer into a full storyline for our campaign, and as we moved further away from the arcade prototype, we came to the conclusion that the game could be even more enjoyable if players were able to cooperate with someone–to share the game experience and have fun with their friends.

What made you decide to use Unreal Engine 5 for all of your upcoming game projects?

Błażyńska:
Unreal Engine 5 is our go-to engine for multiple reasons. Crucial for us was the fact that we had some teammates on board who were proficient in UE4, and that experience was easily transferable to the newer version of the engine.

The most significant technical aspect that we wanted to make use of was the Lumen global illuminations and reflections system. We fell in love with Lumen from the very first moment we saw it – and since our game takes place in a computer-inspired environment, there were a lot of opportunities for us to use emissive materials and lights.
Courtesy of Purple Ray Studio
On your website, you mention some of the benefits of using Unreal Engine 5. Specifically, you call the engine’s support for ray tracing technology a standout feature. How important is that to the development of Boti?

Błażyńska:
For us, software ray tracing (in the form of Lumen) is UE5’s biggest improvement over UE4. Lumen does phenomenal work with lights and emissive materials, allowing for stunning visuals that would otherwise take MUCH more time to achieve (with results that would probably not be comparable to those of Lumen). Lumen makes our game-world feel more real and believable than it would using non-ray-traced methods; lighting that behaves more naturally is crucial in creating the illusion of a living world.

Boti’s computer world is filled with lights, neons, and emissive materials. Without Lumen’s global illumination, it would feel a lot more flat and definitely less impressive. Lumen empowers us to create environments that are vivid and colorful, bringing to life our vision of how cities inside a computer might look.

How does Unreal Engine help a small team create a video game?

Błażyńska:
Unreal Engine is a powerful tool with tons of features and extensive systems, yet at the same time it remains understandable and learnable for anyone, really. The fact that everything is there, that you can just load up a pre-existing template as a basis for your game/project before developing it however you like (without having to start from a completely blank canvas), makes Unreal the most user-friendly engine there is, in my opinion – which is crucial for smaller teams in which every member’s work spans multiple “regular” game-dev roles. Moreover, there are a lot of great tutorials about almost everything related to Unreal, from entry-level to advanced topics, available for free.

What is the backstory for Boti?

Błażyńska:
Boti starts the game as a freshly installed, hyper-advanced data courier – an upgrade for Byteland, our world inside a computer. When Kernel, Boti’s Task Manager, mentions that overclocking the system could improve its lagging performance, Boti takes a trip to the main processor with a pair of infobot companions, Zero and One, to carry out some good-intentioned tinkering. This is followed by an unprecedented disaster: the system spins out of control, frightful glitches are unleashed, and once-peaceful Byteland is plagued by bugs and viruses – all at the same moment that Kernel goes missing. Boti and company set out on a journey through Byteland, looking to fix the computer’s problems, find their Task Manager, and discover the truth of the “great disaster.”

Were there any particular 3D platformers that you drew inspiration from for your game?

Błażyńska:
Of course! Gameplay-wise, we examined how Sackboy: A Great Adventure approaches being playable in both single-player and co-op modes. We were stunned by the amount of interactivity in the world of Astro’s Playroom, in which you can pretty much interact with everything you see on-screen; we also tried to create this feeling of our environments being highly interactive, but on a scale that was achievable for our team (of course). An older inspiration I should mention is American McGee’s Alice series, particularly Alice: Madness Returns. This may seem like a more surprising inspiration compared to previous examples, but we loved how the player is always in control of the character, and how responsive it feels to navigate the world, in the Alice games.

I would also like to mention one more title, that being Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, with its wonderful approach to creating a living world, and its use of high-quality hard surface environment elements to create stunning visuals.
Courtesy of Purple Ray Studio
How do musical slides and magnetism work in the game and what does that bring to the platformer genre?

Błażyńska:
At first, when we were developing early versions of the sliding mechanic, we wanted to add regular slides that drew inspiration from older platformer games, but this felt kinda bland when compared to the interactivity of the rest of the world. When our art team prepared various proposals for visualizing the slides, one of them stood out–something that looked rather Guitar Hero-esque. This simple visual idea was then developed into slides where the player is not only tasked with safe traversal, but can also play a tune, with successful playing bringing additional rewards (the player has the option of retrying a slide if they fail to master it). These tracks provide a pleasant break from the regular gameplay flow and have engaging audiovisual feedback for the player, which feels very satisfying.

Magnetism (called “hooking” in Byteland), on the other hand, was created to build puzzles in the game using simple elements; we wanted clearly understandable mechanics that can be used in multiple ways, involving elements that players would easily connect with their magnetic power. The idea of Boti being able to push and pull either themself or other objects allows for lots of cool gameplay interactions that we could combine into environmental puzzles and platforming challenges.

How hard was it to implement drop-in drop-out co-op play with Unreal Engine for Boti?

Błażyńska:
The technical aspects of implementing co-op gameplay were not overly complicated, as Unreal Engine is prepared for handling multiplayer by default–that is, there are various solutions for the multiplayer aspects of game development already pre-installed in the system. Nevertheless, there were some aspects that required more work from us, but these were mostly connected with design choices and how we approached such matters as our campaign working in both single-player and co-op modes.
Courtesy of Purple Ray Studio
We haven’t seen much of the game’s levels, but you promise that they will be inspired by computers and technology new and old. How will that be implemented in the game? Can we expect to see things like Floppy drives and old CRT screens living next to OLED monitors and SSDs?

Błażyńska:
Our biomes are based on parts present in every modern computer, like the main processor, the motherboard, RAM sticks, the graphics card, and the power supply unit, and we took inspiration from these components while creating a whimsical representation of how the software bots living inside this world might see them. Because of this abstract approach, and our desire for a lighthearted atmosphere, you’ll find elements inspired by components like capacitors and cooling fans beside cybernetic trees and grass. Boti can encounter meowing cat-bots in the RAM’s town square and cyber-crabs crawling on a sandy beach near the coolant sea.

We think this approach has helped us create a colorful, vivid, and energetic world that is inspired by electronic parts while still feeling like a living ecosystem–striking a balance between our hard-edged computing inspirations and the upbeat atmosphere we’ve tried to create.

How broadly will you tap into PC-build culture? Will there be things like water-cooling and intricate lighting or is this more about the basics of a computer?

Błażyńska:
Personal computers have a lot of history to draw inspiration from; we chose some of its elements that we figured would fit our abstract world best. In our story, Boti is tasked with solving some of the typical problems that computers encounter, like overclocking gone wrong, restarting some of the systems, or finding out why glitches have appeared in certain locations. We built on this by thinking about the kind of enemies that Boti would face–the common worms swarming the system, bugs appearing in various places, and security features gone rogue.
Courtesy of Purple Ray Studio
Beyond the obvious computer parts, what other sorts of things did you draw inspiration from for the look of the maps?

Błażyńska:
In working out how to approach environments, we knew we wanted to make Byteland a world of semi-believable, functional cities, so we decided to draw parallels between computer parts and various environments in the real world. For example, the processor area is designed like a stylized factory setting, with workbots wandering around and working at their jobs, production lines in operation, packages being sent, etc. Meanwhile, levels located in the graphics card take inspiration from urban spaces, with elements inspired by amusement parks, so players can encounter citibots enjoying the circus or waiting around for a big show on stage.

What about the design of Boti, One, and Zero? They have a very Pixar look to them.

Błażyńska:
Our primary intention for “the Trio” was for them to look cute and friendly. Furthermore, we needed these characters to be easily readable, which is why we based them on simple, defined shapes. Their color palette is also simple, consisting of violet, yellow, and cyan. Additionally, sticking to simple shapes and forms–for example, having a main character without hands–was useful in keeping the animation process fairly simple, which was necessary considering the size of the team.

What advice would you give to other game developers who want to make the leap from a game jam title to a full-blown retail release?

Błażyńska:
This is a big question, and I could list a lot of things, but the single best advice I think I could give to anyone hoping to continue work on their game-jam project is to really think through what you want from your title: plan out how you want the game to look and play, and also how much time and help you’ll need to achieve your goals. The better your plan is, the smoother your journey to release will be.

Oh, and some bonus advice: whenever you are doing time estimations, just multiply the time you think you’ll need for anything by two. ;) Trust me, you’ll need it!

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Where can people find out more about Purple Ray Studio and Boti?

Błażyńska:
Thank you very much for talking to us! The best way to get updates from us is through our socials, as we try to post regularly. Steam, Facebook, Twitter, or Linkedin are the places to go for anyone interested in the freshest news from us!

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