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There’s something strange in Saber Interactive’s neighborhood. For the past year, the long-running triple-A studio has been busy resurrecting ghouls, demons, and other denizens of the undead for a surprising re-release.
Out now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC, Ghostbusters: The Video Game Remastered is a souped-up version of the 2009 action game. Taking place after Ghostbusters II, you play as the Rookie, a new member of the Ghostbusters who must help Peter, Ray, Egon, and Winston (all voiced by the original actors) fight off supernatural threats in New York City.
Though Ghostbusters: The Video Game came out to decent reviews at the time, it was a miracle that it ever came out at all. Original developer Terminal Reality faced numerous obstacles while making the game, including unresponsive actors, budget issues, and corporate mergers.
But today, diehard Ghostbusters fans still look back fondly on its story. Some of the game’s features even influenced this year’s Ghostbusters-themed maze for Universal Studios’ annual Halloween Horror Nights event. The lingering love and impact of the game were just a few of the reasons why Saber VP of business development Matt McKnight wanted to bring it back in the first place.
“John Melchior, who was the original producer on the game, is a close friend of mine. We were always talking about the game and trying to bring it back. It brings up a lot of fond memories,” McKnight said during in an interview. “Dan Aykroyd said the game really was the third movie from a story perspective.”
“But it’s more than just love for the game. It sold over 3 million units. It never really released in Europe — certainly on Xbox 360 it had a limited release. It never released in Japan, where Ghostbusters is an iconic brand. So you start putting the pieces together and you’re like, okay, I would love to see a remaster because it’s a beautiful game.”
Putting the pieces back together
However, remastering Ghostbusters: The Video Game proved to be tricky. One big change since the original release is that Terminal Reality isn’t around anymore (it shut down in 2013). And due to the complicated publishing rights — it was originally with Vivendi Games, but after the Activision-Vivendi merger in 2008, Atari picked it up — Saber had to go on a little scavenger hunt before they could reassemble the game.
The easiest part was getting Ghostbusters franchise owner Sony on board. Helping Saber’s business case was the fact that 2019 marks both the 35th anniversary of the first movie and the 10th anniversary of the game. After receiving the greenlight from Sony (which also helped convince Aykroyd and the other surviving actors to sign off on the remaster), Saber put together a small team of around 25 people for the project.
But the real work had yet to begin.
“After the romance of it — ‘I get to redo Ghostbusters, I got it, Sony has agreed to give us the rights!’ — then come the problems,” said McKnight, laughing.
While Sony owned the original art and assets related to Ghostbusters: The Video Game, Atari owned the rights to all the programming code. So Saber had to get the okay from Atari to access the code and use it. Additionally, the studio also had to secure the rights to the Infernal Engine, Terminal Reality’s proprietary game-making technology, by tracking down former employees of the company.
Cutting your losses
A second round of issues emerged when Saber looked into the game’s cinematics and multiplayer. With the former, Saber couldn’t find the original art for the cutscenes — it was neither in Sony’s nor Atari’s archives.
“We were kind of on our own. But I was able to track down one of the lead animators from the original game. He told me that he might have the source art on a hard drive in storage,” McKnight said. “He was like, ‘Gimme a couple days.’ So he went to his storage, plugged the drive into his computer, booted it up, and the source art was there. We were able to remaster it in 4K.”
“So sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes you just cross your fingers and hope for the best. In this case, it worked out.”
Saber wasn’t so lucky with Ghostbuster’s multiplayer. The original release had both local and online cooperative modes where you could capture ghosts with other players. A separate company actually created the multiplayer code, but the problem was that it based the code on an unfinished version of the game. Saber also found six different copies of that code and it was impossible to tell which one shipped with the final product.
Instead of sorting through the mess, the studio thought it best to leave multiplayer out of the remaster. While Saber has no firm plans to rebuild Ghostbuster’s co-op modes, it’s still in the process of evaluating the situation.
Updating a cult classic
Ultimately, Saber’s No. 1 priority was to preserve Ghostbusters: The Video Game’s campaign, and that’s what players will find in the remaster. The team didn’t want to alter the core gameplay, which is what made the original so good in the first place. So they opted to add a variety of cosmetic upgrades instead.
“We didn’t touch the gameplay. We left it as-is. It was more about making as many visual improvements as we could with the time we had,” McKnight said. “So lighting, shadows, hair — those were the types of things that became the focus of it, as well as just getting the game up and running.”
Intel, with which Saber has had a long and fruitful partnership, also helped the company by increasing awareness about the game and making sure that it runs well for players.
McKnight said it’s been surreal to see all the positive reaction from fans and retailers since Saber announced the remaster earlier this year. He hopes that this new version exposes the game to a much wider audience than before, and that the new upgrades will entice older players to come back to NYC for another round of bustin’ ghosts.
“I think if you’re picking up the game for the first time in a while, you’re going to be pleasantly surprised,” he said.
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