If you think of high-end graphics, some names immediately come to mind: Epic, DICE, CryEngine. But as technology continues to disseminate across the world, more and more game studios in various global tech hubs are beginning to turn heads with their advancements in video game visuals.
One such company is Pearl Abyss, a South Korean video game company primarily known for the MMORPG Black Desert Online. Recently, the studio caught our attention with a show-stopping presentation of DokeV built using a proprietary engine Pearl Abyss is developing with an eye towards the studio’s future.
IGN was able to speak with Pearl Abyss’ Head of Game Engine Division and Lead Engine Programmer Kwaghyeon Go to talk more about this new engine, whose name IGN can reveal is called the “Blackspace Engine.”
Pearl Abyss’ biggest game currently is the MMORPG Black Desert Online, which Pearl Abyss developed using an earlier proprietary engine. But new projects require new technology.
“When devising new projects after Black Desert, we felt the need for a new engine with the latest technology for even better quality and performance. Additionally, it also had to be able to cover multiple projects,” Go says.
Enter Blackspace Engine, Pearl Abyss’ new, next-gen engine currently used to develop upcoming projects including Crimson Desert, PLAN 8, and DokeV, an open-world adventure where players can go on adventures with monsters based on Korean folklore.
“With one’s own engine, it is possible to build an efficient development process and actively respond to changes on various platforms”
Take the GamesCom trailer for DokeV for example which has already garnered over 7 million views. The K-Pop soaked trailer is filled with highly detailed environments, eye-popping particle effects, and rich textures, and a bulk of the comments are dedicated to discussing DokeV’s visuals.
“It’s our belief that amazing graphics and attention to detail determine the core quality of a game,” Go says. “After all, it’s these details that help create such an immersive experience.”
Go says its next-gen engine allows “for a more detailed representation of visual depth and increases the draw distance.” Furthermore, “improvements in atmospheric scattering and global illumination techniques provide more accurate lighting that takes into account the flow of time and spatial changes.”
Pearl Abyss also boasts an advanced motion capture and 3D-scanning studio, and the company plans to open a dedicated art studio in 2022.
According to Go, “The Pearl Abyss Art Center will be the largest art studio in the whole of the Korean games industry and will be equipped with state-of-the-art facilities for gaming technology and design research.” It will also boast a new, nearly 11,000 square feet motion capture studio designed to shoot wire-action sequences, bulky objects, and even animals.
Alongside PC, DokeV has been announced for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S. South Korean game developers have largely focused on PC and mobile, so IGN asked if DokeV was part of a new strategy targeting the global console market.
To this, Go cited Black Desert on console, which was released in 2019 and helped cater to a large overseas console market. Go says Pearl Abyss is one of the first South Korean companies actively pursuing the “challenging console market.”
Despite the competition, Pearl Abyss aims to expand its console offerings by supporting cross-play between platforms as well as next-gen console versions of its games.
As for Pearl Abyss’ decision to develop a proprietary engine rather than license an engine from another company, Go says it’s about “internalizing core game development technologies” by developing an engine using the company’s “advanced technology.” He added that Pearl Abyss seeks to resolve the long-term risks that come with relying on external development platforms.
“With one’s own engine, it is possible to build an efficient development process and actively respond to changes on various platforms,” Go says.
Aside from developing an engine capable of high-end graphics, Go says the BlackSpace Engine has other features that aid in the development of open-world games. “Many aspects can be automated, procedurally generated, and customized with Pearl Abyss’ engine,” Go says. Along with realistic audio expression and smooth transitions between cutscenes and gameplay which Go says offers a more immersive experience he says, “The biggest advantage of an in-house engine may be the freedom to add functions quickly when the need arises and to change them in the direction that we want.”
“It’s our belief that amazing graphics and attention to detail determine the core quality of a game”
While there are currently no plans to license the BlackSpace engine to partner developers a la Epic or Unity, Go says Pearl Abyss’s next-gen engine can be used to create a virtual space “akin to real-life” and can be “combined with the latest technology to create a more realistic metaverse.” As a result, Pearl Abyss is considering the possibilities of using the engine “in a wide variety of fields.”
As games like DokeV continue to impress the world with its visuals, Go says Pearl Abyss will continue to focus on games like Black Desert while pursuing high-quality graphics and attention to detail, “all the while focusing on the gameplay itself as much as on the graphics.”
Matt T.M. Kim is IGN's News Editor. You can reach him @lawoftd.