You’d think that living the life of a peasant in the dark ages would be a difficult sell to modern gamers considering the limitless potential of games in 2020, but hardcore survival games are as popular as ever. Medieval Dynasty takes players back to basics as you build a life for yourself during the middle ages. While we’re used to seeing this setting from the perspective of the nobility or with a fantasy twist, Medieval Dynasty does away with the castles, pageantry, and dragons, instead focusing on everyday village life and survival.
There’s something strangely appealing about surviving in the wilderness, bringing you back to a time where you have to either hunt or farm in order to stay alive. Eventually, you’ll collect enough resources to build a humble shelter, then a proper home, and maybe someday you’ll have a bustling village around you. We had the chance to speak to Michał Nowak, Game Designer at Render Cube to hear about their time in Steam Early Access, and why they chose Unreal Engine 4 for their medieval survival sim.
Early access development can be an unforgiving space in 2020, with increasingly high expectations from players for studios to deliver enough content and polish from day one. The team at Render Cube took the chance anyway, aiming to build a relationship with their audience through consistent updates on the game’s progress. “One of the major lessons we learnt was just how important it is to communicate well with our community,” Nowak says. “At first, we had some minor communication misunderstandings, but people were really appreciative of our continued hard work to further improve the game.
“The community supports us – they share their opinion on what they like and what we should still work on, what is too difficult or, on the other hand, too easy in the game,” explains Nowak. Medieval Dynasty launched to a positive reception, but it was the months after early access that took things to another level. “The interest in the game turned out to be much greater than we had hoped and the positive reception gave us a big boost for further work.” At the time of writing, Medieval Dynasty currently has an ‘overwhelmingly positive’ review score on Steam, so the indie team’s hard work is clearly paying off.
Despite the amount of praise Render Cube has been receiving from its community, the developer has no plans of slowing down with updates. “We have a lot of new stuff planned, and we are constantly improving everything that is already in the game, so we can’t really afford to rest now,” says Nowak. The feedback provided by early access players has given Render Cube valuable insight on what their focus should be on. “We learn on a regular basis whether we are still going in the right direction with our ideas.”
When building a game like Medieval Dynasty, which aims to strike the perfect balance between realism and fun, it can be difficult to tell when you’ve gone too far in either direction. “First of all, we think about what existed at that time, how people lived, and what they needed to survive,” adds Nowak. “We collect information on these topics and then ask ourselves if it is interesting to add it as a feature like it was back then, or if we can bend the historical facts a bit so the game can be more fun.”
One of the reasons for Medieval Dynasty’s success can be attributed to the studio’s efforts to bring something new to the survival genre. Unreal Engine 4 was vital in allowing Render Cube to express themselves in ways that other engines simply couldn’t. “We treated the engine as a canvas, and we designed our game around it,” explains Nowak. “Unreal Engine impressed us with its capabilities almost immediately. Everything looked amazing in it, and we liked the Blueprint system very much.”
Unreal Engine 4’s Blueprints Visual Scripting system gives developers an easier way of coding without needing to become a dedicated programmer. This lowers the barrier to entry when it comes to creating games, making it easier to bring ideas to life. “Unreal Engine 4’s Blueprint system helped us a lot when it came to quickly prototyping new systems for our game and in the end, making the whole game,” says Nowak. “It’s a fantastic feature.”
The freedom to design their dream game allowed the team to create a survival game with elements from RPG games and city building games. This was a risky decision for Render Cube as they knew people may not appreciate the blend of genres. “We talked a lot in the team about the direction we took, and we were concerned that this is not what players expect from playing in the middle ages,” notes Nowak. “In the end, however, we decided to take a risk, and as we can see, it was a good decision.”
Part of the challenge when creating a city builder, or village builder in this case, is making the world feel like a real place, with or without your character’s presence. Unreal Engine 4 has brought Medieval Dynasty’s world to life thanks to its unique AI and NPC systems. “We wanted to make sure that there are a lot of NPCs, that they move around the world, do their own thing, and basically have a life of their own,” says Nowak. “It wasn’t easy to accomplish that and currently, it’s not yet what we finally aim for, but the animation blueprints and behaviour trees were really invaluable during the creation process.”
If you’re keen to carve out a humble life for yourself in medieval Europe then Medieval Dynasty is one of the best options out there, and you can expect to see more substantial updates as the game continues throughout its early access period.
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 Render Cube.