Rebellion announced the Battlezone Redux remaster out of the blue and its release is hopefully not too far away. We pinned down Rebellion co-founder Chris Kingsley and Mike Arkin, producer/CEO of Big Boat Interactive, to find out more about the game.
PC Invasion: Battlezone is a much-loved franchise and the 1998 Battlezone was a favourite of PC gamers. How long has Rebellion sat on the IP, and how did the IP acquisition come about?
Chris Kingsley : We acquired the Battlezone IP a few years ago when Atari put it up for auction. We were immediately interested; Battlezone is an IP that has evolved over decades, and from a personal perspective the original arcade Battlezone was a formative game in mine and my brother’s childhoods. And as a bit of a veteran studio with a lot of PC gamers ourselves, we were very aware of the popularity of the real-time strategy Battlezone games. And as you’re seeing now with Redux and our Battlezone reboot for VR, it’s given us plenty of different opportunities to explore.
PCI: Why reboot Battlezone now?
Chris Kingsley : Regards the VR reboot, we knew VR was going to make a return to the limelight. When we bought the IP, Oculus had recently been funded and we always had this feeling Battlezone would be a great fit for VR, so the timing has been perfect. I’ll let your readers decide whether that’s luck or strategy! As for Battlezone 98 Redux, that was already in the works when we announced Battlezone for VR. But with two projects sharing the Battlezone name, one being a PC remaster and the other a multiformat reboot developed from the ground up for, we tried to keep the announcements separate to avoid confusion.
What we clearly underestimated was just how passionate the Battlezone 98 community is! So, while there was plenty of excitement for the new Battlezone at last year’s E3, fans of the RTS games contacted us in droves asking “what about 98!?” It was quite a relief to let all those fans know that we indeed had not forgotten them! Now we’re blessed with having two really exciting and very different Battlezone projects.
PCI: When you decided to reboot Battlezone for VR, was that planned first or was Redux always on the cards?
Chris Kingsley : I think it was pretty fluid, to be honest. We wanted to reboot Battlezone and make the same kind of impact the original did, but I’d also met Mike many times down the years and once we had the IP the 98 Redux project suddenly became a real possibility. Hopefully we were right to back both! What’s certainly true is that Redux always made plenty of sense to us. The 1998 Battlezone is a defining game in its genre with gameplay that stands the test of time. To bring it back with upgraded assets and modern features was a bit of a no-brainer, really.
PCI: How hard was it to go back to the original code and bring the game up to speed with today’s modern technology?
Mike Arkin: We’re lucky that Ken Miller, who the community knows as Ultraken, has had the code running on his PC and has been fixing bugs for the last 17 years. So upgrading from the 1996 version of visual studio to the current one was done one step at a time over the years! Still, the engine used for Battlezone was based on MechWarrior 2, with i76 taped on top and Battlezone blended in. The engine never had a good cleaning, so it’s sometimes hard to tell what’s going on and lots of code was just unused. We’ve had to stop a few times and rip things out that made no sense, and more than a few systems had to get a rewrite because the old code was…suboptimal. It’s not always easy to look at old code and understand it straight away, but it’s a challenge the team has relished.
The hardest part was adding all the features the engine required to support modern graphics cards and rendering technology.
PCI: What exactly has been changed in Battlezone 98 Redux and have you added anything new?
MA: Well, a lot has changed: We replaced the renderer and swapped in high poly art for all of the models, added an all-new menu system, rewrote the terrain system adding blending, normal maps and detail textures, map and mod support, tuned up the AI, rewrote the netcode adding support for Steam friends and invites, and we fixed hundreds of bugs that the game has had since 1998!
PCI: Were there any features or issues with the game you really wanted to change but were unable to?
Chris Kingsley : No, the brief was always to remaster the visuals, fix long standing bugs, and support more advanced Steam features like multiplayer and Steam Workshop. We decided from day one the gameplay should stay the same. It just didn’t make sense to mess with such well-regarded mechanics.
Rebellion has said that mod support is being added through the Steam Workshop. How are you supporting this? There is a map editing tool but what else are modders going to need to go deeper?
Mike Arkin Using the stock map editor (which we used to make the game in 1997) you can make multiplayer maps, and skirmish style singleplayer maps (called “Instant Action” maps in-game). More advanced mapmakers can use Lua scripting that we added to make something called MPI or MPA maps which have scripting and can do all kinds of interesting stuff. Also, using Lua you can now make campaign-style single player maps with scripting – this goes above and beyond what was possible with the 1998 game! We’ve worked closely with the 98 community and given experienced modders access to the game to make content that’ll be available the day Redux launches.
Lastly, over the years the map/mod community has been reverse engineering our file formats and have come up with all kinds of asset swaps, and gameplay mods. Through Steam Workshop we now provide a mechanism where those mods can be packaged up and downloaded directly into the game. We even have a mod screen in game where you can pick which mods are currently active and change their priority. As an example, there’s already a mod developed with an alternative HUD, and the game’s not even out yet!
What changes, if any, have been made the multiplayer?
Mike Arkin A few months ago we completely ripped out the net code and the old Activenet chat/lobby server, replaced it with the Steam chat and lobby server, and started rewriting the net code. The result is that Battlezone 98 Redux can now be played multiplayer on any PC that can connect to Steam. We’ve added friends and friend invites and we’ve integrated Workshop directly into the multiplayer menus. In 1998 if you wanted to add a multiplayer map to the game you had to do a complex series of text edits and you had to manually place some files in the right place. Today you just go to the workshop, hit one key and the map is installed!
PCI: Have you any plans to remake Battlezone 2 or even create a new game based on the Battlezone IP? Battlezone 2020 perhaps?
Chris Kingsley: Right now, I think two Battlezone games are enough! In short, we’ll see what happens, but we can’t wait to see Battlezone in front of gamers again!
You can read more about Battlezone 98 Redux in the latest developer blog.