A fresh apocalypse: Remastering Rebellion's Zombie Army

Rebellion's CEO, co-founder and creative director Jason Kingsley talks us through the process of bringing its popular Sniper Elite spin-off to consoles
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Why update these games for Xbox One and PS4 rather than starting with something new?

Simply put, we had no plans initially to do anything other than release the Zombie Army series on PC. But then the series went on to sell very, very well and we received so many emails and comments about it being ‘a great game’ and ‘why weren’t we putting it on consoles?’ that there was a clear interest from the community. So we did some technical tests and decided it was possible on PS4 and Xbox One.

We’ve always said if we were going to bring the series to consoles it wouldn’t just be a port or double pack – we wanted to reward both PC and console players, so here we are with a whole new chapter, a new mode, and two remastered campaigns all merged together into a full price release with a new name and a unified online community.

What is the first step of this process? Where do you begin when remastering/updating games such as this?

Obviously, we needed to make sure the Xbox One and PS4 could run the game at a good frame rate, then optimise it to run in-cooperative mode well across the network.

We then wanted to apply what we learned from the development of the first two games – in terms of gameplay, visuals and performance – and bring those improvements to the whole 15-level campaign.

In fact, we’d already retroactively patched many of the optimisations and engine improvements made for Nazi Zombie Army 2 back in to Nazi Zombie Army 1, so when we began work on the trilogy, we already had a stronger base to work from.

What was the biggest challenge when remastering these games, and how did you overcome it?

Legacy code is always one of those things that pops up and needs to be addressed. Our in-house engine team, which drives our own multi-platform technology called Asura, got very involved and pushed more optimisations into the game so that the hordes of enemies were proper, terrifying hordes, not just big groups.

Which elements of the game translated well to the new platforms?

Pretty much all of it! The core Sniper Elite gameplay loop – the feel of the rifles, the bullet drop, managing your movement and heart rate – already worked so well on consoles with Sniper Elite V2 and Sniper Elite 3. What we’re most excited about is the co-op: there aren’t many dedicated four-player co-op titles with this intensity on the new consoles – although we know that drought is definitely going to end this year!

How does developing for Xbox One and PS4 compare to their forebears? What's different?

It’d take a lot more time and ink to specify the differences but, to quote recent Judge Dredd movie, ‘It’s all the deep end'. No platform is ‘easy’ to code for - they all have their specific issues - but at the end of it all, they deliver spectacular performance when coded well.

Of course, the biggest difference is actually that we don’t just develop for the console hardware – we publish to them as well. This will be Rebellion’s first ever self-published title on consoles, and we’re doing a retail version too. It’s new ground for us and very exciting.

What is the same as the previous generation, and what are the advantages/disadvantages of this?

One of the biggest similarities between the previous and current generation is the people playing our games. Trying to make games that will appeal to the fans has always been our priority and this hasn’t changed with the current generation.

How successful do you expect the Xbox One and PS4 versions to be? How well do they need to perform in order to justify the redevelopment?

We only need the title to be a modest success for it to be profitable, so that’s a good thing with not too much risk. We’ve not spent tens of millions on development, but we are expecting sales to be pretty good. Sniper Elite 3, recently published by the talented team at 505, launched at No.1, as did its two predecessors, which is pretty good going for an independent UK studio when you consider the dev and marketing budgets available to some other chart toppers.

What lessons have you learned that will be useful when you next develop for the new consoles?

The good news is that console manufacturers have never been more willing to work with independent developers, and never more helpful in ensuring you get the most out of their platform, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take your eye off crucial bottlenecks – such as the TRC process – that could add weeks to your schedule.

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