HaZimation launches Moontopia, a sci-fi shooter on Fortnite built by filmmakers


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British production company HaZimation has launched its latest game, Moontopia, a sci-fi adventure that will be available to Fortnite players starting today.

The company crafted the game using Unreal Editor for Fortnite. As such, it’s one more startup taking advantage of the business model that Epic Games created with creator-driven games via UEFN. As Epic Games announced in March, game makers now get a cut of revenues based on how much people play on their custom Fortnite “islands.”

Hasraf ‘HaZ’ Dulull, cofounder and game director at HaZimation, said in an interview with GamesBeat that he was shifting from films to interactive experiences like games because that’s where the engaged audiences are. He noted how tools like Unreal Engine 5.1 enable filmmakers and game developers to cross over into the space between the industries, as both now use the same animation tools.

He said Moontopia takes players on an action-packed journey through a mysterious alien moon in close proximity to Earth, where they must fight for survival against interstellar invaders and colossal lunar beasts. Players can either take on the challenges solo or team up with friends in groups of up to six players for a multiplayer mode.

Players will be tasked with saving astronauts trapped by energy beams, zip-lining across a deep crater with monsters below, and driving moon buggies, among other challenges. The game uses Unreal Engine 5.1 and Cinema 4D, ensuring seamless visuals and smooth gameplay.

Moontopia is build with Unreal Editor for Fortnite.

“Our team has crafted a unique blend of action and storytelling that will transport players to a world they’ve never experienced before,” Dulull said. “With so many players across the globe playing Fortnite, we can’t wait to see players challenging themselves and cooperating with others in this brand-new adventure. We’re excited to finally unleash Moontopia upon the Fortnite community.”

Moontopia can be accessed through Fortnite on various platforms, including PlayStation 4, PlayStation 4 Pro, PlayStation 4 Slim, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox One S, Xbox One S All-Digital Edition, Xbox One Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, and Switch Lite.

The company ramped up to about 15 on the previous film and it flexes its size as needed. Earlier this spring the firm had about six people.

“The team is still very small, and it means you can work in a very agile approach, as opposed your traditional waterfall approach,” he said.

Origins

Hasraf “Haz” Dulull is the founder of HaZimation.

Dulull started his career in 1997, working on cinematics for things like original PlayStation games. His first works included Motocross Mania and Colin McRae Rally. He built the beautiful cinematics that showed off the games but wasn’t actual game footage. He also shifted early in his career to making movies.

Dulull worked on Hellboy films, The Dark Knight, and he made a short film called Project Kronos that went viral. He also made short films like Sync and I.R.I.S. That led to feature films like 2036 Origin Unknown and The Beyond.

“I didn’t want to keep making movies in a computer game,” he said. “I wanted to go work in movies. The funny story is now I’m back in games.”

When the pandemic came along, his next live action film got put on hold. He was using Unreal Engine to do the pre-visualization. And so he and his partner Paula Krakow decided to shift to make an animated feature film entirely inside Unreal Engine, as they had no access to live actors. So they made The Rift.

The seams between games and movies

Moontopia was made by filmmakers and game devs.

That earned them an Epic Mega Grant from Epic Games, and they also did a Kickstarter campaign. That helped them survive, and the validation from Epic was important.

“We were making the movie. Anyway, flash forward like a year or year and a half later, we’re halfway or mostly done. We decided to do the video games offshoot from the movie because why not? We’re already in a game engine. And there’s so many ideas that got thrown on the floor because there’s only so much you could fit in 93 minutes, right?”

He added, “I love video games anyway, so we decided to test the ideas with a little test demo. And we put it online. And people reacted, oh, this is actually pretty good. And it was kind of like the true transmedia because we’re using all the assets from the movie. And you’re still in the same environment.”

Then they started investing in game development, creating the game mechanics. The assets were already done thanks to the movie. Microsoft saw the work online and suggested they apply for the ID@Xbox indie games program. They liked it and set over dev kits.

“They’ve been extremely supportive. As a studio, as a company, as a filmmaker, I don’t even know what I am. I am a film director. I am a game director. And, essentially, I just say I’m a storyteller, because my job is to tell stories, regardless of the media,” Dulull said. “And there is so much evidence now that cinema and video games have converged massively, not just in terms of IP, but the fact that we can reuse assets from the movie in the game, in the VR experience, in the comic book.”

“As a business, we have multiple vertical slices. As a business, our IP longevity is much longer and return on investment is bigger,” he said.

Hollywood and games

Moontopia is a crazy game experience.

Dulull has also looked with interest on the success of game adaptations, such as the Sonic the Hedgehog and The Super Mario Bros. Movie and The Last of Us TV show on HBO.

“Back in the day, the game assets weren’t that great, and we couldn’t use them to make movies,” he said. “Now, we’ve seen the state of Unreal and it’s film-level quality CGI. It’s now in-game. For creators like myself and tons of others out there, that’s a huge opportunity, not just creatively, but from a business point of view, to sustain us in the ecosystem.”

The tech has reached a tipping point, he said.

“I think the game changer did happen when Unreal 5 came out because all of a sudden now you’re not baking your lights as you would do traditional games and optimization,” he said. “You’re using dynamic lighting, which is Lumen. And you now have economics that works, and the engine is crunching polygons in the most amazing way.”

He added, “You’ve got this whole idea of democratizing animation. Like you can get a motion capture suit by accents, or you can use your phone and use it. And AI. All of this stuff is democratizing animation to a point where now you can do this. Is it going to take away from the big studios? Absolutely not. You’re always going to have your Pixar and your DreamWorks and your Marvel movies. I’m not going to take over DreamWorks and Pixar.”

The age of generative AI

Fight monsters in space with HaZimation's Moontopia.
Fight monsters in space with HaZimation’s Moontopia.

As for generative AI, he said, “That’s a really interesting topic. As with any pieces of technology, the purists are always going to be scared. But you’ve got to think about it. It’s kind of like when computers first came out. I remember I was at school. And my art teacher said no one is ever going to create on a computer. Flash forward. Forty years later, we have Photoshop. We create digital art. So it’s the same thing with generative AI. It’s just the toolset.”

Dulull believes the tech will shake up Hollywood. He thinks it will enable smaller teams to do the work that seems like it was built with bigger teams. While that reduces the size of bigger teams, it enables many more small teams to be created with less capital to do work on par with bigger studios.

“We’re not going to be created the next Call of Duty,” he said. “Hell, no, there’s a reason why that costs that much. And that will be the equivalent of a tentpole movie, the equivalent of Marvel. But there’s a ton of independent games out there that can thrive.”

HaZimation is a production studio focused on developing and producing innovative TV series, feature films, and video games. The studio is known for its work on Rift (2022), The Mutant Year Zero sizzle trailer (2020), 2036 Origin Unknown (2018), and The Beyond (2018). It is currently producing the animated feature film Mutant Year Zero and developing the video game spin-off to Rift called Max Beyond.

Other games in active development include the neon-soaked side-scroller shooter Syncromania, the open-world massively multiplayer online-style game Xlantis, and Moontopia.

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