Remasters have become an even hotter topic than usual in 2023, with some of the best and most significant releases being reworks of older games. But what constitutes a good remaster? How much should they keep or change? And have we all gone a little too remake-loopy?
Into this discussion wades Alex Lotz of Ziggurat Interactive, who has taken on the task of updating 2002’s Enclave, in the form of Enclave HD. We pinned them down to discuss all things remake, following the game’s launch on Xbox.
Hi, could you please introduce yourself and your role on Enclave HD?
Could you give us a quick overview of the game?
Enclave is a 3D third- and first-person hack-and-slash action RPG originally developed by Starbreeze Studios that released on the original Xbox in 2002. The game features a Light Campaign and a Dark Campaign which approach its story from two perspectives, overlapping in ways that are fun for players to discover. Each campaign is divided into missions, considered an unusual structure for games in this genre. The game features many playable characters with custom equipment loadouts unlockable over the course of the campaigns, not only allowing for multiple playstyles but also encouraging the replay of missions utilizing a different set of abilities.
There is a wide variety of challenges present in the game’s enemies and environments, as well as bonus missions with unique set pieces that recall sieges on castles like you’d see in Lord of the Rings. There are easter eggs throughout the game to discover, plus overpowered unlockable characters to earn when you beat the game that let you bulldoze your way through the game’s missions when you replay them. Enclave HD seeks to maintain and expand upon everything well remembered about the gameplay and presentation of the original, adding visual enhancements to suit modern display resolutions (up to 4K on supporting Xbox consoles), plus an expanded soundtrack.
You’ve just announced Enclave HD to the masses. What has the response been like?
We’ve been happy to see fans of the original Enclave have expressed enthusiastic anticipation for the updated Enclave HD. It was exciting to see more positive responses when we were finally able to reveal the release date for the game, and we hope it will live up to the expectations for long-time fans and offer a great experience for newcomers to the game as well.
What was it about Enclave that made it the game you had to revisit?
Ziggurat is dedicated to breathing new life into timeless games. We agreed with the IP owner TopWare Interactive that Enclave was long overdue for a return to consoles, not only for how well it holds up but for its innovative and unique approach to its genre and expected gameplay conventions. Considering how many of the best-known hack-and-slash ARPGs from the time and today use isometric camera angles, the game makes surprising use of 3D space with verticality playing a role in many levels. The placement of collectibles throughout winding, trap-infested dungeons and cities incentivizes exploration, daring the player to collect them all.
The game’s art direction, detailed environments, and overall atmosphere of dark fantasy (with splashes of humor) show the love and care Starbreeze put into fleshing out the world of Celenheim. The existing community for the game on PC has continued to enjoy these elements for years, but the long absence from console and the opportunities to expand and improve upon the original made it a great fit for both Ziggurat and TopWare to make the new HD version for consoles.
How does Enclave HD relate to the PC and Wii re-release of the game in 2012? Did you build on that re-release, or is this more a return to the original?
The source code that the development team at Sickhead Games worked from to make Enclave HD included changes that were made for the Wii version. Much of the game’s development time was spent fixing problems that were specific to the Wii version, as well as removing limitations that were placed on the fidelity and performance of the game for that release.
The gameplay experience of Enclave HD will be much closer to the Xbox version than the Wii version, since the Wii motion controls are not included in the game.
Some long-standing bugs in the Wii and PC versions have been fixed for Enclave HD, and the resolution of textures, baked lighting, and the game’s beautiful full-motion videos (on menus and in cinematics) have also been upscaled for modern displays.
This is the first time that Enclave has returned to its spiritual home, the Xbox, since its first release back in 2002. Has that Xbox connection made Enclave HD any easier to develop?
In the technical domain, contemporary Xbox hardware is quite different from the original Xbox that was the debut console for the original Enclave, so the usual challenges one might expect in porting were still present. From a player experience standpoint, it was helpful to reference the original Xbox release.
The PC and Xbox versions of the original Enclave have some differences, so it helped to be able to choose which approach to take (or whether to take a completely new approach) on certain user experiences and user interface decisions in the HD update.
How has Enclave HD been visually upgraded? How do you find a meeting point for players with nostalgia, and new players who want a modern experience?
All the textures – including the user interface – are upscaled for a better look on modern displays in Enclave HD. The original game made heavy use of full motion video not only for story cinematics but also in its gorgeous menus. These full-motion videos have been upscaled as well, retaining their eerie feel at a fidelity suitable for today’s screens. The game’s light maps have also been rebaked using the original development tools, so you’ll notice higher resolution in the game’s baked lighting. We think players of the original will find this to be a faithfully improved version without feeling as dated as it would have without the enhancements.
Enclave HD comes with 20 new tracks and a remaster of the original soundtrack. How easy is it to just spruce up an old soundtrack? Did you have the old masters to work from?
An entirely new soundtrack was added to the game, in addition to the original soundtrack which is still included. Production of both of these soundtracks was overseen and authorized by TopWare. Players have the option to play with only the new soundtrack enabled, only the original, or a mixed mode where tracks from the new and original play in specific levels throughout the game. As with the original soundtrack, the new soundtrack includes different music for combat and non-combat situations in the game, ramping up in intensity during the action.
Did you make any changes to gameplay or controls? Was there a temptation to iron out any of the kinks in the game?
There were some legacy bugs – some present only on Wii, some that were on Xbox and PC – that the game’s community of players have long been aware of which have been fixed for this release. As far as the controls, an aim sensitivity slider has been added to the options menu allowing for the right analog stick look speed to be adjusted to fit the player’s preference. The combat and core gameplay are preserved as closely as possible to the original.
Did you work with any of the original developers or makers of the game?
We worked closely with one developer that knows the original code base very well, as well as a speedrunner and leading member of the Enclave community Landon Rivers. Landon is also in touch with some of the original developers from Starbreeze, whom he has interviewed on his YouTube channel, so while they were not officially involved with Enclave HD there was at least an indirect connection as we sought to honor their original creation.
Enclave II was previewed way back in 2003, but never released. By any chance, did you get to see or work with any of that game?
We were sadly not given access to any of Enclave II, so what it could have been remains a fun-to-ponder mystery to us as well.
And finally, if there were no limits, what game would you most like to remake/rerelease and why?
Speaking for myself personally, not necessarily for everyone at Ziggurat: the SNES and N64 games in the Mystical Ninja series would be fun to remake or remaster, as would Blast Corps. The reason I’d want to remake or remaster them is not just for my fond memories of the originals, but because it would be exciting to explore their mechanical and aesthetic ideas further with the help of more modern technology and design conventions.
There’s also a game I won’t mention here (since there are ongoing talks to make a remaster happen) that I’d be very excited to see. It’s amazing how many games that I would have answered this question with before now have remakes and remasters released or in development (Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2, Seiken Densetsu 3, the first Witcher game, – the list goes on).
Things do feel a lot less limited these days than they did in the past in terms of remasters; a remaster of one of my all-time favorite games that I never thought would happen came out not long ago in Virtua Fighter 5: Ultimate Showdown, and it’s been fun to see how many of the most-deserving games that aren’t yet remastered are improved upon by modding communities (e.g., Deus Ex: Revision).
Yep, we’d be first in line for a Blast Corps remaster.
If the interview has tempted you to return to Celenheim, then Enclave HD is out now on Playstation 4, Xbox One and Switch. Curiously, PS5 is due at an unspecified future date. Expect a review from us soon, as we deliver our verdict on whether Enclave HD remains dated, or instead manages to be timeless.
Huge thanks go out to Alex for giving us some time. You can grab Enclave HD from the Xbox Store right now. It’s priced at £14.99 and playable on both Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S. You’ll also find the game on PlayStation and Switch.