Star Wars: Dark Forces is the latest nineties’ PC gaming classic to receive an overhaul from remastering maestros Nightdive Studios. But as this month’s PC Gamer magazine reveals, LucasArts’ shooter has proved unusually challenging from a technical perspective. Speaking to PCG’s print editor Robert Jones, Nightdive’s project lead on Dark Forces explains the game features a homebrew equivalent to modern multi-threading that was years ahead of its time.
“Dark Forces has been difficult to change, from the technical end of things, because it is very heavily over-designed,” says Max Waine. “There were a lot of small details in how LucasArts did things at the time that made stuff particularly difficult.” One of these things was the aforementioned multi-threading solution. “They 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.”
Nightdive was able to make this work, Waine says, because “unlike other projects, we managed to get the source code from the start.” Yet even with immediate access to the source code, it wasn’t easy. “We had to modernise all these concepts that worked for programming in DOS for your 486 or Pentium, but do not fly on your 16-core, infinite gigahertz modern processor.”
While reckoning with Dark Forces’ bespoke multithreading approach was the biggest challenge Nightdive faced on Dark Forces, Waine says it wasn’t the only one. “The other thing that’s been difficult to appropriately modernise is the user interface that they had, in terms of menus and such, because the menus are all mouse driven in the original,” he says. “Finding an appropriate balance that feels faithful to how the original menus are, while being able to work while you’re on a controller, was quite difficult.”
You can read the full interview with Nightdive in this month’s 30th anniversary special, which also includes words from System Shock’s original creators, and reflections from the writers and editors of PC Gamer over the last three decades. If you want to know more about Nightdive’s own remake of System Shock, check out Joshua’s review, and our chat with Nightdive’s System Shock team from earlier in the year.