In 1997, Westwood Studios—famous for their real-time strategy games like Command & Conquer and Red Alert—released a game called simply Blade Runner. It was a grimy point-and-click adventure game, and became one of the all-time greats in the genre.
This was partly because of the game itself, which had its flaws but was a serviceable enough adventure, but mostly for its feel, and how it showed that a licensed game didn’t have to be a rushed platformer. Westwood’s Blade Runner had been made with genuine love and reverence for the source material, and felt like a piece of the Blade Runner universe in a way that few games of the 90s (with some exceptions) could even dream of. Its grimy pixels and texture work took players right back to the streets of Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece.
That was then, though. Now, as they seem to be in every other way at the moment, things are worse. Nightdive released a remake of the game last week, called Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition, and it is bad in just about every way you can imagine.
First and most egregiously, the game’s muddy visuals have been worked over, the result being a hideously smoothed and unnatural aesthetic that looks like someone typed “Blade Runner” into DALL·E mini. The whole game now runs at 60FPS as well, more than doubling the original framerate, which in some cases looks fine but in others can be really jarring.
But there are loads of other weird issues as well. There are new bugs (this isn’t a port, the whole game basically had to be rebuilt from scratch), the game’s fonts have been changed, it’s missing some international language dubs, and its music has been somehow downgraded. Oh, and if all that wasn’t bad enough, the remake has also been essentially banned in Australia and New Zealand.
Indeed, things are so bad, and the reviews and reaction to the release so hostile on places like Steam, that Nightdive have rushed to add a painstakingly reverse-engineered, fan-recreated version of the game. It’s one that’s pretty much indistinguishable from the 1997 original, but made a bunch of its own welcome improvements and has been modernised to run on ScummVM. Anyone booting the game up now will be given one of three options: the remake, the ScummVM version (called the “original”) or a version of the latter, “with some restored content that was left unused from the original game.”
Even this sucks, though, at least on the Good Old Games shopfront, because it erases much of the credit and prominence of that fan-made edition. Before this Enhanced Edition was released, GoG had worked with a team of fans to take what used to be a laborious process—combining fan-made edits with an executable you needed an original CD-ROM for—and bundled it all up in an easy, legally available means to play a classic adventure game (much like we saw more recently with Daggerfall). That version had been up on GoG’s shopfront for over two years.
Now its place has been taken by the Enhanced Edition. “When GOG put Nightdive’s new Enhanced Edition on their store, they did this by completely replacing the Blade Runner product page with the new product,” one of the ScummVM version’s developers, Thomas Fach-Pedersen, tells Kotaku. “All ratings and reviews of the ScummVM versions are gone. Our version had a rating of around 4.7 out of 5. The new version has a rating of 1.5.”
Any mention of ScummVM has been removed from the page. Our version is now referred to as ‘the original version of Blade Runner’ and is listed as a free add-on in an apparent attempt to calm down upset customers.
It was hurtful to see GOG to replace our version with a new version that I feel, and I don’t appear to be alone in feeling this, is an inferior version. And if users want our version legally, Nightdive now earns money on every purchase.
Making matters even worse is that while the ScummVM version had been available on GoG, it had not been available on any of the other shopfronts of platforms the Enhanced Edition has been released on. “This I had no problem with—I don’t mind their version standing or falling on its own merit,” Fach-Pedersen says. “But when the poor reviews and ratings hit, and customers got upset, Nightdive decided to release a quick fix update which consisted of bundling the ScummVM Blade Runner version with theirs on Steam. I’m sure most people can understand that this felt like a step in the completely wrong direction.”
This emergency bundle is now available on both GoG and Steam, though the Enhanced Edition has also been released on Xbox, PlayStation and Switch as well, whose storefronts at time of posting make no mention of including the original game.
If you’d like to know more about how the ScummVM version came together (its github page is here), and just how much work the team of fans put in only to have their version now making money for someone else, Fach-Pedersen explains:
I started working in reverse engineering Blade Runner around 2012, working evenings and weekends. The project almost died several times before I was joined by other great programmers at ScummVM. Reverse engineering a game like this consists of using a disassembler to look at the game’s assembly code and trying to work out what higher-level code would produce that code. It involves recreating data structures and structured code with loops, if-then-statements and function flow from a stream of code with no structure, no data names and very few, if any, function names.
Most adventure games, and certainly most modern games, use scripting languages to implement the game logic. This means that if you reverse engineer the (usually fairly simple) scripting language, you get a lot of the game logic for free. But Blade Runner did not use a scripting language and so the logic for every room and every character and item interaction had to be pain-stakingly recreated from machine code. It was an amazing team effort that I’m very proud to have been a part of.
The game was difficult to play at the time I started the project. It could start on Windows computers of the day but because computers were so much faster, many parts didn’t work and the game would lock up in places. There were hacks and workarounds produced by fans but getting it to run reliable was tough. I don’t know if it’s runnable on Windows computers of today.
Our reverse engineering effort allows the game to be played on almost all platforms that ScummVM runs on, including Windows, Mac OS and various unix-like operating systems.
Before we go, and because they’re not properly credited otherwise, here’s the full roster of the ScummVM version’s development team:
Thanasis Antoniou aka Praetorian
Thomas Fach-Pedersen aka madmoose
Peter Kohaut aka peterkohaut
Eugene Sandulenko aka sev
English: Antoniou Athanasios aka Praetorian, Thomas Fach-Pedersen aka madmoose
French: Xavier Mohedano aka Kwama57
Spanish: Víctor González Fraile, Sergio Carmona
UPDATE: June 27, 4:40am: Clarified the extent to which the “original” GoG edition had been rebuilt by fans, and added comments from Thomas Fach-Pedersen