By Quentin H. / November 18th, 2019
The Panzer Dragoon series is one of the most famous and well-received franchises from the SEGA Saturn console. With the franchise’s first two entries being an on-rails shooter (and Panzer Dragoon Saga being an RPG) that coupled solid gameplay with an amazing soundtrack and stunning visuals, SEGA and Team Andromeda pushed the boundaries of this fifth-generation console to its limits. Forever Entertainment group, with their subsidiary companies TA Publishing and Megapixel, are bringing back that Panzer Dragoon magic for a new-generation of gamers with updated graphics, new modes, a re-scored soundtrack, and more.
To find out more about this upcoming remake, I spoke with Benjamin Anseaume at TA Publishing via a series of e-mails about the impending release of Panzer Dragoon Remake, remaking such a venerable title, and about plans to re-make the sequel titles.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and to shorten hyperlinks.
Operation Rainfall: Could you please introduce yourself and talk about what your experience with the Panzer Dragoon franchise was like before this project?
Benjamin Anseaume: I’m Benjamin, producer at TA Publishing, a Forever Entertainment’s child company. I’m in charge of smoothing the development of the game as much as I can. I help Megapixel, the development studio, also part of Forever Entertainment group, leaded by Artur and the communication department of Forever.
Before working on the game, I played Panzer Dragoon and Panzer Dragoon Zwei on Saturn, but not when they were released, I only had Nintendo consoles back then. But when I had the chance to play it, I was amazed by the gameplay and the atmosphere of the game! When we started discussions with SEGA to work on the game, I was extremely excited to have the opportunity to work on such a prestigious franchise.
OR: Why remake Panzer Dragoon, a game last seen in North American on the SEGA Saturn and PC in 1995/1996, and in Japan as part of the SEGA Ages 2500 collection on PlayStation 2 in 2006?
BA: First of all, because we think that the gameplay is oddly modern and up-to-date, the game aged very well in term of game feeling, but, of course, after 25 years, the [graphics] made a lot of progress and we thought it was interesting and fun to get a modern version of the game with the same gameplay but HD graphics.
Then, it’s a story of meetings, and opportunities. [Personally] speaking I’m working on another franchise, called Fear Effect (for Square Enix) since 4 years, and I was happy to see another, very different, community!
“Simple answer: we are redoing [Panzer Dragoon] from scratch.“
OR: Along those lines, who approached who about making this remake? Did you approach SEGA/Team Andromeda, or did they approach you? What were the early discussions like?
BA: We approached them with a pitch, and the discussions were very fun and interesting. Everyone at SEGA loves the Panzer Dragoon IP and really want to take care of it[.] I’m happy that we managed to show them our motivation and how we planned to develop the game with care and love for this masterpiece.
At the end we started working all together, and we all have fun – even if it’s, of course, a lot of work – the [Megapixel] team is extremely talented and worked very hard to understand the game and please both the fans and a new audience.
OR: Are you working with any of the original team from the SEGA Saturn release for this remake? What has that been like?
BA: We are indeed in contact with key people from the original team. We had the pleasure to meet them during GDC, and in Tokyo, where we had an unforgettable party. It’s not a secret as I published it on my Twitter account ([here], [here], etc…).
They don’t formally work with us, but we had the opportunity to show them all a build and get some major feedback, that will help us a lot for the rest of the development.
OR: Game source code archiving practices often were not great in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Did SEGA provide the original final source code for the game, are you working off of an earlier build of the final game for this release, or are you re-creating the game from ‘scratch’?
BA: Simple answer: we are redoing it from scratch. Being based on the original source code has never been an option for multiple reasons: the architecture of devices back then were so specific that I don’t think it would have help[ed] us at all. I’m not sure if SEGA still owns the source code or not, we didn’t ask it to be honest. But we got a bunch of artistic materials, much more important for us, to see what was the vision of the original artists, on details you can’t really see on the original game: monsters, vehicles, and even character.
Of course, the fact that we are redoing the game from nothing is a challenge, because we want exactly the same feeling, difficulty curve, etc… And that’s where original team feedback are important!
“For me, Panzer Dragoon is really different from the other rail shooters, and the main difference is the fact that, despite being literally “on rails” you have an incredible feeling of freedom in the game.“
OR: Will Panzer Dragoon Remake be a 1-to-1 port of a prior version of the game? Or will there be additional content and modes to play? If so, can you tell us more about what is being added in?
BA: We are currently trying to get a perfect 1:1 version of the game, and we are close to be honest, then depending on the time we have left until the gold version, we could be able to add some content. We are still gathering ideas from the community on our Discord, but some ideas are already in our mind, such as adding filters in order to play on the nostalgia of the fans, statistics or content bonuses like a boss rush… Nothing is set in stone, we are still thinking and discussing with the community.
OR: With Panzer Dragoon Remake being 720p portable and 1080p docked, it is clear that there will be a major graphic upgrade from what series creator Yukio Futatsugi said in a GDC 2019 interview termed a console where “we really didn’t have that many polygons to work with.” How do you balance staying true to this game’s original graphics and art direction while still bringing it into the modern age and its updated graphic capabilities?
BA: The art of the game is a challenge, because one of the reasons everyone who played the game back then still remember[s] it, is the iconic art direction, heavily influenced by French drawer Moebius. On this aspect, as for the other, we try to do our best, with [much] feedback coming internally from the Forever group, but also the public, as we showed the game on the Nintendo booth during Gamescom, and of course SEGA internally. Of course, SEGA has the last word on all aspects but especially this one.
Strangely one of the major problem[s] is the fast that, being much more powerful, today’s devices allow the player to have a much better depth of view, and sometime it makes the game easier than it was before. We are working on fixing this!
OR: Are you planning on re-composing the soundtrack for the game as well, are you planning on having the original soundtrack in the game, or a combination of the two? What led to this musical decision?
BA: For sure you’ll get the original OST in the game, but we are also preparing a surprise for the fans, I can’t say more unfortunately, but I think all Panzer Dragoon’s fans will be pleased!
OR: On-rail shooter games are something of a rarity in 2019. How do you make that particular genre to modern-day gamers who might not have played that kind of game before?
BA: For me, Panzer Dragoon is really different from the other rail shooters, and the main difference is the fact that, despite being literally “on rails” you have an incredible feeling of freedom in the game. Being able to move the dragon and turn the camera around you makes the game feel smoother and more fun than most of the similar games. That was, of course, the case in 1995, but we were amazed to have the same feeling when we replayed the game recently.
If you had to this the unique art direction, universe and atmosphere, and the incredible story, we are extremely confident we can convince a whole new audience to try the game.
OR: What has the experience been like bringing a game coded for the SEGA Saturn into Unity? Was it harder or easier than you expected? Why?
BA: The problem we had were not really related to Unity or the game engine itself, Megapixel is extremely used to both Unreal and Unity, they are even porting games such as Agony and Hardwest on low-spec devices like the Switch. Challenges are more about the gameplay and staying true to the original. And of course, like every remake of an existing game, the fact that everyone has his own idea about the project, and we have to make hard choices every day.
OR: What has been the biggest challenges you’ve experienced so far with this release?
BA: As discussed before, the fact that the gameplay is a colossal amount of “small things” perfectly put together to bring this unique experience. It’s all about details and small adjustment you don’t necessary see during your first playthrough, but if we forget few of these little things, it doesn’t feel like Panzer Dragoon, so we have to be extremely careful!
“…[I]ndeed, we already announced that our agreement with SEGA was for the 2 first games, not only Panzer Dragoon. The team started to work on the second game but is, of course, mostly focused on the first episode.“
OR: Why is Panzer Dragoon Remake currently a Switch-exclusive? Are you considering other consoles?
BA: It is not. We never said it would be a Switch-first exclusivity. Proof is that we released the Steam page in-between.
If you read our previous interviews we never said that the game will be on Switch only.
OR: My apologies about thinking it was a Switch-exclusive title! Besides coming out for the Switch and for PC via Steam, are there any current plans to also release Panzer Dragoon Remake for Stadia/Xbox One/PlayStation 4?
BA: Unfortunately, we cannot announce anything now, but our goal is definitely to bring the game to the widest audience possible, and we are working hard for this. We want to release the game in the best conditions in terms of visibility, and audience size. If we have some news to share about the platforms you are mentioning or any other, we’ll let you know as soon as we can on our social network.
OR: What is the anticipated release date, and what can you tell me about the recently-announced physical edition partnership?
BA: For the release date, unfortunately no more than what is public: this Winter, but please remember that Winter starts 22nd of December and ends on March 20th 2020!
About the physical release I can’t say more in fact, they will be first to announce. Only thing I can say is that we are extremely happy to work with the company we chose, as they are big Panzer Dragoon fans and we are 100% sure they will do their best to offer a great release for as much people as possible.
OR: In an August 2019 podcast, [you] stated that [you] already [were] working on remaking Panzer Dragoon II Zwei. What can you tell me about that upcoming remake?
BA: Yeah I said that, and indeed, we already announced that our agreement with SEGA was for the 2 first games, not only Panzer Dragoon. The team started to work on the second game but is, of course, mostly focused on the first episode. The idea [behind] this one is the same: improving the graphics and offering a close experience.
OR: A big question: Panzer Dragoon Saga, one of the best games from the SEGA Saturn-era, and a title that was both released in extremely limited quantities at the end of that console’s life cycle with zero re-releases: Are you exploring bringing that game to the Switch as well?
BA: We have a lot of request for Saga since we announced the remakes, I see that a lot of fans still have this incredible game in memory! That’s awesome!
While we’d love working on this game, too, even if it’s definitely not the same scope in term of content, we don’t have any plan currently. But for sure, SEGA is monitoring the interest in the IP and the best way to see this project come true is supporting the 2 first remakes!
OR: What’s next for your company outside of the Panzer Dragoon series remakes?
BA: For TA Publishing and Forever Entertainment, a lot of things are happening, it’s really exciting times. We recently announced that we partnered with SEGA again to bring House of the Dead and House of the Dead 2 on modern platforms, we are extremely excited!
We are also working on Fear Effect: Reinvented, the remake of the first episode. Sushee, the video game studio I was leading before, which was in charge of the game, ceased for different reasons and I really didn’t want to see this project dead, so we restarted almost from scratch and I must say that I’m both impressed and excited by the result so far!
Are you excited for the upcoming releases of Panzer Dragoon Remake and for Panzer Dragoon II Zwei?
What other SEGA Saturn classic titles would you want to see remade?
Let us know in the comments below!
Benjamin AnseaumePanzer DragoonPanzer Dragoon RemakeSegaSega StaturnSteamSwitchTeam Andromeda