Inside Xbox One X Enhanced: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

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Many of gaming’s most compelling stories come from those who’ve helped to create our favorite Xbox One games. In our Inside Xbox One X Enhanced series, these creators will share the behind-the-scenes accounts of the work involved in enhancing these epic games for Xbox One X, how they’ve helped chart the course of the world’s most powerful console, and what that means for the future of gaming. Today, we’ll be chatting with the development team The Astronauts about enhancing The Vanishing of Ethan Carter for Xbox One X.

What specifically is your development team doing to enhance The Vanishing of Ethan Carter for Xbox One X (textures, draw, framerate, resolution)?

The resolution is the number one thing, we offer up to true 4K. We’d say “up to” because you can also choose a non-standard resolution that’s between 1080p and 2160p/4K. So, it’s up to the player if they want respectable framerate with the crispiest possible image (4K) or ultra-smooth 60 frames per second in 1080p or 1440p. You can change the resolution and see its effect on the framerate at any moment in the game.

How do these enhancements impact the gaming experience (visuals, performance)?

For Xbox One and Xbox One X we have redone quite a lot of the game – more than we expected, actually – to merge the code with the latest version of Unreal Engine 4. So, all the code and graphics enhancements come from that merge – thanks, Epic Games! – and then also directly from the power of X. In result, we got, for example, a better handling of high resolution textures, meaning pop-ups are rarely noticeable and streaming in the new areas is without any hitches.

Why did your development team choose to focus on these enhancement areas?

Ethan Carter is what we’d call a “no compromise” game. We did not sacrifice the gameplay on the altar of visuals or vice versa. In our case, we fell like literally everything is crucial to the experience – gameplay, writing, visuals, music, sounds – and high-res graphics and better handling of those graphics help achieve that goal. The reason is that the sense of presence our visuals offer is an important element… of the gameplay. It’s hard to explain without spoilers, but let’s just say it’s a game where the players need to feel they’re really there. We already have a great source material (high resolution textures and models produced with the use of the photogrammetry tech), it’s nice to be able to display it all in its original glory.

How do you expect fans of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter will respond to seeing/playing it on Xbox One X with these enhancements?

We’re already getting very encouraging messages from players. “The best-looking game” and so on. While they’re nice and it’s lovely to see those screenshots flooding our Twitter feed, it’s even better that these messages also include stuff like “I was in tears,” or “Unforgettable experience.” Because all those high-resolution visuals are not for show but merely a tool to let the players live and believe a certain story.

What/how has the process been to get the game up and running on Xbox One X?

Getting the code merged with the latest UE4 took us some time, but then it was basically very simple to get the game running. Of course, some extra work was needed to handle some Xbox-specific things – but everything went smoothly. From that point of view, the development was a breeze.

What enhancement were/are you most excited about to explore leveraging for The Vanishing of Ethan Carter on Xbox One X?

There’s one very special non-technical feature we have added to Xbox: the Free Roam mode. Many players just wanted to explore the Red Creek Valley without all the evil and murder in it, so we went for it. It was a surprising amount of work, to clean all that blood and hide the corpses! But the effort was worth it: if you turn down the music and just walk around this beautiful place listening to nothing but the wind and the water and the trees… It’s a very immersive experience.

What does 4K and HDR mean for your game, games in the future and development at your studio?

Seems like 4K is slowly becoming the expected standard, and we get why — 4K is more visible in-game than, say, in movies. We could do the HDR for our game but ultimately, we chose not to. It was a conscious decision, and the reason behind it is that although the game is nearly photo-realistic, it’s also paintery and oneiric in a way. Meaning we don’t use a lot of contrasts in our visuals. So, we decided to leave the game the way we developed it, to make sure it’s still 100% the way we imagined it. But that’s specifically for Ethan. We have little doubt we will be using HDR in any future game. It’s just too cool!

Thanks to The Astronauts for taking the time to chat with us about Xbox One X Enhanced. We’ll be bringing you more interviews with more developers in the future, so stay tuned to Xbox Wire!

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