Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden uses stealth to offer a fresh take on tactical adventure
“We want to build games that are unique and a little bit out there - a little bit different,” said Game Director Lee Varley. “Maybe take some popular genres and put some spins on it. That’s what we want to do as a studio. We want to explore those opportunities.”
Although the prospect of finding new experiences within established formulas is exciting, The Bearded Ladies will be the first to admit that actually developing something unique can be much more difficult than it appears.
“The first year (of development) became trying to figure out the metagame - what would we add to the XCOM formula - and we failed miserably,” said David Skarin, Co-Founder of The Bearded Ladies.
“What we wanted to do with Mutant Year Zero was take a really, really deep and complex tactical game like XCOM and not just emulate it, but be inspired by it,” said Varley.
So, what augmentations to the inspirational XCOM make Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden’s gameplay stand out? Surprisingly, it’s the element of stealth.
Unlike traditional tactical adventures, where movement is grid-based, stealth plays a huge role in Road to Eden. Players will be tasked with sneaking through shadows to avoid conflict or catching enemies unaware as the game’s real-time stealth elements provide full control over the player’s approach. This means that players now have the freedom to sneak into an enemy camp, position their team to their advantage, and gain the element of surprise.
Maximizing the advantages of stealth by finding suitable cover, using the proper weapons and upgrades, equipping and utilizing the game’s unique mutations and keeping your three-party team’s momentum going will be central to achieving victory.
According to the game’s website though, the biggest challenge may be “unlearning” what you have learned from other tactical games – because this game takes turn-based tactics to another level. Essentially, if you don’t adapt your strategy, you won’t last long.
This premise applies not just to players of the game, but to the team that built it as well.
“Our first prototype playable was actually in a different engine, but we didn’t have source code access, so at that point we started looking at Unreal” said Skarin. “Of course, Unreal comes with the movement component and a couple of templates for doing third-person games and we kept the real-time elements in there for debugging purposes. At some point, we were in real-time stepping into battle and stepping (back) out and realized, ‘Wait, this is a great loop. This just works out of the box.”
So as the team somewhat accidentally encountered its most unique (and innovative) mechanic, they set out to build an experience that would be worthy of the beloved Mutant Year Zero brand, leaning on Unreal Engine’s Blueprint visual scripting system to get the most out of their efforts.
“Considering we’re such a small team, Blueprints helped us a lot by streamlining the workflow between disciplines,” said Senor Programmer Patrik Skoog. “You don’t have to be a super technical person to actually do it (Blueprints). You don’t have to be a C++ programmer to understand it.”
Quick iteration was another aspect of the team’s ability to progress – with concepts sometimes turning into content within the span of a single day. “I can build maps very quickly,” said Varley. “On the whiteboard in the morning discussing what we want a map to be and then playing it in the afternoon. Unreal is really good at that. That’s why I love it.”
Ensuring that their work isn’t wasted, Skarin explains that the balance between Blueprints and C++ afforded the team added flexibility throughout development. “The Blueprints are so sturdy that we can keep them for a long time into the project before we had to make a decision on keeping them or putting certain things in C++,” stated Skarin, adding, “The level designers would not only do level scripting in Blueprints, they would also do tools for themselves to test things.”
In addition to Blueprints, finding content to quickly build upon ideas was an essential part of the development process for The Bearded Ladies and something that the team leveraged the Unreal Engine Marketplace to achieve. “We actually used the Unreal Engine Marketplace quite a bit for almost every aspect of the game,” said Skarin. ”Even if you’re not going to use it in the finished product, just having it up and running helps you so much with scoping the game and setting the quality level.”
Whether it was the expectations (and pressure) of a known IP from its homeland of Sweden or its own ambitions as a small independent studio comprised of veteran developers, quality was something the team was not willing to compromise on. As a result, having access to Unreal Engine’s source code was essential to ensure that they could read and react as the project came down the stretch.
“Shipping is when the real bugs show up,” said Skarin. “Figuring out if it’s the engine or your own code can be a problem if you don’t have the source code to the engine.”
“As a game developer you want to have as much control as possible over every aspect of the project, and any part of the project where you don’t have control is simply risk,” stated Varley. “The ability to just fix it yourself in the source code is unbelievably important. If you can’t do that, then you risk delaying your whole project.”
“It’s hard work making games and everybody should know that. Even if you have the greatest engine and the greatest team, it’s going to take a lot of work,” said Skarin. “Now that we’re almost there, I’m super proud of the work and also super nervous about reception – so it goes between crying and laughing every two hours or so – and it’s great. I love this part of it.”
Published by Funcom, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden launches December 4, 2018 on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
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