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'Killzone HD' developers had to perform 'software archaeology' on original game

remaking an 8-year-old game isn't as easy as you think

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Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

Killzone HD is a modern re-imagining of an 8-year-old PlayStation 2 title, and its developers at Guerrilla Games had to contend with some major challenges to bring the game to PlayStation 3.

In the first part of an interview posted on the PlayStation Blog, Guerilla Games community editor Victor Zuylen spoke with technical director Michiel van der Leeuw and senior programmer Frank Compagner about the origins of the remake. A number of Guerrilla Games employees who worked on the original Killzone, including van der Leeuw, got the project started. But before development could push forward, the studio had to assign Compagner a tough task: digging up the source code and original assets for the game.

"Frank performed an amazing feat of software archeology [sic]," said van der Leeuw, referring to the process of obtaining Killzone's original assets and putting them in a form that the developers could use today. "The biggest challenge we faced," he said, "was that Guerrilla's whole way of working was different back then. The assets had been backed up to tape at one point, but that was almost eight years and two tape robots ago."

Compagner pointed out that the studio "no longer had a machine to read most of the tapes" — and that the tapes happened to be stored in a shoebox that was sitting in the basement of an IT support staffer.

"Like I said," Compagner explained to an incredulous Zuyler, "we were young and we used to do things differently back in those days."

Killzone's original assets were sitting in a shoebox in a basement

The developers also had to find documentation for the tapes before they could figure out which ones held the relevant data, and once they did, it turned out that the IT team was able to transfer the information off the tapes.

Finding Killzone's source code wasn't a problem — a copy was still lying around in Guerrilla's system — but getting it to compile was the difficult part. Inscrutable naming conventions threw them off: for example, the Rico Velasquez character was originally Asian instead of Hispanic, and Guerrilla eventually realized that the original developers never bothered to change his name to Rico in the code.

"I wondered why I could only find code for three of the four main characters," said Compagner.

The developers eventually built a PS3 version of Killzone based on a PC development build. The studio believes the remake is a fully realized version of the original team's vision. "The original Killzone was a product of Guerrilla's high ambitions and youthful enthusiasm," said van der Leeuw, "but at the time we didn’t quite have the experience to pack all of those ambitions into the space provided by the PlayStation 2 platform.

"This is Killzone as it was meant to be played," he concluded.

Killzone HD will be available as part of the Killzone Trilogy, which will launch for $39.99 on October 23rd, and as a standalone downloadable title on PlayStation Network the same day for $14.99.

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