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Tex Murphy The Pandora Directive 25th Anniversary remaster

Darkozric

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The Pandora Directive Remaster is in the works.

https://bigfinishgames.com/may-2021-update/

NEWS UPDATE

About The Poisoned Pawn

Last week, in an update on his personal page, Aaron Conners mentioned that as far as he was aware, the Poisoned Pawn game was “on the shelf for the foreseeable future”. This was in response to the many questions he was getting about the status of that project. While this appeared to be the case, for the most part, we wanted to clear up a few miscommunications that happened since this piece of news was dropped a little earlier than we had planned.

As some of you are aware, the Poisoned Pawn began as a fan-made project, produced by a small handful of dedicated developers, as a recreation of ‘Overseer,’ and was sanctioned by Big Finish Games. A few years after the project commenced, an agreement was reached that the project would take on a new directive, and Aaron would provide an all-new wrapper story, thus turning the game into a canon continuation of the Tex Murphy saga. Other Big Finish Games members also agreed to volunteer their time to help the project along (filming new FMV sequences among other contributions). However, conflicts over design choices ultimately led to disagreements among the team members, resulting in a significant drop in momentum and motivation. Progress slowed, team members drifted apart, and ultimately the project failed.

As a result, Big Finish Games concluded the project was indeed shelved, in its current state, and we were ready to move on. In reality, we are quite happy to hand the reigns back to Chaotic Fusion. Despite the fact that we will no longer volunteer resources to the project, we offer the team our blessing and allow them full autonomy to complete the game on their own terms should they decide to continue. After all, it would be a shame for all the amazing work to go to waste.

We wish the team the best of luck with the project. Should fans have any questions or inquiries about The Poisoned Pawn, please direct them to the Chaotic Fusion team, as we will no longer be involved in the game’s production. We certainly look forward to seeing what they come up with if they decide to continue the project!


Big news for all those who have waited! Number one:
Let’s talk about the Tesla Effect Kickstarter.

As of right now, we acknowledge there is one outstanding backer incentive still awaiting delivery: The six new radio theater episodes. There is also one stretch goal unfulfilled: The golf game/simulator. We also acknowledge some of you were disappointed with the ‘Ultimate Detective Box Set’ (being a disc case rather than a big box). Let’s address each of these.

Radio theater:
The six new episodes of the radio theater are currently being recorded and we can’t wait to share them with you, so expect these to be delivered to eligible backers soon!

Golf game/simulator:
When we promised this stretch goal, we grossly underestimated what went into providing a whole game alongside a game (go figure). But we have some great news! We are currently investigating ways to get some of our legacy ‘Links’ games available to players again on modern systems. We are working hard to give backers access to arguably our most excellent golf game from the Links series: ‘Links 386 Pro.’ Stay tuned for updates.

The Ultimate Detective Box Set:
When we promised this incentive, we weighed the options for producing the physical packaging for ‘The Ultimate Detective Box Set.’ Unfortunately, at the time, printing a “big box” was prohibitively expensive! We had to make a call: Overspend our budget and risk not being able to deliver Tesla Effect, or compromise with a smaller disc case instead. It’s almost as if the industry decided at one point big boxes were too expensive to produce and stopped doing it.

But, regardless of this justification, many backers were disappointed with the offering. While they were delivered the “contents” of what was promised, how it was delivered was considered unsatisfactory.

Thankfully, the costs of printing big boxes have reduced significantly in recent years, enabling us to revisit this incentive and hopefully come good on our original promise. We have designed a proper Big Box for the Ultimate Detective Box Set, and are in the process of getting a prototype printed and assembled. If we are happy with the quality and costs we will go ahead and do a limited run to meet the number of eligible backers.

While printing costs have reduced significantly, shipping has not, so we will be keeping a close eye on rates in an attempt to avoid it once again becoming prohibitive before we commit to delivery.

BoxSetNew.jpg


Important note: If we do reach the stage where we are ready to ship these boxes out to eligible backers, we will be shipping them out as empty boxes. This is because backers already received the contents of the box set, which they can place inside. Also, because we no longer have full access to the mailing details of eligible backers, we will be creating an online claim form for backers to submit and claim their big box, and provide up-to-date shipping information. More on that as we get closer.

The dimensions of the new box will match your other Tex Murphy big boxes exactly. This should earn it a spot on your shelf next to the other titles!



Now, let’s move on to the really big news!


The official Big Finish Games team is exploring a new Tex Murphy project:
Pandora25th.jpg


The Pandora Directive is often touted as Tex Murphy’s finest adventure by players and reviewers alike. About 12 months ago, Chris Jones, Aaron Conners, Doug Vandegrift and Mat Van Rhoon sat down and played through the game together over the course of a few days. As the end credits rolled, there was one lasting unanimous sentiment in the room: “Boy, wouldn’t it be great if we could release this game, updated with today’s technology?”

The chuckles subsided, eventually replaced with murmurs of genuine contemplation. Five years ago, this would not have been possible, but thanks to advancements in technology, we knew that once the idea was planted, the idea spread, causing the team to spring into action.

The team in-house at Big Finish has been working hard for the past eight months, painstakingly collecting, capturing, and digitizing all the source materials from the archives using some of the best equipment in the industry. We recently discovered a whole new box of tapes from the Pandora shoot which accounted for over 50% of the game’s primary video content, thus properly completing the collection. Exploring recent advancements in machine learning technology, we’ve been reprocessing the video in marvelous high definition! So far, the results have been extremely promising.

While the video restoration has been underway, Doug (alongside Mat) have been getting up to speed on the latest in game engine tech while also digging into the archives to resurrect the original level designs, with the ultimate goal of faithfully recreating the game environments with modern details.

Given how impactful the game was on even us when we re-played it recently, we have decided to ensure it remains as powerful with a faithful remaster. Our goal will be to provide players with an experience that mirrors the original game but with a modern interface. We also plan to perform some fine-tuning to ensure we preserve and enhance things that worked well, and cut back/fix things that didn’t work so well (*cough* alien abductor *cough*). But these liberties will be taken sparingly. Our goal is to take what we believe is an already amazing game and scale it up to modern standards while preserving the soul of the original game.

The in-house team currently exploring this project and their associated responsibilities are Chris Jones (production, game design, overseer), Aaron Conners (story, game design) Mat Van Rhoon (remastering creative director, full motion video, CGI, level design, programming), Doug Vandegrift (level design, art), Brian Johnson (art). We also have a number of other Big Finish Games team members, some who had pivotal roles in the original game coming back on board, some who also contributed to Tesla Effect.



Let’s talk about some of the aspects of this remaster
ChrisJonesPandoraMakingOf.jpg

“I think that computers finally live up to all the hype that you’ve heard…” – Chris Jones (The Making of The Pandora Directive, 1996 video)
We have spent the past few months collecting the ~80 tapes (yes, eighty!) from the original production and getting them professionally digitized. To say this process has been challenging is a massive understatement, given the finicky nature of tape media. But that’s a story we can share at a later date (and boy what a story it is)! Suffice to say, we took a no-compromises approach to finding the source content and capturing it in the highest quality possible.

Decks.jpg

We needed to acquire legacy MII decks from around the country to capture some of the game tapes!
In addition to this process, we’ve been exploring the latest AI technology to upscale the source content into higher resolution. In many cases, up to full 4K 60fps! We aren’t using any interpolation trickery to achieve this; all the data is there. We’re simply employing powerful machine learning, and Mat has programmed a series of custom designed in-house algorithms to bring the content to life! You’re not going to believe how well some of the old footage scales to modern resolutions!

FitzInterlaced.jpg

Do you long to have your footage interlaced? Interlaced. Within cells, interlaced, within cells, interlaced, within cells.
FitzpatrickInHD.jpg

WE believe Kevin McCarthy “fitz” much better in an HD frame.
Music and sound are getting the same attention. We’ve collected DAT tapes and studio masters from the original sessions with both the sound designer Jon Clark and music composers Matt Heider and Jeff Abbott (Third Ear Music). Originally, most of the music and sound in the game was presented in 22,050Hz Mono. But in this remaster, we are planning to restore everything. Voices, walking around music, and the cinematic score will be remastered to their complete original glory (alongside some faithful recreations and enhancements)!

PandoraAudio.jpg

Just about the cleanest version of the Pandora soundtrack you’ll ever see, um, hear.
Utilizing the latest in game engine technology, the goal will be to ensure each level from the game is recreated to match the original game’s layout and structure, but with much more attention to detail and polish. We’ve gone back to the archives to source all the original locations and models and use them as a base to build the new environments. Many of these source files are being resurrected from projects that were created on machines that carried the “486” moniker, and before 3DStudio had the word “Max” in it.

DougRoswell.jpg

Willingly revisiting Roswell takes a lot of guts. Go get ‘em, Doug!
RoswellLayout.jpg

The original Roswell layout. Reconstructed inch-for-inch, room-for-room as a blocking plan.
NewRoswell.jpg

The new Roswell style concept in development. There’s an ancient entity skulking around here somewhere.
Using a combination of the new game engine scenes and levels, and completely re-created pre-rendered cinematic environments (rendered at up to 8k resolution), we want the full-motion video sequences to be re-composited in a way that brings justice to the original cinematic sequences. These will ultimately be presented in up to 4K 60fps with updated visual effects and color grading.

ShipInterior.jpg

North, Circle, Red…
We have had a chat to Adrian Carr, who is extremely excited about the idea. Once the project is in full swing, we will invite Adrian to come back on board and return to the edit suite. There were a lot of limitations at the time when Pandora was originally edited and composited. Adrian will be working closely with Mat Van Rhoon to provide players with the most definitive version of the cinematic sequences, while also updating them with tighter edits, refined compositing, and a more compelling color grade.

AdrianAndMat.jpg

The Pandora Directors.
Can we expect to see a moonrise?
Some folks have already asked, “what about Under a Killing Moon?” Although many players regard Pandora as Tex’s best and most highly-regarded game, Under a Killing Moon holds a special place in many people’s hearts. Not only was it the game that introduced many to the Tex Murphy universe, but one that helped put full-motion video games on the radar (before other less than satisfactory titles proceeded to pull it off the radar years later).

While we have recovered many of the source materials used for Under a Killing Moon, the content hasn’t stood the test of time as well. Don’t get us wrong: they look great. But Under a Killing Moon was shot on a black screen (not a blue/green screen). Which meant most of the full-motion video sequences were composited using a combination of luma keying and rotoscoping. Back when the video was only 10 frames-per-second, this was not such a tall order. Upscale that to high definition and 30-60 fps, and we’re talking about a gargantuan task!

There have been some great advancements in technology that should help with the task, but many are still in their infancy, so we will be keeping a close eye on them as they develop. We’re certainly not ruling the idea out for the future. After all, as the famous Police song ‘Walking on the Moon’ goes, “Tomorrow’s another day… I may as well play.”


When will we get to play The Pandora Directive: 25th Anniversary?
This game will be developed in-house by many members of the original Tex Murphy development team, from those who delivered Pandora (and even the earlier titles) to those who delivered Tesla Effect. If the concept proves popular, the team plans to maintain that track record to see this project through to its completion.

We aren’t announcing any release dates yet. Even in its current stage of early concept and development, it’s an expensive endeavor to maintain. Ideally, we want to gauge the popularity of this endeavor before we commit to any hard dates and significant financial commitments. We will continue working on the idea and keep folks posted on the progress regularly, and will also be keeping a close eye on the community to determine if the demand for the project makes it viable enough to complete.

Updates will be posted here on the Big Finish Games website, as well as our official social media communities over on Facebook and Twitter, as well as YouTube (when video content becomes available).



Thank you for being the best adventure gamers on the planet!



Big Finish Games.
 
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Infinitron

I post news
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Messages
97,726
Codex Year of the Donut Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker Pathfinder: Wrath I'm very into cock and ball torture I helped put crap in Monomyth


https://bigfinishgames.com/adrian-carr-talks-about-pd25/

ADRIAN CARR TALKS ABOUT THE PANDORA DIRECTIVE 25TH ANNIVERSARY

Adrian Carr shares his excitement for the opportunity to remaster The Pandora Directive.

G’day to the entire Tex Murphy Universe… Dalton Fiske Director, Adrian Carr here…

Two weeks ago I was contacted by Chris Jones, Aaron Conners and Mat Van Rhoon to see if there was a possibility of me joining them on a 25th Anniversary Edition of The Pandora Directive.

When Chris told me that my director’s vision could be fully realized now, because of the advancements in today’s Game Technology —- Just think, gang, Real Time video up to 4K resolution, a Full Color Spectrum as well as Full Dynamic Audio, Upgraded Sets and high quality VFX —- would I be interested?

My answer — A Resounding HELL YEAH!!!

It’ll be like getting the band back together, but hey, it’s early stages and we have to see how we can bring this mammoth undertaking to fruition.

I know I’m excited for this and I hope you are too.

Adrian.



25 years on, taking a look back on the set of The Pandora Directive.
1995 was an fantastic time for adventure games. Access software, with the assistance of Adrian Carr, helped bring the Tex Murphy universe to the forefront of the industry. It was their award-winning approach and masterful collaboration that resulted in what has been deemed one of the greatest adventure games of all time. The game’s innovative approach to branching story and dialog even caught the attention of BioWare (best known for the Mass Effect series), who borrowed a few cues from The Pandora Directive when crafting Mass Effect’s in-game dialogue and choice system.

Now that we’re getting the band back together (with a few more members picked up along the way), let’s take a look back on the set of the original Pandora Directive. In this video restored from the archives we get a glimpse of this fantastic team whose genesis stems from the golden era of adventure game development…
 

Infinitron

I post news
Staff Member
Joined
Jan 28, 2011
Messages
97,726
Codex Year of the Donut Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker Pathfinder: Wrath I'm very into cock and ball torture I helped put crap in Monomyth


https://bigfinishgames.com/tex-murphy-and-the-raiders-of-the-lost-tapes/

TEX MURPHY AND THE RAIDERS OF THE LOST TAPES

The process of collecting, digitizing, and upscaling the original production tapes is a saga deserving of its own article, so we hand over to Mat Van Rhoon to tell you about this compelling side quest: ‘Tex Murphy and the Raiders of the Lost Tapes.‘

Part One: The Hunt
For those of you who know me, you may recall I started out as a Tex Murphy player and fan before I came on board the official development team. However, shortly after the release of Tesla Effect, I inherited the responsibility (alongside Doug Vandegrift) as the series’ archivist. But let’s go back to the beginning of this story…

During Tesla Effect’s production, fellow artist and good friend Bjørn Ottesen and I would spend our “rendering hours” wandering the halls and the warehouse at Big Finish Games after hours. One night we stumbled upon a couple of unlabeled boxes stuffed in the corner of a loft. We discovered dozens of tapes in various formats (Beta SP and SVHS). They were the Tex Murphy production tapes! Putting on our fedoras and testing our detective skills, we made a game of tracking down and cataloging as many tapes as we could find. However, we could only recover 50% of the tapes (observing the labels to determine how many missing tapes remained). Failing to find any additional tapes, we spent our next few weeks performing a quick interim digitization of the tapes we found using the equipment we had available to us at the office, even though we only had around 50% of all tapes. We then re-boxed what we had and stored them away for safe-keeping.

Fast-forward a couple of years, and I decided to reopen the case. After all, if Tex Murphy doesn’t accept failure, why should we? So I decided to have another crack at recovering the remaining tapes. Over two months, I investigated every square inch of the studios and the warehouse, with a fine-tooth-comb, three times over. I found more tapes in the closets, under the stairs, in crates, in cupboards, under desks, and even some in the ceiling. There were even tapes in some of our other warehouses off-site! The next time somebody says “this game is unrealistic, nobody would scatter these objects so haphazardly resulting in such a massive pixel hunt,” I will have words for them. I even found an entire box with a complete collection of Panasonic MII tapes labelled “Pandora B Camera.” Eventually, I managed to recover every single tape from all the games, except TWO from The Pandora Directive.

I would spend another month combing through every location 2 more times looking for these two missing tapes, but after three months in total, I still came up empty-handed. So finally, out of desperation, I walked up to Doug Vandegrift’s office and began interrogating him, Murphy Style.

“When was the last time you saw the tapes?”
“Do you know of any other locations the tapes might be?”
“What can you tell me about Item #186?”

After thoroughly grilling Rook for about 20 minutes, I took a deep breath. I then exhaled and glanced at his workstation.

“Doug?” I asked. “What are you using to prop up your monitor there?”

“Oh? Just some old tape boxes,” he responded.

I took a step closer. “Doug, you wouldn’t mind turning those around so I can see the labels on them, would you?”

Doug reached for his monitor, placed it down onto the desk’s surface, and then rotated the tape boxes. Have you ever felt both eutrophic elation and blind rage at the same time? I hadn’t… until that moment. They were the two missing Pandora tapes! The mix of emotions manifested itself as a slight grimace accented by the occasional eyelid twitch. I took the tapes and left without saying a word.

I now had all the Tex Murphy tapes; no soldier was left behind that day.

TexMurphyTapes.jpg

Be kind, rewind, and be sure to store upright in a dry temperature-controlled environment.
Part Two: The Digitization
Collecting the tapes was only the first step in a long process. Anybody who knows the fragility of tape media understands that deterioration is a genuine threat. Thank god for Utah’s warmth and dryness! Most (if not all) the tapes, although haphazardly stored, were in excellent condition. Nevertheless, I decided to enlist the services of a professional to digitize the nearly 160 tapes.

VideoWholesaleServices.jpg

“Are you the private investigator?” – “No ma’am, I’m the video guy.” Mark shows off his equipment.
Video Wholesale Services, located in Salt Lake City, would be the team for the job. Their impressive collection of legacy tape-decks and equipment was certainly welcome. It took Mark, our video guru, and his team a handful of weeks to complete the task, and most of it was relatively hassle-free. Did I also mention that Mark is also a real-life Archie Ellis who is actively invested in ufology and was fascinated with the Pandora Directive story?

MarkArchie.jpg

Hey Mark, how do you know *I’m* not an alien?
Overall, the tape digitization process was going smoothly. But we’ve all played a Tex Murphy game before, haven’t we? So we know better than to assume anything would be this easy?

While most of the tapes transferred fine (the Beta SP and SVHS especially), the Panasonic MII tapes didn’t fare so well. Panasonic MII was a metal tape format designed to compete with Beta SP, and was comparable in every regard (you can read more about the format here). The format was used for The Pandora Directive’s “B-camera,” a smaller, more action-oriented camera that made up almost 50% of all the game’s full-motion video content (and most of the closeups), including some of the most important sequences from the game. It was an obscure format. So much so that Video Wholesale Services didn’t have an MII tape deck in their collection. Thankfully, as part of my archival hunt, I was able to recover the original MII deck used on the production of The Pandora Directive (the AU-W35H model). I hauled it over to Video Wholesale Services and we put in our first tape. Unfortunately, the prognosis wasn’t good…

TapeIssue.gif

Glitches and horizontal shifting present in all of the MII tapes.
Every tape had this issue. From this output, we surmised two possible outcomes:

  • The tape deck was in desperate need of service.
  • The tapes had deteriorated.
Refusing to accept the latter prospect (which would mean no chance of recovery), Mark from Video Wholesale Services called a close industry friend who had another, more superior, and well-serviced MII deck (the AU-66H). The next day, it arrived. But there was a catch…

MII tapes came in two formats: large and compact. The Pandora Directive footage was shot on the compact tapes. Most decks were capable of playing both formats (like the deck I had). However, this new unit had been modified to accept the large format tapes only. This is because the tape-loader motor in these decks was notorious for wearing out, and replacement parts were so scarce that fitting a large format mechanism was a more viable option.

M2Tapes.jpg

Two MII formats too.
So, what did we do with a whole bunch of tapes that weren’t going to fit inside our new tape deck? We made them fit, of course! The larger of the two MII formats use a shell very similar to the standard VHS tape. So, we cracked open one of the MII tapes, transferred, and re-spooled it into a VHS cassette shell as a test. It was tape surgery at its finest…

TapeSurgery.jpg

Can we now add “tape surgeon” to the resume?
We then inserted our re-spooled tapes into the new MII unit, but the problem was still there! It must be the tapes! I guess we’re plum out of luck, right?

Still not accepting defeat, Mark decided to make a few calls to more industry friends. A few days later, a third MII deck arrived at Video Wholesale Services. This one had come all the way from Rockefeller Plaza in New York City and was originally part of the old NBC Studios (the AU-65 model).

Photo-Apr-29-3-55-11-PM.jpg

Does that make this monstrosity an MIII deck in total? Maybe an MVI deck?
This unit had also been modified to only accept large format tapes, so we put our modified tape inside the third deck, crossed our fingers, and stared at the screen. To our pleasure, the artifacts and glitches were gone! What a relief!

Photo-Apr-29-3-55-16-PM.jpg


What was the issue?

Inside most tape decks of this kind is a control board that manages “Time Base Correction” (or TBC). This feature is responsible for “reducing or eliminating errors caused by mechanical instability present in analog recordings on mechanical media.” Unfortunately, this board can deteriorate in many decks, resulting in glitching and horizontal shifting shown in the GIF above. Both my original MII deck and 2nd deck had a deteriorated TBC board. The TBC board in the third deck, however, was fine. Overall, it was a much better maintained and serviced unit (having been in a professional television studio for many years).

So, what was the next step? Transfer ALL of the 30 MII tapes into VHS shells and digitize those suckers! After the MII tapes were digitized, we had the complete set of ALL tapes on file. What an adventure!

Part Three: PI meets AI
Five years ago, AI and Machine Learning video upscaling was still experimental and often yielded mixed results. Thankfully over the past couple of years, the technology has improved significantly. Still, our source material was going to be a challenge. All of the tapes were recorded in 486i (720 x 486, 30 fps, interlaced at 60Hz). Unfortunately, many AI algorithms don’t like interlaced sources, and early tests with the technology showed promising but still lackluster results. Even when deinterlacing the source content first, it was unsatisfactory.

AI_Test_1.jpg


Realizing that the algorithms still had some teething issues to overcome before they were ready, we put the upscaling process on the back burner for a few months, focusing our attention on other tasks. Then we were alerted to a newly-released algorithm designed explicitly for interlaced source content and immediately jumped back into testing. The results using the new algorithm were night and day…

AI_Test_2.jpg


Note: The backgrounds composited in each of these tests were temporary test backgrounds.

Now we’re in business! After performing a handful of tweaks to the algorithm, we were much happier with the result. However, I noticed something interesting about how the AI system was deinterlacing the footage. Most of the time, deinterlacing is performed by combining what are called “fields.” For every 1 frame of video, there are two interlaced fields. One field occupying all the odd lines of an image, and the other occupying the even lines (also known as “upper” and “lower” fields). These fields are played back at 60Hz to give the illusion of smooth motion while saving on bandwidth (a result of the older technology at the time). But you are only getting 30 full image frames in reality. These two fields are typically combined to produce one single progressive image for deinterlacing, and the images are played back at 30 Hz (or 30fps).

The machine-learning algorithm was performing deinterlacing quite differently. Instead of combining fields, it took a single field and used machine learning to fill in the “blanks” between the interlaced lines on one field, then discarding the other field entirely. The result was an extremely crisp 30 fps output.

Fields1.jpg


FieldsOutput.jpg

Example of a reconstructed image using a single field.
“But hang on a second,” I thought. “Why are we discarding a whole field when we could use the B fields as well?” So I tweaked the algorithm not to discard the B field and perform the same image processing and rebuild those fields as well. The result: A 60 fps progressive sequence fully reconstructed from a 30fps interlaced source!

Fields2.jpg


A few more tweaks here and there and a week’s worth of trial and error, and we managed to successfully produce up to 4K UHD resolution videos in 60fps (progressive) from a standard-definition interlaced source!

MalloyUpscaled.jpg

Example of the final 4K UHD deinterlaced video upscale (slightly zoomed in).
Part Four: The Pandora Device
Performing all the Machine Learning and AI upscaling comes at a cost. It requires enormous processing horsepower to pull it off, so we built a machine specifically for this task…

RenderingMachines.jpg

The RGB provides an extra edge in performance, true story. Left: Machine learning unit. Right: Flux capacitor and time circuits.
With 20-cores, 128 GB RAM, 20 Terabytes of storage, and the latest Nvidia RTX graphics processing unit, we can perform 4K UHD upscaling of content at around 3-4 frames per second. This results in each tape taking between 7-8 hours to upscale. With over 80 tapes dedicated to The Pandora directive alone, this means the machine will be image-processing non-stop for almost two months! Why did I start this in the summer!? This machine is affectionately referred to as ‘The Pandora Device.’

A fun bit of trivia: A similar workflow took place with Under a Killing Moon back in the day for ingesting and digitizing FMV content. It was performed on a 486 machine which featured an expanded 128 MB of RAM (massive at the time). The RAM upgrade alone cost over $10,000 ($18,700 today when adjusted for inflation). The machine ran so hot that Access Software wizard Dave Brown removed the side panel and directed a desk fan onto the components with an air funnel fashioned out of cardboard. High tech stuff.

Part Five: What comes next?
The machine learning and AI rendering are currently three weeks into their two-month-long haul. In the meantime, I have already begun the reconstruction of all the pre-rendered cinematic 3D environments featured in the game. There are many locations to build, and so far, it has been one hell of a ride faithfully re-creating them while maintaining the soul of the original content.

SpaceshipInterior.gif

“You must find the black sun symbol and press it!”
In addition to re-creating the pre-rendered 3D environments, we will need to take the time to painstakingly log all of the upscaled videos and cross-reference them with the game’s final edits to ensure the editing process is both smooth and faithful to the original. As part of the archival hunt I managed to recover the original tape logs and paper edits for the game. Yes, you read that correctly: paper edits. Shortly after directing the shoot, Adrian returned to LA while the tapes and edit suite remained in Salt Lake City. Because non-linear editing workstations were not common in the early 90s (and certainly not readily available on consumer desktops), the folks at Access Software would send tapes and dailies over to Adrian. He would then perform a “paper-edit” of each scene. This involved painstakingly jotting down the timecodes of “in” and “out” points on a shot-by-shot basis. He would then send those notes to the folks in SLC to perform the edits on the workstation. While this process was time-consuming, it certainly was the best fit for the remote nature of the collaboration. Thankfully, things have changed since then!

PandoraFolder.jpg

A closer look at Adrian Carr’s state-of-the art non-linear editing suite.
We can use this phone-book-sized catalog of shots and timecodes to help identify and track down key sequences for the new FMV edits.

But what becomes of the tapes?
We understand the tapes are a source of unspeakable power and have to be researched. And we assure you they will be. We have top men working on them.

Who, you ask?

Top. Men.
 

RobotSquirrel

Arcane
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Aug 9, 2020
Messages
1,980
Location
Adelaide
I'm glad they're getting remastered and its good that Matt's handling it he's upscaled the on disc videos in the past. Having the original tapes would be godly.
I wonder if they have any of the Martian Memorandum footage still? that game is in desperate need of update.
 

RobotSquirrel

Arcane
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Joined
Aug 9, 2020
Messages
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the transition where Tex wakes up in Roswell still to this day scares the hell out of me. Roswell has some of the best horror atmosphere I've seen in a game. That real sense of pending doom is very apparent. Same goes with Autotech it just has such great tension through the whole game. But to be fair so did UAKM it just managed to retain a lot more of the comedy aspects, in Pandora it felt very out of place because of how serious it was being played. UAKM remains comedy all the way through the ending where Tex essentially gets screwed over was hilarious because it goes against what you'd expect to happen. Whereas Pandora does the opposite and is worse for it (referring to the Chelsea ending. Its messed up the Holodate ending is canon but its messed up its the least weirdest ending).
 

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Codex Year of the Donut Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker Pathfinder: Wrath I'm very into cock and ball torture I helped put crap in Monomyth
I didn't like how The Pandora Directive basically ignored the series' post-nuclear war future setting. It really wanted to be an X-Files plot arc set in the 1990s.
 

RobotSquirrel

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I didn't like how The Pandora Directive basically ignored the series' post-nuclear war future setting. It really wanted to be an X-Files plot arc set in the 1990s.
ironic as I just finished the Xfiles Game again recently and got that exact vibe from Pandora. You're very right.
 

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Codex Year of the Donut Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker Pathfinder: Wrath I'm very into cock and ball torture I helped put crap in Monomyth
https://bigfinishgames.com/upscale-progress-music-remastering-and-a-new-update-from-adrian-carr/

UPSCALE PROGRESS, MUSIC REMASTERING, AND A NEW UPDATE FROM ADRIAN CARR

A new update on the progress of upscaling the source video tapes, the music remastering, and news from Adrian Carr.

The machines are learning.
Our AI machine spent the last five weeks burning non-stop through the 43 “A” tapes from the production. Throughout the process, the more content that was analyzed, the more it began recognize our beloved PI and his companions, continuously tweaking and refining the image output. So far the results have been stellar. As the last tape made its way through processing, our machine was able to breathe a brief sigh of relief before being put back to work on the “B” tapes. It’s likely the machine will be burning through these conversions for another three weeks.

Here are some examples of the fantastic work our AI friend has been doing upscaling the content from interlaced SD to full 4K 60fps…

TexComparison1.jpg

The clarity, the color, the smoothness, just delightful. But enough about the bourbon…
TexComparison2.jpg

From navigating pixels to navigating a real jungle.
FitzComparison1.jpg

Over time, the system begins to learn Kevin McCarthy’s features for excellent reproduction.
TanyaRoberts.jpg

She was already beautiful, to be honest. But in 4K, wow!
Let’s talk about the music
Ask anybody who has played The Pandora Directive, or ask any Tex Murphy fan, and they’ll tell you one of the most quintessential components of the Tex Murphy experience is the music. The Tex Murphy series used a combination of orchestral/pre-composed soundtrack (for the full motion video sequences since Under a Killing Moon) and MIDI for the environmental music. Back when The Pandora Directive was released, most games utilized MIDI due to it’s much smaller data footprint. Remember, this was before MP3 and other efficient compression formats were released or widespread. So, to save on space, many game soundtracks were presented with MIDI, which was a series of digital commands designed to “perform” the music on the user’s soundcard. Unfortunately, the quality of MIDI music was entirely dependent on the sound card and instrument set (commonly known as sound fonts) on the player’s machine. This resulted in inconsistent delivery of the in-game music soundtrack. Sometimes it could sound great (if you were lucky enough to have a Roland Sound Canvas, or an MT-32), or terrible if you used a more basic AdLib compatible or entry-level Sound Blaster.

Thankfully, we no longer have this limitation! We have been dedicating some time to loading up the original studio MIDI files and remastering them using modern sample libraries with a little bit of live embellishment. The end result is far more dynamic environmental music. We were even lucky enough to find some orchestrated versions of the original MIDI music in our archives and are working hard to provide players with a soundtrack experience that presents the music at the highest fidelity, while maintaining the musical soul of the Tex Murphy universe.

Here is an example of the remastered environmental music from The Pandora Directive…


ChronoWolf · The Pandora Directive – Remastered



The fully-orchestrated music is also receiving a remastering treatment. Going back to Matt Heider’s original studio sessions and recordings, we are remastering all the cinematic music. Throughout the composition of the soundtrack, various considerations needed to be made regarding the final output to ensure the music could be presented within the limitations of the technology at the time. This meant a significantly reduced dynamic range and stifled stereo image (to prepare the tracks for their mono presentation). Thankfully, the original sessions did not adhere to these limitations. We have taken the various versions and stems of each track, and through the mastering process we have mixed and melded together the definitive Pandora Directive soundtrack.

Here is one such example of a remastered orchestrated track (and my personal favorite)…


ChronoWolf · The Pandora Directive – The Ascension



With all that juicy news out of the way, let’s hand over to Adrian Carr to talk more about his upcoming involvement in the project…

A word from Adrian Carr
G’day!

Once we reach the editing stage, Chris has given me permission to dig back into the original footage with the goal of re-editing scenes to make them sharper, more dramatic, more emotional and have greater impact, something I could not do at the time due to our launch deadline. I’m excited to for the opportunity to make this Anniversary release… The Director’s Cut.

I’ve been following the video upgrade process and I gotta tell you, the quality is outstanding and the composite tests I’ve seen are superior to what we could have achieved back in the mid 90s.

Mat Van Rhoon understands camera lenses and their individual qualities and he has been experimenting with corrected perspective and refinement of the photographic depth of field in the test shots. Based on these results, together, we hope to meticulously match edit every FMV shot in the game, correct angle perspectives and add the correct focal depth of field.

Recently, we reframed a couple of the close-up samples to what they were originally intended, along with the correct perspective and depth of focus, and we achieved what will be a fuller cinematic experience for the player.

The extraordinary clarity on actors’ faces increases the emotional impact their performances will have on players, you might wanna have some tissues handy for certain scenes.

With Mat, Doug Vandegrift and Brian Johnson back on the case to freshen up the sets and environments it will be like buffing Pandora Directive to a deep, dazzling shine.

One aspect I cannot wait to experience though, is the SOUND enhancements. To hear Matt Heider’s score as it was originally recorded in all its high-fidelity magnificence and not the compressed version, which was a necessary evil at the time we made Pandora Directive.

I also asked Mat (Van Rhoon) about the dinky sounding midi-music, which I personally felt cheapened the overall music score, but I understand it was essential to the game at the time of release. I was highly encouraged when he told me that he has located all the original midi recordings as well, and wants to remaster them using realistic instrument samples to create a more symphonic sound for all the searching mode sequences, which will complement the music.

Alas, for now, I must bide my time till we get further down the track, but I’m itching to dig back into Pandora and bring my contribution to renewed life. Who’s with me?



As you can see, the wheels are turning, but it’s still early days. We are still lining up all the components required to bring this project to life and into full-swing, but will continue to update players and fans throughout the process.
 

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Codex Year of the Donut Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker Pathfinder: Wrath I'm very into cock and ball torture I helped put crap in Monomyth


https://bigfinishgames.com/a-brief-insight-into-the-remastering-of-level-design/

A BRIEF INSIGHT INTO THE REMASTERING OF LEVEL DESIGN

One of the things we are aiming to achieve in the Pandora Directive 25th Anniversary remaster is a faithful re-creation of the original level designs, but brought forward to the modern era with finer details and greater atmosphere. While Access Software’s ‘Virtual World’ engine was ground breaking and state-of-the-art at the time when The Pandora Directive was released, game engine technology has advanced so much that we are able to achieve even greater levels of realism and style in level designs today.

DougWorking.jpg

Even developers need strategy guides.

Doug Vandegrift is currently working on the Mayan Temple from The Pandora Directive. Utilizing all the resources available to him, he is painstakingly re-creating the layout and geometry of the original levels, while also vastly increasing the details thanks to the modern game engine technology. To do so, he is going back to our original level design and 3d archives to extract any and all relevant assets and information (including textures which are both being upscaled and in many cases completely re-painted by our artist Brian Johnson). He is also relying on some of the published documentation and strategy guides to ensure each level lives up to the gameplay mechanics, environmental and puzzle navigation strategies that veteran players are familiar with.

The faithful re-creation of the original level designs is only the first pass. The next will involve adding tons of new details to give the scenes more character and depth. Then we will add all new lighting, atmosphere, special effects, weather, and more.

Note: the content above shows a work-in-progress at the early stages of the level design process. Over time, these will be further refined with details, lighting, and environmental adjustments.

We are very fortunate not only to have access to all the original assets, textures, and designs for our faithful remaster, but also the original team that brought you The Pandora Directive, many of whom are excited to be reprising their roles to provide players with an experience that both mirrors the original game, and also brings it to a whole new level!

You may have noticed another one of the remastered audio tracks playing over the video. We are excited to share more on the music and soundtrack remastering process in future updates, so stay tuned!
 
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Boleskine

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Haven't watched this yet but the developer also talks a bit about why The Poisoned Pawn was canceled.

 

Neuromancer

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They already did that.
The original video was of low quality compared to today's standard with a lot of compression artifacts.

This is probably the best you can get from the original video material.
 

Jack Of Owls

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I remember playing Mean Streets on my C64 around the time it was first released. One of my favorite games on the C64 at the time, and probably the very first graphic adventure game I had played. I couldn't get into its immediate followup Martian Memorandum however since I couldn't stand the voice actor who did the early "FMV" french guy and there was no way to escape that, even with the floppy disk version. The game itself probably didn't grab me much either for whatever reason. But I heard The Pandora Directive was the best in the series - and one of the best FMV games in general - so I might check it out someday.
 

bertram_tung

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UAKM & Pandora Directive were cool because you could walk around the game world and actually see/interact with other characters. Overseer and Tesla Effect both lacked this feature and as a result both game worlds felt empty and lonely. For some reason it doesn't seem like a common complaint, but it really bothered me. I have my doubts they will make a faithful remake of Pandora given their last two games.
 
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This would be nice, as Tex Murphy is one of my favorite adventure games, I love all of it. Pandora Directive is the best of the series and I would love to have a physical release of the F.M.V. games, but also of the old games. I would love a remaster of the old games because as much as I love them they do have problems, like the annoying flying and awful combat in Mean Streets and the dead ends in Martian Memorandum which could be fixed in order to make the games perfect.
 

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Codex Year of the Donut Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker Pathfinder: Wrath I'm very into cock and ball torture I helped put crap in Monomyth


https://bigfinishgames.com/re-creating-the-classic-brick-by-brick/

RE-CREATING THE CLASSIC, BRICK BY BRICK

In an earlier update, we mentioned one of the primary goals of The Pandora Directive’s 25th Anniversary remaster was to ensure the new game retains the original’s look, feel, and soul. To achieve this, we’ve had to dig deep into the archives to retrieve every building, prop, material, and asset we could find to serve as the basis of the reconstruction. In addition to these assets, we have been spending many hours playing through the game, capturing screenshots, and reviewing the published game guides. It has been a trip down memory lane for the entire team.

Throughout this journey, we have realized the modern approach to environmental design, especially using modern engines like Unity 2021, requires a few liberties to be taken on the original design, especially when it comes to layout. Let’s take the Ritz Hotel, for example. In the original 1996 Pandora Directive, every room in Tex’s Office (and the office itself) were separate loads. Meaning, the space could be treated like a Tardis, where the interior was impossibly larger than the building in which it sat. The result is slight adjustments to the architectural layout of some rooms, but with the benefit of having many more areas and environments loaded up in real-time without the need for excessive load screens.

TexOfficeDesign.gif

Doug Vandegrift re-creates Tex’s Office in Maya

Old Meets New
Many of the original game assets still exist in our archives in one form or another. Most objects were modeled in either Max or Maya, optimized to low-poly variants, then imported into the custom-designed “Virtual World” engine. Many of these models still exist in their original high-poly form, which acts as an excellent base for upscaling and retexturing the models to fit in the higher definition remastered environments. However, a good number of the environmental objects were “spinners,” two-dimensional objects designed always to face the camera. So naturally, these objects are either being re-created from scratch or replaced with new or re-imagined versions if full 3D.

ModelsAndAssets.jpg

While many models and assets provide an excellent base to build off, some are simple 2D spinners which need to be re-created entirely.

Unity Engine’s High Definition Render Pipeline
The team at Big Finish Games has chosen to work in Unity Engine 2021’s HDRP to get the most out of the visuals for the new game. The platform enables us to present the new levels with a staggering amount of detail, polish, and atmosphere. There was a slight learning curve ensuring textures and models adhered to the new platform, but within a few days, the team became experts on working in the new pipeline and could see immediate results!

TexOffice.jpg

Early work-in-progress of Tex’s Office in Unity’s High Definition Render Pipeline. Many assets are imported directly from the original 1995/96 sources to assemble the scene, then will be updated/refreshed, retextured, or even completely redone once the scene is laid out.


TexOfficeAnimation.gif

Tex’s Office (work-in-progress), with original base models (pre-refurbishment), using Unity 2021’s High Definition Render Pipeline

We have continued to take liberties when it comes to the general architecture of the environments as well. Using the Roswell complex as an example, much of the original design resulted from 1996 software and hardware limitations. These days, we can create much more detailed environments using many more props and set-dressings, in addition to higher-poly structures. So while the overall layout and style should be very similar to the original levels, the designs will be completely refurbished and modernized.

This results in much more impactful scenes that are closer to the original vision (and Aaron’s books)…





In the Roswell Level 3 hangar demonstration, we are also experimenting with real-time camera motion capture as an option for using a hand-held camera for some scenes and scripted events. These demonstrations are part of our experimentation process, are subject to change, and do not represent the final product.

Overall, we’re incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved during this experimentation phase, and we’re looking forward to expanding on the potential of this remaster and keeping players updated on our progress!

Oh, and in case you missed it when it was published only to social media, here is the Mayan Temple work in progress video we posted back in June…
 

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Codex Year of the Donut Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker Pathfinder: Wrath I'm very into cock and ball torture I helped put crap in Monomyth
https://bigfinishgames.com/why-render-one-when-you-can-render-two-at-twice-the-price/

WHY RENDER ONE, WHEN YOU CAN RENDER TWO AT TWICE THE PRICE?

Seven Months
That’s how long it took for our Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence upscaling computer to process all the Pandora Directive source tapes. Seven long months of non-stop rendering. Using some of the latest AI models for upscaling, the AI box (or TexBox as we have dubbed it), which doubled as an effective space heater during this time, performed around-the-clock processing of the digitized tapes frame by frame from interlaced SD video into progressive 4K at 60fps.

This morning, the last frame of the last video completed for a total of just under 8TB of data and the results so far speak for themselves…

Upscale1.jpg
Upscale2.jpg
Upscale3.jpg
Upscale4.jpg
Upscale5.jpg
Upscale6.jpg


“Pop the champagne and celebrate” you may be saying?
Well, not quite. A LOT can change over seven months, particularly in the world of technology. The AI models that yielded excellent results are constantly improving. But that’s not everything. Let’s go back to the beginning first…

Beta maxxed
You may recall a previous article where we had issues capturing the “B Camera” tapes and had to acquire all-new equipment to successfully dub over the MII format tapes? Well, those digitizations turned out so spectacular we went back to the original “A Camera” (Beta SP) tapes (that were dubbed a couple of years prior) and did a comparison. As it turns out, the “A Camera” tapes (arguably the more important of the two sets), appeared a bit “soft” by comparison. So, we dug the Beta SPs out of storage again and took them back to the production house for a second run, this time using some all new digital equipment they had recently acquired…

TapeDeck.jpg

This piece of kit once cost upwards of $60,000 brand new.

The results of our second attempt at capturing the Beta SP “A Camera” tapes were a vast improvement. It was virtually night and day…

DubComparison.jpg

Left: The original tape dub. Right: The second pass on the new equipment (all pre-upscale).

After factoring in what it would cost to get the “A Camera” tapes captured a second time (both financially and in terms of timing), then comparing the two outputs, we were extremely happy we decided to perform a second pass of the video capture on the new gear.

It was at this stage that we got to work on upscaling all the tapes at once. Our TexBox churned through almost 74 hours of video over the course of seven months, and while it did a fantastic job of upscaling the content to 4K, there were some issues that stood out after the machine had completed its task.

There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution
The AI algorithms and models may be fantastic in general but rarely does one model excel at every type of content all at once. In our case, we found one model, which yielded the most crisp 4K output (see the individual actor images above), did extremely well with shots where the actors were either close or medium distance from the camera, but failed for any subjects a certain distance away and beyond. And for another model, although closer subjects were not as crisp, distant subjects showed up much cleaner.

ModelComparison.jpg

Left images: AI Model A struggles with distant objects, resulting in image artifacts. Right images: Model B provides a much cleaner render of distant subjects.

So, how do we switch back and forth between the two models to try and get the best of both worlds? Put simply: We don’t. We render them all twice! Once with Model A and once with Model B.

This is why, even though the machine has just completed 7-months worth of AI rendering, we are not celebrating just yet. This first render was *just* for Model A. Now we commence the process all over again for Model B. This way, we can pick and choose from two rendering outputs depending on which works best during the edit process, giving us the best of both worlds.

TitleImage.jpg

“That’s ONE render done, Murphy!” Tex doesn’t look too thrilled about round two.

It’s a slow process, but we’re making progress
Despite the sheer amount of time it takes to process the video, we are confident this approach will yield the best result in the long-run. After all, there’s no sense approaching any of this half-baked. We’re also not spending all this rendering time just sitting around waiting for the computer to finish.

Doug Vandegrift has been working every day over those seven months re-creating every location from The Pandora Directive, and we will have some progress to showcase from those designs in a coming article/update. Adrian Carr can also commence (and already has) cutting together his new edits with the first pass. The rest of the team is working on virtually every other part of the process while our hard-working TexBox churns away in the background and racking up a hefty power bill in the process.

In the meantime, we thank you for your patience and allowing us the opportunity to take extra care in doing everything to best of our (and the technologies’) ability.
 
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This is why, even though the machine has just completed 7-months worth of AI rendering, we are not celebrating just yet. This first render was *just* for Model A. Now we commence the process all over again for Model B.
Fingers crossed for early access by the end of the year. I really want to play this. :D
 

wishbonetail

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I don't mind the graphics but I almost dismissed this gem cos of control scheme. It seems every dev in '90s tried to invent his own wheel. Anyway, I wish them luck and hope they won't try to implement quest compass or some other awsum features like that.
 

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