A close look at UE3's role in BioWare's sci-fi epic

Epic Diaries: Mass Effect 2

When creating the sequel to Mass Effect, BioWare focused on optimising the Unreal Engine 3 base technology to create a more immersive sci-fi RPG experience. Over 150 people at BioWare worked on Mass Effect 2, which has been honored as one of the most highly rated Xbox 360 games of all time. Having worked with UE3 on the original Mass Effect, lead producer Casey Hudson says his team pushed every aspect of the sequel forward from both a technology and gameplay perspective.

“Having shipped the game on Unreal with a Mass Effect total framework in place, we looked at what our final performance memory budget was and billed Mass Effect 2 to that budget,” explains Hudson. “We didn’t have the opportunity to do that in the first game, so that helped us to better develop content. We also were able to look at where we were spending the most time on the least effective tasks. So it’s not that we’re using more of the CPU, it’s just that we look at things like the pre-vis phase, for example, in Scaleform and we rewrote our code for that. We just found little opportunities where we were surprised at how much time we were spending in the wrong places like you do in any normal game development process.”

Hudson says his team utilised Unreal Matinee and Unreal Kismet to improve the player experience in Mass Effect 2.

“Matinee is really integrated into the way we build our proprietary technology for digital acting and conversation and things like that, so we have our own system and tools that work with our conversation system,” he adds. “Our writers populate a dialogue editor and that becomes fused with the way you end up seeing many different pieces of Matinee play out in combination when you have a conversation with characters. We used Kismet for scripting a lot of the way that the level responds to the action, or prompting our enemies to do certain AI, or having movers react and start moving around and things like that.”

Although BioWare’s programmers communicated with Epic and other game developers through the Unreal Developer Network on Mass Effect 2, they spent most of their time utilising UDN on the first game, especially as they ramped up on all the details of the technology the first time around.

“I think UDN is a really good service for when you’re first learning the engine,” Hudson adds. “The biggest challenge when using someone else’s engine is figuring out how you’re supposed to use it and how to best use it. We used it a lot on Mass Effect and I know that our guys are always in contact with Epic.”

BioWare chose UE3 for the Mass Effect trilogy because they wanted to make an immersive third-person perspective shooter game with sci-fi environments.

“We started out already being a game that was going to work with Unreal, but we took further steps with Mass Effect 2 to really build the content a lot more like you’re supposed to with the engine,” says Hudson. “With Mass Effect, we built a lot of things handmade at an intermediate level and with Mass Effect 2 we used more of the Epic method where we build lots of pieces and then assemble them in the end. They’re just little differences and it comes down to a team really learning a different methodology with the technology.”

David DeMartini, senior vice president of EA Partners, agrees that BioWare’s work with Unreal Engine 3 shows off the technology’s extensibility: “Unreal Engine 3 ships with the tools and technologies we trust for making triple-A games,” he says. “We have a great working relationship with Epic from both the development and licensee perspective, and we’re continually pleased with how they keep their game engine technology competitive, which helps us deliver the excellent quality games that EA customers expect.”

Mark Rein is vice president of Epic Games based in Raleigh, North Carolina. Since 1992 Mark has worked on Epic’s licensing and publishing deals, business development, public relations, academic relations, marketing and business operations.

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