Nostalgia is a powerful emotion
It is a metaphorical high-wire act for game studios to attempt a remaster or a remake of any franchise that is held in high regard. The studio needs to be aware of why the original IP was so well-loved, otherwise they risk not getting any return on their investment, which could be anything from a few thousand pounds to several million.
Despite this high-risk, there seems to be no shortage of studios willing to take the chance to re-release a cult-classic IP. Remakes have in 2018 been some of the most anticipated and highly rated games by fans and critics alike, sometimes even surpassing the original item. For example, Resident Evil (a 2002 remake) is liked by 97% of users on Google, narrowly beating the 1996 version (which received a 95% rating.)
Games that we played whilst growing up are remembered fondly in the gaming community, which is reflected by the preponderance of games that wear their retro, 8-bit inspirations on their sleeves. Often though, what we grew up with is remembered for the way it made us feel rather than its properties and as such we tend to remember the experiences we had through rose-tinted glasses.
Almost immediately after booting up Tomb Raider on the PlayStation 1, most will grimace as they remember that tank-controls were the flavour of the day back then because there were no analogue sticks. It doesn’t stop at the clunky, unwieldy controls;
- Sound effects come across as far more compressed and low-fidelity
- No HD support (resolutions were usually somewhere around 640 x 480p)
- Saving the game was often tedious and impractical, etc. etc.
In short, when a gamer goes back to play the games they remember they inevitably find that the mechanics of the time do not factor into their happy memories. We forget what level of UI and gameplay have become the industry standard, and therefore we have become accustomed to.
At this point, it is a good idea to reiterate what makes a remaster and what makes a remake.
Let’s go with an analogy...
If you have a car that you have owned since you first passed your test, it probably looks a bit worn after the years of use and maybe the engine isn’t very fuel efficient. But like an old friend, the car holds a place in your heart despite these minor issues because you have always loved the way it handles around corners and the memories you made together.
A remaster is comparable to taking that old car to the garage in order to remedy the issues with its outmoded look and patchy performance. The garage might replace any components that are broken and causing issues, give it a new paint job, and install new upholstery. By the end of the process, you would see a striking improvement to the car, despite it being the same car inside and out.
A remake would be akin to replacing the old engine with a newer model that has the same attributes as the old one but yields better performance, changing the paint job and applying a compound that makes it less prone to scratches in addition to swapping out all of the old components that are obsolete in exchange for newer ones that are lighter, stronger and easier to repair.
By the end of the refitting, you essentially have a new car that works in a new way but it is still recognizable. Upon driving away from the garage, you begin to catch yourself smiling every time you smoothly roll in and out of corners, which is when you realize that you are enjoying the experience of driving the car every bit as much as you did when you first got it.
So remasters focus on updating the look of the game to meet current standards whereas remakes keep the feel of the old game while overhauling all of the components.
A fan of the old IP who plays the remake will hopefully experience the same feeling that they had when they first played the game, but with enough changes to allow a veteran player to keep hold of the sense of discovery and excitement that accompanied their first playthrough.
Learning from mistakes (and successes!)
Following the hype of remaking/remastering games has left some publishers assuming that if a game holds a nostalgic place in the community, a simple re-release on a modern console is an easy way to make money.
From Software, for example, came under fire from the Dark Souls community when they released a remaster of the original Dark Souls game. Despite having added new textures, shaders and lighting, the Dark Souls Remaster did not address a lot of the bugs that the original suffered from, on top of having the unintended side-effect of dividing the online player base when fans of the old version found that the player count in online PvP (player vs player) matches dropped significantly when the remaster was released.
The disruption of the online community coupled with bugs making their way into the remaster (that have existed since the original) left a bad taste in a lot of mouths as to the legitimacy of a remastered version of a cult-classic like Dark Souls.
Resident Evil and the publisher of the remade version, Capcom, however have shown how positive the experience can be. The entire game was overhauled. From the character models, to the sound effects, user interface, and level design, every element of the game was built from scratch!
This was certainly a risky move, as it takes more time and effort to start from scratch than just updating old code, but it paid off in the end as the Resident Evil Remake is often cited as a rare case in which a remake surpasses the original game and, in my opinion, it was their ability to recreate the atmosphere and feel of the PS1 original that was the key to its huge success.
Today, remakes and remasters have become centrepieces of the industry. The Resident Evil 2 remake, Spyro Reignited Trilogy, and Final Fantasy VII attract as much, if not more attention from gamers as new AAA games. Remasters are still made and released, but they are often supplementary releases for mobile platforms and publishers appear to be working to regain the trust that had been damaged in the past, by ensuring their remasters include bug fixes and performance improvements.
As a gamer myself, I am happy to see old favorites getting remakes to help introduce them to a newer audience that would otherwise give them a miss because of the relative inaccessibility.
What do you think, though? Are remakes and remasters going to be mainstays of the industry?
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