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Looking Back to Move Forward

Looking Back to Move Forward

Fri 08 Aug 2014 6:55am GMT / 2:55am EDT / 11:55pm PDT
Development

Remaking classic games for new hardware isn't a sign of creative drought; it's a much-needed dose of commercial and cultural respect for our medium's history

One of the most notable aspects of the software line-ups for the PS4 and Xbox One thus far is the extent to which they're populated with remakes of games from previous console generations. The PS4 version of The Last Of Us did extremely well in the charts last week, and will be joined relatively soon by a next-gen update of GTAV, probably one of Sleeping Dogs, a box-set of Halo games, a remake of the original Resident Evil... Even ignoring the swathe of titles designed to span this generation and the previous one (from launch window titles like Tomb Raider and Assassin's Creed: Black Flag through to the likes of Destiny), the sheer volume of remakes turning up on the new hardware is pretty much unprecedented.

Understandably, this trend has been met with scepticism from many quarters. Just as the nigh-on inevitable diminishing returns of endless sequels is viewed as a symptom of creative drought, the rising tide of remakes is seen as further evidence that publishers would rather milk their existing franchises bone-dry rather than focusing resources on new IP and more creatively interesting, commercially risky ventures. Indeed, for many commentators, remakes are even worse than unending sequels; at least sequels are new games to some extent, and some companies even innovate hugely within their existing franchises (Nintendo's treatment of Mario as a convenient standard-bearer for otherwise enormously innovative games being a good case in point). Remakes, regardless of the effort that goes into them, aren't innovating or creating anything new; they truly are recycling past glories.

While I can understand this scepticism, I do not share it. On the contrary; I think that the enthusiasm for updating and relaunching past classics on newer hardware is an extremely positive trend. Not only does it make commercial sense, it is also creatively and culturally something which stands to yield profound benefits for the industry. I'd even go so far as to say that it's a necessary and beneficial step in the evolution of the medium as a whole.

"I think that the enthusiasm for updating and relaunching past classics on newer hardware is an extremely positive trend"

Let me address the commercial side of this first, since this is undoubtedly the aspect that publishers themselves are most concerned with (the creative and cultural aspects being unintended albeit welcome benefits). The games industry is almost uniquely hobbled by comparison with other creative industries (film, TV, music, books etc.) in terms of how it receives its long-term revenue. In most creative sectors, publishers and indeed creators make a significant portion of their revenue not from new releases but from long-tail revenues generated by creative works first launched decades ago. This effect often goes too far; the completely inexcusable extension of copyright terms, especially in the USA, has been designed to protect long-tail revenues on works whose creators are long-dead and whose continued protected status constitutes a chilling effect, rather than a stimulus, for future creativity, thus utterly perverting the entire justification for copyright. In general, though, the effect is positive; it provides publishers and creators with solid, reliable income streams from past hits, giving them a baseline of financial security which, in theory, allows them to be more experimental and creative with new works. It doesn't always work like that, of course, but when it does the results can be spectacular; there are a great many bands and authors, for example, whose later works have been allowed to take huge creative risks thanks to the security offered by revenues from earlier releases.

This is a model which has, by and large, been denied to game publishers. The problems are primarily technological; for the most part, it's quite hard to access the hardware required to play older software, for a start. This aspect is challenging but not insurmountable - of late it's mostly been solved through emulation, in the form of anything from Nintendo's Virtual Console through to PSone classics on Sony's systems or relatively untouched digital re-releases of older games on Xbox Live or iOS. This only gives us a clearer view of the second major problem, though. While some older games remain pretty much perfectly playable thanks to their simplicity, others are much, much more challenging to access as a direct result of their technological outdatedness. A book, a music recording or even a film from the 1960s remains perfectly accessible today - its style may be dated but little else has changed. A game made as recently as the late 1990s, though, can be entirely unplayable today - a consequence of both advancing technology (larger, sharper TVs do no favours to older games, and can render them extremely difficult to play and enjoy) and changing perceptions.

"even games which we truly enjoyed 15 or 20 years ago can seem awful to us now"

One can watch the gloriously smooth, high-tech special effects of The Avengers and still enjoy the miniature effects in the original Star Wars, but it's a lot harder to play games with reasonably modern graphics (particularly with regard to frame rates and visibility, rather than actual visual quality) and controls, and then go back to the crawling frame rates and low-detail, often murky visuals of the past. Oddly, even games which we truly enjoyed 15 or 20 years ago can seem awful to us now; two personal favourites, Silent Hill (PSone) and Starfox (SNES), transpire to be unplayable for me today, even though I devoted countless hours to them in the past without any bother. Expectations move on, just as technology does, and it hurts videogames far more than it hurts any other medium simply because of the complex technical requirements posed by interactivity.

Updating the medium's classic titles to take advantage of more recent hardware is the way to solve this problem. Although the work involved in this is more significant than in other media, where a film or album may be remastered with relative ease, the objective remains the same; the publisher wants its biggest hits to remain on the shelves, continuing to generate revenue and continuing to reinforce the importance and popularity of the franchises which they spawned. IP left unused is practically worthless; only IP which is kept in the public eye, continuing to delight old fans while also attracting the eye of new generations of consumers, has any real value. Putting a game like the original Resident Evil or the original Halo on current generation hardware makes commercial sense from many angles, then; it costs less to develop and incurs less risk than a brand new game project, secures a revenue stream from old (albeit updated) content, and helps to keep the brand in the public eye, thus increasing the value of the IP.

Even if we accept the commercial value of such projects, though, isn't the bigger problem that this represents a paucity of creativity? I disagree; in fact, even if the decisions to remake old games stem from commercial calculations, the end result is that publishers are showing a degree of respect and reverence to the industry's historic classics that deserves to be welcomed. In part, our criticisms of these projects may stem from a misconception of what they involve. We tend to think of these updates as entirely new projects, but this is mistaken; many of them are really not so much "remakes" as "remasters". Nobody complains that the creativity of the movie industry is being sapped by efforts to create beautiful HD versions of old movies by rescanning and touching up old prints of those films - instead, we welcome the ability to enjoy classics in a manner that is not limited by old technology, and are glad that new generations get a chance to experience them without being distracted by the poor display or playback systems of the past.

"We tend to think of these updates as entirely new projects, but this is mistaken; many of them are really not so much "remakes" as "remasters"

We should feel the same about remade games. Certainly, the amount of work going into something like the remake of Resident Evil (actually a remake of a remake, since the GameCube reissue is the source being utilised) is more significant than touching up an old film, but that is to be expected; simply boosting the resolution of old assets is a process whose diminishing returns kick in very early, so it works reasonably well from one generation to the next, but skip a generation and you stop seeing much value. For an older game to work on newer hardware, a more in-depth redevelopment is required, but as long as it remains utterly respectful of the original design and intentions, I think the label "remaster" remains valid. Remakes can have value too, of course; for example, I hugely enjoyed Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, an imaginative remake of the first Silent Hill game, although I'd still dearly love for Konami to create a "remastered" Silent Hill that was true to the original while being playable and enjoyable on newer hardware.

Such remasters are as appealing culturally as they are commercially. Much of the value of a medium lies not in what was released this week, but in its history and back catalogue; indeed, much of the value of what was released this week lies in the context created by that history. If games are to be a serious creative medium (which they are) and an attractive space for imaginative artists to ply their trades (which they also are), then making the medium's classics accessible and playable - not just as exercises in history but as truly enjoyable experiences - is an essential task. When we seek out the history of film, of music or of literature, we are not expected to dig out ancient hardware or significantly downgrade our expectations of enjoyment in order to access them. Gaming classics deserve the same treatment; the ability to access and enjoy a library of remastered classics on contemporary hardware will strengthen, not weaken, the creative culture of our medium.

16 Comments

James Coote Independent Game Developer

15 30 2.0
Popular Comment
It's not just the IP holders who are remaking old games. It's the many indies who are trying to recreate their childhood. By glorifying and trying to relive the past, we stop moving forward creatively.

Secondly, it's making the industry more insular. The way remakes are marketed can be incredibly alienating to people who aren't familiar with the original. When you buy into a system for the first time, you want to feel like you have a stake in it, and that you're getting in on the ground floor. A system full of remakes doesn't engender that.

Posted:4 months ago

#1

Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing

1,185 1,271 1.1
Next to their contemporaries, a lot of games from 10-20 years back were really great. Today, not so much. However, let us not forget that those games were a far smaller market consisting of people who really wanted them and for that reason were very forgiving about the shortcoming of games; case and point being any Resident Evil game up until 5. I loved them too, but today they are bad games and not because of the graphics.

Also look at which (core) games from ten years ago are still being played in commercially relevant numbers and you are left with DotA and WoW. However, neither of those games look, feel and play anything close to what they looked in 2004 (Dota maybe, but then again, the money is made with its clones). Other games, such as Call of Duty, or Fifa, were also heavily iterated upon in terms of gameplay, to the point where the 10 year old version re-released as it was, would have a hard time becoming a success. Sure, a Halo can try to gloss over its faults with HD textures and nostalgia, but there is a reason people are not playing the original today.

As for non core games, there is the issue of match-3 gameplay and the abusive relationship between Bejeweled clones and your Aunt Margarete. It that what you would call a timeless classic fit for remake, only on PSN in 4k resolution?

Tomb Raider kept the name and tossed the rest which was the best decision they ever made. They had the IP and did the right thing. Mercenary Kings kept what was great about Metal Slug and kept adding what was modern. They did not have the IP but still did the right thing. Even Nintendo knows better than to simply re-release an old game as a major release. They remake all their games all the time, but they never call them remakes.

Posted:4 months ago

#2

Neil Young Programmer, Rebellion Developments

312 412 1.3
Popular Comment
Even Nintendo knows better than to simply re-release an old game as a major release. They remake all their games all the time, but they never call them remakes.
Unless I'm misunderstanding you, don't they do this quite a lot? Various Zelda's and pikmins have been updated for newer consoles, some metroids had a wii re-release, and going back to the SNES there was the "all stars" compilation of remade mario titles.

Posted:4 months ago

#3

Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic

1,630 1,509 0.9
However, let us not forget that those games were a far smaller market consisting of people who really wanted them and for that reason were very forgiving about the shortcoming of games...
Your point about a smaller market is interesting.

The industry has experienced a consumer boom in the past 5/6/7 years, and as such a lot of classics will have passed people by. Syndicate (as an example) may be flawed graphically - from today's perspective - but the subversive nature of it would still appeal to players today. The Baldur's Gate games on Steam sell because the combination of "classic" status together with hassle-free-compatibility for modern computers means those who weren't born when they were released can now play them easily. There are other titles that live-on in legend that today's market would never experience without a "proper" HD remake (Grim Fandango springs to mind as one that cannot be emulated fully).
I loved them too, but today they are bad games and not because of the graphics.
Quality - at least up to a point - is subjective. And you have to sort the wheat of truly classic gameplay from the chaff of the nostalgic cries for our childhood past. But I do think there's a tremendous value in publishers revisiting classics and updating them for today's hardware - System Shock 1 and 2 beat BioShock 1 and 2 hands-down in terms of gameplay; Planescape: Torment is so far ahead of Dragon Age that it defies belief. To not give gamers the chance to play these games unimpeded - with all the fancy graphical effects of today if they want them - would be a sad state of affairs.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 8th August 2014 7:59pm

Posted:4 months ago

#4

Todd Weidner Founder, Big Daddy Game Studio

430 1,027 2.4
Popular Comment
Sorry but you can't go home again. Games are as much about their graphics and story as they are about their time in our history and our tech. ex. You can remake and play Castle Wolfenstein again, but you will never capture what that game was again. It was among the first to give us the incredible new first player perspective in a game. It was new, exciting, and you can NEVER recapture that.

Now I understand why people are trying to do these remakes, hell it makes that elevator pitch even easier, it isnt LIKE Baldur Gate or something, it IS Baldurs Gate or something, only with more pixels. And yeah, sorry it is lazy, and kind of pathetic. Hollywood often gets away from making the same movie every generation simply because , their tech and entertainment experience hasnt changed in 70 years, and their audience is often simply to lazy or dumb to know its a remake of a remake of a remake.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Todd Weidner on 8th August 2014 3:49pm

Posted:4 months ago

#5

Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic

1,630 1,509 0.9
It was new, exciting, and you can NEVER recapture that.
For the people who played it first-time around, maybe. Maybe not. I've replayed Dungeon Master once every couple of years since I first played it on an Amiga in '92. I regard it as highly now as I did then, even if familliarity has worn it down a little. On the other hand, Final Fantasy 3/6 just wears me down, even though I spent 300+ hours on the SNES version when it was first released.

I think something to bear in mind is that "we" aren't always the target audience. There's people playing games - hell, in the industry - who weren't alive when Dungeon Master was released. Do they want to play DM? Maybe, maybe not. But to approach this question as though the people who played games the first-time around are the only market isn't right. The industry has a long and rich heritage - we should remember that it isn't just Pong and Space Invaders, but games that even now are standard-bearers and orginators of genres. I mean, look at Elite its sequels.

Posted:4 months ago

#6

Todd Weidner Founder, Big Daddy Game Studio

430 1,027 2.4
I think something to bear in mind is that "we" aren't always the target audience. There's people playing games - hell, in the industry -
It has NOTHING to do with the target audience, it has to do with a time and place in history. Unless you build a time machine you cannot recapture what it was like to play Intellivision Baseball or Football for the first time. I dont care who the audience is, it cant be done without going back in time and erasing the memories and experience of everything that came afterwards. THATS the point. Games are as much about tech and new experiences they allow as they are about the game themselves, and so unfortunately there is no going back and reliving the experience and game as it was. These remakes are just lazy cash grabs based on little more than fond memories and known franchises.

Posted:4 months ago

#7

Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic

1,630 1,509 0.9
Games are as much about tech and new experiences they allow as they are about the game themselves,
Man, that's such a weird thing to say. I mean, you can say/think/believe it if you want (not gonna say you can't). But do you think that about movies? TV? Especially FX-heavy stuff, like BSG/Farscape/Stargate? It's almost like saying 2001 or Silent Running are worthless, because the effects look cheap nowadays. My comments above argue from the stance that games rely on technology, but aren't about technology.

Elite Dangerous is pretty much the game that Braben and co would've developed had the tech been available first-time around. Does this devalue either the original, or Dangerous? Is one better or worse than the other? Or are they just two approaches to the same material, 30 years apart?

Posted:4 months ago

#8

Todd Weidner Founder, Big Daddy Game Studio

430 1,027 2.4
its not a weird thing to say at all, its about the fact that movies and TV havent changed much in 70 years but as we know, Game technology changes almost constantly and therefore games are in fact very much limited by the tech of the specific time and place in history.

Perhaps you simply arent old enough to appreciate this yet. But there is another saying that has been around forever because it is true. .."You had to be there"....... in so much if you werent actually there at that specific time and place in history, then you simply can never really appreciate it fully for what t was.

Elite Dangerous is pretty much the game that Braben and co would've developed had the tech been available first-time around. Does this devalue either the original, or Dangerous? well according to your logic, if games arent about tech and the experience that it allows for, then why not just re release the original elite?

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Todd Weidner on 8th August 2014 6:54pm

Posted:4 months ago

#9

Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic

1,630 1,509 0.9
Perhaps you simply arent old enough to appreciate this yet. But there is another saying that has been around forever because it is true. ..You had to be there....... in so much if you werent actually there at that specific time and place in history, then you simply can never really appreciate it fully for what t was.
W00t. Thanks for the (back-handed?) compliment. I'm quite old-enough thankyouverymuch. :p (35. Been playing games since '84/'85.)
therefore games are in fact very much limited by the tech of the specific time and place in history.
Yes... But no. They are limited by tech, yes, but I would argue that that limit doesn't necessarily set-in-stone their place in history. Tomb Raider (the original) is obviously a '90s game. I can't stand it, except for a retro feeling - it plays like a 90s game. But Mario 64? That's a different story, Oh, sure, the tech is 90s still. But the underlying gameplay? That's timeless (literally). And yet, Mario 64 is more reliant on a specific technological toolset than TR. The analogue stick, the C-Buttons, the trigger.
well according to your logic, if games arent about tech and the experience that it allows for, then why not just re release the original elite?
I said (and believe):
Or are they just two approaches to the same material, 30 years apart?
I think of Dangerous as a 50/50 remaster and remake.

Posted:4 months ago

#10

Todd Weidner Founder, Big Daddy Game Studio

430 1,027 2.4
35 aint old. :P
Or are they just two approaches to the same material, 30 years apart?
I think of Dangerous as a 50/50 remaster and remake.
if tech didnt define games, there wouldnt even be a need for a remake. Thats my point.

You even admitted as much yourself
Elite Dangerous is pretty much the game that Braben and co would've developed had the tech been available first-time around

as far as your mario piont,you miss the obvious. Sure the gameplay is classic gameplay today, in so much as its been copied to death but still can be fun to play on occasion, when Mario first came out it was ground breaking. Ground breaking compared to classic old tried and true and thus done to death gameplay. See the difference a few decades make even to how one looks and experiences even gameplay.

I sure wish you could go home again, but the sad fact is we can't.

Have a nice day, its been a fun conversation.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Todd Weidner on 8th August 2014 7:26pm

Posted:4 months ago

#11

Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing

1,185 1,271 1.1
From virtual console to, XBL, PSN and Steam, we have seen many games being re-released where not a pixel was touched. Not a single publisher of those games went out and declared one of these games to be an important event in his business strategy for that year. Cash in for nostalgia, yes, relaunch on a scale that matters, no.

For the sake of argument, let's remake Resident Evil 4. Should you use the visual assets from 10 years ago? Probably not. How competitive (by today's standard) is the virtual camera when trying to frame and cut between scenes in cinematic presentation mode? Which parts of the script can you use and which lines of dialog really sound awful in today's context, against today's competition? Quite a few lines I might argue. Is the voice work still good enough for the average consumer? The design will wonder, if the choice of how to put the player into a position of weakness, by banning walking and shooting at the same time, will be accepted by players. Games released after RE4 often opted to cut back on ammo drastically, or even removed the option to engage in combat at all! How about quick time events? Is there still a physical response of tension mashing the buttons, or do have players too much routine doing that, causing the action to miss its response mark? Does the game meet modern expectations of character progression, loot, crafting, saving a game, health management, etc.? Does today's audience respond to the musical tropes present in RE4 for creating suspense? After all, there is ten years of horror movie evolution and audience education to consider as well. Rip it apart, limb from limb.

And that is why RE4 HD is a low budget cash grab, while Last Among Us is game of the year. Because one game was taken and tossed out there for people with nostalgia, while the other game was designed from the ground up to hit every chord in 2013. Sure, RE4 was the benchmark when it came out. It is rightfully held in dear regard and earned its place in history. It has as much right going up against today's games though, than 1980ies Flash Gordon has the right to compete with Guardians of the Galaxy at the box office.

Posted:4 months ago

#12

Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

2,196 1,176 0.5
Um. I looked on Capcom's press site and as far As I can see it's NOT RE4 that's being remade (yet). What's coming is an HD redo of the 2002 GameCube reboot of the first Resident Evil that ONLY appeared on that console.

It's actually a better game than the original because Capcom wisely changed not only the visuals, but the gameplay. New areas, zombies actually come after you up stairways and into other areas (a great touch that actually makes the game scary because you're expecting the same behavior and get something different) and the controls offer standard (bad) or more natural modern schemes.

Amusingly enough (or not so) NO Nintendo console is getting this HD version, which is a shame, as I'd love to see this on the Wii U at some point. Oh well...

Posted:4 months ago

#13

Paul Jace Merchandiser

955 1,449 1.5
Amusingly enough (or not so) NO Nintendo console is getting this HD version, which is a shame, as I'd love to see this on the Wii U at some point. Oh well...
Perhaps even the Japanese publishers are going to start abandoning the Wii U. Or maybe it will get a late port, like Watchdogs(if that one ever gets released).
The HD Remake of RE4 was released earlier this year.
Yes the Microsoft Windows version of Resident Evil 4 HD remake was released earlier this year but the 360 and PS3 versions were released in 2011.

Posted:4 months ago

#14

Paul Acevedo Games Editor, Windows Central

16 18 1.1
Yes the Microsoft Windows version of Resident Evil 4 HD remake was released earlier this year but the 360 and PS3 versions were released in 2011.
The 360 and PS3 versions of Resident Evil 4 don't much qualify as a remake; rerelease is more appropriate. The graphics haven't been enhanced at all other than the switch to widescreen. And sadly the controls were not updated to modern standards, which would have been a much easier improvement than revamping the graphics. But I'm still glad that a new generation of players has easy access to the game.
Perhaps you simply arent old enough to appreciate this yet. But there is another saying that has been around forever because it is true. .."You had to be there"....... in so much if you werent actually there at that specific time and place in history, then you simply can never really appreciate it fully for what t was.
You know, it's weird to see someone who makes games arguing against games as art. I suppose the people who churn out city builders and other cynical money-sucking games probably feel the same way. Failing to show respect for the games and classics that came before though... Not good IMO.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Acevedo on 10th August 2014 6:43am

Posted:4 months ago

#15

Christopher Ingram Editor-at-Large, Digitally Downloaded

52 45 0.9
I once spent a lot of money upgrading my favorite DVDs to Blu-ray. Then I realised that I could spend my money on Blu-ray films that I didn't already own. The very same thing happened in my purchasing habits with video games.

Posted:4 months ago

#16

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