January 21, 2019
How Ghost Ship Games found success with Deep Rock Galactic
With a strong game concept and the desire to develop community at its core, the team tasked itself with doing something many developers struggle to achieve - find the fun. “Deep Rock Galactic is a first-person co-op shooter where you and three of your friends can team up and play as a bunch of badass space-mining dwarves,” said Ghost Ship Games Game Director & Co-founder Mikkel Martin Pedersen. “It has this combination of intense action and exploration that I don't think you'll find in any other co-op game out there. It's just a really good game to go on an adventure with some friends in.”
Of course, every adventure needs something unique to help it stand out from the crowd and for the team at Ghost Ship Games, the elements of interactivity and surprise were something they latched onto early. “The way that Deep Rock Galactic sets itself apart from other co-op shooters is because we have 100 percent destructible environments that are procedurally generated,” Pedersen told us. “So everytime you go on a mission, you get to play in a new exciting environment.”
“The biggest obstacle was the procedural world because we knew that it would be the main technical thing we were going to do and we weren't really sure how to do it at all,” said Lead Programmer & Co-founder Jonas Solhøj Møller.
“Our CTO just took a week away and when he returned he said, 'I have something'," confessed CEO and Co-founder Søren Lundgaard. “Then he had this prototype of a crazy mesh generated procedural look that we ended up with, and it's still like, this is just awesome, but how does it actually work?"
Once the foundation of the project came together, it was time for Ghost Ship to expose its creation to the world via Early Access, but despite any ambitions or expectations associated with community feedback, the developer knew it was taking a risk by exposing its efforts so early. So, how did the team approach this intimidating state? It tackled its discomfort head on. “Let's get things out before we are comfortable with showing them,” said Lundgaard. “That took a bit of guts, and it was awesome. It returned tenfold and it's been a huge part of our success.”
Central to this success was the team’s ability to quickly iterate on its ideas in Unreal Engine. Through Blueprints visual scripting and accessibility to the team’s artists, Ghost Ship Games gained the ability to progress the project at an unexpected speed for such a small team. “Fast iteration in Unreal was definitely one of the benefits that we knew we would have and all way through the process we used Blueprints heavily,” stated Lundgaard.
“From an artist's perspective, Unreal is amazing,” said Friis. “I mean, I've worked with several different game engines by now and Unreal let's me really get in there, get my hands dirty, and sure, I'm no programmer, but I can make prototypes, put them on the screen and say, 'Hey, this is what I want.’ That's just a toolset I've never had access to before.”
Leaning into UE4’s battle-tested tools, the team acknowledged the impact Epic’s experience as game developers delivers. “One thing I really like about the engine is that you can really tell that it was made by people who actually make games,” said Møller. “You can really tell that from the quality of the tool. There's actually a lot of stuff built in that we just use just straight out pretty much unchanged.”
Still in Early Access, the community’s feedback has proven invaluable to the team during Deep Rock Galactic’s development. Having the ability to dig as deep as necessary into Unreal Engine’s source code also empowers the team to have complete control over the project they’ve worked so hard to build. “We're all very experienced so we know that getting to the last step before we release can be very challenging,” said Lead Programmer & Co-founder Jonas Solhøj Møller. “So the fact that we have access to the whole source code of Unreal is very important to our project. If something goes wrong, we can see if it's our code or in the engine. We can just identify it immediately. We can even fix it ourselves locally.”
If there’s one thing that doesn’t need fixing though, it might be the unexpected nature of the development journey thus far. “If you had asked me five years ago, I would have never said I would have been part of a startup,” said Friis. Lundgaard continued, “It's been like a rollercoaster and sometimes we look at it and we say, ‘Whoa, can we slow down a bit,’ because we don't really have time to fathom what's happening. It's really happening so fast.”
Deep Rock Galactic is now available in Early Access on Steam, Windows 10 and Xbox One Game Preview.
Interested in starting your own development journey? Download Unreal Engine for free and get going today!