Unreal Engine 3 Powers: Planet 51: The Game

Unreal Engine 3 Powers: Planet 51: The Game

By Mark Rein

December 9th 2009 at 9:30AM

Epic's Mark Rein looks over Ilion Animation and Pyro Studios' unique collaboration

Madrid-based Ilion Animation Studios and Pyro Studios are taking a unique approach to their upcoming Sony Pictures feature film, Planet 51, and its Sega-published video game. Pyro has developed the game while sister company Ilion has focused on the movie, enabling teams behind both releases to share digital assets and work together in a creative atmosphere.

James Franco, game director at Pyro Studios, said the impact of Unreal Engine 3 on the game’s development has reduced the amount of time involved as well as the team size. The most important impact that Unreal has had on this project, he said, is that the technology has allowed most of the team to focus on the gameplay aspects, which has resulted in a better game.

At the peak of production, the team at Pyro included more than 40 developers working with Unreal Engine 3 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game. Franco said that out of this team, just a few coders and a few artists had previous experience using Unreal.

“We needed a very solid engine, and with this being a movie-based game for next-generation consoles, we had time restrictions and a hard deadline,” said Franco.

“We chose Unreal because the game had to ship on time. Unreal is a very solid and stable engine, and it gives us a group of tools that enable us to polish our game. It helps us to focus on the game’s execution, reducing development time and allowing the team to focus on creativity.”

Franco said his team used many Unreal Engine 3 tools, including the robust level-editing system to structure the content with layers – more than 60 levels in each scenario. In addition, they employed the asynchronous load system to stream the world to gamers with no load time. In terms of actual gameplay, the team used UnrealScript, Matinee and Kismet to bring the action adventure game to life.

“Kismet gives us the opportunity to prototype gameplay quickly, so once mechanics are approved, we have more time to polish them,” explained Franco.

“Unreal also helped us a lot developing Planet 51 across platforms, particularly with the PS3 version, which has been less problematic that we thought it would be at the beginning.”

The film was written by Shrek creator Joe Stillman, and the open world game adds a lot of new material to the mix through a variety of vehicle-based and pedestrian missions.  “The game feels like you’re playing in a real open world,” said Franco. “You can control the characters from the movie and utilise their special abilities as you progress through the game.”

As Pyro nears completion on its first Unreal Engine project, Franco said it’s important to remember that Epic’s technology is not just for shooters. “It has a lot of possibilities,” said Franco, who points to his own action/platform/racing hybrid Planet 51 as a great example of what can be done with Unreal Engine 3.
Everyone can explore Planet 51 this winter on both the big screen and major game consoles.

www.epicgames.com

To discuss anything raised in this column or general licensing opportunities for Epic Games’ Unreal engine, contact: mrein@epicgames.com.