To Developers Porting Old Shooters to New Platforms

So Quake Arena Arcade finally came out on Xbox Live this week. If you weren't aware, Quake Arena Arcade is the XBLA port of Quake 3 Team Arena, and it was quietly announced in 2007. It's languished in development limbo since then, occasionally making playable appearances at locations like PAX. I believe at one point, John Carmack even admitted it had been flat out canceled. It's a serviceable port of Quake 3, with all the features you remember from the original release of Team Arena. The team that ported it, Pi Studios, went the extra mile, though. QAA features updated lighting, a new scoreboard system (that gives out awards for things like being "most dangerous", etc.), and a new scoring system similar to Pinball FX2's "Superscore" system (it adds up all of your lifetime stats in to one overall score for the friends leaderboard). But it was specifically the improved graphics - the addition of lightbloom and what looks to be (to my eyes) a more detailed shadowing system - really made me wonder why more companies who port their old shooters to XBLA don't make an effort to update their graphics.

With companies like id making their old engines open source after a while, often you'll find a group of crazy programmers out there who take it upon themselves to keep those games up to date. Not just functionally, but graphically, as well. Sometimes these packs don't always turn out the best, but when they do, it's actually pretty impressive what has been accomplished. Just look at Doom and Quake:

But the one I think is most impressive is eDuke32 with "HRP" (High-Res Pack) and Duke Plus enabled:

Whenever you see a company re-release one of their old shooters on a modern console, the primary thing that stops me from buying in to them is the fact that you get this kind of stuff on the PC. Dig out that old dusty copy of Duke Nukem 3D: Atomic Edition, and after transplanting it to an updated engine, it almost looks like a brand new game. Why can't developers do this kind of stuff officially? How amazing would it have been if 3D Realms had updated Duke3D to look this awesome? A lot of the work has already been done for them - throw some money at the community, do a little bit of polish work, and publish that. I would re-buy Duke3D for $30 if 3D Realms went through and polished up eDuke's "High-Res Pack" to match professional standards (some of the monster models look pretty funky and could definitely use it).

And the best part about all of these projects is that they're still technically running on top of the original game data. While this means some general benefits (the game controls exactly like you remember), it also means that for purists out there, there is the all important ability to simply turn the new effects off. Or even better: pick and choose which updated effects you want to apply, and which ones you want to ignore.

But no way am I going to spend even $10 on a basic port of a game I already own. Admittedly, Duke 3D did try and include something new - a weird "rewind" feature, and Doom 2 for XBLA has a completely brand-new episode, but I can't help but feel these companies are missing an opportunity by ignoring what the communities centered around their old games have already accomplished.

And so far, Quake Arena Arcade represents the only game to even attempt to update the original's graphics in any shape or form, even if it is just a little lightbloom.

13 Comments
14 Comments
Posted by BlazeHedgehog

So Quake Arena Arcade finally came out on Xbox Live this week. If you weren't aware, Quake Arena Arcade is the XBLA port of Quake 3 Team Arena, and it was quietly announced in 2007. It's languished in development limbo since then, occasionally making playable appearances at locations like PAX. I believe at one point, John Carmack even admitted it had been flat out canceled. It's a serviceable port of Quake 3, with all the features you remember from the original release of Team Arena. The team that ported it, Pi Studios, went the extra mile, though. QAA features updated lighting, a new scoreboard system (that gives out awards for things like being "most dangerous", etc.), and a new scoring system similar to Pinball FX2's "Superscore" system (it adds up all of your lifetime stats in to one overall score for the friends leaderboard). But it was specifically the improved graphics - the addition of lightbloom and what looks to be (to my eyes) a more detailed shadowing system - really made me wonder why more companies who port their old shooters to XBLA don't make an effort to update their graphics.
 
With companies like id making their old engines open source after a while, often you'll find a group of crazy programmers out there who take it upon themselves to keep those games up to date. Not just functionally, but graphically, as well. Sometimes these packs don't always turn out the best, but when they do, it's actually pretty impressive what has been accomplished.
 

DOOM


QUAKE



But the one I think is most impressive is eDuke32 with " HRP" (High-Res Pack) and Duke Plus enabled: 
  
  
 
Whenever you see a company re-release one of their old shooters on a modern console, the primary thing that stops me from buying in to them is the fact that you get this kind of stuff on the PC. Dig out that old dusty copy of Duke Nukem 3D: Atomic Edition, and after transplanting it to an updated engine, it almost looks like a brand new game. Why can't developers do this kind of stuff officially? How amazing would it have been if 3D Realms had updated Duke3D to look this awesome? A lot of the work has already been done for them - throw some money at the community, do a little bit of polish work, and publish that. I would re-buy Duke3D for $30 if 3D Realms went through and polished up eDuke's "High-Res Pack" to match professional standards (some of the monster models look pretty funky and could definitely use it).
 
And the best part about all of these projects is that they're still technically running on top of the original game data. While this means some general benefits (the game controls exactly like you remember), it also means that for purists out there, there is the all important ability to simply turn the new effects off. Or even better: pick and choose which updated effects you want to apply, and which ones you want to ignore.
 
But no way am I going to spend even $10 on a basic port of a game I already own. Admittedly, Duke 3D did try and include something new - a weird "rewind" feature, and Doom 2 for XBLA has a completely brand-new episode, but I can't help but feel these companies are missing an opportunity by ignoring what the communities centered around their old games have already accomplished. 
 
And so far, Quake Arena Arcade represents the only game to even attempt to update the original's graphics in any shape or form, even if it is just a little lightbloom.
Posted by stubbleman

I dunno about Quake Arcade. I'd played Quake live the night before and the arcade version just seemed to control like ass. Like they messed with the run and made it really bad or something. I was impressed with how it looked too though. It makes me wish they would have done something like that with Quake live instead. But honestly, the improvements just confuse me. If it took them all that time, you'd think they could have just waited and built quake on the new id tech engine. Just port the old maps over and go crazy on the textures and character models. I don't understand why that would be so hard. I mean, that would have been worth the 15 dollars. As it is, I can just play Quake Live instead like Jeff said.

Edited by agentboolen

It always comes down to money and what they expect the interest in this game to be.  Just a few weeks ago Sega brought out Crazy Taxi 1 on the XBLA, they did nothing with the graphics, the only thing they did with it was give it a widescreen resolution.  For me I think the game is so great I bought it anyway (love not having to hook up the Dreamcast just to play one of my favorite games of all time), but yes would I have liked to see some redesigned graphics?  Hell Yea!!  But the fact is Sega probably didn't think there was a big demand for it, and also would have probably priced it higher then $10.  If anyone hasn't played Crazy Taxi you ow yourself to give it a try, its a really fun game.  
 
But back to the point, it comes down to money and interest.  More work on a old title always means they are going to ask for more money, now they have to ask themselves do people want to pay more money for the changes?  For Crazy Taxi I really just feel Sega is trying to feel the water a little bit and see if Crazy Taxi is still a liable game series....  Which of course I'm hoping they can find it to be because them only releasing shitty Sonic games is getting really old.

Posted by sopachuco13

There is no way that I am going to pay $10 for this game. I could just play Quake Live if I really had that big of a Jones for it. They should at least give it away as a Christmas present or something for a week or two. I can't imagine anybody wanting to pay for this.
Posted by BlazeHedgehog
@sopachuco13:  I think the thing is, Quake Live is supported by its own separate subscription model and in-game advertising. This doesn't have any of that stuff. Still, though, I don't think I would complain if they did that stuff for the XBLA port if it meant it was free (or at least cheaper, like $5).
Posted by Diamond

Some developers have done that and do do that.  Marathon Durandal, Perfect Dark on XBLA for shooters.  Both of those games got far more work done to them than Quake Live Arcade too.
 
Games from other genres such as Bionic Commando Rearmed, Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo, and WipEout HD have gotten even more treatment.
 
It's a matter of cost versus sales performance, and wanting to be able to fully cash in on nostalgia.  I'd love to see the gameplay of Doom 1 represented with fully modern graphical fidelity.

Edited by BlazeHedgehog
@Diamond said:

" Some developers have done that and do do that.  Marathon Durandal, Perfect Dark on XBLA for shooters.  Both of those games got far more work done to them than Quake Live Arcade too.  Games from other genres such as Bionic Commando Rearmed, Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo, and WipEout HD have gotten even more treatment. It's a matter of cost versus sales performance, and wanting to be able to fully cash in on nostalgia.  I'd love to see the gameplay of Doom 1 represented with fully modern graphical fidelity. "

But that's the thing. The only game that comes close to what I'm talking about is Marathon - Perfect Dark doesn't really count, and neither does Re-Armed, or any of that other stuff. Those are technically new games, just using assets meant to reference an older product. The companies who made them completely re-wrote and re-made those games from the ground up. 
 
What I'm talking about is something between that. eDuke's HRP is still technically the original, untouched release of Duke Nukem 3D you remember from 1997, it's just the engine displaying newer textures and 3D models in place of all of the old content. What I'm talking about is more along the lines of Monkey Island Special Edition, I guess, or R-Type Dimensions - games which let you flip between the original graphics and the new graphics on the fly.
 
But even that doesn't really quite get what I'm saying - what I'm saying is that there are all of these fancy source ports for Doom, and Quake, and Duke3D, and when these games come to XBLA, all of that stuff is ignored. It feels like an inferior product to me. Especially when XBLA is asking $10 for these games. I can get the PC version of Duke 3D from GoG.com for $5 (actually, it's on sale right now for $3).  That's $5 for all of the new effects, mod support, etc.
 
Anything worth doing is worth doing right, and, well, I don't think they are.
Posted by Diamond
@BlazeHedgehog:  Well, to their credit in the case of something like Duke3D the most compelling new features weren't visual.  I really appreciate the leaderboard / scoring systems in the Doom and Duke3D ports, and stuff like the replays (cool for online modes) were pretty big too.  They can't just rip off other peoples' works and make money off of it, that's why none of those fanmade ports are used.
 
There is no 'doing right' because the possibilities off adding features and stuff are infinite.  They could hire 200 people to make modern visual and sound assets for a port of Doom 1 and that might not pay off.  Where do you cut the line?  Do enough people really want new graphics on old classics?  Judging by the sales of something like Bionic Commando Rearmed the demand might not be that high.
Posted by sopachuco13
@BlazeHedgehog: 
 
I just don't think that Microsoft really would do that kind of promotion. They rarely every give anything away for free when they can charge for it. I think that the people who are interested in Quake Online are probably also people who want to play it with a mouse and keyboard.  
 
Don't get me wrong I think there will be a few people that see Quake on Xbox Live and jump to relive that time in their lives, but I think those people are few and far between.
Posted by BlazeHedgehog
@Diamond said:
" @BlazeHedgehog:  Well, to their credit in the case of something like Duke3D the most compelling new features weren't visual.  I really appreciate the leaderboard / scoring systems in the Doom and Duke3D ports, and stuff like the replays (cool for online modes) were pretty big too.  They can't just rip off other peoples' works and make money off of it, that's why none of those fanmade ports are used.  There is no 'doing right' because the possibilities off adding features and stuff are infinite.  They could hire 200 people to make modern visual and sound assets for a port of Doom 1 and that might not pay off.  Where do you cut the line?  Do enough people really want new graphics on old classics?  Judging by the sales of something like Bionic Commando Rearmed the demand might not be that high. "
 
It wouldn't be ripping off, is what I'm getting at here. The work's already done, these guys are enthusiastic about the franchise, pay them their dues (literally, give them money) and go with what they've done. Instead of building rewinding and cool leaderboards on top of the 15 year old code base, build rewinding and cool leaderboards on top of what these guys have already done. 
 
I'm sure it would be a lot faster and cheaper to say, "Okay, you guys have made Duke Nukem 3D look really pretty. Here's $15,000 for your improvements to our engine, we're gonna smooth over your rough edges, finish it up, and release this as a commercial product."
Posted by BlazeHedgehog

Actually, having bought Perfect Dark while it was on sale for $5, I have to admit that this is exactly the kind of thing I wish more developers would do. This is Perfect Dark exactly as it originally functioned (Rare ported it from the original source code, apparently) but with considerably better visuals. Well done, Rare.

Posted by gorkamorkaorka

Other than raising the resolution, don't go messing with what those games look like unless you give the option to play them how they used to look or redo the whole thing.

Posted by BlazeHedgehog
@gorkamorkaorka said:
Other than raising the resolution, don't go messing with what those games look like unless you give the option to play them how they used to look or redo the whole thing.
Oh, definitely. I just want something more than "the way they originally looked". There's almost no reason to play these kinds of games on anything other than the PC, because source ports do so much more than you get when they port Doom or Quake or Duke Nukem to XBLA.
Posted by Tordah

I have to agree with @BlazeHedgehog: here. It seems like such an obvious and easy thing to do when most of the work has already been done by the fans. Especially these days when you can slap "HD" at the end of your game title and market it as something fresh and new (I'm not saying they should just do that, but you get my point).