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Last week, Shrapnel released the cinematic trailer for its first-person shooter multiplayer game Shrapnel. Some people were skeptical that the real game would look that good. And so today, the team that spun out from HBO Interactive is releasing its first gameplay video.
And it looks pretty. Last week’s trailer promised that the cinematic was built using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 5 technology, which uses features like Nanite to cram an insane number of polygons into a scene, said Mark Long, CEO of Shrapnel, in an exclusive interview with GamesBeat.
That fast-action trailer showed how the competitive multiplayer was a lot like Escape From Tarkov, built with stellar graphics. The gameplay video released exclusively today for GamesBeat shows a very similar scenery atop buildings in a neon city. But you can tell it’s real multiplayer gameplay because somebody’s aim isn’t really spectacular and some of the enemies make the mistake of standing still without cover.
Not bad for a blockchain game. So far, the hardcore gamers haven’t hassled the company about that, as it is clearly focused on outstanding gameplay first, Foran said.
“No one else led with why you could do something different,” he said. “For us, the value proposition of blockchain was very simple. You get to keep your stuff. We’ve all seen game development done the wrong way. The promise of the studio is that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do game development the right way.”
Long said the company created the trailer with motion picture, sound, and stunt experts. Unreal Engine 5 is just starting to spread through the game industry, and Long thinks of its as the world’s most advanced real-time 3D creation tool. It helped the company build cool gameplay and graphics players expect. The Lumen lighting model and especially Epic’s MetaHuman technology, make it possible to achieve your creative vision in a way that’s never been attainable before, Long said.
“Normally virtual sets built for pre-rendered trailers are too polygonally dense and the raytracing too computationally intense to attempt recording, but the Unreal 5 Engine impressed us so much we decided to attempt it,” said Long. “Epic’s Nanite tech allows us to ingest the high-poly meshes and optimize for multiplayer gameplay. And the UE5 Lumen lighting model provides the real-time global illumination that makes it look so real.”
Produced in partnership with Sydney-based animation studio Plastic Wax, which has worked on such titles as Fortnite, Tomb Radar, Hitman, and more, the cinematic trailer was directed by gaming legend Jerry O’Flaherty and written by Long. The music was produced by BAFTA award-winning composer Jesper Kyd, with sound supervision by the Oscar-nominated sound producer Alan Rankin.
Long said it was the third time working with O’Flaherty, who has worked on titles like Gears of War. O’Flaherty is an expert in the cinematic application of the Unreal Engine. Long wanted the trailer to be a single-shot camera view with motion-captured stunt actors directed by Plastic Wax.
“It’s so different from everything else I’ve done,” Long said. “Anyway, I realized people are going to say, ‘Oh, yeah, but the game’s not going to look like that.’ So Colin Foran and I and others set a bar. Could we play a multiplayer session in this engine and pull it off? I knew if we could, it would feel immediate, real, and authentic.”
Foran said in an interview that the team told Long some time ago that it was going to be too difficult to shoot the trailer inside the game engine. And then here they are, pulling it off last week.
“Two years ago, the idea of rendering out those frames for a trailer would have been impossible,” Foran said.
Last week’s trailer has more than 14,000 views. It doesn’t say much about the world of Shrapnel, which takes place in the 2040s. The backstory is that a massive asteroid has caused meteorites to bombard a large stretch of Earth, leaving an area known as the Sacrifice Zone uninhabitable.
Many speculate about what is being uncovered there, with rumors swirling about a mysterious material called Sigma. Nations and corporations begin assembling their own extraction forces and war rages to control the Sacrifice Zone and its many secrets.
The trailer shows soldiers scrambling to be the one to snag the material and get extracted while everyone else is giving chase. A chunk of shrapnel could be worth millions.
I asked Long about the competition, from Call of Duty to Escape From Tarkov. He noted that the team is small but it can put all of its energy into the multiplayer game, as it isn’t making a single-player campaign.
“We’re just making one map with a mode of extraction,” he said. “It’s not going to take us four years and billion dollars to get there.”
The teams at big companies have to spend a lot of time on those campaigns. And they knew their vision was going to be pretty compelling.
“We saw what Unreal Engine 5 could do to deliver that kind of visual density you see in the trailer,” Long said. “We were filling it up and trying to see how far we could push it. Our team was so aligned. It’s like the best creative experience I’ve ever had.”
The game is Long’s 14th Unreal Engine title. The team is doing a lot of multiplayer play tests now, Foran said.
“We believe this is the next evolution of battle royale extraction,” Foran said. “It’s like Escape From Tarkov or the Dark Zone. It’s got a new level of tension. We don’t imagine that we’re competing with Call of Duty. The interesting thing for us is not checking the boxes. It’s wiping the slate clean and building from the ground up.”
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