With easily-accessible engines such as Unity and Unreal Engine 4 allowing hobbyist and indie developers to create beautiful projects of a larger scope than ever before, some developers are taking to remaking classic games from their formative years. IndieDB spoke to two such developers. The first, Jeff Lindsay, is working on remaking the SNES version of Jurassic Park – or more specifically, remaking the first-person Visitor Center levels from that game, in Unity.
The second developer, also using Unity, is Robert Medina, who is working on remaking Rare’s classic SNES platformer Donkey Kong Country 2, with a project titled simply Donkey Kong Country 2 HD. In addition to the above developers, we’ve rounded up some of the most exciting projects from other teams and individuals who are remaking their own chosen classic games in new engines. See them all, below!
IndieDB: What prompted you to decide to work on remaking your chosen retro game in a new engine?
Jeff Lindsay, developer of Jurassic Park’s Unity remake: “First, it's Jurassic Park. Second, I felt that remaking a SNES game, or part of one, was a bit more novel than an old PC game. With PC games, you usually have direct access to the assets. So the barrier to entry and work involved in recreating it seemed to make it a more special project.”
I wanted to see how the original games might look with modern 3D graphics, as if they were made today
Robert Medina, developer of Donkey Kong Country 2 HD: “I love platformers, and Donkey Kong Country 2 is one of my favourite games. Since the 2D games were originally made from 3D rendered sprites, and with the Donkey Kong Country Returns games using full 3D graphics, I wanted to see how the original games might look with modern 3D graphics, as if they were made today.”
How did you choose which engine to use for your remake?
Lindsay: “I was already working in Unity on a tool that reproduced the workflow of the Build engine. The speed of throwing together levels in Build was crazy compared to anything after. I made so many Duke Nukem 3D levels in middle school. So once I had this tool in Unity, I had all kinds of ideas for projects I could use it for. But one day I decided to recreate the first floor of the Visitor Center for fun, just the geometry as a demo. The Visitor Center was much simpler than what the tool was capable of, but it helped prove my editor extension as a usable tool for something real.”
I made so many Duke Nukem 3D levels in middle school
Medina: “I use Unity because it's what I already know, it can do what I need it to, and I find it relatively easy to use with my weaker coding skills. I didn't want to spend time learning a new engine on top of everything else for this project.”
How closely are you choosing to stay to the original game's design? What technological advances or new design trends are you taking advantage of?
Lindsay: “I tried to reproduce the look and content as exactly as I could. It's not exactly pixel perfect because I ended up getting most of the art assets via screenshots in an emulator. After I released the game, somebody got in touch with me that built a tool to extract all the art from the ROM. With a lot of SNES games you can't just get a dump of the art. Well, in some you can, but even that is a whole process. But a lot of games, including this one, use a custom encoding scheme so extracting the art would mean reverse engineering the ROM and building a tool for that specific game. I didn't have time for that, but apparently somebody out there did.
I did make the game more playable and suited to modern platforms. Even though it's pixelated at the same resolution as the SNES, that's a post effect. The game can be run at any resolution and with widescreen support. The original also suffered from a very low FPS, so it was choppy and unresponsive. I didn't see any reason to reproduce that. I wanted it to be fun.
The biggest difference is in the scope: it's just the Visitor Center interiors. So as a standalone game I had to come up with a new goal and change some entity placement. Though a lot of them are exactly the same. I started with the same placement for enemies, items, and locked doors as the original and moved or added them as needed.
I also made it hard. In some ways I had to make it harder because it was easier to play when it had more responsive controls. But the original was hard and the overall game had no saves, so I tried to recreate that experience. I tried to capture the spirit of the original.”
I tried to match the original designs and animations as closely as possible using the original sprites for reference, and modernize the game in other ways instead
Medina: “I've generally tried to stay very close to the original game to respect the design choices made by Rare at the time, and because my intent was to recreate it as I and other people remember it through nostalgia. I tried to match the original designs and animations as closely as possible using the original sprites for reference, and modernize the game in other ways instead.
The main change I've made is extra animation for assets which were static in the original game due to technical limitations. This was inspired by the more recent Donkey Kong Country Returns games. These changes include the vertex shader that makes the vines slowly pulsate, extra animation on the barrels, pixel shaders for depth of field, motion blur, and light rays, as well as particle effects. I still wanted it to feel like the original game though.
Another change that had a bigger impact than expected is the switch to widescreen format, which required some changes to the original camera boundaries, as well as adjusting enemies which are triggered by appearing on screen. The original game was very carefully designed to flow perfectly on a 4:3 screen, so changing the aspect ratio affected many areas of gameplay.”
Do you have any intentions to pursue development of original games in a professional or hobbyist manner in the future?
Lindsay: “I've been working on games since I was a kid, then took a detour from them in my 20s. Now I'm refocusing my priorities to get back into games. Visitor Center was actually my first released game. Since then I've released a game jam game, and I'm now working on a small scale commercial game with a friend.
It's also a remake, but of a freeware indie game that he made in 2011 called The Indie Game Legend. It was a top down arena shooter in the spirit of the NES cult classic The Guardian Legend. I decided to remake it as a first person shooter, using mostly the same pixel art assets. This time I had direct access to the art since he gave me the original Game Maker project. I made a demo and showed it to him and he was so excited he jumped on to add more content and update some of the art to work better for 3D.
We're releasing that at a pretty low price point, mostly as an experiment. So I'm not sure if I'd call it professional, but it's more than a hobby. I like to think of it as indie.”
I'll take what I've learned from this and apply it back to my own game
Medina: “I've been working on my own similar 2.5D platformer game on and off for several years as a hobby, and hope to one day be able to finish and release it. In fact, I used the basic code from my own game to speed up creation of this remake, and now I'll take what I've learned from this and apply it back to my own game. I don't think my skills are at a level where I could make a full game yet, and I've learned a lot by recreating real games, on a technical level, an artistic level, and a game design level.”
Thanks to Jeff and Robert for taking the time to chat with us! Now, here are more classic games being remade in new engines.
Wow, you're promoting blatant copyright infringement on IndieDB now?
Graphically remastered tributes to games that were released years ago? The horror!
Copyright infringement is wrong. I've reported the Nintendo clones to Nintendo's legal department.
Bringing love to old games that deserve a remaster but hasn't gotten one. Why would someone do that...?
The issue is that it's illegal. Saying that it's justified to commit a crime because people want it is a crazy argument. So, because I want that money in the bank then I can steal it?
Your point is valid, and if Nintendo don't want it, it won't be, but while it is still here we can enjoy some old games remastered.
Sure you can. And you would be committing a crime. You see, just because you don't get caught doesn't mean it's not wrong. Do you only follow the law when you are sure you will get caught if you don't? A person of integrity obeys the law whether they will get caught or not.
Hey man. Is it wrong to remaster an old game? It depends if it's protected under fair use or if it's still copyrighted, but ethically, it doesn't seem wrong to make something for free out of love. As for the crime aspect, maybe it's criminal, but you don't have to like it, and you don't have to play it. Nintendo is not your friend either; there are very few companies that have the interests of the players and fans in mind. If you want to ruin everyone's fun and shoot down hopeful young studios and developers, then go ahead and report them. Otherwise, it's not going to hurt Nintendo or any of the companies who made these games, some of which are now defunct, if these remakes and remasters get made. I wouldn't be so quick to support gaming behemoths over people who DO have the best interests of the players at heart, which is why they make these things for fun and for free.
If you want to remake these games at home for your own personal use and as a learning experience and you are doing it through legitimate means then that's not the problem. But promoting them and offering them for download is the criminal part. It is certainly not covered under fair use.
Your statement that it may be a crime but I don't have to like it is crazy. Do you even hear what you're saying?
If I want to ruin everyone's fun? Some people might think it's fun to rob banks, steal cars, or rape women too, but I wouldn't call someone who wants to prevent those crimes a party pooper. It's my moral duty to uphold the law as a God fearing, law-abiding citizen.
We certainly live in a crazy world where instead of getting support for upholding the law and the rights of others I instead get attacked for it. Regardless, I don't have to justify being on the side of the law. Have fun justifying theft right up until you're the one being held accountable for engaging in it.
No doubt, You will report your kids to Nintendo if you find them drawing Mario or Link =P
Of course not. Are you that out of touch with what's right and what's wrong?
Ahh, sorry. You will report OTHER kids who draw Mario or Link to nintendo, not your own.
By the way, you see some difference between draw on paper or draw on computer? Or do you see if someone of your reported guys earn money on their hobbies? Or they sell illegal copies of legal games? Or they crack or reverse-engineering legal games? Or they did sell any assets from games? Or maybe I am just feeding a troll here? =)
You're wasting your time trying to convince me that the established IP laws are wrong. If you don't agree with them then hire some lawyers and fight to get the laws changed. This isn't about what you personally think is right or wrong, but what the laws say. And the law says you are wrong.
I see. You should report your kids to local police officer if they draw Mario for other kids, then. If you're not, you're criminal and should hire some lawyers.
Creating straw man arguments doesn't help your case.
I never said the games were covered under fair use, I was arguing from an ethical standpoint. You may idolize the law, but the law is not infallible. There are enough cases of this that I feel it would be seen as purely belligerent of me to list them, but since you insinuate that remaking a game for fun and out of love for the intellectual property is on the same moral level as raping women and stealing the possessions of others, then I'll list just one. In 1896 the Supreme Court ruled that separate but equal facilities for different races were lawful. I admit that this is an extreme example, but it does illustrate my point, that the law of this land is not always right. I never argued that doing this was not criminal, I simply argued that from an ethical standpoint there was nothing wrong with these people doing what they are doing. People argue all the time about if the law of the land is right or wrong, that's the spirit of democracy at work. Additionally, unlike many laws, the laws that protect the big game developers can sometimes fall into a moral grey area. I've never heard of anyone questioning if it's morally sound to take part in the crimes you listed, obviously, those things are wrong, and you don't need the law to tell you that. But the indie developers working on remastering and remaking these games have both literally nothing to gain from doing so and have no malicious intent whatsoever. I understand that perhaps what they are doing is against the law, and in order for there to be a well functioning society it is the duty of the citizens to enforce the laws just as much as it is the duty of law enforcement. My point is that not every law is right, and people should not take the law as a moral code.
Ethically, it is wrong to steal someone's property and that's what IP is. So this is not only against the law, it's wrong.
And you'll notice Nintendo agrees with me as the videos for their stolen IP have been taken down. Hopefully the games have as well.
I'd be quite surprised if Nintendo didn't agree with you. You're not wrong, unfortunately, this is seen under the the law as stealing of intellectual property. But I think that you'd be hard pressed to justify that it is indeed stealing. The indie developers who make these charge no money for the many long hours they put in to make these games, which are truly derived with only love and nostalgia for the IP in mind. There are a number of companies that welcome this sort of behavior from the community, for those very reasons. I'm sorry we can't agree on this, I just feel that while maybe from a legal standpoint you're right, ethically it makes no sense to turn these people in so that their hard work is cancelled.
Unfortunately for us poor humans, our standards for right and wrong are really low and someday we will stand before the one who gave us life and gave us the law. And his standard is supremely high. None of us can measure up to it.
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