Electronic Arts-owned Digital Illusions (DICE) is redefining the first-person shooter with Mirror’s Edge. The sci-fi action game puts players in control of a runner named Faith who must deliver messages to and from people who live on the edge of a society that has become controlled by a strict government regime.
Every move in the game, whether it’s running, jumping, climbing or shooting, comes to life through a first-person perspective courtesy of Unreal Engine 3.
“Epic had been developing Unreal Tournament 3, so I think we came along at the right time,” said Owen O’Brien, senior producer. “A lot of the PS3 support came in when we needed it. From that respect, Unreal Engine 3 gave us a good cross-platform base.”
According to O’Brien, DICE chose Unreal Engine 3 two years ago because the team was going to be innovating more on gameplay than on technology, so they needed a stable engine that could handle fast iterations. DICE blended Unreal Engine 3’s tools with its own animation and lighting system, which was created in tandem with Sweden’s Illuminate Labs.
“Illuminate Labs adapted their Turtle lighting system for Unreal and we call that ‘the beast,’” explained O’Brien. “The engine allows us to do soft shadows and light bouncing, and it gives Mirror’s Edge a really unique look, especially since the game is based so much on white and the primary colours. The shadows and lighting are very important to the game.”
The unique look of Mirror’s Edge, which has received critical buzz from gaming media, is the result of years of experimentation. By choosing Unreal Engine 3, DICE was able to hire level designers from the Unreal development community. Thanks to the ease of use, the engine opened up new freedoms for level designers, who were able to achieve things once relegated to programmers.
“We’d been prototyping for a long time trying out things with the field of view and the movement and the animation rig, and we just needed something stable that we could keep hammering on,” said O’Brien. “Using UE3 made it easier for us to hire people because a lot of people know Unreal and have worked with the engine. Recruiting talent quickly was attractive to us.”
According to Tom Farrer, producer of Mirror’s Edge, the impetus behind the game was to create a first-person game set in an urban environment that could replicate third-person perspective action like that seen in Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia games.
“We focused on the through-the-character experience, rather than through-the-gun,” said Farrer. “We wanted to give a sense of physicality and let people know they can use their legs and arms to reach up and grab something or climb up something.”
The game employs a momentum-based system for the more action-oriented chase sequences, which allows players to better navigate the city environment at a quick pace. The skill element of the game comes from the timing of Faith’s many moves.
“Mirror’s Edge is an action-adventure game, but it’s from a perspective that you haven’t seen before,” added O’Brien. “I think people think of Unreal as a good first-person shooter engine because up until now all first-person games have been shooters. We’re going to change that perception.”
With multiple teams across EA developing games on Unreal Engine 3, O’Brien said ‘the beast’ is already being employed by several EA LA teams.
“Unreal Engine 3 is used quite a lot at EA, and we always share knowledge across teams,” said O’Brien. “We take things from other studios, whether it’s optimisations for PS3 or other technology. That’s one of the benefits of being at a company like EA.”
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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.