Let’s Talk: Remasters, Remakes, and Ripoffs

Aging games media is an interesting thing, rather unlike any traditional media counterparts. Apart from the obvious interactive nature, gaming is overwhelmingly informed by strict limitations of the host hardware, and the world and gameplay which developers are able to fit within these constraints. The simplicity of younger games was born out of necessity, rather than being the chosen direction as it manifests today. Limited playing area, fewer polygons on screen, more basic input options, all of these and infinitely more smaller restrictions combined to create the templates of the games of yesteryear. All of this, in an age coming around more and more to the idea of remakes and remasters.

So what does this tell us about the current state of gaming, what do these remakes and remasters bring to the table, and are the prices for updates of older games still worth the price? Well, let’s talk about it.

Give Them More

Remakes and remasters make sense, in many ways. For a start, they give newer or younger players a chance to experience the games which they might have missed. This not only gives developers and publishers a way to draw more attention into a long-running series, they also tend to be far less expensive than creating a new game from scratch. In this way, developers are not only able to gauge interest in a specific property, they can apply an actual monetary value to this interest, to determine if this path or property is worthy of further pursuit. In simple terms – this means they can test the water, to see if a specific market might still exist.

For longtime fans of these games, it gives them another chance to jump back into the action. Nostalgia is a hell of a drug, and revisiting games from our youth, maybe even sharing them with a new generation in the process, is an experience many of us won’t pass up. This is aided by the fact that many of these new remakes or remasters offer improved performance, better controls, and quality-of-life upgrades which can smooth off the old and jagged edges. The thing is though, like anything involving the video game industry, there are those work for the players, and there are those who work for the money.

To get a good look at what can and has been accomplished, as wells as the positives and negatives, let’s use some of the biggest modern examples.

Run the Gambit

Final Fantasy 6

You might know it as Final Fantasy 3, so for simplicities sake, we’ll point out it was the game before 7. Widely regarded by both RPG and Final Fantasy fans as one of the best RPGs of all time, this SNES game has been ported to a wide range of devices, including the PS1, GBA, iOS, Android, and Windows. Some of these, most notably the GBA port, are generally praised and seen as upgrades. Here, the game has had various potentially game-breaking bugs patched and even has additional end-game content added, in addition to an improved localization effort.

On the other hand, we have the Windows Steam version. Already known for their shoddy Steam port jobs on older Final Fantasy games, Square Enix really outdid themselves with what is widely considered a charmless port job. Far from the pixelated and highly expressive original Super Nintendo art, Square Enix instead decided to change these graphics into a rip of the already horrible iOS port. Instead of offering something like the originals, what we have looks about as good as a low-quality RPG Maker fan-job. Yes, this is smoother looking, and yes the fundamentals are still intact, but it disregards so much of what made the original so outstanding. We hate to use the term soulless when it comes to video games design, but there is no word apter.

Fortressofdoors has a great analysis here.

Abe’s Odyssey – New n’ Tasty

A big hit back on the original PlayStation, and with some success on the PS2, the Oddworld series of games were once some of the more popular in gaming. As a personal enormous fan of the original game, I was extremely excited to see a remake in the form of Oddworld: New n’ Tasty. High definition graphics to what was already a beautifully atmospheric game? Sign me up. An hour and a half into the remake of one of my favourite games of all time and I found myself wishing Sony had a better online refund policy.

It could look good when the frame rate wasn’t unacceptably jumpy, and it could sound great too. The controls, however, and the failure in creating a similar atmosphere to the original, would ultimately mark this as one of my greatest ever gaming disappointments. What used to be heavy but extremely precise controls turned into a mess, and the changing from a screen based system to a largely scroll based system had unintended side-effects which caused chaos with the game’s overall flow. We understand that this game was still a commercial success, but for many of us, it represented failed potential. It also leaves us with major doubts for future Oddworld remakes.

YouTuber Matthewmatosis takes a look at what went wrong.

Crash Bandicoot – N. Sane Trilogy

You know Uncharted and The Last of Us? Made by the very same Naughty Dog. The N. Sane trilogy was not one of their efforts, but it certainly stands as one of the better remakes of classic games. Based on the original three games, the N. Sane Trilogy brought these classics up to date with modern graphics, while keeping gameplay much more intact than what we saw with New n’ Tasty. Certainly not perfect, but we feel we have to include this entry as it really is what we feel to be a vast improvement over the example set by Oddworld. As the popularity of this game helped bring the upcoming Spyro remake into development, we hope this marks a trend of greater adherence to a classic look and feel.

Resident Evil 2 – Remake

We thought this one might be vaporware at this point, but their recent showing at E3 has proven that this game is not only still in production, it looks incredible. Unlike our previous examples, the Resident Evil 2 remake is not focused on mirroring the gameplay of the original, instead, it aims to update the game to create a similar atmosphere via very different means.

Whereas the original has static cameras, with 3d characters moving around a prerendered background, the remake abandons this in favour of a fully 3d environment, and a camera and control scheme similar to Resident Evil 4 or 5. Sure, this game doesn’t strictly look the same, nor does it control the same, but it manages to feel so similar. This isn’t Resident Evil 2 – 2.0, this Resident Evil 2 reimagined with modern technology in a way that works, which feels both inspired by the original and progressive in its own right. Say what you will about Capcom, but when they get it right, they really get it right.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare – Remastered

Hoo boy, what a show this one was. Call of Duty was still popular before Modern Warfare, but it was Modern Warfare which made the largest strides, bringing the series into one of the foremost dominating market forces we see today. Excitement for this was enormous, so naturally, the publisher of Activision had to find a way to capitalize on this and capitalize they did. For a start, the only method in which people could apply to buy the game was to purchase the premium version of Infinite Warfare.

That’s right, Activision made it so that one of the most anticipated remakes of all time was initially held hostage behind an expensive version of a game that many weren’t interested in playing at all. While the game would eventually release as a stand-alone version, this left that horrible taste in our mouths which we get when somebody practices such blatant avarice.

But wait, it gets even better. The original Modern Warfare didn’t include microtransactions, as it was released just as the infamous Horse Armor DLC was still much derided, and before Activision had their collective vision turn into cartoon dollar-signs. The remaster, though? The remaster decided why not, slip these into a remake of a nine-year-old game. Not a great middle to follow an awful beginning.

Billy Mays here, and we’re not done yet. It’s been the standard operating procedure up until this point to include all of the previously released DLC in a remastered version of a game, whenever applicable. Not only would Activision and Raven Software not include the DLC in their initial remastered release, they would actually end up selling the DLC at a greater cost launch cost than the original game’s original DLC.  With that, Activision laid its desires and intentions bare.

The Apologetic

Dark Souls Remastered

On some levels, we can get on board with this. Allowing us to play this FromSoftware game on newer consoles and with better frame-rates than ever before is a great opportunity, and we support it for that. The problem we have with this game revolves around the PC port.

See, the original PC port of Dark Souls was, to put it bluntly, terrible. Seriously, one of the worst port jobs which we have ever seen, and this is an extremely commonly held opinion. In fact, in order to make this game bearable, users were practically required to download and install a program called DSFix. This fix, created very shortly after the game’s release by a man going by Durante, massively improved the experience to a level which was considered adequate by PC gaming standards. More resolution options, better effects modification and anti-aliasing options, and the ability to run at higher than the unacceptably capped 30fps of the base game stood chief among these changes.

Released almost as soon as the game came out, despite the fact that Durante had no access to the game source-code. FromSoftware and Namco Bandai never fixed this version of the game to anything approaching the level Durante brought it to, and they never paid him for effectively making the game playable. In effect, Durante had performed their job for them, and it was only through him that the PC game avoided being more openly derided as one of the biggest PC port job failures of all time.

Then, years later, Dark Souls Remastered is announced. PC players are even given a discount to buy this game, again. Some would consider this considerate, but for those of us who still remember being sold an unacceptably shoddy product which was never addressed by the developers or publishers, this is little more than a slap in the face. We bought a faulty product, Durante fixed it for them, and now they expect a discount is a good enough reason to buy back in?

No, FromSoftware, I love your games, but I don’t think so.

Oh, and you can’t buy the old version for cheap and use Durante’s fix on it anymore on Steam, as that edition can no longer be bought.

The Constant Gamble

The entire environment of remasters and remakes is a tricky one, and we don’t envy the developers who have to try to both modernize a classic game and have it live up to its reputation. Success in these matters is a balancing act between what can be changed for the betterment of the overall experience, and what needs to remain the same for the game to really be considered a remaster.

To us, this is a two-part effort of feel and atmosphere. Games like the Resident Evil 2 remake might not be technically accurate in their representations of their original IP, but they still manage to remain appealing because of their dedication to the atmosphere. On the other side, games like New n’ Tasty fail because while they succeed on technical fidelity, they miss the feel and atmosphere which made the originals feel as engaging as they are.

Finding the right level here is not something which can be applied across all different games. Each game does something different, each classic has something special which makes it classic, and these are concepts which developers and publishers need to fully understand on an artistic level before a remake can even approach success. Or you can just release a fixed game, like with Dark Souls Remastered, and just call it a day from there.