Powerslave has always been a game I've wanted to cover for First Person Saturday, but I've never quite got around to it. Which is quite a shame, considering that Powerslave is an excellent FPS game, and Samuel 'Kaiser' Villarreal seems to agree with me. He's an experienced level designer who is rebuilding Powerslave from the ground up, and I got a chance to contact him over emails to discuss his project Powerslave EX, level design, and future projects.
TechRaptor: Why remaster Powerslave? Kaiser: Powerslave is one of those games that didn't get the recognition it deserved. While personally, the PC version offered nothing new or unique, the console versions on the other hand offered a very unique experience that no other FPS had during that time. The goal of this remaster is to allow users to experience this version of Powerslave on the PC as well as introducing this game to the current generation of players. This also allows the opportunity to address any flaws or issues that the original game had as well as allowing users to make mods.
TR: What inspired you to remake lesser known shooters like Doom 64 and Powerslave?
Kaiser: Back in the day, most game engines were created from scratch and it has always fascinated me in how these games were architectured, what techniques or tricks they used to overcome memory limitations, etc. I was very interested in Doom 64 because it was a unique version of Doom that was exclusive to consoles. Being very familiar with the Doom tech, I was very curious to see what Doom 64 did, how it worked under the hood and what was different from it's original counterpart. I also wanted to figure out how the scripting system worked and how different the level format was from the original. It was a really unique game that deserved to be experienced on the PC.
Same goes for Powerslave. The PC version was again, a simple FPS powered by the Build engine, but looking at the console versions, it was way beyond that. It had Quake-like shadows, very fast framerates, smart design, and a smooth game experience. I was very curious and intrigued by the tech that powered the console versions and I wanted to understand what made it tick. Seeing the work put into these games in order to work on the consoles within a such short amount of time is absolutely nuts and makes me really appreciate the hard work put in by the developers. Now in days you got game engines already available out of the box like Unreal and Unity, but back then, you had to make all of this yourself.
These games were very unique in their own right and they deserved way more recognition than what they originally had. I felt that if they were originally ported to PC back then, it could of been a different story.
TR: About how far are you into the development process of Powerslave EX?
Kaiser: I would say its 90% done. Just need to tweak the menu system, implement movie playback and some renderer optimizations here and there. I've been making crazy progress.
TR: On your Wordpress, you said you don't consider Powerslave EX a total conversion. What would you say it is, then?
Kaiser: A total conversion means that it has to be a mod of a existing game where the majority of its game assets and gameplay mechanic has been replaced by the modder, to the point where it feels like a totally different game. Powerslave EX is a standalone with its own custom engine, meaning, its not based on any existing game engine.
TR: In your opinion, how important is level design to a shooter compared to other genres?
Kaiser: I would say quite important. FPS is built around the environment the user interacts with, and the environment is dictated by the level designer. A good layout with smart enemy placements, good pacing and progression, means a better game experience. You want to make sure that when a user is playing a level, he/she needs to feel like they are accomplishing their goals and good pacing dictates that a lot.
TR: Off the top of your head, can you give any examples of great FPS level design?
Kaiser: Level design is affected by the diction of the game's narrative and general design. For action FPS games, Quake pretty much nails it. It has a great introductory level, great layouts that really compliments with the game design. Fighting Orgres is REALLY satisfying and the layout of Quake's levels is built very well around that. If Quake's levels were completely flat with little to no verticality, then that would of been a different story. Some people may roll their eyes when I say this, but the Call of Duty franchise also has some really good level design as well. They do a really good job at pacing and progression. Condemned is another personal favorite and it has a lot of really good moments that kept the tension factor way up and that works really well with the game's design. The school and farm house levels are prime examples of what I am talking about.
TR: After Powerslave EX, are you going to try your hand at remaking other shooters?
Kaiser: I was originally working on remaking N64 Turok (called Turok EX) but it got put off to the side. Since now Night Dive Studios has picked up the rights to re-release it, Turok EX will resume development later this year. By the way, I've also done work with Night Dive by re-releasing Strife, which was another reverse-engineering project that me and a friend worked on back in 2010.
Aside from that, I am not sure if there's any other shooters I plan on remaking. I've been tempted to look into Blood but I am quite wary of the many toes that I could potentially be stepping on. Particularly Atari's toes :-P
TR: Thank you for your time.