Now known as the ‘masters of the remaster’, Bluepoint Games has a well-earned, solid gold reputation for delivering some of the best current-gen – and indeed last-gen – ports of gaming’s most beloved properties. From Metal Gear Solid to God of War, from Gravity Rush to the Uncharted trilogy, Bluepoint’s work has been uniformly excellent across the years.
However, with the recently released Shadow of the Colossus remake, the studio has pushed on to a new level. The developer has built upon its existing PS3 remastering efforts with a full-blown remake, reimagining Team Ico’s original work with a release that captures and enhances the unique ambience of the PS2 classic, executed to today’s triple-A gaming standards.
That said, despite some extensive pre-launch marketing, there’s still a lot that we don’t know about this game. What engine technologies did Bluepoint draw upon to create this remake? To what extent does original Team Ico codebase factor into the new game? And looking towards Shadow’s stunning PlayStation 4 Pro implementation, how does the team manage to make its 40fps 4K mode look so good despite a 1440p base framebuffer? And conversely, looking at the performance mode, how did Bluepoint hit its 60fps target so consistently when so many have failed?
And there’s more than just technical discussion too: with the team’s staff roster expanded significantly for the Shadow of the Colossus, where does the team go next? Will we see a brand new, original game or will the team instead take push even further with another remake?
In this mostly tech-orientated interview, we talk with Bluepoint’s president and co-owner, Marco Thrush, along with tech director Peter Dalton and produce Randall Lowe. And we’ve got options for you: carry on reading from here, or else watch our video below which contains all of the same content – plus a bonus, where Marco, Randall and Peter tell us about their favourite areas in the game (backed up appropriate video, of course).
We really got a kick out of this interview and learned a whole lot more about this remarkable game. We hope you enjoy it too.
Digital Foundry: So let’s start with some details on the Bluepoint Engine itself – what it’s capable of, how it’s tailored for Shadow and other future possibilities you might see for this technology.
Peter Dalton: I think when you initially look at our engine and our technology, we spent a lot of time making sure that we can basically accomplish the task of running two engines side-by-side. One of the great things about some of the titles we’ve been able to work on is that they’re great titles in their own right and so as we look at the game and we want to replace certain key pieces, we really tailored our technology to be able to extract certain pieces, put certain pieces of the game through our own technology but then also run the original game engine side-by-side. And so with that comes a lot of considerations from memory usage to performance to what kind of threading models and stuff we use to basically allow us to have the most amount of flexibility within each game.
Digital Foundry: What kind of overhead does that take to have the two codebases running together like that?
Peter Dalton: You know, each game is a unique snowflake, so each one creates its own problems. When you look at Shadow of the Colossus, if you look at the way we split stuff up on the PS4, the main core is pretty much doing all the simulation for the Shadow side and then we utilise all the rest of the cores for more of our rendering and some of our background physics processes. So it usually takes a fair toll on some of the primary processes and we’ve really worked really hard to make sure that our stuff is as lightweight and is optimal as possible, so that when we’re running the other game side-by-side, it’s not tanking our performance.
Marco Thrush: One thing also to keep in mind is that when we say we’re running the two engines side-by-side, each engine kind of has their own area of responsibility, so whereas the original game’s engine is really just running all the game logic, it doesn’t have to deal with any rendering, any sound stuff, any file loading… all that stuff is done in our engine, so each engine essentially has their own area of responsibility and so you’re not really doing a lot of the same work twice.
Digital Foundry: How easy or difficult is it to keep those two in sync?
Peter Dalton: I think, as Marco hit upon, the key is setting up areas of responsibility. For example, we use the Bluepoint Engine for all of the rendering and file loading and audio-type tasks and so it’s going into the Shadow of the Colossus engine and we’re moving and redirecting all of the file loading type aspects back into the Bluepoint Engine and so then once you have those discrete, clean areas of responsibility which takes quite a bit of time to get each engine into a spot where it fits those rules, then you actually get something that’s manageable. And then there’s a lot of profiling, a lot of analysis to figure out exactly what kind of core utilisation we’re getting and how to organise things in such a way to maximise that.
Digital Foundry: So thinking of that, let’s say you start a new project. You get this original codebase and you do a lot of work with Japanese games. I mean, is this all commented out in Japanese? Are you working in assembler code for PS2? Or what kind of languages are these titles written in?
Peter Dalton: It’s a little funny that one of our most prized pieces of technology is to basically take all of the comments that are in the C++ code and convert them to English. That tool has paid for itself more than once.
Digital Foundry: So Shadow of the Colossus was a C++ game originally?
Marco Thrush: No, it was not actually.
Peter Dalton: It’s much more of a C game that when we did the first remaster of it, bringing it to the PS3… a lot of the files – not all of it but a lot of it – was converted to be C++ compliant, which was really not that much work and then as we integrated it even further into the Bluepoint Engine for the PS4 remake, that required even further translation and clean-up.
Digital Foundry: So basically then, it sounds like the PS3 remaster served as your jumping off point for this new PS3 version of the game then?
Peter Dalton: Absolutely. In fact, each game has its own challenges but one of the key benefits of remaking Shadow the Colossus for the PS4 was that instead of using the original PS2 codebase and starting from scratch, we basically picked up where we left off on the PS3 and just moved straight on to the PS4, so the time to get it up and running on the base PS4 hardware was much quicker than, say, some of the other titles that we’ve worked on, like the Uncharted collection.
Digital Foundry: So before we jump away from the PS2, I’m just wondering whether any of you have any real experience of creating games on the PlayStation 2 and I’m curious, if so, what did you think of the work that Team Ico did back in the day?
Peter Dalton: You know, actually the first title I ever shipped was Hot Wheels Velocity X, which was a PS2 title, so I have actually shipped games on the PS2 and there’s where I first ran into learning the ins and outs and the kinks and the gotchas. One of the things I do have to say is that when you look at the original engine source code, there’s obviously areas where Japanese developers have a little bit of a different mind set, different practises than we exercise here in the States but there’s a lot of their systems that actually hold up very well from some of their IK [inverse kinematics], their foot IK systems… the bone dangle bits that hang around Wander’s waist, for example. You know, a lot of their AI logic. And so a lot of those things just required tweaks and we try to practice ‘don’t rewrite it unless it’s necessary’ and more of a mentality of ‘bug fix rather than rewrite’. I think it pays tribute to the original engineers just how much of the original code is actually in that game.
Digital Foundry: One of the most impressive things about Shadow of the Colossus is the performance. Can you talk about your approach to hitting such a stable 60 frames per second on PS4 Pro?
Marco Thrush: Well, the key goal is to say from the very beginning that you’re going to do it and then actually stick to it. It’s really just due diligence. You can’t just say at the end of the project, “You know, I wish this was running at 60fps.” It’s just not going to happen, so it’s like, from the beginning up, building art content in a smart way so it is scalable to that degree, keeping your pipelines flexible, like generating LODs on demand, not hand-building them, so it allows you to rebalance how the LODs from meshes are and stuff down the road when you have more accurate performance numbers. That kind of stuff definitely helps. Other than that it’s artists that care, programmers that care, everybody just caring on the team and wanting to make it as good as it can be and putting the effort in that it takes to get there.
Peter Dalton: To that point, well it does take discipline upfront. It did not happen by accident by any means. There was a lot of work that was done of running around different areas, profiling, looking at the different configurations for the final game. There’s three different configurations – there’s the base PS4, 60fps mode on the Pro kit and then also the 30fps at 4K, and so there was a lot of playing the game finding problem areas, going back to art, working through it you know then knowing that if we ever dipped you would call us out so we couldn’t have that!