First Contact Entertainment:Everyone at FCE is committed to making VR gameplay every bit as rich and detailed as flat gaming, our term for screen-based media. Now, we aren’t naive and the reality is that rendering in VR does have additional overhead and considerations that flat media does not. For Ultra, we switched the experience to take advantage of deferred rendering techniques, unlocking the use of much more sophisticated shaders. This has allowed us to use a variety of mapping approaches to add details to all of the surfaces in the game. From the weapon you are holding in your hands to every surface your flashlight reflects off, you will notice tiny pocks, scars, scratches, etc.
We don’t consider this merely dressing. When your goal is to create as immersive an experience as possible, the closer we can get to people’s real world experience of light and dark, the richer the experience becomes.
Firewall Ultra also supports HDR! How might this add to a heightened sense of presence in VR, and were there any challenges with incorporating it?
First Contact Entertainment: This was something that ended up being way more impactful than we immediately thought. We had plans for pretty much all of the hardware features, but our CTO Wei Qiao called this one out. For Ultra, our first principal for the game was light/dark gameplay. We didn’t have a strong definition, but we instinctively understood that the capacity to interact with light and dark would be both novel and impactful for gameplay. Having a consistent and high-quality HDR screen is essential for this. More than in a flat game, we can be confident of the black levels and lean into the detail far more heavily.
Firewall Ultra runs at 60FPS on the PlayStation VR2. How did the team tackle optimization to hit a consistent and smooth framerate?
First Contact Entertainment: The short version is being ruthless! In all seriousness, we never choose the easy path. When others do single-player, we do multiplayer. For us, multiplayer is a significantly different experience in VR. The social immersion feels very real. When other people do floating hands, we do full body representation, when others do teleporting, we do full locomotion. (This was a thing with the OG Firewall).
There are a lot of well-documented optimization strategies and the real rule is don’t draw or calculate anything you don’t need to. As with early console gaming, take account of every asset and every cycle. Don’t spend what you don’t need.
That’s a bit of gross simplification, we also work hard to determine which techniques contribute to the players experience more than others and play a lot of “tricks” with what you see.
First Contact Entertainment built Firewall Ultra using Unreal Engine 5, making it not only one of the first VR games to use the engine, but also one of the earliest UE5 games period. Why was Unreal Engine 5 the correct choice for Firewall Ultra’s development?
First Contact Entertainment: See above… we like to make life interesting!
Actually, it’s the focus on lighting, particularly forward-thinking real-time approaches that were most intriguing. Working at the cutting edge of new hardware and software has not been without its challenges, but the results are starting to speak for themselves.
Additionally, we see Firewall Ultra as principally a live game; a game that lives for several years—we are approaching Firewall Zero Hour’s fifth birthday later this year and people still play it every day—and future-proofing our engine choice was an important factor. Specifically, Ultra is our line in the sand, the foundation for everything we will continue to build for VR and PS VR2.
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