Fractured Space is a game about space battles. Not flighty scuffles between sci-fi spitfires, but the slow-mo ballet of kilometre-long capital ships. Its inspirations are the climactic battle of Wrath of Khan; the Colonial Battlestar against the Cylon Basestar; Imperial Star Destroyers vs the Rebel Alliance.
If Edge Case Games are going to pull it off, it’s going to require both enormous scale and incredible detail - enough fidelity for players to be able to target a specific turret among dozens, or take out an enemy’s weapon systems in one, well-placed shot. Here’s how they’re doing it in Unreal Engine 4.
Last year, the team behind Fractured Space released Strike Suit Zero - a shooter from the opposite perspective, about little spaceships making big targets of the leviathans.
The Guildford developers (then working as Born Ready Games) put Strike Suit together in an engine they’d intended to build on in future games. But once Epic announced plans to make Unreal Engine 4 available as a $19 subscription at GDC this year, they knew the game was up.
“One thing that I remember being in our heads at the time was that anybody is going to be able to produce amazingly good-looking games, and we need to able to compete,” said Edge Case CEO James Brooksby.
“So we went, hold on a minute, we’ve got quite a large road map of engineering ahead of us to bring our own technology up to the next level, and that has a price tag associated with it which is not insubstantial. We just couldn’t ignore it.”
The timing clinched it. The developers had just finished porting Strike Suit Zero to consoles, and faced an uphill hike to remodel their tech around contemporary PCs. Instead, they called up their Epic contacts after GDC to find out how they could get the inside track for UE4.
“They said, ‘Well, just pay 19 dollars and you can have it now’,” recalled Brooksby. “So we just did exactly that.”
Work began on Fractured Space in the middle of summer under a team of “twenty-odd”. Three months later, they had a build fit for Steam Early Access. It was a validation of their choice.
“We were able to hit the ground running pretty damn quick, and the technology allowed us to do that,” said Brooksby. “We wouldn’t have gotten there so fast if we had used our own tech, for sure.”
More than half of the team had experience with Unreal - creative director and chief technical officer included - and the artists in particular were able to get straight to work. Which was crucial: if Fractured Space’s sense of scale was going to convince, it had to come from them.
The void doesn’t provide easy references for size. So from concept art onwards, Edge Case’s art team committed themselves to thinking through “how a ship feels big and what that means”. From a technical standpoint, that meant working to tie Fractured Space’s models into the few “recognisable and believable structures” in the environment.
“Modern shaders, surfaces and so on mean that the light looks more natural when it’s being reflected off the world onto the ships,” said Brooksby. “Unreal didn’t make things feel big or allow us to do big, but it made scale and believability easier.”
Like CCP’s Eve Valkyrie team, Edge Case have also had to grapple with Dougal syndrome - the natural human struggle to tell a small-but-near object from a large-but-distant one.