Epigenesis Is the Highbrow Fun Fest of eSports
Winning game of Make Something Unreal Live (MSUL) 2013 effortlessly bolsters twitchy multiplayer bouts with scientific workings
A shared passion for creating games brought a small group of university students from Sweden’s Blekinge Institute of Technology together to form Dead Shark Triplepunch, but it was Epic Games’ Make Something Unreal Live (MSUL) 2013 competition that inspired them to grow into a team of 10 and use the free Unreal Development Kit (UDK) to create the winning submission, Epigenesis.
Combining an appreciation for old-school twitch-style shooters, such as Unreal Tournament, with the MSUL 2013 theme of “Mendelian inheritance: genetics and genomics,” the crew came up with the concept of Epigenesis.
Described as “a love letter to Quake and Unreal Tournament’s Bombing Run,” Epigenesis is a fast-paced ball game of the future served up in an online multiplayer arena. Two teams face off and attempt to score by leaping across the rooftops of skyscrapers and hurling a ball through the opposing team’s goalpost. Upon scoring, the player is rewarded with a seed which can be planted to take over one of the opposing team’s rooftops. The environment evolves as players shoot the sprouted seeds, affecting their DNA in a way that can help them win the game.
“We saw the MSUL contest as the greatest adventure we could ever take part in,” says Dead Shark Triplepunch Lead Artist Henrik Giang. “What motivated us the most was the possibility to meet and talk to industry veterans, not only from Epic but from other established game studios. Of course, the Unreal Engine 4 license plus the possibility to attend the Gadget Show Live made us want to participate even more!”
The win nabbed the team an Unreal Engine 4 license and a trip to Gadget Show Live, and Dead Shark Triplepunch describes the experience gained from the entire process as unforgettable. “The entire journey has been an ongoing surprise party and a huge positive,” says Giang.
“It’s been far more exciting than any of us would have anticipated. We got to travel to the UK and present Epigenesis in front of industry veterans and audiences, both in a more focused environment and at a larger expo like the Gadget Show. And we had to do it all in English, of course. We can safely say we pushed ourselves out of our comfort zones, with many late nights of work and practicing our pitching skills.”
Giang describes those first project pitches as incredibly nerve-wracking. “Just imagine, you’ve barely started your second year at university, and you’re going to pitch your game idea in front of industry heads.” While the competition forced the self-professed “shy” team members out of their comfort zones, Dead Shark Triplepunch has grown to embrace the new-found success and constant opportunities for growth.
“As a team we have learned to be open with people and better communicate our ideas to those who might not know how game development works,” says Giang. “We have improved at presenting ourselves, our group and Epigenesis to different audiences. It’s very hard to train yourself (while still a university student) in certain parts of game development, such as how to handle media and how to build a community. Those are skills we have developed during our time at different shows and events.”
Despite very little prior experience with Unreal Engine technology, Dead Shark Triplepunch has quickly adapted to the toolset, praising its combination of power and accessibility, as well as its eagerly supportive community of users.
“This might sound a bit like we’re advertising, but it’s one of the best-looking engines out there. What interested us with the UDK was the sheer amount of high-grade tools that come with the engine such as Unreal Matinee, Kismet and Cascade. All of these together make the engine extremely versatile and suited for many different types of game development. It’s also one of the easier engines to work with if you want to make a multiplayer game, with networking pretty much set up straight out of the box.”
The team finds that Unreal Engine offers incredibly rapid iteration times, which translates into earlier and more plentiful playtests. As a result, they have been able to quickly nail down the game’s fun factor and refine core gameplay mechanics like shooting and jumping.
And, thanks to its mentoring studio for the competition, Splash Damage, Dead Shark Triplepunch has made sure to playtest not only internally, but externally as well. Remarks Giang, “Had it not been for the feedback we received from everyone involved in our playtests, Epigenesis wouldn’t be as great as it is today.
“Making Epigenesis has been an enjoyable experience, not only development-wise but also group-wise. It’s incredibly rewarding seeing everyone in the office always in a good mood, encouraging each other and noticing how we’re becoming better and better at what we do. When you look at what we did one year ago and compare it to what we produce today, things look increasingly better even on a month-to-month basis. This feeling of continual advancement, together with the amazing feedback on the game, is the most rewarding part.”
Thanks to winning MSUL 2013, Dead Shark Triplepunch is using a full source commercial Unreal Engine 3 license to complete work on Epigenesis. And, as mentioned before, the team has access to the latest Unreal Engine 4 technology as part of its first place honor.
Want to get in on the action? Epigenesis is available on Steam Early Access now. Dead Shark Triplepunch continues to add new features to game, and supports the community through game-with-developer sessions, scrim nights, tournaments and livestreams through Twitch.tv/DeadSharkTriplepunch.