The Way LucasArts Built Dark Forces Has Created Headaches For Nightdive’s Remaster

The Way LucasArts Built Dark Forces Has Created Headaches For Nightdive’s Remaster

Nightdive Studios has found the process of remastering classic 90’s shooter Star Wars: Dark Forces to be rough going. According to a new interview from PC Gamer, the ways in which LucasArts originally built its seminal FPS have created an unusual technical challenge for Nightdive.

According to project lead Max Waine, Dark Forces was built with a kitbashed version of multithreading that was years ahead of its time. That kind of forward-thinking, of pushing then cutting-edge tech to its limit and nudging it beyond that limit where it could, was emblematic of the LucasArts house style. In 2023, that desire to push the limits is a hindrance rather than a benefit. “Dark Forces has been difficult to change, from the technical end of things, because it is very heavily over-designed,” says Waine. Regarding the game’s rudimentary, homebrewed version of multithreading, he says LucasArts “managed to do multi-threading effectively, using a task system in the mid-1990s. We had to use sophisticated modern techniques to be able to get it to work nicely, while keeping the same basic idea.”

To explain, briefly, what multithreading is: it’s a way of getting your PC’s processor to perform multiple tasks at once, without overtaxing it. Your CPU already does this, but multithreading controls the flow of requests from different programs in a way that keeps your processor from getting overwhelmed. It’s a way to get your CPU to do more with less. That’s the very, very, ground floor explanation. Today, this functionality is built right into modern processors, which can pack in up to 16 cores for insane amounts of multithreading. LucasArts was forcing it on ancient CPUs by hand.

According to the interview, Nightdive was able to make it work because it was able to get hold of the original Dark Forces source code from the start. A studio famous for its remasters — its most recent effort being the System Shock remake that launched back in May — it isn’t uncommon for Nightdive to find itself starting from scratch. Preservation in the video game industry is, as we know, fairly appalling. Original source code isn’t always available, meaning any attempts to assess a game’s inner workings must be reverse-engineered or are the product of guesswork.

You can find PC Gamer’s interview, full of Waine’s thoughts on the project’s many hurdles, here.

Image: Nightdive Studios, LucasArts

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