DokeV, an open world adventure from South Korean developer Pearl Abyss, remains something of an enigma. The Black Desert Online creator's next game received an explosive reveal trailer during Gamescom 2021's Opening Night Live presentation, and it's fair to say that its eye-catching visuals and head-bobbing K-pop score left quite an impression.
That initial trailer left us as baffled as we were intrigued, and further details on the game have just given us the impression that DokeV is a game where you can do... a lot. Whether that be fighting huge robots alongside collectable Dokebi creatures, skateboarding, flying kites and even fishing, we're convinced we still haven't seen the entire length and breadth of DokeV's feature set.
Thankfully, we were fortunate enough to chat to two key developers about DokeV. Kwanghyeon Go is DokeV's lead engine programmer, and head of the game engine division, while Sangyoung Kim is the game's lead producer. Together, they helped shed some light on the technology going into DokeV, including Pearl Abyss's new proprietary game engine that allows the game to feature so many different gameplay styles and possibilities.
A tale of two styles
Perhaps the most immediately eye-catching element of DokeV is its unique visual style. Meshing together a photorealistic world with cartoonish, chibi-like characters, we wondered how Pearl Abyss was able to make these clashing styles work without coming across as overtly jarring.
Lead producer Sangyoung Kim gave us a robust answer, and explained that the road to achieving DokeV's visual style wasn't an easy one, full of trial and error:
"In terms of visuals, we tried a lot of different things," Sangyoung explained. "Initially, we tried to give everything the animation sort of look, but we felt that it didn’t give it that special, unique quality.
"With a realistic game environment, we’re able to pursue a quality of finer detail. Without the realistic aspect, the idea of ‘detail’ can become abstract. The real world is our reference for building a realistic world in-game, so it enables us to pursue a certain level of realistic detail.
"We originally added more life-like facial expressions and clothing against a more photorealistic environment. At first, there was a sense of contrast, but after some research and development, it evolved into what you see in the trailer today."
DokeV is far from the first game to go for a mixture of realistic and abstract styles. It's something that Nintendo's Splatoon series does remarkably well, meshing the stylized Inkling characters with very recognizable real world buildings, vehicles and cityscapes.
The difference with DokeV, then, is that Pearl Abyss has access to the latest and greatest in graphics technology. And with the game heading to current-gen consoles like PS5 and Xbox Series X/S as well as PC, it's sounding like the developer isn't missing the opportunity to go all-out with DokeV.
Sangyoung continued: "As can be expected, higher-performing technology also enhances the scale of what can be displayed, the number of objects that can be shown, resolution, etc. which enable us to create a richer environment. We can also use graphic techniques such as ray tracing for precise shadows and occlusion, character reflection, etc.
"We believe the visual detail says a lot about our quality game development. Details create an immersive experience and we always work hard to meet the Pearl Abyss mission to continuously improve a gamer’s experience."
Lead engine programmer Kwanghyeon Go adds: "Furthermore, it [DokeV's engine] allows for a more detailed representation of visual depth and increases the render distance.
"Improvements in atmospheric scattering and global illumination techniques provide more accurate lighting that takes into account the flow of time and spatial changes. Cinematic cutscenes and gameplay flow more smoothly, which offers a more immersive experience."
Gargantuan gameplay potential
Pearl Abyss's new game engine allows for several high-end graphical qualities, then, but learning about the developers plans for its new tech was fascinating. From the sounds of it, this engine's usage doesn't end with DokeV, as Kwanghyeon explains:
"The biggest difference is that while Black Desert’s game engine was originally built around creating Black Desert, our next-gen engine is built to adapt to all new projects, and is much more effective in terms of development."
"The engine, rather than providing different features depending on the genre, is being advanced in a way that can be utilized across all games in general," Sangyoung adds. "That is to say, whatever particular feature a game needs, we add a very generalized version of it to continuously introduce new things to the engine and build upon it."
To us, this sounds like DokeV is being used as a virtual playground for the developers to try out various gameplay styles. It would explain the amalgamation of features we've currently seen in DokeV, and has probably contributed to the overall mysteriousness of what the final game will resemble when it's in our hands.
But that's by no means a bad thing. Experimentation can lead to innovation, and it's quite astonishing to see how Pearl Abyss is slowly turning DokeV into a tangible product because of its litany of activities, not in spite of them.
It does seem, though, that we're still a good ways out from DokeV's eventual release. While the developers remained tight-lipped about a potential release date, one comment about the engine's aptitude for procedural generation, from Sangyoung, clued us in that we could still be a few years away from DokeV's launch:
"The engine does support procedural generation and can generate things in-game in real-time, but whether or not we use those features depends on the direction of the game. It’s still a bit too early to see if such features will be utilized for DokeV."
From this, we can glean that DokeV is still very much deep into development, and new features are likely still being planned and/or experimented with.
What a wonderful world
Given everything we now know about Pearl Abyss's new engine, it should come as no surprise that the developer is preparing an enormous world for us to explore in DokeV. In fact, the devs were enthusiastic to tease the size of the map they're aiming for in the final game.
"I’m not sure how to best express the size of the island," said Sangyoung, "but think of it this way: the parts of town shown in the trailer don’t even make up 10% of the whole island!
"The map is vast enough to keep you entertained just by walking around. We actually had the character ride on the skateboard around the whole island, boosting and drifting, and it took quite a while to do a full circle of the island."
Naturally, Pearl Abyss is planning on filling that large map with the wealth of activities it's been working on.
"Since the game is an open world," Sangyoung continues, "players can go wherever they want and enjoy exploring alongside their charming Dokebi friends. This adventure can involve meeting new Dokebi, or new people, whose problems you can help solve.
"You can also fish, fly kites, play different minigames, and interact with objects. We are creating a truly vast world where the gameplay is organic, immersive, and beautiful."
Thanks to Pearl Abyss's insight into DokeV and the game engine that's being used to develop it, we're slowly forming a better understanding of what the game is shaping up to be. It sounds like a game that prioritizes adventure, and could give players the freedom to define that adventure through a plethora of activities.
We still don't know if DokeV will feature a core gameplay loop, or what the incentives or reward structure behind it will look like. However, we know that it's probably going to look utterly stunning thanks to Pearl Abyss's advancements in its own graphical tech. It's probably going to look fantastic on the best gaming TVs or gaming monitors you can buy.
Sangyoung Kim's final comment to us was this: "DokeV is a game with a massive open world filled with action, collection, exploration, adventure, minigames, activities, and other features. Using Pearl Abyss’s next-gen engine, we are working to develop a hyper-realistic experience within an imaginary game world."
Judging from this, DokeV could end up being a game about... well, everything. And above all else, that has us very interested indeed.