What’s involved in remastering a game? Delyan Mitutsov, associate producer at Ubisoft Sofia, talks us through the remaster of 2014’s Assassin’s Creed Rogue.
With the technological leaps and bounds that each new console generation brings, and the introduction of new half-models like the PlayStation 4 Pro and the Xbox One X, you can never really be sure you’ve played your favourite game for the last time. If enough people like it, there’s a good chance that a studio will pick it up and release it again, shinier and sparklier and with “more textures” and “volumetric god rays”.
Take Assassin’s Creed Rogue, for example. People enjoyed it because it was an Assassin’s Creed game in which you got to play as the franchise adversary, the Templars, for the first time; going rogue, as it were. In the case of Rogue, the remastering project was made easier due to the fact that the game was released well into the previous console generation’s life cycle.
“We were lucky to develop the original game at the very end of the life cycle of PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360,” says Delyan Mitutsov, associate producer at Ubisoft Sofia. “We pushed their limits to the maximum, and went even further with the PC version of the game. The PC version used a number of technologies with which Assassin’s Creed Black Flag was released on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Even more, we had prepared our assets so that they met the high end requirements of the PC version. As a result, the remastering of the game required primarily technological changes. Ultimately, we are proud to offer players a complete AC experience with full 4K support for PS4 Pro and Xbox One X.”
The first step a studio must undertake once they’ve chosen to remaster a game is to decide which aspects of the original release they are looking to improve.
“Our 3D engineers had an extensive list of technical improvements they wanted to introduce – a lot of things that were simply not possible on the previous generation of consoles,” offers Mitutsov. “In other words, we established the ambition of the project in terms of qualitative improvements which would fit our production capacity, as well as a reasonable timeline to get the job done.
“Whenever a remaster is made, its target quality is usually benchmarked versus the currently developed games for the respective target platforms.”
The development team looks at games currently on the market and that helps decide what the finished product will look like.
“Naturally, this takes into consideration the limitations of the process of remastering which, if stretched too far, can stop being remastering and become making the game all over again,” explains Mitutsov. “When this applies to assets, you start with the lowest common denominator: which assets will look too old gen – it could be visual assets, it could be animations, it could be special effects, etc. This helps with identifying what you need to do from scratch. There is a step in between the redoing an asset from scratch and reusing existing assets – it is the partial change or replacement of elements, i.e. replacing just the texture of a character while leaving the geometry intact.”
The remaster team is comprised almost entirely of developers who worked on the original game, which Mitutsov says helps to ensure not only that the integrity of the base game remains intact, but also that the original studio still has some control over what changes (if any) are made to the remaster.
“It was our 3D engineers in our studio at Ubisoft Sofia – who are all big fans of the original Rogue – who pitched to our studio management all the graphical improvements they wanted to implement. Thanks to the presence of all these developers who worked on the original game, we could afford to target the best possible technological improvements without actually completely changing the game engine.”
When it comes to determining whether players buying Rogue are playing it for the first time, or returning to see their favourite game vastly improved, the studio knows they need to appeal to both demographics.
“We know some fans who already played the original game want to play it again on their new system and see the visual improvements brought by the remastered version,” says Mitutsov. “Of course, we would also love to have new players discover the story of Shay in this very special opus of Assassin’s Creed. Playing an Assassin turned Templar is a unique experience you get to have in Assassin’s Creed Rogue.”