Real time deformation, mo-cap parkour, haptic feedback and more: Lucid Games and XDev give us a look under the hood.
We’re now into our second month of car-wrecking, platform-leaping action after PS5 exclusive Destruction AllStars made its debut on PlayStation Plus in February. We’ve witnessed first-hand (and been the cause of) the beautiful visual carnage that’s a metal-shredding headline of the game’s 16-player matches. We’ve watched tornados explode vehicles into a cascade of parts, seen superstars parkour around arenas and flow over fast-moving cars, and felt every shunt and crunch thanks to the DualSense wireless controller.
To find out how this all came together, we spoke to its creators, developer Lucid Games and Sony xDev, who gave us a tour under the hood.
PlayStation Blog: If you had to pinpoint one tech pillar as being the most critical for Destruction AllStars, what is it and why?
Colin Berry [Game Director, Lucid Games]: For me, it’s the DualSense controller. It’s enabled us to do some really subtle and nuanced things.
So we’re able to do directional haptics. When you get hit, you’ll see it, but importantly you’ll feel it as well. And we vary the weight of that hit; from big smashes to smaller, subtler scrapes. We put haptics on characters’ footsteps. You’ve got the sound effects, the little pitter patter coming out the speaker, and you’ve got the feeling of the feet.
We were worried it’d be too much, as it’s continual. But when we took it out [during development] to test reactions. Everyone was asking what had happened, asking why they’d gone. It showed it worked; really nuanced, subtle. It’s like when you play a game with a character and there’s no shadows; they don’t feel connected to the world. Put a shadow in and they do. This is like the next step of that.
And then the triggers let you feel when your vehicle’s damaged; the brake feels harder to use. When your vehicle is super damaged, you feel that on the accelerator as well. There’s no resistance when you first start driving. That’s deliberate: we found having resistance all the time was not pleasurable.
John McLaughlin [Senior Producer, XDev]: [PS5] is great in terms of the GPU and CPU. That we can throw all these particles around, throw all these vehicle parts around at a very high resolution. We’re doing real time deformation on vehicles. It’s a good looking game, and I am a graphics man. But the DualSense controller is probably the biggest game changer.
But I have to say, as a man of a certain age, who remembers consoles on cartridge and instant loading it feels great to be kind of back in that ballpark, where you can boot the game up, press the Cross button on the title screen, and then get in the game within a few seconds. It’s quite eye opening.
And that’s not even going into detail on little things like Activity Cards. We use it in the [single player] Challenge Series, but we also use it online. If you want to switch from solo to team modes, you don’t have to be on the main menu. Activity Cards have encouraged me to go back to games when I normally wouldn’t have. It’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out for our game and other games as well.
PSB: Did your team speak with other Worldwide Studio developers during development to pool thoughts and ideas on using the DualSense controller?
John: We had a chat with [Astro’s Playroom Creative Director] Nicolas Doucet. He’s always approachable, was always very helpful. He [and his team] were coming to the end of their dev cycle, because they were wrapping up a bit earlier. So we sent them a build over for them to take a look. They gave a tonne of hints and tips about where and how to use haptics, use it in conjunction with the speaker and the triggers and things like that. I think overall, we got a really compelling control scheme because of that. As Colin said, you really feel when it’s gone.
Any match can have 16 players in the arena. That’s 16 characters and their vehicles, debris and the on-field dangers, event-style lighting and more. Can you touch upon the technical aspects of how the PS5 made this all happen?
Colin: We’re very, very fortunate to have a bunch of technical programmers who know what they’re doing. We’re a physics-based game, non-deterministic physics. That means when you collide, things happen but you don’t know what they’ll be. It’s a hard thing to do. But it’s the best way to do this. We wouldn’t be able to do the amount of detail and fidelity in terms of the damage deformation systems without the extra bump that PS5 gives.
Chad Wright [Technical Director]: Lots of CPU and super-fast memory. The PS5 really is a powerhouse and we thankfully haven’t had to compromise much on the initial ambitious goals we set out when designing Destruction AllStars. Core to the experience is the vehicle handling, which is extremely detailed and more complex than you might expect from a more “arcade” style of play, with realistic suspension and tyre-physics modelling that really accentuates the nuances in the grip, drift and feel of the vehicles. Responsiveness is key and we really needed to blend high-speed twitch-like reactions into what essentially is a vehicle brawler. Add to this the need to have highly-detailed damage modelling and collision interactions, with at times extreme deformation that isn’t just at the “render” level but actually feeds back into the visceral feel of the game – all while maintaining a high frame rate. The algorithmic cost of all this is high, but with so much CPU power and excellent data transfer speeds at our fingertips we’re able to distribute the physics simulation across multiple cores and do a lot of work in a comparatively small slice of time.
The cars themselves are very highly detailed too, with many damageable parts that can rattle and flap about and detach on-impact. Being able to simulate all of this on top of everything else really adds to the gameplay experience, meaning the players can create some truly memorable moments of carnage with epic pile-ups, cars deforming and exploding into so many parts, wheels and doors bouncing off you as you plough through a field of opponents – we really wanted to create an interactive experience that felt real and wasn’t just smoke and mirrors – PS5 lets us do that.
John: And you haven’t just got 16 vehicles. Each vehicle has 200 individual parts that can interact with the world as well. Multiply that by 16, then you add in the 16 complex skeletal characters, then you’ve got all the other cars that are dotted around the world that you need the player to jump into when their ride’s wrecked. So we’re actually doing a tonne of stuff. Then you have the arena with these big spinner blades that can chop cars into pieces and things like that. It’s doing quite a lot. We used Unreal Engine 4 for this game, by the way. That helped us get stuff running really quickly. But yeah, I think from a technical perspective, PS5 offers us a lot of what couldn’t be done on PS4 for sure.
With so much happening on screen in a multiplayer game, what techniques are implemented to enable the game to run at a high frame rate?
Chad: This is a very complex problem and there’s a lot we do here, but let’s focus on a couple in the rendering space. The PS5 has an impressive GPU architecture with a great many Compute units. We make full use of this by shifting complicated work that would be traditionally done in vertex and pixel shaders to these specialised Compute units. One area we do this is the visual damage modelling, with vertex deformation and the many layered cosmetic damage effects (scratches, dents, holes etc) being performed in Compute. This greatly reduces the load on the GPU and allows us to maintain a high level of fidelity in our damage representation without compromising model detail in other areas.
Was the 16 player count, plus multiple vehicles your goal from the start, or did it organically come about when you saw what PS5 could do?
John: No one knew what PS5 was. We just knew what was coming. So in XDev, we kicked off conversations with a view to have something around launch window. The question was: how good could destruction be on PS5? We started there: how good could damage be? And also: which team could we use? Lucid had a huge arcade heritage. There’s former Studio Liverpool folks, so you’re talking WipEout, F1. Former Bizarre Creations, so Project Gotham Metropolis. You’re talking WRC, Motorstorm, Driveclub. These guys knew cars. And at the start, all the conversation was about the destruction of cars. Then early on, someone asked: “how good would it be if you could get out of the car”?
We didn’t want those drivers to just look like us. We wanted them to have abilities, so we started looking at parkour videos. Stunts in action movies. We wanted the player to feel really vulnerable when they were out of the car, but confident that they had abilities to do cool moves and get out of sticky situations. From that genesis came special abilities – flames, invisibility – all that. That then spawned talk about Hero vehicles.
Colin: It was great using Unreal Engine 4. It just enabled us to get things up and running really quickly. Early on, we were able to try four player games. And it stayed that way for a long time. We knew there were going to be more characters, but four was enough to test things like the mechanics. Back during prototyping, we had a debug ability to spawn a car beside you. That shortcut ultimately became a core gameplay feature as your way to summon the Hero vehicles.
One cool thing happened in development adding slow motion sequence in single player. Being able to see cars explode indirectly benefited the whole game. We could see and examine the smaller details, those 200, 300 parts of a vehicle, it’s interior, the character coming out of the wreck. That closer examination of the game’s model spurred our vehicle team to improve those interiors. The character team, they reworked animations. Introducing slow mo enhanced the game, raised the level of quality, the attention of detail.
The stylish digital cloaking/glitching aesthetic on Shyft’s hero vehicle is very smooth. How is this achieved from a tech perspective?
Chad: Through very talented VFX artists! But seriously, this is certainly a very cool effect and it’s harder than you might think to design an effect that renders something partially invisible while still retaining the look and feel of the thing you’re trying to hide. This particular effect is many layered and uses scene depth and colour buffers to keep it grounded in the world along with some very cool animated shader effects to achieve the final result. The interactive layer is particularly cool and adds a lot to it, with physical impacts and damage from other AllStars abilities causing the cloak to temporarily fail, blending between the base car material and the cloaking effect smoothly in real time. Blending between complex shader layers can be very intensive, but the graphical power of the PS5 makes stuff like this possible and really allows our talented artists to go to town and create truly stunning visuals.
All the characters are incredibly well animated, super detailed, both in their intros and while battling it out in the arena. Can you talk a little bit about their creation?
John: Our animation director Kristjan will be delighted to hear that. He’s former animation director at Ubisoft, who worked on Assassin’s Creed. So you can kind of see where the kind of level of detail and animation kind of comes from.
We’ve done a lot of motion capture shoots. Down at [performance capture outfit] Audio Motion we got them to pull out the scaffolding; it’s been used for movies, but not a video game. So we are having performers leap from the top of this, like falling off a skyscraper. Lots of stunts, recreating the impact of cars and such. I don’t think people expected that [level of animation] from this type of game. It’s arcade action, but it’s got a level of polish that that you might expect from the likes of Naughty Dog and Santa Monica.
I think we’re pushing the PS5 as hard as we can, as hard as we can at this point in time. Because as you know, as we continue to develop we learn more about the system. it’s exciting to see the level of graphical fidelity we’ve got now. But knowing where we’re going to go in the next few years is mind-blowing.
Destruction AllStars is available now to PlayStation Plus subscribers on PS5 until April 5. From April 6 onwards, the game will be purchasable from PlayStation Store in both Standard and Digital Deluxe Editions. You will also be able to pick up a physical Blu-ray disc version of the game from April 7 onwards at selected retailers in selected markets. Please check your local store for pricing and availability.