80 Level Podcast

Remastering Classic Video Games - 80 Level Podcast

May 03, 2023 Kirill Tokarev / Stephen Kick / Larry Kuperman Season 3 Episode 7
Remastering Classic Video Games - 80 Level Podcast
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80 Level Podcast
Remastering Classic Video Games - 80 Level Podcast
May 03, 2023 Season 3 Episode 7
Kirill Tokarev / Stephen Kick / Larry Kuperman

On the GDC 2023 80LV had a chance to chat with Stephen Kick and Larry Kuperman from Nightdive Studios which specializes in remastering old classic video games. Steven and Larry discuss the upcoming release of System Shock game and take us behind the scenes of the Nightdive Studios. They talk about why it makes sense to remake the old games and spill the tea on the business side of things.

Pre-order System Shock
Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/482400/System_Shock/
GOG: https://www.gog.com/en/game/system_shock
Epic Games Store: https://store.epicgames.com/en-US/p/system-shock 

Check out other Nightdive’s games: https://www.nightdivestudios.com/ 

Follow 80 LEVEL on social media:
https://www.facebook.com/LevelEighty 
https://www.instagram.com/eighty_level/
https://twitter.com/80Level

We are looking for more artists!
Join 80 LEVEL Talent for free: https://80lv.pro/join-80lvTalent 
Get your work noticed by some of the biggest and best developers, publishers, and studios in video games today.

The Gaming Blender
Could you design a video game?

Listen on: Apple Podcasts   Spotify

This video is sponsored by Xsolla, a global video game commerce company with a robust and powerful set of tools and services designed specifically for the video game industry: http://xsolla.pro/8023

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

On the GDC 2023 80LV had a chance to chat with Stephen Kick and Larry Kuperman from Nightdive Studios which specializes in remastering old classic video games. Steven and Larry discuss the upcoming release of System Shock game and take us behind the scenes of the Nightdive Studios. They talk about why it makes sense to remake the old games and spill the tea on the business side of things.

Pre-order System Shock
Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/482400/System_Shock/
GOG: https://www.gog.com/en/game/system_shock
Epic Games Store: https://store.epicgames.com/en-US/p/system-shock 

Check out other Nightdive’s games: https://www.nightdivestudios.com/ 

Follow 80 LEVEL on social media:
https://www.facebook.com/LevelEighty 
https://www.instagram.com/eighty_level/
https://twitter.com/80Level

We are looking for more artists!
Join 80 LEVEL Talent for free: https://80lv.pro/join-80lvTalent 
Get your work noticed by some of the biggest and best developers, publishers, and studios in video games today.

The Gaming Blender
Could you design a video game?

Listen on: Apple Podcasts   Spotify

This video is sponsored by Xsolla, a global video game commerce company with a robust and powerful set of tools and services designed specifically for the video game industry: http://xsolla.pro/8023

[Music]


0:31

okay my name is Stephen kick and I'm the


0:34

CEO of nighttime Studios


0:39

and we specialize in remastering Lost


0:42

classic games that you can no longer


0:44

play on Modern computers and consoles


0:47

and other platforms I'm Larry cooperman


0:50

I'm the Director of Business Development


0:51

for night dive Studios


0:57

Larry so tell us about how how you got


1:01

into this company


1:03

um


1:03

I uh my career in games I've been in the


1:06

games industry for uh 22 years now


1:10

started off working at stardock had a a


1:15

brief time over at uh at GameStop as


1:18

their uh as their head of uh digital


1:21

publishing um during during uh the the


1:25

period between 2011 and 2013 and then


1:29

after leaving GameStop I really wanted


1:32

to get back into a company that was


1:34

creative and I knew night dive Studios


1:37

reputation and reached out contacted


1:40

Steve kick and


1:42

10 years later here we are so tell us a


1:46

little bit about this concept of uh of


1:48

remasters because


1:49

um if you look even like the launch


1:52

lineups of certain consoles you see


1:56

basically remasters as one of the launch


1:58

titles right and it seems like there's


2:00

this huge interest in


2:04

Nostalgia you know in the older games


2:06

and so why is this happening then would


2:09

you feel like the current generation of


2:12

games just does not satisfy the consumer


2:14

or do you feel like you know there's


2:17

just the consumer it's a little bit


2:18

grown up and they want to relieve those


2:20

experiences that they had you know years


2:22

ago well I think it's a combination of


2:24

like all those things there are a lot of


2:27

people that are my age that grew up


2:29

playing these games that find it


2:30

familiar and nostalgic and want to


2:33

relive it but with you know next-gen


2:35

graphics on their ps5s or their Xbox


2:37

Ones or or whatever and uh on the


2:41

business side of things I think it's


2:43

just a much easier business decision to


2:45

do something that's known to have sold


2:48

well as opposed to putting a lot of risk


2:50

in an unknown IP which typically will


2:53

take a lot more


2:55

money to familiarize your audience with


2:59

so it's it's an easy choice


3:04

so when we think about demand for these


3:09

kind of titles can you talk a little bit


3:12

about who's buying those games uh how


3:16

much are they willing to pay uh what's


3:18

like what are they getting out of it


3:21

because it's like uh I mean you can go


3:23

and Gog and probably download the older


3:25

uh System Shock and just play with that


3:28

like how what are those in fact we


3:30

published that so yes you absolutely


3:32

absolutely can't do that


3:33

um I I think that I think that there are


3:36

are multiple portions of the demographic


3:38

that that we serve


3:40

um Steve who you interviewed before


3:42

um played a lot of these games with with


3:44

his father


3:45

um that was part of his his kind of


3:47

coming of age and this is something that


3:49

that he and his dad did together well I


3:51

had the uh the other side of that


3:53

experience I was playing some of these


3:55

games with my son


3:57

um who's who's a grown man now


4:00

um and you know games like like Turok we


4:03

played on on PC you know originally when


4:06

it when it came out so that was a shared


4:09

experience that we had


4:11

um very early on before my son was uh


4:14

was even his teenage years we were we


4:17

were hooking up um two computers


4:19

um you know pre-internet so that we


4:21

could play a land game of of Doom you


4:25

would not have been able to tell me all


4:27

those years ago that um that that that


4:29

I'd be working for a company that would


4:31

bring back Doom 64. so that was kind of


4:34

cool


4:35

um so we have a we have a young uh what


4:38

I would consider a young demographic I'm


4:40

probably probably mature demographic of


4:43

people that remember playing those games


4:44

from their childhood we have an older


4:47

demographic that played those games in


4:49

many cases either as individuals or with


4:52

their children and then we have another


4:54

demographic that's that's really uh


4:57

positive for us which is which is really


4:59

young people who never got a chance to


5:01

play the games in the first case it's


5:03

amazing how much I see on on forums I


5:06

see posts from people that begin with


5:09

saying well I've heard all about System


5:10

Shock but I never had a chance to play


5:12

it before so I'm really looking forward


5:14

to this


5:15

can you tell us a little bit about what


5:17

do BD


5:19

do for these kind of like product


5:21

oriented uh because you had this


5:23

experience at game slot and this is more


5:25

like a platform like a service thing


5:26

yeah and this is like a different taste


5:28

absolutely so um my my job duties are I


5:31

uh I talk about being outward facing I


5:34

work with a lot of our our partners


5:37

um so I manage those partner


5:39

relationships


5:40

um but because we're also a small


5:42

company I am very much Hands-On


5:45

um with the development of our kex


5:48

engine games


5:49

um some of which are are pretty well


5:50

known uh we've done development work for


5:52

companies like Bethesda Doom 64 and


5:55

Quake and we've also partnered with


5:58

companies like NBC Universal for whom we


6:01

do the tour Rock series of games so I


6:03

manage those relationships but I also


6:06

will communicate back to our development


6:08

teams and make sure that what we're


6:11

doing


6:11

aligns with what our our partners


6:14

interests are at the same time


6:16

so what are the when you talk about


6:19

Partners what Partners do you actually


6:21

need if you want to ship


6:23

a game today that is not online that is


6:27

not multiplayer it's kind of like old


6:29

school and has this big franchise behind


6:32

it but it's kind of like you know not a


6:34

fresh thing well so first of all um


6:36

first of all you really need to have


6:38

great relationships with um our


6:41

distribute distribution Partners


6:43

um for us uh that would include


6:46

companies our our oldest partner is


6:48

gog.com gog.com


6:50

um they're certainly where where the


6:52

company started off and we still work


6:53

with them very closely steam of course


6:56

epic but also Microsoft Sony Nintendo


7:00

those are those are our major Partners


7:03

on the distribution side


7:05

um and then uh


7:08

other than other than what it referred


7:10

to as clients


7:11

um we have also had a great relationship


7:13

working with the team at Epic the unreal


7:17

team over there and uh let me just uh


7:19

say that when we've had technical


7:21

questions when we've needed support for


7:23

the Unreal Engine for a game like system


7:25

shop epic has always been a really good


7:28

partner for us to work with so talking


7:31

about this um


7:33

basically what stands behind this


7:35

franchise when you talk with big


7:37

companies they're saying


7:39

basically having a fun project


7:41

is kind of like


7:43

a key to hiring great people basically


7:47

if you have a you know if you're working


7:48

on God of War it's much easier to hire


7:51

great senior Talent than if you're doing


7:53

something you know completely original


7:55

and uh studios in California they do


7:58

leverage that like the you know to the


8:00

fullest uh what about you like you're


8:02

get you're having this incredible


8:04

franchise that has been around for years


8:07

and there's like this incredible


8:09

um you know fan base how do you approach


8:11

it does it help you hire new Talent do


8:15

you do you hunt for you guys at all like


8:17

how does that work that's a really great


8:19

question because as you may know


8:22

nighttime Studios has always been a


8:23

remote studio and we've been that way


8:25

for 10 years and when you talk to AAA


8:30

and they say oh we've we hire the best


8:33

it's not necessarily true they can hire


8:35

the best within the people that live


8:38

within that studio


8:40

whereas we can truly go all over the


8:43

world and hire the best people because


8:44

there's no requirement for them to to


8:46

you know pull up their roots and move


8:49

so that's a really big factor in in how


8:52

System Shock has turned out the way it


8:53

is is we have literally hired the best


8:55

people the most passionate people who


8:57

love the game more than anyone else


8:59

and um


9:01

it's you know the benefit of working


9:03

with an IP like that is they've come to


9:04

us in most cases or we've been able to


9:08

hire via Word of Mouth you know if we


9:11

hire an artist and they recommend


9:12

somebody else


9:13

chances are they're going to be really


9:15

good so it's taking a lot of the stress


9:17

out for us having to find and locate


9:20

people


9:21

when you think about uh platforms and


9:24

companies like Sony and then many others


9:28

um


9:29

are they more like um


9:32

you know there's this idea of like four


9:34

competitive uh forces that influence you


9:37

and the idea is that the consumer is


9:39

basically your competitor suppliers


9:41

basically are compared everybody's


9:42

trying to uh come and kill you like when


9:45

your work with platforms


9:47

do they help more uh especially like in


9:51

these environments right now like when


9:52

you talk with Sony do they give you like


9:55

a feature why is it important to have


9:58

this relationship so so first of all you


10:01

know you're working in terms of of


10:02

development right you you may need to


10:04

reach out to Sony for questions on on


10:07

how to how to optimize a particular game


10:10

for Playstation you might have a problem


10:13

that you need to reach out to them help


10:15

them help get their help to resolve the


10:17

technical side then the the other side


10:19

of it is once the game is complete


10:21

you're going to be working with that


10:23

same partner different people within


10:25

that organization but you're going to be


10:26

working with that same partner on


10:28

distribution and and marketing side of


10:30

it so it's a it's a funny relationship


10:32

you're working with them before the game


10:34

is made during the the period where the


10:36

game is is in creation and then working


10:39

with a completely different group of


10:40

people but at the same organization once


10:43

the game is complete and you're getting


10:44

it out to the public


10:46

so it's a it's a complicated


10:47

relationship which is why there's always


10:50

a room for people like me to navigate


10:52

that what are the things that the


10:54

platforms can do to help you basically


10:57

push more copies like how do you work


10:59

with them in order to and also like


11:01

maybe as an advice to other devs who are


11:04

trying to do it like what can you do to


11:06

make it more successful well that's also


11:08

a great question


11:09

um I will tell you one of uh one of The


11:11

Shining Moments uh in in night Dives


11:14

past


11:15

um was when we we first our first


11:17

console launches um which was a tourak


11:20

and tourak II launched on the Xbox


11:22

platform


11:24

um Microsoft was was keenly aware that


11:27

we were a small Studio that we were


11:28

first first working on that


11:30

um we had we had great relationships we


11:32

have a dedicated partner manager over


11:35

there Glenn Gregory and Glenn was was


11:38

really instrumental in getting those


11:40

games streamed the day that they


11:42

released on Xbox


11:44

um onto both the the Xbox oxide they


11:47

have multiple sites and and so they they


11:49

really cover that and we saw a


11:50

tremendous lift


11:52

um in in both awareness and um and in


11:55

sales


11:57

um from the as a as a result of the


11:59

partnership work that that Microsoft did


12:01

was we've done similar things with um


12:04

PlayStation


12:05

um we're very active in participating in


12:08

PlayStation sponsored sales and uh and


12:11

from uh Nintendo Nintendo has been an


12:14

absolutely great partner for us to work


12:16

with


12:17

um the reception uh for our bringing


12:20

some of the old N64 titles back and and


12:24

putting them on switch has been


12:26

absolutely great


12:27

um I have been remiss in one partner


12:30

that I didn't mention and I probably


12:32

should have um there's still a huge


12:34

appetite for a Collector's Edition in


12:37

retail boxes of of our games and uh and


12:40

we work pretty closely with the team


12:42

over at limited run games that's also


12:44

been a great partnership for us


12:46

let's talk a little bit about the kind


12:49

of the business side of it like how do


12:51

you


12:53

if you are distributed in the game if


12:56

you're kind of going to Market


12:59

do you work with a publisher do you


13:01

prefer to work alone what is like the


13:04

what are the trade-offs here and there


13:06

uh typically all of our other games have


13:08

been self-published


13:09

and but with System Shock remake we're


13:11

working with PlayOn they're our first


13:14

publisher kind of in this space and and


13:16

we really needed their expertise to help


13:18

us navigate you know some of the


13:20

intricacies that we haven't experienced


13:21

before like localizing the game in 14


13:24

different languages is something that we


13:26

haven't had experience with that they


13:28

were tremendously helpful with


13:30

also a big marketing push so that more


13:34

people knew what was going on that we


13:36

were making the game was very essential


13:38

to us and and they've been amazing in


13:41

providing those services


13:44

and then just uh you know quality of


13:46

life stuff like providing exceptional QA


13:49

teams to help us track down bugs and


13:52

ensure that the end user experience is


13:55

as smooth as possible


13:57

do you feel like it's worth it like


13:58

having the published because there's


14:00

refshare involved and it's not like


14:01

they're working for free right yeah I


14:04

mean there's definitely a trade-off I


14:05

mean we're going to be publishing and


14:07

shipping a much better game than


14:11

um than without them


14:13

and uh I mean there is a cost associated


14:15

with that but we felt like it was a fair


14:17

a fair trade all right cool


14:21

so when we talk about these IPS


14:25

there is this


14:27

um there are like when I talk with guys


14:29

who are doing business like BD or people


14:31

who are


14:32

um they're saying that basically acquire


14:34

an IP is not that you know it's not that


14:38

big of an investment but sometimes it


14:40

can be like


14:41

50 000 bucks or something and you you


14:44

got like yourself like a he-man license


14:46

or something like that if if the IP is


14:49

not really hot if there's like no TV


14:52

show around it if there's like no you


14:54

know animation series and Netflix is not


14:55

interested then it's easier kind of like


14:57

to do this deal can you talk a little


14:59

bit about this you know market for these


15:02

IPS because this is a very interesting


15:04

I'm sure there's a lot of companies who


15:05

want to


15:07

you know dip their toes figure out how


15:09

it works


15:11

um give us a little bit of a background


15:12

like how does that how do you do it


15:14

well we would typically start looking


15:16

for games that we played when we were


15:18

kids that we wanted to enjoy again or we


15:21

wanted to reintroduce to a new


15:23

generation and so a lot of those IPS are


15:26

things that hadn't been touched for


15:27

quite some time and the price tag on


15:30

them kind of reflected that and so it


15:32

was a lot easier for us to go in and and


15:34

say hey this is something that a lot of


15:37

people used to love and there's a lot of


15:40

fandom's still surrounding it but you


15:43

haven't done anything with it for a


15:44

while so if you entrust us with us we


15:47

can not only add value to it but we can


15:51

we can bring it back so that the


15:53

community can kind of rally around it


15:54

again and we can rebuild that what do


15:57

you think what do you think this happens


15:59

like when you have these um you have


16:02

this IP like System Shock which is like


16:04

if you go on any list anywhere and


16:07

immersion Sims they're going to be


16:08

system strong because I'm either a


16:10

number one or a number two it's like


16:12

there's no way around it and at the same


16:14

time people are


16:16

you know not doing anything about it or


16:18

they're trying to you know reinvent the


16:21

wheel a lot of times and uh


16:24

a lot of times they fail because


16:26

sometimes there's like there's some kind


16:28

of magic there that it's not you know


16:30

reliable


16:31

yeah why is this happening that's a


16:34

really good question too because I would


16:36

a lot of what made System Shock great


16:39

obviously to the developers but looking


16:42

glass was really special because pretty


16:44

much everybody that made up that DNA


16:46

came from somewhere other than games I


16:48

mean in the early 90s it was hard to


16:50

find somebody who was well versed or


16:52

well experienced in making games and so


16:55

a lot of their talent came from people


16:58

in like the pharmaceutical industry or


17:01

um from a higher education specifically


17:05

you had a lot of people on their team


17:06

with phds in physics that type of thing


17:10

and when they got together to make a


17:12

game


17:12

they came away with lightning in a


17:14

bottle and something that I mean to my


17:17

opinion anyways has never really been


17:19

replicated


17:21

you've funny you should mention this I


17:23

didn't actually know that there were


17:25

like uh a bunch of guys from different


17:27

Industries so sort of like which is


17:29

saying basically the versatility of the


17:33

genre that they basically invented right


17:34

it comes from kind of the mindset of


17:37

people who were doing it and they were


17:40

they were not really thinking and


17:42

outside the box they were thinking like


17:43

a normal you know terms as a human being


17:46

should be thinking not kind of


17:47

restricted by the rules that the you


17:51

know virtual world is kind of pushing on


17:53

you yeah and they were trying to


17:54

recreate basically reality in this uh


17:57

entertainment package yeah and you just


18:01

don't see that much anymore because a


18:03

lot of the people are making games now


18:04

are people like me we grew up playing


18:06

them and so a lot of our experience and


18:09

our inspiration comes from games that


18:11

have already been made as opposed to


18:14

outside influences like what you know


18:17

the secret sauce would have been at


18:19

Looking Glass


18:21

um one of the one of the things that we


18:23

really found interesting about bringing


18:25

on one of the original developers Rob


18:27

Waters who is the the artist back then


18:30

was that he spent his whole career


18:32

working in games but he doesn't really


18:33

play them


18:34

and he doesn't really digest the same


18:38

media that everybody else does and so


18:40

his artistic vision is


18:43

I guess for the lack of a better term


18:44

it's very pure and so we have something


18:47

that's very unique at the same time and


18:49

I think when you play The System Shock


18:52

remake it really shines through


18:54

so let's talk about System Shock in


18:57

particular because this is one of the


18:59

big titles that you're working on right


19:00

now


19:01

um


19:02

there are two aspects when I think about


19:04

remake and remaster


19:06

and I I think this is


19:09

in the in those words right so you think


19:12

about remasters basically like a like a


19:15

facelift like the better graphics you


19:18

know it supports modern systems when


19:20

we're talking about remake there are


19:22

some some improvements I guess to it


19:24

like and so so where do you kind of


19:26

stand there like do you feel like those


19:29

games


19:30

that are older they need really to go


19:32

into the systems do you need to go into


19:34

like interfaces and some other bits and


19:37

pieces to kind of make them you know


19:39

make the necessary quality of life


19:42

improvements to make them kind of more


19:44

attractive to a current user or do you


19:47

feel like you just need to you know run


19:48

it through you know a couple of very


19:51

good artists they remake the textures


19:53

and it's good to go I think it really


19:55

depends on the game


19:57

um a lot of us have played games in the


19:59

past where you know the first time we


20:02

played them it was it was wonderful it


20:03

was state of the art but we go back and


20:05

we revisit it now and yeah like it's a


20:08

little buggy it's a little janky it


20:09

doesn't play as smoothly as we all


20:11

remember it uh we run into frustrating


20:14

game design issues and I think that one


20:17

of the things that we do specifically


20:19

when we revisit these remasters is we go


20:21

back and we evaluate all that and we


20:23

make those changes just to smooth out


20:26

the presentation and to take those bumps


20:28

and those boards off so that you're left


20:30

with something that feels more modern


20:32

and smooth and probably more closer to


20:34

how you remember it being than it


20:35

actually being


20:37

and uh you know with a with a complete


20:40

remake we're starting from from Ground


20:41

Zero essentially and we're rebuilding a


20:44

game from scratch and so that leaves us


20:46

with a lot more room to change and alter


20:50

things while also hopefully keeping with


20:53

the spirit of the original


20:55

you know what when I think about System


20:57

Shock in particular in my experience is


21:00

um kind of those drawbacks when you look


21:03

at it now and you it's kind of like an


21:05

old game and this you know I wouldn't


21:08

say bucket but it's


21:09

it has a certain level of how how you


21:12

play it right yeah


21:14

um it's janky yeah


21:16

um when I look at it now I feel like


21:18

this was part of the experience


21:20

basically like this horror of your like


21:23

being compressed in this uh space and


21:26

you're you're I was literally afraid to


21:28

open the door and proceed the sound as


21:32

well it's just kind of pushes like on


21:34

your psyche and you're just sitting


21:35

there you're afraid to move


21:37

do you feel like you can replicate that


21:39

and maybe you probably do like how do


21:41

you replicate this and and when you're


21:43

doing the the Remake well we wanted to


21:46

all be as close to the original as


21:49

possible but while giving the player you


21:52

know new things to experience and


21:55

replicating again that that atmosphere


21:57

of horror and that tension was really


21:59

important to us and so we felt that the


22:02

combination of the level design uh the


22:05

lighting and the sound was was more


22:07

important than restricting the player's


22:10

ability to kind of move and interact


22:12

with the environment


22:13

and that's one of the biggest things


22:15

that people talk about in their


22:17

inability to kind of enjoy the original


22:18

is that it's just hard to navigate and


22:22

that was by Design originally but it was


22:25

also during a time where all the


22:27

developers were just trying to figure


22:28

out the best way to allow the player to


22:30

interact with their worlds and so no one


22:34

um kind of


22:36

standard had been decided upon yet and


22:39

now with the you know 30 years of


22:42

experience behind us we're all familiar


22:44

like you know the analog sticks are


22:46

going to make you look up and down and


22:47

and move and you know if you deviate


22:50

from that it's going to upset people


22:53

and so there's a standard that we've


22:56

applied with the Remake that will enable


22:59

people to still play


23:00

essentially what's the original gain but


23:03

just with more freedom but hopefully


23:06

we've maintained that that crushing


23:08

oppressive kind of feeling of being


23:10

alone on a space station full of dead


23:12

people and monsters thanks for enjoying


23:15

another episode of the 80 level


23:17

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23:20

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23:23

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23:28

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23:36

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