Glow Shines the Light on Unreal’s Ability to Empower Small Development Teams
Remember when games didn’t require a story? When seeing a character and its enemies on screen instantly communicated the objective at hand? Depending on how old you are, this style of storytelling (or lack thereof) might have been what you typically associated with games long before the sprawling, dynamic dialogue and Hollywood-style cinematic sequences altered the landscape of interactive entertainment.
Well, despite the amazing advancements that have brought gaming on par with today’s biggest flicks, sometimes the “less-is-more” mentality makes for a memorable gaming experience.
Well, I recently caught up with Impetus Games co-founder Matthias Brandstetter to discuss the game, its intended audience, the challenges associated with being a small development team and how Unreal Engine has helped bring their vision for Glow to life.
Q: Please tell us what Glow is all about and what type of game you consider it to be.
Matthias: Glow delivers fast-paced action in the spirit of those good old arcade games we loved to play in the 80's and 90's. It's a top-down, third-person shooter with modern 3D graphics, powered by Unreal Engine 4. During the first brainstorming sessions a few months ago we thought about some of the games we enjoyed playing when we were young - games like Cannon Fodder, Speedball, or Turrican. Glow is like a potpourri of all these, but in a fresh style, powered by a state-of-the-art engine. And of course it includes loads of blood and gore :-)
Q: How many people have been working on the project and how long has it been in development?
Matthias: The core team working on the game consists of two developers: Christoph Thurner, the designer and artist, and myself, the coder and tech guy. Additionally we have been supported by Andreas Gröstlinger, who provided sound effects and music. It's a bit hard to exactly narrow down how many days we developed the game in total, as we worked on it only part-time. All in all it was about four to five months.
Q: Does the firefly that you play as have a story?
Matthias: The short answer is no, you just start the game and play. The longer answer is yes, there is a background story in the game. We planned to have a Firefly Princess that you need to rescue over the course of the game. We know, we know, that's super stereotype, but since we wanted Glow to be a bit like the old games, which often told such simple stories, we also wanted to have something like that in our game. Unfortunately, as a two-man team working only part-time on the project, eventually we ended up without the background story. So it comes down to the first answer to this question - just grab the game and start playing!
Q: What types of enemies do you encounter in Glow?
Matthias: Since we HATE spiders (at least I do!), and since many others do as well, we wanted to have a game in which you can kill loads and loads of these evil critters. So in Glow you will be able to kill various types of spiders - with or without venom, smaller and larger, fast and slow ones. And there are slugs, “anti-aircraft slugs” to be precise!
Q: What types of weapons do you have access to?
Matthias: This is one of the main aspects in Glow, a broad arsenal of weapons to choose from. We have small weapons, like normal guns and machine guns, heavy attacks, like homing missiles and large cannons, as well as ordnance, such as bombs and mines. And there are passive perks you gain over time, which grant you benefits like additional hit points or auto-healing. One of the fun aspects of Glow is acquiring new perks while playing the game, and finding out how you can combine them to maximize their effects. How can a Firefly shoot missiles and drop bombs, you ask? Well, of course we didn't just make those things up. We asked a biologist about what real fireflies are capable of :-)
Q: What can you tell us about the power-ups?
Matthias: As in the classic games we were referring to earlier you can pick up various kinds of power-ups from killed enemies. These power-ups range from typical effects like additional health to more interesting things like minions that automatically aid you in fighting evil bugs.
Q: What type of map variety do you have in the game?
Matthias: The overall theme in our game is focused on outdoor environments, in which you would typically find these bugs. We will ship Glow with four maps in different sizes, from very small to quite large. To spice up that level selection a bit we also added various map modifiers, which change some map parameters in order to make the overall playing experience a bit more challenging and diversified.
Q: Why did you choose Unreal Engine to bring this project to life?
Matthias: That is a very good question, because it leads to one of the main motivation factors we had during development. Originally, when we started our two-man dev studio we developed a similar game like Glow in a custom 2D engine. It worked quite well, but at one point during development we came to the conclusion that in the long run we are aiming to release 3D games. So, we decided to switch to a "real" engine sooner rather than later in order to minimize the amount of work we would have to throw away when we switch. We made some very basic experiences with Unity a while ago, but we still wanted a full-featured and proven 3D engine. So we had to decide between the Unreal Engine and CryEngine. Eventually we chose UE4, because other Unreal-based games we know already looked astonishing and because of the fair licensing model Epic provides.
Q: Which aspects of Unreal Engine have you enjoyed the most throughout development?
Matthias: One of the best things in UE4 is the material editor. Our designer Christoph was mainly responsible for producing the materials, but since he is not a coder he would not have been able to come up with such great shaders by coding them manually. This was and still is a huge time saver, and the results look just amazing! The same goes for Blueprints, as these save loads of time for non-developers as well. Beside that we loved to see how all the bits and pieces that form the engine just play nicely together. And last but not least, as a former C++ coder, I enjoyed having to refresh my skills in that area again!
Q: How do you feel Unreal Engine allows smaller developers to realize their potential?
Matthias: We know from our own experience and discussions with fellow indie devs that many are a bit intimidated because of the C++ coding involved. But there are two things that make UE4 coding in general really easy. First, you don't have to use C++ the whole time, we used Blueprints for many different aspects of Glow, and it works quite well (and fast). Secondly, the C++ code needed for a UE4 project is much easier to write than "normal" C++, as Unreal Engine ships with so many ready-made classes and macros, a whole programming framework really, so that one does not need to be afraid of learning and using it. As I said before, by using Blueprints even non-programmers can create gameplay logic. And - maybe even more importantly - shaders, really cool shaders, which would not be possible with other engines. To be honest, we did some research but have not found any other engine on the market that allows even small teams to come up with such AAA-like graphics in such a short development time as with the Unreal Engine 4.
Q: Where can people go to learn more about Glow and purchase the game?
Matthias: We really hope people will enjoy playing Glow as much as we enjoyed working on it! If you like what you have seen so far and/or want to know more about Glow, don't hesitate to visit our Steam store page. It would be just super-duper awesome if you will support us by purchasing our first game and telling all your friends about it...but try not to “bug” them too much:)