Image courtesy of Telltale Games

How developers used Unreal Engine to showcase The Wolf Among Us 2 from inside the game

Brian Crecente

Telltale is an independent developer and publisher of both original and licensed IP games for every major interactive platform, and is a pioneer of narrative and episodic delivery. Current Telltale projects in development include The Wolf Among Us 2: A Telltale Series, based on the DC/Vertigo Comics series; and The Expanse: A Telltale Series.
The journey between Telltale Games’ cult classic graphic adventure game The Wolf Among Us and its sequel is as surprising and dramatic as the games themselves.

The original title launched in 2013 with the promise of a follow-up in 2017, but internal studio turmoil first delayed the game and then sunk the developer itself. In 2018, the studio returned under new ownership, bringing with it the promise of The Wolf Among Us 2.

The sequel was reannnounced in 2019, under development by Telltale Games and AdHoc Studio—which was formed by former Telltale Games staff. The studios were relatively quiet about the game until this February when the teams working on the game, and voice actors Adam Harrington, who plays Bigby in the game, and Erin Yvette, who voices Snow, joined industry insider Geoff Keighley for a live-streamed reveal and behind-the-scenes for the upcoming title.

The twist? The entire live show was shot inside the world of The Wolf Among Us 2 with the help of Unreal Engine and copious amounts of green screen. We chatted with Telltale Games’ CEO, chief technology officer, and the folks at The AV Society about how and why they dropped people into the colorful setting of the game’s Godmother’s Bar, and why the developers decided to transition to Unreal Engine for this latest game.

The Wolf Among 2 is coming to consoles and the Epic Games Store later this year.
Image courtesy of Telltale Games
What made you decide to conduct interviews about The Wolf Among Us 2 inside the game itself?
Jamie Ottilie, Telltale Games Chief Executive Officer:
We wanted to do something special for the fans, as they’ve been waiting patiently for news since we first announced the game back in December 2019. We also knew we were up against an incredibly full news cycle and some highly-anticipated game launches, so we wanted to do something a bit special.
Some of the biggest looming questions were how faithful the new team would be to the original game and how The Wolf Among Us 2 would look using the new engine. The AV Society and Media One, our video vendor, suggested the in-game virtual set as a fun way to address those concerns and make the update more of an event.
Image courtesy of Telltale Games
How did the idea for this concept evolve?
We had a pretty quick turnaround and were quoting out all the options when a virtual set was suggested. This played perfectly into the team’s efforts to breathe even more life into the Wolf 2 world. This time around, the lines between Fabletown and the Mundy worlds blur even further, with New York City really becoming more like a character in the game. So mixing realities for the event was a natural fit.
Seeing how other industries like film and television are using Unreal Engine, we asked how we could take this Q&A to the next level while capturing the casual chat feel for the fans. We realized we could use the Godmother’s bar environment straight from the game. From the lighting to tracking, it would all map to what we would capture in the state-of-the-art green screen studio.

How did you go about building the green screen stage?

One of the things that make virtual production appealing is that many of the tools are already best practices in other areas, such as the green screen. The industry has a lot of experience making green screens work well without a lot of post production. When we shoot, the key considerations are floor space and lighting. A nice big, consistent, and smooth green background gives us a lot to work with.
Image courtesy of Telltale Games
How did you use Unreal Engine to help build the virtual set and capture the interview in-game?
Tracy Peterson, Executive Producer, MediaOne Studios:
When Media One was approached to help with the announcement, and given the objective of “big impact,” the creative resources at AdHoc and Telltale bravely took our challenging suggestion to use everything in their toolbox to impress the audience. Since Unreal was the platform their new engine is built upon, we knew the in-game virtual set interview was an interesting option.  We have been working with Unreal sets in our own studio in Las Vegas, so we began discussing what kinds of in-game assets were available to bring the audience into the fairytale world of The Wolf Among Us 2, and they suggested Godmother’s Bar for the setting.
The folks at AdHoc and Telltale provided a good amount of support for their artwork and the customizations present in Unreal Engine that we needed to address for the production systems to work properly. We needed to honor the custom light modeling in their build while ensuring it was compatible with the tracking and camera systems.

Can you explain what other tools were used to create the in-game interview?
We shot the entire thing using a virtual set system called Brainstorm 3D at LA Castle Studios.  Initially, we had hoped to do every shot live, but it was quickly apparent that adding post processing would result in a better final product. We used the green screen footage, tracking data, and rendered frames from Unreal cinematic tools to make final plates which we could do thorough compositing on in After Effects, to really sell the illusion.
What was the process of capturing this live interview inside the game like? Were there any significant challenges you had to overcome? If so, can you walk us through that?
Virtual production is challenging any way you cut it, but in regard to the video game industry, there’s special consideration to be made for the engine and assets. We were using an engine that was heavily customized, so we had a number of compatibility hurdles to pass regarding the tracking and live camera tools. Our workarounds were enabled by Unreal’s toolsets, such as numerous data import/export options and high-quality frame rendering from Sequencer.
Image courtesy of Telltale Games
What do you think taking this approach for the interview and reveal added to the experience, and will you do anything similar in the future?

Our main goal was to make a whole experience that feels more immersive and fun, more like a casual conversation over a drink. And to make our fans feel like they are already visiting Fabletown—even if they have to wait for 2023 when the game launches.

We want to find engaging and unique ways to tell the stories behind our stories. If anything, our experience shooting this production inspired a bunch of ideas and made us ask the question, “What else can we do?” down the line. While we focused on dev reveals hanging out bar-side at Godmother‘s, we just as easily could have had the devs and Geoff play darts or shuffleboard while talking. You get the idea.
Don’t be surprised if you see us taking another trip back to Godmother’s as a potential way to present directly to our fans down the line. Especially on wing night.
The original Wolf Among Us was built on Telltale’s in-house engine. What made the studio decide to switch to Unreal Engine for the sequel?
Zac Litton, Telltale Games Chief Technology Officer:
There are certain aspects of Telltale games—the episodic nature, custom filters, and need for fast iteration—that still require a number of Telltale’s proprietary tools. So those have all been reworked, modified, and updated, then layered atop the Unreal Engine. The old engine brought with it all the challenges you’d expect with being older and proprietary. Our pipeline is everything in terms of how we work, and it’s crucial that we’re able to iterate, adjust, and keep moving. We wanted a smoother, faster, more reliable pipeline that Unreal delivers. And, because it’s universally used throughout the industry, it significantly widens the pool of hiring talent.
Image courtesy of Telltale Games
What does the Unreal Engine add to the look and play of the sequel compared to the original?
The recent The Wolf Among Us 2 trailer really speaks to what we can do with the new engine. The team has been able to stay true to the graphic novel - noir-esque nature of the original series but do everything in a richer, more vibrant 4K running at a high frame rate. So we think the benefits will be immediately noticeable to the fans. And, because the engine is open, we’ve been able to layer our own tools onto Unreal Engine, resulting in a smoother, faster development pipeline and a cleaner end product.

How did transitioning to Unreal Engine impact the development of the second game, and what is it like now developing on Unreal Engine?

We were also rebuilding the company, staffing the team, and dealing with the pandemic while updating and modifying our proprietary tools to work with Unreal, so we probably invested more time in pre-production than we had with previous titles. But the resulting improved pipeline and workflow were worth it—and, as a side benefit, it provided the writers more time with the script. The creative leads have stated in other interviews that this process let them fully realize the original vision for the game.
Image courtesy of Telltale Games
Are there any particular challenges you overcame with Unreal Engine that you’d like to address?
As previously mentioned, it was critical that Telltale’s proprietary tools work smoothly with the new engine. It needed to deliver an improved workflow, improved player experience, AND meet our iterative needs. That was the most important challenge, but that was helped by the open nature of Unreal Engine.
What are you looking forward to with Unreal Engine 5 and its coming technology?
We were already well into development on The Wolf Among Us 2 prior to Unreal Engine 5, and we’ve had plenty to keep us busy with our current games in development for the time being. But we’re always listening to what other teams are doing in terms of new tools and engine capabilities, as we always want to deliver the best possible experience with our future titles.
Image courtesy of Telltale Games
Thank you for taking the time to chat. Where can people find out more about AdHoc Studio, Telltale Games, and The Wolf Among Us 2?
Thank you for the opportunity! As for folks that want to learn more: We always encourage people to swing by, but we love chatting with everyone on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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