The Metroid series by Nintendo has a real dedicated fanbase, whether it’s speed-runners collaborating to figure out different ways to sequence break and beat the games in faster and faster times, rom-hackers tweaking and fiddling with the underlying code to change how the games play or even creators of fan games building entirely new games inspired by their favorite series. It’s a game series that has inspired some dedicated players to express their passion in a variety of ways over the years, even in times when it’s felt like Nintendo hasn’t had that much passion for it.
One such fan project is URDE, which stands for Universal Retro Data Editor. The aim is to totally rewrite the game engine to run on modern PC operating systems. This is not emulation, where the original code is running unaltered in a virtual console environment, this is essentially a complete port of the game, much like many other ports of console games to PC, but it’s being done without any kind of special access to the original code. To achieve this, the team behind URDE is creating a complete reimplementation of the original engine. This requires reverse engineering, black box problem solving, and a lot of hard work.
One thing to stress is that this is in no way a “free” version of Metroid Prime. There are absolutely no plans from this team to redistribute any copyrighted work from Nintendo. None of the original files for the game will be distributed with this, and their work is entirely original, not plagiarized from Nintendo. In order to play Metroid Prime via URDE, you will need to provide your own game files, which can be dumped from a disc with relative ease. This is not unlike Doom Source Ports, that expand the features and functionality of that classic id shooter, provided you supply your own game files, but those projects had the benefit of the engines being made open source in the first place. Metroid Prime is very much a closed source game, with the URDE team not having any kind of privileged access to the inner workings of the game, and their only resources are publicly available knowledge of the game and their own ingenuity.
Some early work in progress footage
There’s a solid chunk of gameplay footage you can view here. It’s demonstrably still a work in progress, with bugs and glitches still present (in fact the purpose of this footage is to help identify bugs), but that the game is even playable at all is a remarkable achievement, and I’m keen to keep an eye on this project as it develops.
We had a chat with one of the developers to find out more
I sat down with developer Antidote, to find out more about the project, and to see what the future holds for URDE.
PC Guide: How big is the team, and what is the goal of URDE?
Antidote: The team is 4 people, Cirrus, encounter, lion cache, and myself. URDE is a project designed to reverse engineer and reimplement the engine used to power Metroid Prime and port said game to other platforms
PC Guide: By “other platforms”, what are the priorities to start off with?
Antidote: Right now Linux (primary development OS), Windows, and macOS. We do have plans for FreeBSD and a couple of semi-secret platforms we don’t really want too much getting out quite yet. I’ll just say one involves a recently released graphics API for a really popular platform.
PC Guide: How long has this project been in active development? Is it something you are working on full time or part time?
Antidote: The project has been actively developed since early 2015, and it’s something we mostly do when we have spare time. I work for a retail chain at night, and on breaks and during the weekends I try to work on URDE as much as I can, but it’s not always possible.
PC Guide: How long do you envisage working on this? How much work do you think you have ahead of you? The video I saw recently was impressive, but it’s hard to gauge how close to complete it is.
Antidote: It’s a passion project, so basically as long as I want to. As for total work ahead? Not really sure, we’re getting close to having every boss in the game implemented to some degree so we’re getting close to a completable game
PC Guide: Beyond simply being playable on different platforms, are there any kind of features or enhancements you are implementing or hoping to implement?
Antidote: We have been tossing around ideas, but nothing super concrete beyond having full KB/Mouse support and support for custom texture PAKs to override the official one (dolphin compatibility for this is a personal goal of mine).
PC Guide: Did the team working on this know each other already, or was it working on this project that brought you together?
Antidote: Cirrus and I met through m2k2, he basically showed up one day with a ton of work done on animations. Encounter and lioncache came along later, though lioncache is well known in the community for the various projects they contribute to. For a bit we actually thought Cirrus might have been working for Retro! He just showed up, and knew so much about the engine already. It turns out he was black box reverse engineering the whole thing on his own. He had his own project to do essentially what URDE is called RWK, but URDE is a much better attempt at it, using proper tools to learn the internal workings of the engine.
PC Guide: Obviously Metroid Prime is a beloved game, why was this the game you decided to dedicate so much time to?
Antidote: I’ve always been a Metroid fan, Super Metroid being my first Metroid game. But Metroid Prime is the first game I ever bought with my own money and it’s always had a special place in my heart. I’ve also always been interested in game development
PC Guide: From what I recall, there are minor differences between the different region releases of the original GameCube game, and some changes in the Wii rerelease (beyond just the controls), are you using a particular release as the basis?
Antidote: Most of our work is based on the first revision, commonly referred to as 1.0 or NTSC 0-00, however, it’s actual version assigned to it by Retro is 1.088.
PC Guide: There have been rumors of Nintendo remastering Metroid Prime in some capacity. That would be cool, but do you think you’ll be able to complete your project first?
Antidote: Those rumors are dubious at best, and I’m highly doubtful that they’re true. If Nintendo does have such plans, the likelihood of them getting it to market first is high, our goal is accuracy, which takes time. Those rumors have existed since before Metroid Prime 4 was announced, and also said there would be an HD release for Wii U which never saw the light of day.
PC Guide: From my understanding, everything you are doing is entirely legal, but I’d be curious to hear whether Nintendo Lawyers might feel differently. Have you heard from Nintendo, have you taken any legal advice, and are you worried about C&D or other attention you might draw?
Antidote: Not a peep from Nintendo, except some former Retro staff praising our work. For example, Jack Mathews, the core engineer and primary architect of the original engine, has been very kind towards us.
A C&D is definitely something we know could happen, but we try not to worry too much about it. I also just want to stress that URDE will never ship with any of Nintendo’s assets; textures, models, animations, etc. must be provided to our tools for them to process and optimize for their target platform. Any distribution violating that is unofficial and will have us reporting it for removal.
My final message: Be curious and rip things apart to learn how they work ;D
If you’re intrigued by this project, you can try the current work in progress build of it yourself by downloading it from here, you can look at the project’s source got on the GitHub project page, and if you want to check in with development, there’s a discord channel for discussing it over here.
This wonderful game certainly deserves to be remembered, and we commend the dedication of this team in faithfully bringing it over to PC. This is certainly a project to keep an eye on as it develops, and hopefully this effort of making a classic game preserved and accessible to everyone will proceed to become a polished and entirely faithful option for fans both new and old.