Aliens have maintained a place in video games since Space Invaders, but nothing left an impression on gamers quite like Destroy All Humans did in 2005. THQ and Pandemic Studios introduced their not-so-green little men as murderous invaders with a crass sense of humor, captivating audiences with strong-enough sandbox gameplay to warrant a sequel, Destroy All Humans 2, in 2006. Now, thanks to the work of THQ Nordic and Black Forest Games, that sequel is getting a remake in the form of Destroy All Humans 2 – Reprobed to follow the reimagined original game from last year. We had the opportunity to speak with Black Forest assistant creative director Stefan Schmitz about the sequel remake’s development and how the team has worked to preserve its character and tone for fans old and new.
The Escapist: Tell us about yourself, your role at Black Forest Games, and your experiences recreating games that hold such a fond place in the hearts of so many.
Stefan Schmitz: Hi, I am Stefan Schmitz. I joined the industry in 2007 at Black Forest Games’ predecessor studio Spellbound Entertainment and have been with this amazing bunch of people ever since. My role at Black Forest Games is that of an assistant creative director, and in essence, I am a framework builder, team enabler, and vision preacher closely following and supporting our creative director.
Working on a beloved series like Destroy All Humans is a great honor, responsibility, and a little bit scary, to be honest. After all, as someone who grew up with the games of the era, it was like a dream come true.
That being said, it was imperative to treat the remake’s conception with the utmost care – respecting the memories of players and the vision of the original while improving the game’s quality and uplifting it to modern standards was always on our mind when we worked on designs and decisions. We always aimed to recreate the good memory of the game in the hearts and minds of the players, which is a much bigger challenge than a straightforward remaster.
What did Black Forest learn following the development and release of the first Destroy All Humans remake? How has that knowledge been implemented in Reprobed?
Stefan Schmitz: Working on a franchise always gives you the opportunity to analyze the previous game’s development and course-correct for the upcoming installment. The community’s feedback has been instrumental in understanding the reception of player-facing features, and we have been working to implement improvements where possible. One major avenue for that was understanding the reception of the first remake’s combat and applying those learnings to modernize the second original game’s arsenal.
Player guidance is also an area we worked on to improve, and we’ve implemented a “character” to better lead the player through the game. This character was already present in the very original game and was a good opportunity to use and expand the lore.
Internally, you always go back to the previous project and identify the issues and complications you had. We applied a lot of learnings from our own processes and workflows, and we were able to improve vastly on building destruction, resulting in a better output with less complications. The level streaming system is also improved, and we have largely automated that to free up time for various people in the team. This time was then used for example for creating bigger levels and more performant results.
In what ways has Destroy All Humans 2 – Reprobed been easier and/or harder to develop than last year’s game?
Stefan Schmitz: Giving it a good think, what made the development of Destroy All Humans 2 – Reprobed easier was the accumulated experience we gathered over the production of its predecessor and the fact that we could reuse a lot of the features and tech we have developed during its production. Of course as you’re stepping into new content territory, you have to revise and improve those per the needs of the next game, and those were the bigger challenges we had to overcome. The sheer increase in the size of levels and the more complicated traffic system with a more dynamic and crowded world are the two that come to mind. Between the two games, Destroy All Humans 2 – Reprobed has more missions, more cutscenes and dialogs, and higher requirements and results in regards of level dressing as well. On one side, yes, you do come more equipped with your learnings from the previous development, and on the other side, the challenge itself is simply bigger.
Staying true to Destroy All Humans 2’s PlayStation 2-era gameplay and tone while recreating it for a modern audience sounds like a tall order. With this in mind, in what ways has this game’s development been especially challenging?
Stefan Schmitz: Yes, modernizing a game while respecting the “good memories” of the original from 10-plus years ago is a major challenge in itself. There are multiple paths to pursue for this endeavor, and one is turning to the reception of the first remake and (to) dissect through that feedback. Overall, the fans gave us a good indication of what worked in the 2020 remake.
Another path is to take a look at the original game’s reception back in the day: The most challenging aspect here is to go through that with the standards and mindset of the time, compare them to today’s expectations, and move into development from there. One major challenge in that regard was the relatively underwhelming feel of the Dislocator, and that will be the evident example of improvement for the players that challenged us. We believe the gameplay feel for the Dislocator is now very much in line with the vision of the franchise, and we of course took inspiration from Path of the Furon when modernizing this weapon. It’s now much more effective, and we can even say it is inspirational for causing mayhem and destruction!
Did Black Forest ever question removing some jokes or other gameplay elements that might now be considered stale? If so, do you have any specific examples of content that won’t be making a return?
Stefan Schmitz: Just like in our remake of the first game, we are using the original voice recordings that have a cult status among fans. There may be a few lines that land on the cutting floor for various reasons, e.g., an adjusted mission flow, just as in the first game. Since the feedback from fans new and old was very positive regarding what we did for the DAH1 2020 remake, we are approaching Reprobed in a similar manner.
How did Black Forest decide what elements needed to be reworked from the original sequel?
Stefan Schmitz: In our process, we draw inspiration from industry benchmarks, our accumulated experience as a team, and even from more recent entries in the classic Destroy All Humans franchise. In the end, we always have to answer one question: Does a change we suggest improve upon the game in a meaningful way without disturbing the identity and/or perception of the good memories of the original?
For example, the inclusion of the bridge in our Bay City. We deliberately added this landmark to enhance the feeling of the location, acknowledging that this was a drastic change to the original map’s layout. However, in the perceived memory of the fans, it probably always has been there, yet it was missing in the original game.
Are there any major changes to the original Destroy All Humans 2 that we haven’t seen yet? If so, what can we expect?
Stefan Schmitz: Without spoiling too much, you can look forward to the way we handle the Geneblender feature. By introducing the concept of human hives and the ability to abduct humans en masse, the player can now explore the map and guess where certain types of humans might dwell, smoke them out, and snatch them up as a bunch. Seeing an army of cops emerging from a burning donut shop and slurping them all up into the Saucer is extremely satisfying.
Revamped building destruction is one of the changes I’m most excited about. Are there any other environmental elements that have been changed or enhanced thanks to modern technology?
Stefan Schmitz: Next to seeing buildings gradually set ablaze and crumbling in all their glory, we updated the ocean rendering system for maps featuring large bodies of water a fair bit. Next to that, we put some good effort into a new lighting mood system, and we can’t wait to show this to the community.
I believe I saw that the Dislocator has been tweaked just enough to help make it a more viable weapon. Are there other weapons in Destroy All Humans 2 – Reprobed that have seen changes of their own?
Stefan Schmitz: Overall we did some fine-tuning on all the weapons in the game, like adding new upgrades throughout the arsenal or improving the handling. In contrast to this, we applied a major overhaul to the Gastro Gun for example. Without going into too much detail, we decided to go for an approach giving Gastro more actual screen time and give the player more interaction with that character. The Dislocator changes speak for themselves, and we relied well on modern tech regarding physics there to create a brand new Dislocator.
Are there any new missions, areas, or weapons for Reprobed?
Stefan Schmitz: For Destroy All Humans 2 – Reprobed we did not add any new missions, areas, or weapons per se. We added details, new zones to existing worlds, and drastically reworked parts of the world. For example, we added an army base to Bay City and changed the hill north of the wharf to an actual harbor area as we thought these would add the value we wanted going through modernization.
Will any of the licensed music from the original Destroy All Humans 2 be making a return in Reprobed?
Stefan Schmitz: Reprobed will feature a wider variety of tracks than the original game. We particularly wanted to strengthen the levels set in Japan and Russia by adding music in Russian and Japanese language. Bringing back certain iconic tracks from the original soundtrack is of course also something we hope we can do.
Why were Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One left out of the loop this time around? I’m interested to hear how and when that decision was made.
Stefan Schmitz: That was a very hard choice to make for everyone. Either we would have had to ship the new game with potentially weaker visuals compared to the DAH!1 remake to accommodate the larger and denser maps of the second, or we would have to forego the old gen and gain back that optimization time and give that time back to the team to make a bigger, better world and combat experience. We decided to go with the latter choice as this allowed us to take a big step forward for Destroy All Humans 2 – Reprobed in terms of visual quality. For example, we were able to place about five times as many objects in the levels, making them more vivid, less empty, and more believable. As a result, both we and the players have a bigger experience to play with.
How is the team taking advantage of PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X | S features?
Stefan Schmitz: I can’t say much here, but the ability to render double the amount of actors on screen is a clear plus to me! More “active” characters on the screen at any given time gives you a more dynamic and crowded playing field, and Crypto is all about the potential mayhem he can get out of these crowds.
Is there anything else you’d like to add about Black Forest, THQ Nordic, or Destroy All Humans 2 – Reprobed?
Stefan Schmitz: I am confident that Destroy All Humans 2 – Reprobed will build on the success of our first remake and will satisfy all destruction-hungry invaders out there. I want to thank my colleagues at Black Forest Games and THQ Nordic for all the effort and passion they poured into the game, but foremost I want to thank the fans of Destroy All Humans! Without your support and the fact that you warmly welcomed us into the fold, we would have not come this far — thank you!
Destroy All Humans 2 – Reprobed is coming to PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X | S sometime in 2022.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.