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Making it in Unreal: creating utopian Los Angeles in LawBreakers

Lawbreakers Unreal Engine 4

Cliff Bleszinski doesn’t like Los Angeles. But when you’re a videogame designer that’s ok, because reality is your playground. If you don’t like something, perfection is just a few hours of work away. That’s the story behind Promenade, one of LawBreakers’ many real world- influenced maps.

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“The reason I hate Los Angeles is because it actually has a tonne going for it, and the problem is that word got out,” huffs Bleszinski. “It was fundamentally built for cars. And here we are in 2016, and if you live in Santa Monica you can’t date somebody in the Valley because it’s just not gonna happen.”

Creating LawBreakers has allowed Bleszinski to make it easier for the imaginary LA daters of the future. “After the Earthquake hits in the fiction of this game and wrecks so much of the United States and the world, humanity rebuilds itself 25 years later,” he explains. “The Promenade is LA done right. It’s got the European influence with regards to having walkable spaces, common areas, outdoor dining, no cars, and gorgeous Frank Gehry architecture everywhere.”

Bleszinski has been excited to show Promenade to the world. “We’ve been showing off Grand View, which is the Grand Canyon, Yakuza, and Overcharge for so long. I’m like ‘Urgh, come on, let’s show some new shit’,” he says. “So finally we’re at the point where we have the gorgeous new Santa Monica map which looks just great and it’s super smooth.”

That smoothness comes thanks to Unreal Engine 4, which is the technology bedrock upon which LawBreakers is built. This comes of no surprise; while Bleszinski may no longer be part of Epic Games, his very DNA resides in Unreal Engine. The visual stylings of LawBreakers hints back to his formative days on Unreal Tournament, with an injection of colour through the use of the engine’s lighting capabilities.

“Gears of War was originally desaturated because we were working on the Unreal Tournament franchise which had a lot of coloured lighting everywhere,” explains Bleszinski. “Now I’m back to having colour in the environment. I joke around that you have all these candy-looking, MOBA-type hero shooters, and on the other hand you have all these shooters like Gears and Killzone that are desaturated war-is-hell rubble-fests. LawBreakers is halfway between the two.”

LawBreakers Overcharge mode

Creating atmosphere and life through the technology is a big focus for Boss Key Productions, and Bleszinski has tasked his artists in adding detailed environmental storytelling to the world. “Grand View has some narrative elements in the environment,” he says. “You see like a Taft drop-ship flying by and there’s some signage for the Shuri Yakuza. But the beauty of the Santa Monica map is that we went full crazy with that, showing off the memorial to what happened with the shattering of the moon and all the names that were lost that day in Santa Monica.”

The list of details goes on: “KaleVacado, which sounds like the name of a real store you’d see in Santa Monica. A men’s clothing store called Menvy. We’re working on other maps that are going to have all sorts of fun stuff like that.”

Of course, the game’s soul isn’t just in the world. As a character-based shooter, there’s a lot of personality in the game’s avatars too. This partly comes from gameplay, which the Unreal tech has been intrumental in to make it fast and fluid, but the art design of each one of LawBreakers’ characters is key to bringing the fantasy to life.

LawBreakers attack

“My goal is just to make you feel like a badass,” states Bleszinski. “I know that’s such a cheesy word to use, especially considering my history of using it, but I’m all about empowering players. Who do you want to be? A lot of our archetypes are classic archetypes. You have the reluctant cop, that’s Bruce Willis from Die Hard. Our Maverick character is almost like Iron Maiden in the fact that they can fly and shoot energy out of their hands. Kronos and Bombshell are like our version of the Hulk.”

They’re all characters Bleszinski envisions making appearances at Comic Con. “If we do our jobs right then cosplayers will have a hell of a time doing this!” he enthuses. The appeal of costume creation will no doubt come from the intricacy of the designs. “Trim it down to the nuts and bolts of our characters and their armour, instead of just using traditional nuts like a hexagonal nut, [use] unique shapes that don’t exist in the wild,” he says.

“Thank God for 3D printers!” he laughs. Not that he’ll have to worry about fiddly components and burning glue guns; they’re not required equipment for Unreal Engine 4.

LawBreakers is currently in alpha testing. Unreal Engine 4 development is now free.

In this sponsored series, we’re looking at how game developers are taking advantage of Unreal Engine 4 to create a new generation of PC games. With thanks to Epic Games and Boss Key Productions.