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Building the tech stack for Syberia: The World Before

March 18, 2022 in Games | 6 min. read
A woman with a helmet in the mountains
A woman with a helmet in the mountains
Topics covered

This latest installment of the critically acclaimed adventure series is a huge step forward for Microids Studio Paris. The team had ambitions to create a world that would immerse players in a historical drama and detective story while going back to the origins of the beloved Syberia series.

The project started with a narrative created by the author of the Syberia series, Benoît Sokal. The main character, Kate Walker, leads an investigation across multiple continents and through various time periods – a journey rooted in the turmoil and tragedy of the twentieth century. The scale of the story presented a major technical challenge for the game, which targeted both desktop and console platforms.

“The main challenge was the size of the project: We have about 100 characters, 40 different environments, and more than 20,000 textures,” explains Senior Producer Olivier Demangel.

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The project has been in development for over five years. Technical Director Loïc Bigot and Game Director Lucas Lagravette believed that Unity was headed in the right direction to support them with the toolsets they needed. “Back then, a new version of the engine was just released and it offered plenty of tools that matched our visual and narrative needs. When I see the results today, it looks like it was a wise choice,” says Lucas.

Loïc unpacks the journey of the project’s technical foundations: “We started the project on Unity 5.5, and upgraded it along the way until we settled on Unity 2020 LTS last summer. That version provided us with a stable foundation to build on as we started preparing for the PC release.”

Looking back, he notes that the new Editor tools added over the past few years gave the team more control over the project’s structure, especially the improved Prefab system. But it’s in the 2020 version that these new tools really shine. 3D artists only have to push variant collections and nested Prefabs inside the project, and they’re directly playable. “We’ve seen a significant boost in iteration speed, with better Prefab usage. Small tools like gizmos have really improved our productivity.”

The team was also a major early adopter of the High Definition Render Pipeline (HDRP): “We started to use HDRP on the first day it became accessible, in 2018. We made this choice because the visual results and first tests we had done were extremely awesome. We thought we could push our game to a AAA game’s rendering.” There’s a long road that lies between creating visual prototypes and a shippable game with thousands of assets. Fortunately for the team, they witnessed HDRP evolve toward production readiness as they moved forward on their project.

“We’ve seen such fast progress while following HDRP. Both precision and performance have been upgraded so significantly since its initial launch. One of the key reasons we’ve upgraded to 2020 LTS was the promised HDRP optimizations, and we weren’t disappointed. This upgrade has really solved a lot of our issues,” shares Loïc.

Another toolset that has undergone significant transformation over the past years is the C# Job System. First introduced in 2017, the toolset has been used in many professional projects to improve performance in key places, often together with Burst, High Performance C# (HPC#) compiler technology.

Loïc says that, while “Unity Jobs System can be a little bit hard to understand and use at first, [it] has the power to optimize high-quantity calculations and actions. We’ve used it when simulating clothes’ movement, for example.”

So, what advice would he give developers working on similar projects?

“The most important tip I can share is to use native systems as much as possible. Third-party tools are not updated very often, so if you need to upgrade your in-progress project to a new LTS version, [it] might break. The Unity Input System is one of the best examples. Some third-party tools can do what it does, but it worked better for us, and has improved with every Unity version we’ve updated to.”

Microids Studio Paris also harnessed our Integrated Success plan which helped provide the strategic support required of a complex project like Syberia. During annual project reviews, Unity engineers have worked together with the team to solve problems related to the project’s massive scale, particularly memory issues. For instance, they found out that they could halve the memory footprint of shaders by switching from both forward and deferred rendering to deferred only in HDRP settings

Building a tech stack for a complex project with a long production timeline is considerably challenging. Once you start moving your production forward, toward a release date, we recommend that you only upgrade from one LTS version to another. You can see an overview of our releases here. Take the time to look at our programming and art and design pages to see which features, packages, and other tools might be a good fit for your project goals.

March 18, 2022 in Games | 6 min. read
Topics covered