Fans of classic games remade, remastered or retooled for a new audience have a Malaysian game studio to thank, for allowing gamers to relive their childhood in 4K glory. After finding great success in Starcraft: Remastered for a new generation of gamers in 2019, the 350-strong outfit took on an even bigger challenge, of remastering the classic Command & Conquer franchise.
Together with Petroglyph Games and Electronic Arts, Malaysia’s own Lemon Sky Studios had plenty to contribute to the remastering of an iconic series, said Chief Executive Officer Wong Cheng-Fei, Chief Creative Office Ken Foong, and Head of Production Kevin Lai, who sat down with Geek Culture to talk more about bringing back an icon with the new Command & Conquer Remastered Collection.
Having worked on the likes of Final Fantasy VII Remake, Starcraft: Remastered, and more intriguingly, the upcoming The Last of Us Part II, Lemon Sky Studios is no stranger to contributing to huge games that many are looking forward to. For Command & Conquer Remastered Collection, however, it offered a different challenge altogether – as fans of the series themselves, the team knows very well how fan expectations can be a double-edged sword.
Usually, for remasters, I think the good thing is that we have the old games to judge as a guideline, but the challenge is that they already have fans, It’s big pressure not to spoil the games.Chief Creative Office Ken Foong
One of the reasons Petroglyph Games, the developers behind the remaster, wanted to partner with Lemon Sky Studios was the work done on Starcraft: Remastered. The devs were suitably impressed by how Lemon Sky approached the visual direction for Blizzard’s real-time strategy game, and wanted that same attention to detail for Command & Conquer Remastered Collection.
“This project is very similar to Starcraft, we want to stay true to the original game. The challenge is to look the same, but in 4K. Adding those details but having to maintain the general look, like, in your memories, is perhaps the most challenging part,” Cheng-Fei shared about the process.
“The direction is from EA and Petroglyph, but we are the ones who proposed the ideas. The approach is to communicate, come up with different approaches, and finding the balance.” Foong added.
“I think the difference is in the genres. Starcraft is more about sci-fi, while C&C is more grounded. Both are challenging, but the approach to this remaster, we are looking for core team members who are fans first.”
That process of upscaling pixellated graphics to a stunning 4K resolution is by no means an easy task. Considering how the old games lack clear details, the team at Lemon Sky had to put their own stamp on things. This included the juggling of details versus authenticity, and making sure fans recognise everything they see on screen. From our experience, this challenge was certainly addressed in the final product.
As Lai put it, “the ultimate goal is to recreate the likeness from the legacy IP, so we love what we see as for now. As for the final product, so we hope the community and the players and the fans will be enjoying it once it’s released.”
Cheng-Fei shares the same sentiment, and hopes “the fans really enjoy the game and the 4K visuals. There weren’t a lot of details 25 years ago, and we added a lot of details. And I hope fans will eventually find them all out.”
An example of that would be the iconic Tanya. While satisfied with the first batch of modelling for the unit, it went through more iterations. The final product looks “bulky, almost like a muscular guy,” but for an RTS’ angle, it looks great.
“The challenge is also because of the camera,” Foong explained. “If you make it too realistic, it is hard to observe. A more simple, cleaner art style suits the game better. Too many details can make it hard to see from the angle.”
Having team members who have played the original games helped, but so does having fresh eyes on the product. “I think the fun thing about C&C as well, is that we have different generations of artists working on it,” Foong reflected. This meant that everything visually in Command & Conquer Remastered Collection could potentially appeal to fans old and new.
“We have young artists that have not yet played the game before, bringing in a different perspective. After playing it, they find the joy of the game and they understand more of what we want to achieve.”
We are all passionate about the game. EA and Petroglyph gave us a lot of freedom, creative license. Not just us, but all the artists feel really appreciated by the people we are working with.CCO Ken Foong
Along the way, things definitely changed as new ideas continually popped up. How the team managed those new perspectives was also another challenge of working on Command & Conquer Remastered Collection. Be it adjusting the final looks, the size, or even the colours of various units or buildings, it can be a constant struggle.
“It involves a back and forth process, of reworking on something, then rerendering it, and then readjusting the colour,” Lai explained.
“We then put it back in the engine and compare again. This process keeps repeating, it can be troublesome but it is part of the work. The feedback, processes, art, I enjoy every part of it.”
Then again, if things panned out well, the team is not entirely satisfied either. Their commitment to delivering the best results speak for themselves when it comes to their work ethic.
“During production, sometimes, when it all goes smoothly, it sometimes makes me worry as well. So sometimes we will check on the team for no reason, just to make sure everything’s okay. When it goes smooth, it makes you feel uncomfortable.” Foong summarised.
With Command & Conquer Remastered Collection already available, the team is ready to see what the community feels about the work Lemon Sky has put in. According to Lai, he is “really looking forward to seeing how the players react” after the feedback received during the prelaunch testing phase. Judging from the critical response so far, the studio can rest easy.
We were really happy that we are involved in this game. This is a legendary series, and two of the companies behind it are in the US, and we are the only studio based in Southeast Asia. I am pretty proud of that, and we really hope the fans enjoy it.Chief Executive Officer Wong Cheng-Fei
As for what is next for Lemon Sky, fans can look forward to witnessing their work in the upcoming The Last of Us Part II developed by Naughty Dog. We spent some time with Ellie in a short preview, and boy, were we impressed.
However, for other projects that are predictably under wraps for the time being, the team is unable to share more. If Lemon Sky’s work on some of the biggest games to come out in 2020 is anything to go by, the future is bright for one of Southeast Asia’s hidden gems.