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Square Enix & Other Leading Japanese Developers Convene for Unreal Summit Tokyo 2011

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    Square Enix & Other Leading Japanese Developers Convene for Unreal Summit Tokyo 2011

    Unreal Insider traveled to Japan in December to the Unreal Summit Tokyo 2011, a two-day summit, hosted by Epic Games Japan, established to give an open forum for the Japanese game development community to learn and discuss the technical aspects of Unreal Engine 3 and cultivate closer relationships among peers.

    The summit came on the heels of a recently signed long-term, multi-title Unreal Engine licensing deal between Epic Games and Square Enix, which marked a new era of technical collaboration between the two companies on a global level.
    Attendees came from all around, with some of the top talent from nearly two dozen studios in attendance such as Square Enix, Capcom, Grasshopper Manufacture, iNiS, CyberConnect2 and many other renowned Unreal Engine licensees.
    Over the two day period, a variety of topics were covered involving Unreal Engine 3 (UE3) tools and features to helpful tips and experiences shared by new and established licensees of UE3.

    First day highlights “Lessons from Epic”:

    • Jun Shimoda, Support Manager of Epic Games Japan, kicked off the summit with a basic introduction to the uses and techniques of Unreal Engine technology, such as how to develop non-shooter games and tips for smoother interaction with digital content creation (DCC) tools, etc.
    • Afterwards, Gears of War 3 level design and iteration during early phases of the development process was discussed. This discussion was of particular interest to the attendees, because in Japan, old fashioned development styles are still followed by many developers, meaning they create the game design on paper before production begins which entails meticulously generating “design specifications” on documents followed by creating all the levels and assets using DCC tools.
    The level design presentation highlighted one of the many benefits of UE3, which was the capability to create a playable level on the very first day of the development process. The presenter discussed the process used by developers at Epic Games where they quickly prototype in the Unreal Editor using BSP placeholder blocks and then materialize their game design visions into actual levels through an iterative process.
    • To cap off the day, Jack Porter, Support Manager and Engine Programmer at Epic Games Korea, held sessions about the new Unreal Landscape terrain design tool and procedural foliage system for plant and tree creation. Jack wrapped up his talk by detailing in-depth, the optimization and debugging tools within UE3.

    Second day highlights “Learning from Licensees”:

    • Epic’s Jun Shimoda opened the day by talking about his past experiences working as a programmer on a Japanese team using UE3 and went over the challenges when making a JRPG using Unreal Engine technology. Jun explained that some of the biggest obstacles he faced involved over-customizing the engine’s source code, language barriers and the lack of local support 5-6 years ago but emphasized that since then, Epic has set up its wholly-owned subsidiary in Japan and now provides local support in Japanese, drastically improving the success of Unreal Engine licensees in Japan.
    • Later in the day, at a session titled “Teaching the Unreal Engine to Dance,” David Ventura (Manager for Core Middleware Technology) and Takashi Nyui (Level Design Manager) from iNiS, the well-known Japanese developer of the Elite Beat Agents and Lips series, spoke about their latest title, The Black Eyed Peas Experience and literally showed how they incorporated rhythm, hip-hop and glamour into the award-winning “blood and chainsaw” game engine.

    In order to develop procedural control of stage lighting and character animation to match each song, iNiS developed their own technology called “Song Map” and “Music Sync Matinee,” a customized version of Unreal Matinee that could recognize and control information such as beats per minute and triggers for cinematic or stage lighting. With this customization, they were able to quickly develop a list that included a wide variety of songs and enabled the addition of future songs through DLC.
    • The final speakers of the day came from independent game developer, Grasshopper Manufactre, a studio known for its unique design by Suda51 and for their reputation as one of the most experienced Unreal Engine users in Japan, having shipped Shadows of the Damned (9.25/10 review, Game Informer) and now working on multiple titles for various platforms, including the recently announced Lollipop Chainsaw.
    • Kees Gajentaan (Lead Environment Artist), Koji Kawasaki (Technical Artist), Jason Reis (Lead Level Designer) and Gregory Pageot (Senior Programmer) talked about their takeaways from developing Shadows of the Damned andLollipop Chainsaw. In their session, they covered a wide range of functions, from cut scene creation to efficient level design to optimization.
    • Kees spoke about what Grasshopper had learned from their experiences creating cut scenes with UE3 and explained that it was important to reduce “expensive” assets as much as possible, such as dynamic lights, translucent materials, and materials with many instruction counts, to ensure a high level of performance on all platforms. He also introduced Grasshopper’s tips to keeping visual quality from being seriously affected while reducing those expensive assets.
    • Koji then explained how Grasshopper was applying what they had learned about memory management from their experience in Shadows of the Damned to Lollipop Chainsaw. He explained that during development of Shadows of the Damned, nobody on the team had a clear understanding of memory allocation and weren’t able to come up with fundamental solutions for memory issues. Learning from those previous struggles gave them the insight to pay more attention to optimized memory allocation and streaming technology, as well as controlling the length of each cut scene during development of Lollipop Chainsaw.
    • The third speaker from Grasshopper, Jason, talked about the challenges in making rapid level design possible among the Shadows of the Damned team. When he joined the team, they had already been building levels but were in the middle of refactoring the core game design but they also wanted to integrate more of the game’s imaginative story with the level encounters, and much of it was in the process of being stripped out and/or rewritten.
    So in order to make the best use of level design process under these circumstances, the team took two approaches:
    • For the existing levels, they leveraged what worked. They reordered, repurposed, and redesigned them, and tossed what didn’t work (in order of preference). They also modified gameplay to fit environments if needed.
    • For the new levels, they applied something similar to Epic’s level design workflow and adapted shorter iteration loops and less personnel.
    By taking these approaches and utilizing the game engine tools, the team was able to iterate rapidly and build the basic pillars of their game.
    • The final speaker, Gregory, gave tips on how to use UE3 with a small size dev team. He advised that a small team should focus on gameplay and avoid engine modification since Epic already provides the code drops of its previous games for reference by licensees, which is a treasure house of examples for good engine use.
    Since the establishment of Epic Games Japan (EGJ) in 2009, the number of UE3 licensees and evaluators has steadily climbed. While the population of developers in Japan with high-level UE3 expertise are limited compared to Western countries, EGJ sees this as a great opportunity for growth and remains committed to offering learning opportunities at events such as the Unreal Summit to further illustrate how and why Epic’s Unreal Engine 3 technology has become world renowned.
    Taka Kawasaki,
    Territory Manager, Epic Games Japan

    Taka Kawasaki is the Territory Manager for Epic Games Japan. Epic’s Unreal Engine 3 has won Game Developer magazine’s Best Engine Front Line Award seven times including entry into the Hall of Fame. UE3 has won four consecutive Develop Industry Excellence Awards. Epic is the creator of the mega-hit “Unreal” series of games and the blockbuster “Gears of War” franchise. Follow@EpicGamesJapan on Twitter.