Monday, April 14, 2014

UE4 Cave Environment

Soon after wrapping up the Infiltrator demo early last summer I had the opportunity to work with Paul Svoboda and create a project of our liking.  The only restriction was to showcase engine features.  I was really excited about all of the possibilities of GPU particles in UE4, and wanted to work on a showcase of sorts to help show licensees what they can do with GPU particles, and create some cool atmosphere.

I just happened to be fortunate enough to get to place those particles in a level as gorgeous as the one Paul crafted for us.  Partially inspired by moments from Dear Esther, and Skyrim we hoped to capture the contrasting moods of a warm cave interior, against a raging snowy blizzard exterior.

Paul put up some great screenshots over on Polycount, here are a few thumbnails.

I really enjoyed working on this map with Paul, his mesh and materials work is inspiring.  Mark Morgan also pitched in with the horned beast statue, which inspired me to make some magical fire FX.

You can find more information at Unreal and download the content for free with your subscription to UE4 in the Marketplace.

I hope you enjoy it.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Unreal Community

I know I have posted quite a bit about UE4 in the last 24 hours, but the image above represents the type of new thinking going around at Epic that impresses the hell out of me.

UnrealEngine 4.1 release notes

Epic is giving credit, where credit is due. This is anyone's chance, through Epic, to step up in this invigorated community and contribute something which can benefit a massive amount of users.

For several years I worked for Raven software on the licensee end of the UE3 relationship.  There were a few things about that experience that I found challenging.  When I came to Epic I wanted to learn from that experience and do my best within the studio to help improve that situation.  Now I can only take credit for a small shred of any of what is happening at Epic these days, but it is all about mind share.  Taking time to help document features, communicating with teams getting all that content we have been working on into the Marketplace.  Just generally thinking beyond my day to day  in-house FX tasks.

It's about having a new attitude and a new approach to development, developers, and our audience.  Each day at Epic I work in Cascade and make VFX.  I experience the same workflow and interface issues everyone using Cascade faces on a daily basis, and we are working on it.  Every bug that gets entered into the database and prioritized takes our licensees and our projects into account.

Interview on Gamasutra with Paul Meegan.  I think this interview sums up the changes that have been happening around our studio pretty well.

I ask myself, will this new feature I am requesting really provide a major life improvement for our team at Epic, our teams around the world, and all of our licensees/subscribers?  We are considering all of that, each and every day.
Another example of this is UE4 mobile improvements.

I had the opportunity to help out with our Soul demo, all of the water, waterfalls, and atmosphere FX in the Caves section of the video.

The UE4 mobile tools are looking really solid so far.  There is still work being done, but I can tell you I am VERY excited for the future of mobile in UE4.  Having worked extensively on Infinity Blade Dungeons, and Infinity Blade III, I have an exhaustive understanding of the limitations of the mobile content development environment.  As an FX artist it can be a bit limiting at times, but all of the hardware is improving at such a fast pace those limits are falling away quickly.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Unreal Engine 4 Tutorials and Some "Deep Thoughts"

To celebrate the launch of Unreal Engine 4, I got so excited I set aside some of my spare time and wrote up several tutorials.  I tried my best to think back to the first time I launched Cascade, and remember "what elements of the workflow tripped me up?"

Then I asked myself "what elements of Cascade were opened up to me by joining Epic?"  What are the little tricks we use everyday that might make all the difference for a new FX artist getting started in UE4?

Armed with this experience I put together a bullet-ed list and began writing up tutorials.  I have about 5 of them in the hopper now, and there is a long list which I am still working on.

If you are a seasoned developer with tons of Cascade experience, then these might not be for you...but if you are new to UE4, or you are interested in seeing how I work then these write-ups will be of interest.

I am starting with the basics, using particle color/alpha to modify the look of your sprites.  Editing a curve in the timeline view...using the new tabs to quickly navigate back and forth between materials and Cascade.

It's pretty straight fwd stuff I know, but this is the info I would died for when I first got started in Cascade at Raven, all those years ago.  My plan is for this to all build to giving anyone who has interest, the ability to break a Material, a Blueprint, and an Effect down into the essential elements so it's easier to take an FX problem and break it out into the elements that make up your solution.


In other areas of my thoughts...

GDC has come and gone again.  Once again I sat in the amazing studio space at Epic and watched all of the info pouring out of the conference asking myself "why I am not there?"

I think I have a few reasons...I am going to take this next year to get that sorted, and go to GDC next year.
I am making solid efforts to share more of my knowledge with the real-time FX community so that this discipline can grow and expand.  I work hard within Epic to share everything I know with my peers, and I hope this type of mentality can expand within the real-time FX community.

"Job Security" technique hoarders benefit no one in our industry.

This discipline can only get better with more and more folks sharing knowledge and information.  In the spirit of the UE4 launch, and the work that people like Bill Kladis, and Fred Hooper have been doing over at Imbue FX I am hoping to use these new lessons, and GDC to make a solid effort to get more of that info out as frequently as my schedule will allow.

A lot of this work started with the UE3 performance and optimization documentation I put together after Gears 3, and it's clear to me now I wish to put effort into sharing more of that knowledge.

I hope that other people learning new tricks in UE4 are interested in sharing their techniques as well in the UE4 Wikis.

Unreal Engine 4 Launch

I am a bit late posting the news, as you can imagine I have been a bit busy as of late.  Unreal Engine 4 is now available to anyone who wishes to give it a try for $19 per month.  This is very exciting news for everyone at Epic as we are all excited to see what other people do with our tech, and we are looking forward to more users having access to our tools.

On top of this a UE4 subscription grants you access to the full source code, which has me especially excited to see what kinds of plugins, features, and tools coders outside of Epic come up with.

There have been many people within the studio hard at work for several years now working to make the UE4 experience as smooth as possible.  Check out the Unreal Engine Website for more information and learning resources to sink your teeth into.

I am personally excited because I have had the opportunity over the last 12 or so months to work on several sample projects in my spare time.  Some of them are slated to be released, and you can see them in the marketplace, while others are already available.

There are a few screenshots Josh Marlow posted from the Reflections demo over on Polycount.  I had the opportunity to help Josh and Rick Kohler with some atmosphere FX, as well as several animated puddle decals.  Environment work also just happens to be some of my favorite FX work.

 UE4 Reflections Demo

On top of this news, I was crazy excited to see that Nvidia showcased their newest GPU with this now familiar level modified for a cinematic demo several of us over at Epic worked on.  Cinematics artist Michael Clausen was kind enough to lead up a team of artists and animators, and our studio wide Art Director Chris Perna hopped in to give us a new cinematic lighting setup.  I had the chance to do quite a few more effects for this, some of them being very subtle water splashes, foot steps, impacts, and all of the wet masks/roughness settings on the characters to get them looking wet.  There are also some physics sims when the characters interact with tiles. The video below seems to have already simulated the sequence once, so the tiles are already broken.

There is so much more demo content coming, if you were at GDC you may have seen this running in the Epic booth, we had just put in a bunch of extra hours to get the finishing touches on several elements prior to GDC and I was very happy to hear this got some face time on the show floor.