How could Crusader be "modernized"?


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Nowadays every second game gets a remake or remaster. Some try to be as close to the original as possible, some make minor changes and some are almost completely different.

How would a "good" Crusader remaster / remake look like?

The isometric view is in my opinion a very important thing to keep. For the look and feel of the original.
The controls need some serious rework. What could that be? Maybe a WASD control for movement and mouse for turning / aiming (absolute, not relative like now)?
That would make the game A LOT easier. So you can't use the original enemy and weapon stats. The general AI needs an overhaul too of course.

Ah and the RL video sequences! They are pretty much perfect :D Digitalized characters for that ... I don't know. That would loose a lot of the charme.
Lots of different directions this could go, but my general attitude would be to modernize, but remain faithful to the original feel of the game. Identifying what those traits are is weirdly difficult, at least for me.

I've thought about this a lot over the years. It'd take a very specific vision to get right, at least in my view, kinda like how the original game was a laser-focused design. But it depends on what type of project it is. If it's a remaster, then it should be as faithful as possible to the original while providing modern quality-of-life features. (See: Command & Conquer Remastered. Just outstanding.) If it's a remake, then it should take some liberties to re-focus or re-envision what the original game was trying to do and put it in a new light. It can deviate greatly or not much at all. (See: Resident Evil 2 remake). If it's a reboot, (which is what another Crusader game probably would be), there are no limits to what the developer can do and can entirely do their own thing. (See: Syndicate)

A good Crusader remaster would be this:
  • Basically just Command & Conquer: Remastered, but Crusader. Redone art, QOL features that are faithful to the original game, and releasing the source code.
For a remake/reboot, these are my thoughts:

I think it'd be pretty easy to screw up trying to understand what the Crusader was about, or what made it special. The violence and destruction is what a lot of people remember about Crusader (and the guy in red armor), but if a remake/reboot were to define the game solely by that, I think it'd miss the mark. To me, these traits are what made Crusader special (excluding the context in which Crusader was developed), sorted by high-level to low-level concept.
  • The gameplay loop/minute-by-minute gameplay are spot-on with what humans like to interact with when playing games. The pace of the game is engaging enough to want to keep playing. Understanding and replicating or redesigning the flow of the game has to be done right.
  • Plot, storytelling, characters. I love this stuff in the original game. A new Crusader game would have to make it engaging to players. It can't just be an action game without plot. The character progression of the Silencer especially with respect to how the fellow rebels at the Echo Sector base start warming up to him after several missions.
  • Deeper action gameplay. Crusader works so well because everything feels like it has purpose, and to execute it is satisfying, in the same way fighting games are. Actions have "weight" to them. I've said this before, but I think if a new Crusader were to go to a non-tank control Synthetik/Brigador-type WASD scheme, I think a lot of the charm would go away. There can surely be modernization or streamlining to the old system that could bring it up to snuff of modern expectations without losing that charm. For instance, W/d-pad/left stick up, would move the Silencer straight in the direction that he is facing. Moving mouse/rotating right stick would orient the direction.
  • Immersive sim qualities. There are elements of emergent gameplay and player choice in Crusader. Really not as indepth as something like Deus Ex, but pretty good stuff for an action game in 1995.
  • Crusader has a very distinct presentation, especially with the artstyle and music. That would need to be recaptured or be special in another way. Isometric would be required.
  • The puzzle-y parts of Crusader should be a focus, too. People like solving puzzles in action games as long as they aren't too complex. They're there to shoot guys, not play Talos Principle. Micro-puzzles that take a few seconds for a player to process and solve would be something to break up the shooting a bit, in addition to "room" puzzles.
  • The rebel base might be the highlight of the original game each time you head back after a mission. It should be a bit more special than the "home base" you get in some games today where you stock up, have small conversations, get your next objectives. (Thinking of Necromunda: Hired Gun here). I think a combination of Chernobylite and Suikoden base-building mechanics would be awesome for a new Crusader. Placing stuff and tidying/upgrading the base in addition to recruiting rebels, and I think even resource management for the 'war effort' against the WEC would fit in well. What made Operation Flashpoint: Resistance so good was having your guys persist between missions, and you had to pick up ammo and weapons to keep the campaign going. You could do Yakuza-like side-missions, but that's probably pushing it into 'tedious' territory.
  • Different game modes. Instead of just a campaign, there could be co-op, versus, team deathmatch, all that multiplayer stuff the canceled multiplayer Crusader was going to be.
  • As much as I love the FMVs, those would probably need to be replaced with in-game interaction.
No real actors? Boooohhh ;) Any reason for that? A bit of cheesyness should still be left in. And nowadays we live in times when you can pay very little to a random stranger on the web to place them front of a camera for you

Okay, long story short ... I may have dropped a few hints in my posts over the last few days. I'm a hobby dev and more or less have started remaking Crusader in Unity. One of *those* projects ... maybe. Probably. Ah I need something to do anyway.

Times have changed since the old days. Game development is easier than ever with engines like Unity & Unreal. I've been at it for ... maybe 5-6 years now. So not starting at zero, but I'm no pro. So while looking for a new project to occupy my free time I thought ... why not Crusader?

I've started with remaking the intro about 2 weeks back, after the upscaling try. I have the basic layout of the sewer area with the original camera positions. Of course the rat is there! I want to keep it as close to the original scenes as possible. The lighting will be different. We have evolved! It will be realtime rendered in Unity. Keeping even the same strange widescreen layout to keep the same environment elements in view. Well, I slighty cheated and added a bit of height to make it a standardized 21:9 aspect ratio. Resolution? The sky is the limit! Well my graphics card ... let's see if I can do 4k. :D

The important part? The Silencers of course. The base model is pretty much done. I may have dropped a little animation around here ;) But I'm not quite happy yet. A buddy is helping me to tweak the model right now. Still need to make models of the thigh holster. But here I might take a shortcut. Backpack, holster and helmet light won't be as accurate. Since I'm working on it more or less alone, I will take some premade models that fit the style and are as close to the original as possible. Same for the weapons. So while I should take my references the rendered pics in the guides ... I will look more at the lowpoly ingame version of the gear and will interpret it creatively ;)

Oh and the bot from the intro isn't "exactly" the same too sadly. Though I did remodel the camera array in front. See my dropped screenshot. :D

But thats more or less a "sidequest" and got not that much priority. Mainly because getting the lighting correct and awesome is totally painful.

The actual game part ... okay thats way more interesting. I will probably do a complete writeup about my ideas and goals. But right now its like this:
- Silencer model almost done
- Started on recreating the ingame poses and animations (Silencer only right now)
- Will keep it at isometric view (with zoom) but basically fully 3D. Camera turn could be nice as an addition.
- I want to keep it as open source as possible. There will be some proprietary stuff out of neccessity. Can't do everything on my own. Need to buy and/or license assets.
- Current goal is to get the basic character controller replicated and a dumb demo level to test everything out with the correct animations. Tweaks to the controls and modernizing it can be tackled from there on. Bonus: Easy switch between original and modernized controlls.
- Adding 2-3 weapons. And thats about the state in which I can abandon the project without any worries ... uhm. Well at least a state on which others can build on, if I really loose interest. Worst case so to speak.
- Big big questions ... how to keep it close to the original and nto get sued into oblivion? I mean, we ARE speaking of EA here. Yeah, no idea on how to approach that yet. For now let's call it ... fair use? Yeah, fair use sounds good .... any ideas on that appreciated. *Any* input to anything appreciated.

Uhm yeah ... yeah, more better write up is following. I'm better at development than documentation. :D
Nice! I'm looking forward to it. Not a lot of Crusader fan projects have come to fruition, but those were in the old days before engines like Unity were around.
Mmmk... so I've been poking around in the Crusader resource files again and I've extracted some info from the files that may allow us to both import the level files directly (if we have recreations for the objects in 3D), automatically extract 3D collision shapes approximating the objects (bounding boxes, pretty much, but it's what Crusader uses itself for collisions), weight information (so physics works somewhat - but probably somewhat limited accuracy), a full list of the shapes in actual use plus usage counts so we can focus on the most-used bits first, and bitmaps of each and every sprite.

I figured that's probably a good place to start from.

I've taken the de-globbing of the level data into account so the counts are of actually visible / used objects. Some bitmaps seem to contain only a 1x1 image yet still be used a lot; I suspect these are used for usecode interactions (such as the screen movements and other triggers) - I think entry 15 is the one used for that since it happens a lot.

Usage counts are, sorted ascending, here:

First ID is the shape ID, the second is the frame in that shape. All frames in a shape have the same collision information. I'll dump the shape info in a bit.

@Keenan can I send you the file with the shape images? It's about 30600 bitmaps, total file is 25MB. They are named after the shape and frame they represent, same numbers as the pastebin above.

I'll look into which map maps to which in-game level or area. I've so far found 28 mapping to the Rebel base, and 29 mapping to the destroyed Rebel base. (they have unique sprites).
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Sent. I've looked into loading the levels and while i think I load them correctly now, there are quite a few things that don't look right. Part of that is that my quickly hacked 2.5D draw code is wrong, part is that the levels have some tricks to do some effects. For example, room "reveals" are just that - the room is there the whole time, there's just a giant black thing on top of it. My code doesn't know that, so it renders the black thing on top and part of the level seems to be missing.

And then there are some easter eggs in the maps themselves, that you could never see from the game. Specifically, two levels have "cheese fart" spelled out in goo tiles. This is handled in-game by modifying the map data from usecode as the map progresses and triggers go off.

This is also why a level editor is very likely never going to happen. You can make a "dead map" without any interaction or triggers, but all the stuff that usecode does is not going to work.

Will try to store them somewhat more compactly & send them over. Right now I render to BMP, which is about a gigabyte per map (but obviously nearly empty).
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