The Destroy All Humans! remake was one of the first games I got to play at E3 2019, and I was very impressed. Although the build was in an earlier state, the remake for Destroy All Humans! played really smooth. But what took me even more by surprise was how well developer Black Forest Games did in recreating the visuals. I have this hazy picture of the game from when I was a kid, and looking at the visuals now, it's exactly how my mind saw it back then—even if the visuals are far more advanced today.
Black Forest Games put considerable efforts into recreating the visuals while remaining true to what it looked like back in 2005. The results are looking good ahead of its July 28, 2020 release date. To learn a bit more about the process of revitalizing Destroy All Humans! for modern audiences, we talked with Creative Director Jean-Marc Haessig and Development Director Onurhan Karaagacli.
Refining a Classic
As with any game, you want to do preliminary research and start drafting out the visuals and approach you want to take. For Black Forest, they were lucky enough to have a whole game to base their new visuals on for the Destroy All Humans! remake. Although the original came out in 2005, it still served as an invaluable asset for a graphical overhaul.
"Everyone in the team played the original game to varying degrees," they said, "for example design teams approached it from a 'completionist' manner and took extensive notes. We also looked at all kinds of '50s and Sci-Fi pulp references to get a good picture of the era and its tropes, besides the original development materials we were lucky to have access to."
They mention "original development materials," which is something that also served as a resource when approaching the remake. Indeed, Black Forest had at their disposal the level editor from the original Destroy All Humans!. From there, they were able to export resources from the old game into the new one to give a solid foundation with the brand new title. The process is undoubtedly to preserve the authenticity of the original game while making it feel new with the upgraded, modernized graphics.
"The art team then replaced, piece by piece, the older assets with the ones we produced," they said, "and spiced everything up with additional assets. During this process, we used the original data as a reference for the proportions of the buildings, making sure concept artists’ work for new assets still matched the layouts of the original game."
As Haessig and Karaagacli mentioned, they looked at old-school, period science fiction as inspiration for the visuals. This is much like how the original Destroy All Humans! was. The game is set in the late 1950s after all, so what better place to look than relics from that time period? Haessig and Karaagacli mention the team looking at '50s art such as movie posters and advertisements, and of course those over-the-top pulp covers from the day. There were other, more recent examples, too.
"Modern CGI-animated movies, especially comedies, helped us a lot to tailor the overall look and feel of the environments as they are just as important a part of the game’s 'scenery' as the characters," they said. "For the humans to destroy, the idea was to be mean to them, practically make them as pathetic as Crypto-137 saw them. The voice-acting was really good in the original game, and we wanted to pair it with a good amount of caricature-stereotyping and, for example, exaggeration on animations."
What's New, Area 42?
Haessig and Karaagacli say that due to technical limitations, the original game felt "relatively empty." Of course, open-world games from yesterday can't compete with the detail of modern day titles. To make up for that, they added more "life" to the layout of levels and added in new assets.
In addition to art, the team also improved on aspects such as UI and controls, so if you remember the previous game, you might notice a few improvements. On that note, I recall during my E3 demo that there was a new movement system, and it certainly felt fluid and up-to-date while retaining the feel of the gameplay from 2005. Some aspects of gameplay were tweaked to reflect changes made in the Destroy All Humans! sequel, as well. They said:
"We altered the gameplay whenever we had the impression that the original implementation was either too clunky or outdated, or did not match the ‘nostalgia goggle’ version of the feature. Even then, we checked whether or not Destroy All Humans! 2 already fixed the issue in order to stay as close to the original(s) as possible. For example we added the ability to sink and rise with the Saucer and the hypno-blast power 'Defend' (which causes an armed human to become your ally). Both were part of the original Destroy All Humans! 2, but not the first game."
One of the most prominent changes is the fabled "Lost Mission of Area 42." Area 42 was a, well, area in the original Destroy All Humans! for Crypto to explore. From unused audio and designs, the team at Black Forest created a brand new mission for this location. The content didn't make it in the original, but Black Forest took it upon themselves to add a bit more content that was once slated for the original game.
"And in a way was our homage to the original development team," they said. "We know real well the myriad of circumstances of game development resulting in something getting 'cut,' so we took this brilliant opportunity to 'uncut' that, and we believe they would be happy with the result."
The Development Journey
There's a lot of passion put into the Destroy All Humans! remake, and you can tell by how much fun the team had in recreating the visuals and mechanics. Breathing new life into the models for humans and Furons (the alien species Crypto belongs to) was "exhilarating," according to Haessig and Karaagacli.
There were some bumps in the road, as well. The game looks fresh and modern, so the team pushed the boundary for visuals. During my E3 demo, the detail in the farm's terrain was superb, as well as the effects from the Crypto's gun and the flying saucer's ridiculously overpowered ray.
"The hardware capabilities gap between the current console generation (now nearly eight years old) and modern PCs was a serious challenge as well," they said. "We didn’t want to have a big visual quality difference among all the platforms and at the same time we didn’t want to lower the visual quality to the level the current console gen can 'easily' manage. This is always a challenge in multi-platform development, and we learnt quite a lot in this process to properly overcome this issue."
The other issue in development is something very familiar to every single person on the planet: COVID-19. The release of Destroy All Humans! is in July, so the final days of development occurred while the pandemic changed everyone's lives. Many games, as a result, were delayed and still continue to be delayed. Black Forest Games switched to remote work in March, but there was still several months of work to be done.
"It’s an interesting case when the whole studio turns 'external' all of a sudden," they said, "but this went quite smoothly from a technical perspective; however the whole situation was and still remains a challenge for our team and families. Many of them live in France where the lockdown was extremely strict due to the higher number of cases in comparison to Germany. But we’re happy how we as a team handled this together and our thoughts are with all those in the world who are impacted far worse by the pandemic."
Looking ahead to the July launch date, the team at Black Forest are looking forward to people comparing the original to the remake. Among the new inclusions, they hope players will enjoy the jokes and references added for humorous effect. Look out for Destroy All Humans on July 28, 2020 on PC, Xbox One, and PS4, with a Stadia release at a later time.
Are you excited for Destroy All Humans!? Let us know in the comments below!