Into the Deep with Nightdive Studios
An exclusive interview with the developer bringing back classics from Doom 64 to System Shock 2
Nightdive Studios has been on a fascinating journey. It’s earned them a great deal of praise and admiration from fans and developers alike. Over the years, Nightdive has tackled ports and remasters, all the way up to complete source code reverse engineering. The list of games brought to the current generation with their help is truly staggering.
From their resurrection of classic games such as System Shock 2 and Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, to their publication of remastered games such as Blood: Fresh Supply, Nightdive Studios has been of great service to fans who wish to play their favorite games the best way possible. They’re most recent release, Doom 64, has been praised for both its accuracy and the various ways it has been enhanced for modern platforms.
Nightdive is currently working on complete re-imagining of the original System Shock using the Unreal 4 Engine, which is a entirely new adventure for the studio.
Excited to get all the details on such a prolific studio, I reached out to studio CEO Stephen Kick for a chat — and he was kind enough to lend me his time.
Nightdive has an interesting history; you seem to be the studio on the forefront of re-releasing older games for modern hardware. What made you want to take the studio in that direction?
Nightdive was founded with the sole purpose of re-releasing System Shock 2, and I really didn’t have any expectations on how that effort would be received. When the re-release launched it soon became clear that we were providing a valuable service that’s expanded far beyond that original vision. After that initial success I looked at what other games could benefit from a similar treatment and for the last 8 years I’ve done what I can to recover, remaster and re-release a variety of titles across multiple platforms. It’s been exciting to see Nightdive grow from a few people who were re-releasing games with small quality of life updates to a studio composed of multiple teams developing remasters and complete remakes of classic games for both PC and console.
On your website you mention that Nightdive runs a “virtual office”, meaning you don’t have a physical location that everyone works in together. What are some advantages and disadvantages you’ve found to this approach?
Some of the advantages include having access to a worldwide talent pool. We’re not limited to people in the nearby vicinity or those who would be willing to relocate — we can hire anyone from anywhere in the world as long as they have internet access. We currently have employees in England, Brazil, New Zealand, and Sweden. The other advantage is that our team can create their own schedule as we don’t mandate standard 8 hour work days. For me personally I get to spend my day with my son and do most of my work at night. I feel like enabling that work/life balance is one of the greatest benefits a virtual office can provide.
There are some disadvantages, namely the lack of camaraderie that’s established in typical work environments. We can’t hang out or go to lunch together which is something I miss from my past jobs. There are also communication issues that pop up from time to time, but our tools for coordinating are constantly improving.
The recent pandemic has highlighted the need and importance of virtual offices and fortunately our schedule and work force has been largely unaffected. If anything our output has only accelerated.
[Considering] the great number of re-releases and ports of games [you have produced] over the past few years, have you found any that were exceptionally difficult?
Blade Runner is proving to be challenging due to the way Westwood processed and implemented their 3D models. Updating and increasing their resolution is proving to be quite the undertaking.
Any title where we have to reverse engineer code due to the lack of original source code is difficult and time consuming. We started reverse engineering Turok’s code but midway through development one of the original developers reached out and asked us if we’d like the source code! This sped things up considerably and allowed us to recreate the game more accurately than if we’d finished the game without it.
In recent news you announced that Blade Runner, the cult classic adventure, was getting a remaster. How did that come about?
After the success of System Shock 2, Blade Runner was one of the first titles I began researching. It took almost 7 years to get where we are now with many twists and turns along the way but my perseverance paid off. At one point I was able to get a lead by discovering the home of famed Hollywood producer and member of the Blade Runner Partnership, Bud Yorkin, had been listed on a real estate agent’s website. I called the agent, told him what I was trying to accomplish and he set up an introduction. That ended up being the first breakthrough of many that eventually led to our upcoming release.
Nightdive has used the in house “KEX” engine for re-masters of such games as Blood: Fresh Supply and Turok. Do you have bigger plans for the engine going forward?
Currently KEX is more of a framework that allows classic game engines to run alongside it than a traditional stand alone game engine. KEX doesn’t have its own renderer, physics, entity, etc. It just comes with the high level interface to make cross-platform easier. It’s my hope we can implement additional features that would make it the perfect choice for aspiring game developers to create retro styled shooters, but that’s pretty far down the road.
Fans of the System Shock remake are excited to hear about any news of the project and you recently released a substantial game play demo, do you have any information you can share about how that development is going?
Development is going exceptionally well, we’ve been in full production for the last few months and final art and animations are replacing our proxy assets. It’s exciting to see the progress come together so quickly. We’ve got some additional demos being prepared for the public and we’re looking forward to hearing some feedback!
I want to thank Stephen Kick again for his time and insight into Nightdive’s work and all of the wonderful projects they’re working on.