Hello and welcome to the second edition of this experiment called ”Dialogue Options”. Here we put our collective minds together and share our toughts on a single issue each time. Hope is that by presenting wide spectrum of opinions like this we can leave our personal biases behind and think about the issues with an open mind. Without further ado, I present to you today's topic:
This weeks question, ”Why are remakes and re-releases adored, but annualized games despised?”, actually sprang to life after Nintendo announced Wind Waker remake and that lead to the question why a Wind Waker remake is a good thing but a yearly CoD a bad thing. From that we decided just to broaden the topic to concern all remakes and annualization of games from which, as a rough universalisation, remakes are seen as a good thing but annualized games as bad.
Nostalgia and Fatigue
Two weeks ago Nintendo announced some games they were working on. Including Wind Waker HD, which was met with a hugely positive reception. So big in fact, you could of sworn it was new game. This was surprising to me; Wind Waker may be one of my favorite games but this HD remakes did nothing for me.
Nintendo is in the market of nostalgia. They stick to their core franchises and with each installment try to appeal to our first experience with a given series. Rarely do they rethink what those series are. Some people grow out of them but they are pulling new people in. Others may see them as comfort food of sorts to play the new but familiar Zelda. So a direct remake speaks directly to people around my age. People who I bet make up a large portion of the internet gaming audience. This is why I feel Wind Waker made such a splash with people when other HD remakes don’t get the same reaction. Sure Devil May Cry or Ico have nostalgia around them, but not to that Nintendo level. Windwaker was for many people their first Zelda game. A game they played at a young and impressionable age.
When it comes to annualized games it’s a whole other ball game. Those are frowned upon because they become stagnant and risk oversaturation of the market. The several games chasing Call of Duty sales this generation is testament to that. Also they can be seen as corporate interests destroying a quality series. Such as the rapid decline of Assassin’s Creed after it become annualized. I personally don’t want to play another one of those games after 3 and many others feel the same. There is not really a good model for this type of rapid release sequel. Neversoft being the prime example of a cautionary tale.
Zelda has become complacent as a series, but we only get a new one every three or four years. A fry cry from the clockwork release schedule of Call of Duty. Nintendo has made claims to shake up Zelda with the next installment, alluding to non-linear progression and multiplayer. I bet Call of Duty will remain the largely the same as it has since the first modern warfare. Whether or not these series will be well regarded In the future or passé is anyone’s guess but i'm looking forward to finding out.
HD remake, who are you?
Remake, remaster, revival, reboot, re-imagining, re-release, HD, update, port, version, release. There is a very thin line that separates all of these concepts and, at some point, we can’t even differentiate them anymore. But, for the sake of this argument, let’s turn these concepts into short-term and long-term scenario. Short-term scenario is when a developer continues working, tweaking and improving a video game they’ve recently created. An example of this are the Street Fighter II and III games, which kept seeing re-releases and updates in the following years of their release. This short-term scenario has been, in recent years, almost completely transformed into DLC, which has its own set of ethically questionable issues, but that’s for another blog.
Our focus here is, of course, the long-term scenario which is when a developer/publisher goes back to work on a video game released many years ago and is now considered old. “Old” is a funny concept in the video game industry, actually. Is it about the age of the game or is it about the generation of the game? It’s fair to say that “old” has often more to do with platform generations than actual age. For instance, Bionic Commando Rearmed is a remake of a game released 20 years prior, but Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes is a remake of a game released just 5 ½ years prior. Generation cycles are what make a video game old.
So, what does an HD remake bring to the table? Improved visuals are a given. But there should be more to it, right? Gameplay mechanics, level design, audio, game modes should also be considered in the remake of a game. Otherwise how it would be different from a remastered or HD release? Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is a good example of a game which it would more fitting to call a remastered version than an actual remake. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary also makes few and small things to differentiate it from a simple HD release. On the other side of the spectrum there are games like Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Anniversary or the previously mentioned Bionic Commando Rearmed. Both made significant changes to the gameplay, visuals, audio of their predecessors and can be truly called remakes.
Despite me talking mostly about remakes, their quality and how should they should be treated, remember that most of them are used as business instruments. As much you may like these games, don’t let yourself be illuded, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary was made to raise interest for Halo 4 (even the brief things added in the campaign were there as a tease for Halo 4), Tony Hawk’s pro Skater HD was made as an attempt to mask the bad rep the previous games have gathered, Bionic Commando Rearmed was made to raise interest for the “real” Bionic Commando that came out a year after. One can say that Wind Waker HD is just a way for Nintendo to get some breathing room for them to make a proper new Zelda game. HD remakes are as money and business orientated as annualized franchises, which people tend to hate for that same reason, and remakes can sometimes be seen as one big marketing campaign for another game. Now, tell me if that doesn't sound dirty as hell?
Playing a Different Game
At the core of this argument is the divergence between games as the traditional fixed experience, which is played, enjoyed and put away, and a new generation of games which are an ongoing service, where the same core game (usually mainly multiplayer) is altered and adapted over years. When it comes to most annualised experiences such as Call of Duty and all sports games, where the draw is the mechanics of the experience, it is wrong to treat them as discrete games, but rather updates to the same core game. In fact they have less in common with the games which sit on the shelves next to them, and more in common with service games like Tribes Vengeance or Minecraft.
Most annually released games fall in the awkward middle ground between the two types of games, they have the same incremental updates of the service games, and yet rely on the traditional boxed $60 yearly purchase. So you may ask why they warrant a yearly $60 release. Of course there is the profit motive, this delivery mechanism does net the publishers massive profits; but MMOs will also charge for expansion packs of various sizes, and other service games are heavily invested in free to play models, so I do not believe annual releases are unduly exploitative. Also they would struggle to reach the same market penetration with their mainstream audience without the ability to put a marketing push behind one big tent pole release, and a good portion of the audience may not be savvy enough to get non-traditional distribution. So when you see the latest Call of Duty on the shelf, maybe look kindlier on them, as they are an imperfect solution in a sector in its infancy. This does not however excuse single player annual releases such as the Assassin’s Creed franchise, where it is undoubtedly detrimental to the franchise.
While annual releases are part of gaming’s future, HD remakes represent gaming’s past. It is no surprise that they are met with a favourable response, they usually belong to beloved franchises and nostalgia is a powerful force. I believe remakes are a positive development, they allow for people to replay classic games easily, and ideally provide a best version for posterity. At their best they provide the definitive version of the game like Halo: Anniversary and can open up some older games to new audience, like the rare Radiant Slivergun or the previously Japan-only Persona 2: Innocent Sin. However lazy ports like the Silent Hill will quickly tarnish the reputation of remakes, and damage what is a pretty cool idea.
So maybe in the constant tide of evolution we have lost the fact, like rewatching a favourite film or playing a board game again with friends, we don’t need to be constantly reaching for a brand new experience in every game. Sometimes what you know is all you need.
Selling Short, Selling Long
Fond memories of great gaming experiences that have long since passed are the fuel that allows the great pyre of high definition remakes to burn so brilliantly. It’s usually good games that get “HDified” or “remastered” these days (at least since around 2007, when we saw HD upgrades of games such as Bionic Commando appear on XBLA), but only after many years have passed since the original release. It’s that large gap of time provided by the passing of many moons, combined with the residual want to satiate our nostalgia, that leaves most of us mostly happy to accept most of the HD Mega Editions that we see nowadays.
Of course there is a monetary drive behind the idea of creating a remastered version of an ancient game, it’s still pretty tricky to spit much vitriol at those companies who do travel down that path. After all, you do still have the original game, nothing is being taken away from you simply because a 720p version has been created as well.
However, it’s that feeling of nothing being actively taken/withheld from you that is felt in the inverse when it comes to the majority of the Next Big Annual Blockbuster Video Games. A piece of content to be consumed rather than appreciated, often looked at as being cynically churned out on a factory floor assembly line, created merely to appeal to the finely honed demographics that the Gods of Marketing seek to hold sway over. It costs a lot to make a big game these days, so you’d best be sure that your investment pays off. Money becomes a bigger controlling, and warping, factor as more money is needed to create that game.
It’s these kinds of thoughts that stand out in the minds of gamers, that makes us stand up and shout out when we see these repeated ‘cheap shots’ at making a quick corporate buck. In general we all want to see something good in the games that we play, and it’s our memory of games past, and the passage of time from one game to next that colours our opinion on the latest hot jam.
There’s a reason why the best books, films and landmarks of entertainment take a little while longer to make than your run-of-the-mill products. It’s down to how much effort and ability is put into the endeavour at the creative level, alongside having enough time to spend in actually constructing that final piece of art.
Duder, It's Over
That's all for this time and I would like to thank you for reading this. I'd also like to thank Pezen for creating again that awesome banner and everyone else in our small group who got interested in this idea in the first place.
For now we have crew big enough to accomplish things I've set to the horizon, but if you are really interested to joining in, PM me. Also if you have ideas for new topics of discussion just post them here or send a PM.