Of Mice and Men
December 2, 2015

Of Mice and Men

Fatshark Games recently released Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide, a cooperative first-person shooter, the first to be set in the End Times of the Warhammer Fantasy universe. 

Within that universe, players assume the roles of five heroes tasked with the defense of Ubersreik, a town of the Empire, where they take on the Skaven, a race of giant rat-men. 

The game – available for the PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One platforms – is the first to be powered by Autodesk’s new Stingray engine. Throughout the game, players navigate tremendous cityscapes, which illustrate Stingray capabilities, including AI pathfinding, rendering, effects, and more.

Here, CGW Chief Editor Karen Moltenbrey discusses the work on this amazing title with various designers, artists, and leads at Fatshark.  


Tell me about your vision for this game.

Anders De Geer, game director: The vision with Vermintide was to create a melee-heavy game where players have to work as a team to make progress and where groups of players challenge themselves to clear levels at harder difficulties.

The visual goal with Vermintide was to bring players into the Warhammer world in a way that no one had seen before. We wanted to make sure that players feel every aspect of the world, from walking down a cobblestone street in Ubersreik, to planting an axe in the head of a Skaven. Everything had to feel true to the lore and be believable.

What kinds of characters and environments are there?

De Geer: In Vermintide, players assume the role of one of five heroes, all with district agendas, personalities, and backgrounds. These include the Witch Hunter (rapier-wielding and chaos-hating old man), the Waywatcher (mysterious and lethal wood elf), the Empire Soldier (powerful and grizzled war veteran), the Dwarf Ranger (loud and social to a flaw), and the Bright Wizard (crazy pyromaniac old lady). Each of these heroes has his or her own distinct arsenals, where some weapons focus on precision while others cause more widespread damage.  

Throughout the course of the game, these heroes are taken through 13 missions set in a multitude of locations: the top of the Tower of Magnus, the bowels of the Skaven Under Empire, and the eerie Garden of Morr.

What role do the cities play in the game?

Joakim Setterberg, design manager: Vermintide is played in and near the Empire city of Ubersreik, acting as setting, playground, and backdrop to the events and stories of the game. Being Warhammer enthusiasts ourselves, we did extensive research on the story, architecture, and visual style of the city. With artists and designers working together with Games Workshop experts and writers, we strived to make the city and its surroundings true to both the universe and its many fans – from the large landmarks, map layout, and city environments to the smaller details, like the finer aspects of Empire construction or naming a street after a prominent figure.

How would you describe the gameplay?

Victor Magnuson, game designer: Fast-paced, first-person melee and ranged combat, with a heavy emphasis on gritty melee combat. We put a lot of effort into making each impact feel rewarding and gratifying to ensure that the feedback when hitting an enemy felt right. Combine this with a heavy reliance on teamwork and you have Vermintide.


What about the visual effects?

Isak Berg, VFX artist: The main focus for effects was gameplay feedback : mainly blood, fire impacts , and screen -space effects.

Was Stingray used exclusives on the game?

Mikael Hansson, lead animator/technical artist: We used Stingray exclusively in the production of Vermintide.

Why did you decide to use Stingray?

Hansson: We chose to use Stingray as we are very comfortable working with the engine since our days with it when it was called Bitsquid. We also already had a lot of our systems and workflows tailored for the Stingray engine and workflows. The Stingray engine is data-driven and enables fast iteration .

What advantages did Stingray give you that you couldn’t get from another engine?

Hansson: One major advantage is that Stingray is a very flexible engine that allows us to tailor it to our workflows and needs. Stingray also comes with additional first- and third-party integrations that were vital to developing Vermintide. Tools like Autodesk Navigation and Audiokinetic’s Wwise have helped us achieve our goals within AI and sound design.

Tell us more about Stingray’s rendering capabilities and what they allowed you to achieve on this project.

Hansson: Stingray now features a state-of-the-art physically-based rendering pipeline. We have fully benefited from and used all the new rendering and lighting features added to Stingray since we first started the project. With the very flexible rendering pipeline, we’ve also been able to add to and modify the rendering pipeline to suit our needs. 

With a physically-based rendering pipeline, our artists have adopted a new way of thinking about content production. Artists now have a common framework and guidelines to what the ‘correct’ values are to re-create a specific material. This helps all artists stay more in line with the rest of the content produced and with the art style we set out to achieve. 

This also helps a lot with our lighting, as balanced content is a big key to allowing the lighting to do its job correctly.


How was your experience with Stingray’s UI?

Hansson: We’ve used the latest rendering and core engine features in Stingray but have not yet used the actual Stingray tool set in the production of Vermintide. We were already in production well before Stingray was released, and the new tools were at a level that could be usable in production, so we chose to keep using the old tool set we were used to working with.

We have, however, kept up-to-date with the new tool set and workflows and are very eager to transition over. The new unified tool design will make working with multiple asset types at the same time a lot easier, and our workflows will improve, because the new UI makes it easier for our team to access all the features we need.

Did you feel limited at all by Stingray?

Hansson: I would say what currently limits us is the fact that we are still on the old tool set. There are a lot of new features and improvements to our day-to-day workflows that we cannot take advantage of when we are still using the old tool chain.

What was the size of the development team?

De Geer: We are a team of over 50 experienced game developers.

Which content-creation tools did you use for the game imagery?

Hansson: In our content creation process, we rely heavily on other Autodesk products such as Maya, 3ds Max, and MotionBuilder. We also use Adobe Photoshop, Pixologic ZBrush, and Quixel Suite to great extent.

Did you have to develop any special code, and if so, for what?

Rikard Blomberg, deputy CEO: Yes. Vermintide is quite an extensive game, and in many aspects, a lot of special code was developed, including engine code. The most prominent examples are a new type of physics constraints, integration of Umbra occlusion culling, integration of our Fishtank Backend service, and parallelization of a number of subsystems.

Describe some of the more fascinating or demanding work that went into the game and how it was created.

De Geer: Each of the teams had their own interesting stories to tell from the production of Vermintide, which is why we started writing dev blogs during the final stages of the production. For our more interesting stories, see: www.vermintide.com/newsletter/ .

What were your biggest technical challenges, and how did you overcome them?

Blomberg: In Vermintide, we wanted to push the content in terms of number of enemies and having a lot of things happening in the world. This made performance, especially on the CPU side, a really big challenge. There is usually no silver bullet for addressing these kinds of performance issues; rather, it’s important to continuously monitor and work on performance throughout development. With that said, we still had to put a lot of effort into optimization during the last phase, mainly focusing on parallelizing systems.

Another challenge that still can be addressed in an even better way is keeping the game stable with around 50 developers working on the data. Here, processes like continuous integration, automated smoke-testing, and good error-reporting tools are essential.