Tomb Raider developer Crystal Dynamics has discussed moving from a proprietary video-game engine to Unreal Engine 5 during Unreal Fest 2022. In attendance from Crystal Dynamics were Till Brenner, Alyssa Reuter, Alisha Thayer, Scott Stevens and Ben Irving with Jessica Archer from Epic Games moderating. The presentation can be watched on the official Epic Games YouTube channel.

The presentation was technical in nature and moderator Jessica Archer stated no information on current and upcoming projects would be discussed. Crystal Dynamics spoke on the transition from their own proprietary Foundation Engine to Unreal Engine 5, how this change affected the development pipeline and the challenges the studio faced.

On the reasons why the studio switched from internal tech to Unreal Engine 5, Executive Producer Ben Irving states: "In Crystal's history we actually had talked about moving to Unreal Engine several times and decided to not do it. We decided to invest in our own tech and build up our engine."

"Then the question becomes well what changed, what was different this time? I think a lot of the answer is the difference in the industry. The further times goes on the more technical games are, the bigger games are, the more complicated it is. As well as the quality standards we put on ourselves."

"We quickly got to the point of saying do we want to be a game team that builds engines or a team that builds games. We sided with the passion for us which is the game making, telling amazing stories in immersive worlds. That's the thing that we're really passionate about."

Technical Director Till Brenner stated that Crystal Dynamics had been developing their proprietary Foundation Engine for 20 years, including two rewrites of the engine. During one of those rewrites the studio evaluated using Unreal Engine. Scott Stevens, also a Technical Director, joined the studio with extensive Unreal Engine experience and said the studio has spent a lot of time researching how Unreal Engine functions.

The studio stated that Unreal Engine makes it easy for developers to work with their tools and even though Foundation Engine was powerful and had been iterated on since GEX, developers found using their own engine difficult.

On when the switch was made to Unreal Engine 5, Executive Producer Ben Irving states the studio "transitioned 15 months ago" and no systems were ported from Foundation Engine. Technical Director Scott Stevens added that the studio had been rewriting code developed in Foundation Engine. "There's been a few things where we've had the Foundation code up side-by-side and we've taken inspiration if there's a specific algorithm we know we want."

In terms of how long it took Crystal Dynamics to "get up to speed" with Unreal Engine, Executive Producer Ben Irving stated the studio took six months to familiarise themselves with the engine. "We didn't think we would become Unreal experts in six months, we just felt like that was about the amount of time our team needed to experiment and learn before we could go back to building the game."

The panel from Crystal Dynamics went on to discuss how their workflow has changed since working with Unreal Engine and expanded on the features and opportunities Unreal Engine affords them with comparisons between Foundation Engine and Unreal Engine.

The presentation ended with a series of questions from members of the audience and those questions touched on how quickly the studio adapted to using Unreal Engine and whether there was any resistance to switching over from developers.

Crystal Dynamics is an award-winning video-game studio responsible for creating and developing a formidable catalogue of games including Mad Dash Racing, Soul Reaver, Whiplash, Project Snowblind and more recently Marvel's Avengers and Tomb Raider. The studio is currently working on a new Tomb Raider game powered by Unreal Engine 5.

Unreal Fest is an annual showcase exploring the foundations for a new digital era using Unreal Editor and developing content powered by Unreal Engine in addition to MetaHuman, RealityCapture, Twinmotion, and the rest of the tools in the Epic ecosystem.

Crystal Dynamics Unreal Engine Presentation Slide