Epic Diaries April: Wheelman

Epic Diaries April: Wheelman

By Develop

April 6th 2009 at 2:25PM

Vin Dieselâ??s next adventure wonâ??t be seen on the big screen. The action star is appearing as Milo Burick, an undercover cop out to infiltrate the gangs of Barcelona in Wheelman, Midwayâ??s collaboration with Dieselâ??s Tigon Studios â?? and itâ??s being fueled by Unreal Engine 3 technology.

Shaun Himmerick, executive producer of Wheelman at Midway Newcastle, said that it’s been great utilising UE3 for the action driving genre. The game is part of a cross-company shared technology endeavor that Midway employs in each of its global studios.

“With an open world game, there is both driving and on-foot action, so we borrowed designers from the Stranglehold team to help us,” added Himmerick. “While it’s a challenge to put every studio on a common engine, it makes it easier to share the technology.”

Wheelman’s virtual Barcelona is a massive city with over 4,000 miles of roads, including back alleys that can only be navigated by motorcycle. One of the hurdles the team tackled was streaming the virtual city on console. Himmerick said that UE3 was built to stream on-foot action, which might cover ten feet per second, but his team needed the engine to accelerate up to 150 miles per hour for speeding vehicles.

“To build an engine that can stream the equivalent of a first-person shooter map every eight seconds was a massive challenge,” he said. “We used a lot of core Unreal technology, and we also added a lot to it, like Kynapse and the Havok engine.”

In addition, the team modified toolsets within UE3 like Matinee, which was revised and referred to as the cinema tool by the team. That technology was originally designed for Stranglehold, another UE3 game, but was customised for Wheelman. At its base, Midway used the stock Matinee engine and then added bolts onto it. The end result provided specific functionality that enabled the team’s cinema group to precisely manipulate the cameras within the game world for the desired cinematic feel.

“We have something called super mesh, which allows for more variation of character than the Unreal Engine normally lets you do,” continued Himmerick. “For us, it enables us to do more damage to cars. Super mesh doesn’t work out of the box with Matinee, so we had to hijack the in-game car and pull it into our cinema engine to ensure a clean transition.”

One innovative idea that came from conversations with Vin Deisel was to create car combat in the vein of a fighting game. Instead of bumping into another car over and over again, the game employs melee combat like punches that can knock out enemies immediately and dramatically. The Wheelman also has a super move that allows the driver to spin 180 degrees, blast his enemies with guns, and then spin back around. Himmerick said all of the action is captured with very cinematic camera perspectives.

The game also lets players exit vehicles and engage in gunfights and exploration. Cars will come in handy as shields from bullets, but well-timed shots can also blow up vehicles and take out multiple enemies.

“Unreal has given us a great starting point,” explained Himmerick. “The file structure, the way it’s organised, and the fact that it was all done with the infrastructure that we were familiar with has allowed us to easily modify what we need, like the cinema tool, and then share it among all of the studios.”

With fast and furious action, The Wheelman will allow anyone to step into the starring role and take down the bad guys by any means necessary.

The above is an excerpt of a story written by John Gaudiosi for www.unrealtechnology.com.