Jeff Birns is the CEO and Creative Director of N-Fusion Interactive Entertainment. He has been with the company since its inception in 1997 and worked on the entire Deadly Dozen™ franchise - Deadly Dozen (2001), Deadly Dozen Pacific Theater (2002), and the highly anticipated remake of the first game, Deadly Dozen Reloaded. We asked him 10 questions about his experience taking a franchise through the decades and how his history in gaming led to this amazing squad-based shooter.
RL: I always like to start with asking - why is this project important to you, of course aside from it being a new release and remake?
JB: Deadly Dozen was N-Fusion’s first “big” game - we were given a chance to show what we were capable of at a time when we hadn’t released very many games yet. We poured our heart and souls into the original game and being able to go back and revisit some of those feelings over 20 years later has been wonderful.
RL: That must have been really exciting for you and your team to revisit something so monumental for your studio. What was it like for you to bring this new edition to life?
JB: It was very exciting. The idea of being able to remake not only one of our earliest games, but also what we consider one of our best, was almost unbelievable. We had a lot of fun when we got deep into development, too. Digging into our memories of 20+ years ago and trying to remember why we did things the way we did was fun and enlightening. Also finding little things in the original game we had long forgotten about was great, it was like digital archeology.
RL: Can you explain the process behind making DDR a remake rather than a remaster? What are some things you’d like to highlight as being remade from the ground up?
JB: We think the idea of sneaking into Nazi territory and doing missions behind enemy lines as a squad of elite soldiers is still a great concept and very fun, we didn’t want it to be held back by outdated controls and a crude user interface. It was very interesting looking at the original game and deciding what parts were just too old and what parts were worth bringing forward unchanged. Controls had to be rethought to be brought up to modern standards and allow controller support. The user interface was completely redone to be more modern, and we added functionality like the squad wheel, so you don’t have to remember a ton of keys just to control your squad. Our mantra was making the game easier to play but don’t change how it plays, and I think we succeeded.
RL: What were some priorities for you as Creative Director when tackling this completely redone classic?
JB: Our top priority is to make sure the game feels as much like the original game as possible but plays like a modern game. There were many discussions about what to keep and what to update, and I think we struck a good balance.
RL: Me too. Were there any challenges or doubts about maintaining the squad-based structure to the game?
JB: Squad-based shooters are actually more common these days than they were back when the original game came out! There was only one or two other squad-based shooters back then, now we have many in many different settings. A lot of squad-based games these days are a bit simpler - you often have limited or no control over your squad, but the fun of being in control of a squad of elite soldiers never goes out of style. We did have a few discussions about whether we should keep the squad controls as complex as they were in the original game (they are), but the thought never entered our mind to remove the squad.
RL: With the time I’ve spent with DD (it was my first squad-based shooter) it reminded me of how I play more spy-oriented games like Hitman or even Tenchu. As soon as I realized that, it changed how I played and enjoyed this game. Were there franchises outside of WWII shooters that inspired your direction in this game?
JB: Hitman and Metal Gear Solid were big influences on the original game’s development. Hidden and Dangerous as well, that game proved that squad-based stealth was a viable concept.
RL: You really can’t go wrong with a game with Hitman and MGS as inspirations, can you? What is your Deadly Dozen Reloaded playstyle? Are you a demolition man? Sniper? Heavy Guns?
JB: I personally take a sniper approach. Always keeping my squad close enough to pick off the enemies in case I miss.
RL: I saw that in your arsenal of published games at N-Fusion, the genre spans far and wide. While we’ve mostly worked together with war-themed video games, is there a genre that fires you up the most as Creative Director?
JB: Absolutely! I am a RPG and Adventure Gamer at heart. Ember and Deus Ex: The Fall were fantastic experiences for N-Fusion.
RL: We always love to go back to the beginning here at Ziggurat, so what is your first formative video game memory? What were some of your favorite titles you played as a kid?
JB: The Ultima Series (And many other original Origin games), All of the old great Sierra Adventure games as well.
RL: We’ve covered a lot here, but is there anything else you wish to share about the making of Deadly Dozen Reloaded? Any funny mishaps or cool behind the scenes stories?
JB: It was certainly far more challenging than we had thought bringing a game like this from 20 years ago is both rewarding and a bit daunting to ensure it matched the feel of the original game. Many stories!
Thank you so much for your time today Jeff!
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