If you live with any affectionate sorts and intend to play The Walking Dead Onslaught, we’d recommend instigating one golden rule: no unannounced cuddles. This is very important, so do heed our warning. If someone attempted to show us any well-meaning affection while we were being overwhelmed by virtual walkers, they’d receive a very different Touch in return: one of our Oculus controllers to the temple.
Experience the game away from marauding tenderness, however – or at least from within a safely locked room – and Survios’s Onslaught has slightly less potential to result in apologetic trips to A&E with loved ones or, indeed, heart attacks. An officially licensed accompaniment to AMC’s The Walking Dead show, the game makes a good fist of replicating the TV series’ desaturated, hazy look and sense of claustrophobia as the walkers encroach.
“We have the amazing perk of being the only VR game to be set within AMC’s wildly popular [series], so we turned to the show for inspiration on what we wanted to evoke,” project lead and lead designer Andrew Abedian tells us. “We found ourselves riveted by the near-constant gut punches of the show’s nail-biting ‘last stand’ moments, and were excited at how that would translate into an intensely immersive, action-packed game.”
The Walking Dead, in case you haven’t noticed, is relatively popular as TV shows go. We’ve heard that, at last count, somewhere north of ten or eleven people have watched it (we don’t have the exact figure), and it has gone on to make global stars of its cast. On that point, will we be seeing anyone we know?“We can’t share too many details at the moment,” Abedian says, “but fans needn’t worry – Onslaught will launch with familiar faces and places.”
Given the phenomenal access that Survios has had, we’d hope so, too. “AMC has gone above and beyond in their support,” Abedian explains. “We’ve not only had direct access to behind-the-scenes resources to ensure authenticity to the show, but AMC has been an incredible partner throughout the process, encouraging us to push our VR combat and immersion, and they continue to champion the game within their AMC The Walking Dead community.
“They showcased an early demo in their massive Deadquarters encampment at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con, and Norman Reedus declared it to be ‘f***ing cool’.”
That’s quite an endorsement, especially from a man who can confidently balance a stack of boxes two or three times his height. And after seeing the game in action, we’d have to concur – rarely has nailing a headshot felt so urgent. But don’t worry, if you can’t pop one between the zombies’ eyes, you can always resort to slowing them down with a couple of leg shots, take a sword to their long-cooled flesh, or even grab one by the neck and push a knife through their skull. There are crossbows, too, of course. Lovely.
“The Walking Dead is one of the most beloved and brutal IPs in the world,” Abedian enthuses, “and we want people to experience that. And we’re not holding back on the brutal bit: the walkers feature our proprietary new Progressive Dismemberment Technology, which is a layered gore mesh for ultra-realistic hit reactions, so you’ll see the impact and feel the execution of every blow you land.”
Survios is no stranger to VR, having entered the scene in 2016 with sci-fi combat games Raw Data. The studio has subsequently gone on to develop a slew of VR titles, and has worked with both HBO and MGM on Westworld and Creed tie-ins (we’ve played the latter, and our arms are still sore). Unreal Engine, of course, has been key to creating these projects.
“Unreal Engine’s expansive feature set, along with source code access, allows us to get up and running quite quickly,” lead engineer Daniel Zeligman explains. “Its built-in tools across all domains support data-driven iteration for development. Designers and animators can quickly set up scripted scenes, like those in Westworld Awakening, using the Sequencer editor.
“And the animation blueprint system lets our artists see their characters in an in-engine environment piece by piece – scrubbing a punch animation in Creed frame-by-frame, for example, to ensure the contact frames are accurate, or visualising a robot’s head popping in Raw Data. And having access to the source code is a huge boon for our studio, as we’re able to optimise and expand core engine level features to suit our needs.”
That flexibility allows Survios to tackle the not insignificant task of hitting a 90fps minimum on two screens, lest players lose their lunch as well as their sense of calm.
“All games are different and have unique needs, and Unreal’s generic engine can get you most of the way to your final features, but there are always some aspects that need modification to get your title across the finish line,” Zeligman says. “Among the many edits we’ve made to the base engine to date, we’ve significantly modified actor creation to eliminate performance hitches; updated the level-streaming system to do more work over time; exposed core PhysX library functions to get to the nuts and bolts of simulated characters; and expanded support for volumetric lightmaps and lighting scenarios to suit our needs.
“For a specific example, Westworld Awakening features some of the most realistic character and environment design in VR right now, thanks to an overload of volumetric fog, static lighting, and particle effects – but these don’t bog down the game’s performance because of our optimisations. All of these major and minor tool tweaks are what ultimately make our games sing.”
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Unreal’s ability to play in-editor while also running in VR allows Zeligman and the team to iterate quickly, too, while the engine’s statistics and profiling tools let artists and programmers easily get a handle on what’s going on under the hood in order to get everything running a smoothly as possible.
“Unreal’s forward rendering mode is an excellent option for VR, as it supports MSAA and has a faster baseline performance vs their flagship deferred renderer,” Zeligman says. “And its numerous static lighting features – like skylight/emissive radiosity and volumetric lightmaps – ensure the highest possible standards of visual quality while remaining cheap enough to meet the elevated performance requirements for VR.”
Bringing the dead to life is no simple task, clearly, but we’ll get to experience the results later this year when Onslaught releases – check out the Steam page for more details. 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 Survios.