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Perfect Dark XBLA Interview

We talk with Nick Ferguson about the upcoming HD remastering of an N64 classic.

Perfect Dark XBLA Interview

If you weren’t already aware, the original Nintendo 64 classic, Perfect Dark, is getting an HD overhaul and it hits the Xbox Live Arcade next week (3/17)! We caught up with Nick Ferguson, Producer for Xbox Live Arcade, to talk about the game while its developers, 4J Studios, are out shmoozin’ it up in San Francisco at the Game Developer’s Conference. But Nick was more than happy to answer our questions that range from how the project got started, to updating the controls, to how fans of the N64 Goldeneye might be doing themselves a favor by picking this one up.

CraveOnline: This updating of the classic Perfect Dark fps has had a long and troubled history of getting off the ground. What was the catalyst that finally got this project moving?

Nick Ferguson: We only started talking about developing Perfect Dark for XBLA in early 2009! It seemed a natural next step after the success of Banjo-Kazooie on XBLA. One of the historical issues with XBLA was multiplayer concurrency. Specifically, there were sometimes not enough players of a specific title on LIVE for you to be able to find a game. With the growing success of LIVE multiplayer-enabled titles like Castle Crashers, we felt this was increasingly becoming less of a problem and the time was right to bring PD to the service.

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Crave: Does this Perfect Dark remastering feature an updated control scheme. One that’s a bit more contemporary, where you don’t have to stop moving in order to aim?

Nick: You didn’t have to stop moving in order to aim in the original Perfect Dark

Crave: Err, sorry, what I meant was being able to move while in the precision aiming mode, you know, looking down the barrel of your gun. From what I remember from the original game, you weren’t allowed to do that…

Nick: Ah, you’re referring to the Free Aim mode, where holding down a modifier brings up a reticule that can be moved freely around the screen for very precise targeting. Yes, that is still how the game works. But you can still side-step left and right while in this stance, too. However, one of the side effects of migrating to a dual stick solution is that this mode doesn’t feel quite as necessary as it did in the N64 game – you can move and aim with much greater accuracy on 360. The increased 60fps framerate and native 1080p resolution contribute to this as well. But we left it in, mostly because it looks cool to see Jo waving her guns around.

Also, we didn’t change the fundamental behavior of the aiming system simply because that is not how Perfect Dark was played. Ultimately, we wanted to be faithful to the original game rather than try and map a modern control scheme onto it. This is why we have Auto Aim on by default (although you can turn it off if you prefer).

This was generally seen as a flaw in Perfect Dark Zero, which tried to combine the original Perfect Dark system with aspects of Halo. We have button mappings based on Halo and Call of Duty, but these relate to the positioning of buttons rather than the feel of the controls. Perfect Dark with COD-style “snap to target”..? *shudder* That just wouldn’t be Perfect Dark.

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Crave: Well said. Now are there any other new additions to gameplay in Perfect Dark HD that people might not be aware of?

Nick: The core gameplay of Perfect Dark remains unchanged. However, the game plays a lot better than you might remember running at 60 frames per second and we’ve definitely uncluttered the control scheme compared to the original N64 layout with dedicated buttons for Reload and Secondary Fire.

Being an XBLA title, we have incorporated Achievements and Leaderboards in addition to integrating LIVE multiplayer throughout all the modes that were only available in splitscreen on N64. There are a number of unlockable “Crowns” in the game which we’re not talking about in great detail, but suffice to say each level has a hidden objective which will unlock a Crown. Crowns are displayed on the Leaderboards for bragging rights.

Perfect Dark is quite simply a massive game, even by modern standards, so we didn’t feel the need to add new levels or other content. The Overall Leaderboard goes up to a staggering 201% completion and we’re wondering how long it will take someone to get there. It took our Test team three weeks of solid play, knowing the game back to front.


Crave: If memory serves me right, Kotaku reported mid-February that this Perfect Dark remastering would feature not only weapons from the classic Goldeneye game, but multiplayer levels as well. Is that true?

Nick: The game features the same 3 multiplayer levels from Goldeneye that were available in the original N64 game: Felicity, Complex and Temple. What has changed is that we have enabled the “classic” Goldeneye weapons in Perfect Dark’s multiplayer for the first time.

Crave: How did the decision to include them come about?

Nick: It was an experiment, really. It was the only obvious omission in the original game, so we wanted to try bringing the classic weapons into PD multiplayer ourselves to see if they worked – mostly out of idle curiosity – and they did! Once they were working and the nostalgia of running about Felicity with dual Klobbs kicked in, we knew we had to keep them in the final version of the game.

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Crave: Was this 4J Studios way of paying their respects to the longtime fans whose dreams were recently shattered when the Goldeneye HD remake became officially DOA?

Nick: Not specifically, although it is currently the closest anyone is going to get to playing Goldeneye on XBLA. We’re sorry about any shattered dreams, though.

Crave: We’re over it now. But at the time, tears were wept. For the current generation of gamers, Perfect Dark isn’t really a household name. In fact, it probably leaves a pretty bad taste in most gamer’s mouths who were never exposed to the original N64 masterpeice. If you had to sell this remastering of Perfect Dark to those gamers, in haiku form (remember 5-7-5), what would you say?

Nick: I’d just ask players who don’t remember the original game to download the Trial Version and see for themselves how the game stands up in 2010. Poetry is definitely a task beyond my humble abilities, so I recruited Leigh Loveday from Rare who came up with these three glorious clusters of verse.

For the emo community:
Just 800 Points
And this lamentable state
Births ballistic joy

For the uninitiated:
Classic FPS
That you have not played it is
Always to your shame

For the value conscious:
Elvis, stealth and guns
Endless multiplayer larks
Will not break the bank

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Crave: As of late, 4J Studios’ shtick has been to port over Nintendo 64 games to Xbox Live Arcade. Starting with Banjo-Kazooie, then to Banjo-Tooie, and now with Perfect Dark. Should we be expecting any more classic N64 titles to be hitting the Xbox Live Arcade from 4J Studios in the near future?

Nick: Being honest, we are looking to see how Perfect Dark on XBLA performs – not just the initial release when we know die-hard fans will be picking it up, but over the coming weeks and months. Contrary to Wikipedia, there is nothing underway right now… but we’re always interested in what the fans would like to see next. Personally, I’m a big fan of Jet Force Gemini, Blast Corps and Killer Instinct and it would be a lot of fun to bring one or all of those titles to the service in some form or another. At the end of the day, it’s a decision for Rare, Xbox LIVE Arcade and 4J Studios to make together.

Perfect Dark XBLA launches next week, Wednesday, March 17, 2010. And be sure to check back to CraveOnline for our full review this coming Monday, March 15.