Do you ever just want to destroy the human race? Develop some fantastically terrible weapon and wreak havoc on your town, city, country, or continent? Do you feel alienated by the lack of opportunities to do so? If any of that sounds appealing – and you got our alien joke – you should know Destroy All Humans! is coming back.
Destroy All Humans! originally came out in 2005 and it certainly took a less-trodden path among open-world action adventure games. You are unequivocally the bad guy (duh) in that you play a Furon (an alien) by the name of Cryptosporidium-137. Crypto-137, as he’s known, takes it upon himself to rule and/or destroy the human race.
Destroy All Humans! did have sequels, including one called erm, Big Willy Unleashed, but the original was the real classic. Now, in 2020, you’ll soon be able to step back into Crypto’s shoes once again as the remake of the 2005 original is set to release some time this year. We’ve been talking to Jean-Marc Haessig, creative director at developer Black Forest Games, to find out a little more about remaking Destroy All Humans!
Perhaps the best place to start is: why a remake? According to Haessig, this is a dream come true: “Destroy All Humans! is a cult classic and was a major milestone in the open-world genre with a dedicated community that, to this day, loves to play the game.” In simpler terms: “Why wouldn’t we do it?”
The sequels haven’t been forgotten though – how could one forget Big Willy Unleashed – as Black Forest looked at what the original developer Pandemic did well and less well with the original series. That includes ideas from the sequels, some of which made it into the remake. “One example would be the transmogrify feature to replenish your ammunition”, Haessig says – this was added in Destroy All Humans! 2.
So just because it’s a remake doesn’t mean you can’t branch out a bit. As Haessig explains, players have different expectations from games now, and it’s important to recognise where improvements can be made on the original.
“We are sticking close to the original story and overall mission design,” Haessig says, “but you cannot deny that game design has changed a lot over the past 15 years. Players nowadays expect certain quality-of-life features, more dynamic gameplay, and replayability. So our goal certainly was to modernise the game without sacrificing any of the original’s overall feel.”
Though you might think a remake is simpler than coming up with something from scratch, it presents challenges original IPs don’t. How do you recreate a game that’s already loved by many people in such a way as to appeal to its previous audience, and yet draw in a new one?
“The big challenge with a remake is how to keep the spirit of the original while still adhering to what players have come to expect from modern action adventures and open-world games,” Haessig says. “What we want to achieve is to recreate the players’ memory of the game, rather than a facsimile recreation. The memories we have of games we loved to play is always brighter than the harsh reality. Thus far the feedback from the fans has been super positive and motivating, so we think we’re on the right track.”
The combat and movement abilities of Crypto-137 have been reworked for the 2020 version of Destroy All Humans! – notably, a dash and a skate mode have been added. “Crypto being able to use only one of his powers or weapons at a time is also a thing of the past,” Haessig explains. “Modern Crypto will be able to extract a brain while using his PK ability on another foe and blasting a third one with the infamous Zap-O-Matic, and all of that while in mid-air. While we kept the original weaponry – yes, including the Anal Probe – we diversified the upgrade system both of Crypto and his iconic saucer. Concerning the replayability, we added various challenges in all worlds to give players more options aside from the main missions.”
Unreal Engine has a long history of powering action-adventure games, and its open-world capabilities too have never been stronger since the advent of Fortnite. Black Forest Games already had some experience with the engine after developing 2019’s Fade To Silence, an action-adventure survival game. “It made sense to leverage all the learning and expertise that went into Fade To Silence, which was our first game with UE4. Having shipped a UE4 title on our target platforms it helped greatly with preparations for Destroy All Humans! regarding game performance and the technical requirements checklist, for example.”
Those technical requirements are distinctive in Destroy All Humans! The game revolves around destruction – gotta destroy all those humans and the homes in which they live, after all – which means a lot of particular interactions between physics processing and the game’s environments. “Without specifically designed physics for the environments, the game wouldn’t look real – in a cartoon way of course,” Haessig says. If a building doesn’t collapse in the right way, or explosions don’t have an effect on an environment, it’s really noticeable to players. Unreal Engine’s built-in physics tools help with the various iconic physics-based gameplay features.
“Additionally, we need to simulate real-time traffic, as well as pedestrians, to make the world believable. A lot of care had to be taken to make sure that it all looks and plays in a believable manner and runs performant at the same time.”
Unreal’s physics tools weren’t the only ones that Black Forest found useful in working through these challenges. The World Composition tool, for instance, simplifies large world-building for developers by helping them avoid the need to build large, persistent levels, which bottleneck information. Instead, this tool streams levels, generating them in manageable chunks as needed.
Haessig considers Unreal Engine 4 to be a “very versatile toolbox that enables us to develop a game of this scope.” Apart from the technical capabilities of its toolset, Unreal’s adaptability to match any ambition were even more valuable. “Unreal’s workflow scales with team size and that was important to us because we grew to more than double our size with the core team and need to be able to integrate outsourcing partners into our workflow.”
All the technical stuff is mostly behind the scenes though. The idea is that you don’t even notice it when playing the game because you’re too busy ruining lives. “One key aspect of Destroy All Humans! is that you play a truly bad guy. Crypto-137 sees mankind as primitive monkeys, basically asking to be invaded because they lack an appropriate space defence. There is no anti-hero vibe, he simply hates us and will stop at nothing in his conquest against puny humans that inhabit Earth – even if that means to undermine our fragile democracy. And with the combination of psychokinesis, mind-reading, mind control and iconic weapons like the Anal Probe, I think even we are going to be surprised by the ways players come up with to wreak havoc.”
We hate leaving you with the imagery of the Anal Probe – it is the butt of any joke. It’s obvious that there’s a lot of love and care for Destroy All Humans! in this new rendition, and we can’t wait to see how that unfolds when the remake is released later this year.
Destroy All Humans! is out this year. Unreal Engine 4 development is now free.
In this sponsored series, we’re looking at how game developers are taking advantage of Unreal Engine 4 to create a new generation of PC games. With thanks to Epic Games and Black Forest Games.