Remastering The Games of Old - Pros and Cons

We live in a day and age where technology is advancing at a really rapid rate. Almost all of the technology that exists in our everyday life didn't exist ten years ago, at least in the same form. This constant improvement blows my mind some days, it's a pretty beautiful time to be alive. Don't worry, I'm not writing another post about The Information Age, I already did that in May! I actually wanted to bring the scope down to just video games and rant about a very specific topic. The obvious effect on gaming is the constant advancements being made in hardware and software. We're looking at new gaming consoles every few years, bringing more strength every time. New PC parts like the GTX 1080 graphics card are making the games we love to play even better. Even game engines like the REDengine 3 are updating and are capable of making beautiful games like The Witcher 3. Don't even get me started on virtual reality! The result of the hardware progress is top tier software titles like Horizon: Zero Dawn, Zelda: Breath of the Wild., SuperHot VR and many many more that wouldn't even feel possible before now. So with such an obviously bright future of gaming ahead of us, I want to shed some light on the games of the past and their place in this future.

Quuuuite a difference.

If you go to a local game store and examine the shelf next to the latest and greatest AAA release, you may or may not notice a good amount of games on the current generation of consoles (Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch) that you've already played in the past. Sometimes these games are in the form of Rare Replay, Xbox One's excellent compilation of games developed by Rare, and its predecessor Ultimate Play the Game. Then you have games like Bulletstorm and Batman Return to Arkham who crank up the graphics and effects on games from the past. This style is pretty common, in fact I can't even begin to list off the games that got "HD remasters". There's A LOT. Lastly you have games like Crash Bandicoot N-Sane Trilogy (Check out Rob's quick impressions here) and Odin Sphere Leifthrasir. These titles aren't simply re-releases or HD remasters, Vicarious Visions and Vanillaware (respectively) completely revamped these games, almost from the ground up. There's a lot of effort being put into bringing games from five, ten even twenty years ago to modern consoles and running on modern PC tech, and I think there's some serious pros and cons to this trend.

My desire to write this blog post actually sparked when I was discussing the recent trend of remastering, remaking and re-releasing games with a few customers at LAN Mob. These guys were discussing how excited they were to get their hands on Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, which added a ton of content and improvements to the 2006 JRPG. Another customer stated how he didn't particularly understand the recent trend of constantly remastering, revamping and re-releasing games, and he just assumed it was all purely economical or developer "laziness". I certainly can't disagree that economics play a pretty big part. Why would a company that makes money by releasing video games decide to remaster old video games if they didn't believe it was a good economical move? However, I certainly believe there's much more to it, and I'll touch on then later. That being said, I do think there are certainly some cons to this recycle trend, such as money grab attempts, less IPs, less support for backwards compatibility and possibly the worst of all, pure confusion. Without doing a fair amount of research it can definitely be hard to keep track of games releasing, re-releasing, definitive editions, remasters, reboots, ports and HD collections. Did you know Resident Evil 4 has technically been released and ported over 10 times?! I would consider myself a supporter of the remaster trend, but I understand these points, it can be difficult to keep things straight. My best advice on the confusion front is to simply do your research. Understand what these re-releases are adding or fixing and make purchasing decisions based off that. Sometimes these remasters are just a graphical overhaul, sometimes they're only ports and sometimes they end up improving the game to the point where it's and if you understand that beforehand you'll know what to expect.

Time to talk about the pros. I think one of the reasons I support the revival of older games via HD remasters, ports and revamps is because I love to see these games put back in the limelight and get discovered all over again by new and old players alike. A perfect example based off my own experience is Oddworld: New n Tasty. I've always enjoyed Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee for what it is, but let me tell you, the charming and oddly (heh) dark puzzle platformer from 1997 suffers from a few flaws. Enter, New n Tasty, a revamped version of Abe's Oddysee that updated the graphics, the terrible control scheme and even added in some extra secrets. This is a remaster that was not only done properly, but done with a lot of care to help preserve what made the 1997 title so magical. I can't speak for everyone, but I think remastering and re-releasing is a really important and decent way to keep the history of video games alive. Imagine a world where nobody has played a Mario game? Doesn't it just seem wrong? It's going to get to a point where PS2's are very hard to come by, not to mention tracking down PS1 software. These kinds of remasters allow these fantastic games to still be available to the general public and usually for a very good price. It also allows the next generation to experience these games in a style of gaming they understand. I think most kids would find it pretty difficult to stomach 1997 Oddworld nowadays.

Abe's Oddysee on the left, New n Tasty on the right

This goes hand in hand with a recent interview from Dan Tanguay, the game director at Vicarious Visions. Dan states, "Today's technology has allowed us to do so many interesting things with the game. We get a chance to really bring the spirit of Crash; and what the original creators envisioned; back to life....the thing that we're most excited for fans to experience is just the feeling of picking up your controller and being transported back 20 years." I think Mr. Tanguay has a pretty good understanding when it comes to the responsibility of remastering games, and I couldn't be happier to hear him state the freedom his team feels as developers while bringing an old game into the newest developmental tech space. The original Crash series is infamous for using a very specific and tricky form of rendering just to make it look as good as it did back then and twenty years later it's finding footing on modern consoles using modern video game development methods. I think a ton of other games would too.

Ultimately, I can only stress my own views on this debate. I've seen both extremes of the spectrum, especially after the announcement of Shadow of Colossus HD which was revealed at this year's Sony E3 conference. Some folks were ecstatic to get their hands on a polished up Shadow of the Colossus, other folks seemed outraged to see Sony spending resources on an older game instead of an IP, saying "wow, they're totally out of ideas xD". If I speak neutrally all I can say is whether or not you support the remaster trend is your decision. This is a consumer market! We have options! From a personal standpoint, I think these are positive steps for the gaming culture. As long as we're continuing to move forward I'm nothing but happy to see the games of old be improved on and re-released, especially when the developers are putting such immense focus on not losing sight of the original game's vision. Call of Duty Modern Warfare Remastered is one of the most popular games at the center, and I think that's an important statistic. I'll never ever sell my PlayStation 1 collection, especially to make room for remastered versions of the same game, but I'll happily add these new takes on the games I love into my collection as well.

What are your thoughts on video game remasters? Do you buy a lot of remastered games? Which ones are your favorites? What games would you like to see remastered? Comment below!   
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