The Intentions Behind Game Remakes
For years, titles have been continuously remade and rereleased. Some of the most popular games and lesser known gems of yesteryear are put out for a variety of reasons, but the obvious goal of most publishers and developers is to appease an audience and make money. It's simple to say there's always an element of nostalgia that draws people to the old games and potentially their remakes, but the creators of the game have motivations that are more complex.
Remakes are not to be confused with versions released simeltaneously on multiple platforms. Since the earliest days of gaming and computing, this was generally done to put the most popular games of the time onto every system that had a caterable audience, an obvious approach that we still see today. It's also not to be confused with straight ports that are direct emulations of the original game. This article will be looking specifically at games that extensively revise the original content of its source material in some way.
This article will argue that game remakes are constructed with five measurable intentions. The developers and publishers of games rarely consider these from the outset and possibly never consider them ever, but they are readily apparent to the more experienced gamer.
Remakes are developed to recreate a fun gaming experience.
This is the most obvious of reasons, and almost every remake will fit into it unless it significantly alters how the game is played. Additionally, it is not always the primary motivating factor behind a game, but it's pretty easy to tell when it is. In these instances, great care is taken to ensure that the game reflects the original as though it were a straight port to preserve the elements that players consider fun.
Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap was recently given a treatment like this, even allowing you to flip between the remake and the original game's soundtrack and graphics midgame with a simple button press. Little was really done to the game besides including what appears to be hand drawn graphics. DuckTales: Remastered by WayForward takes a similar approach, adding graphics that harken back to the DuckTales animated series and voiceovers by that show's original cast. The latter can be particularly annoying as the action is broken up by minutes of Launchpad and Scrooge talking.
These very straightforward examples are often action games, as older adventure game elements tend to be much more antiquated. In the case of WayForward's A Boy and His Blob, the entire source material is almost entirely thrown out. The original game features many puzzles that utilize the main characters jellybeans, effectively acting as a large inventory to be used throughout a massive overworld. The problem for WayForward is simple: a game as obfuscated, large, and impenetrable as the original Boy and His Blob simply doesn't fit into the current commercial gaming conciousness. Still, the developers felt the basic core gamplay of feeding a blob jellybeans to use him as an inventory was retained and turned into something that would appeal to a wider audience. The player enjoys discrete levels that are generally completed in less than a minute rather than a large world that takes weeks to unravel. In this sense, the game recreates one overarching concept that made the original a fun experience.
Remakes are developed to celebrate achievements of the past.
Some remakes feel like they were created exclusively to celebrate gaming's rich history. These are often niche games that don't have the immediate fun factor of a normal platformer and more often than not include many bonus features documenting the creation of the original game.
The recent remakes of Night Trap, Double Switch, and Corpse Killer, all Digital Pictures FMV games, fit into this category nicely. Originally loathed upon their release, they've built up a cult following because of their campy content and uniquely '90s flavor. While the updated versions do make concessions to make the game's more conventionally fun, the releases feel much more archival than a normal remake. Most feature hours of documentaries, interviews, and outtakes that flesh out what would have been a forgotten piece of gaming's past.
Remakes are developed to make games catch up with modern technology.
Many game remakes are created to take advantage of new technologies. This is generally seen when a game is being released years later on a new platform. While many people tend to slam filmmakers for editing or changing elements of their games, people embraced these types of remakes as many gamers often embrace emerging advancements in graphics and sound.
Metal Gear Solid: Twin Snakes is a rather high profile example, using the Metal Gear Solid 2 engine to recreate the first Metal Gear Solid. In addition to graphics and sound, the player could now hang from edges, hide in lockers, and other additional actions. Some reviewers at the time noted that these didn't really change too much about the game, and wondered why the game didn't make more alterations.
Ys Book 1 and 2 is often considered the ultimate version of the game because of it's use of emerging CD-ROM technologies, bringing redbook audio and FMVs to an RPG classic. This version has long been lauded as one of the greatest games of all time, and while barely anything is changed from the original versions of the game, it truly is enhanced by how much better it looks and sounds.
The Japanese PC adventure classic Gadget: Invention, Travel, & Adventure was later reinvisioned as Gadget: Past as Future, a special edition that does nothing to alter the game aside from adding hundreds of videos. The original fits neatly onto one CD-ROM, while the remake swells up to four. At roughly two hours to play through, this gives approximately one disc thirty minutes of playtime. The strangest part is that the technology doesn't seem that much more advanced, making it feel more like a very different looking game rather than an objectively improved one.
Remakes are developed to make games more contemporary.
Oftentimes in tandem with emerging technologies, games will be altered to make them reflect design preferences of the time. The aforementioned Boy and His Blob remake by WayForward fits neatly into this category, and
The Resident Evil remake by Capcom for Gamecube takes a different approach, altering puzzles and adding new sections to the game. Still, most of the elements people will remember remain intact, including boss battles and cutscenes. There's even an option to use normal analogue controls over the original's tank movement, although this isn't treated as though it's the default option.
Returning to Twin Snakes, the developers altered one substational portion of the game in which Snake has to run back and heat and cool a keycard in two earlier sections of the game. Right outside the main area you use the keycard are hot and cold pipes that you can use to skip this entire section, shaving twenty minutes off the playtime.
More and more older games are also remade now with "quality of life" changes, with the Bard's Tale Trilogy recently released on various platforms being a prime example. With new automapping and inventory management, what once was a long and arduous travel through a dungeon becomes marginally easier. Maps might be at the tip of your fingers, but the game's brutal dungeons can still slap player's into submission.
One notable issue with these sorts of changes is that they're almost always there to make game's easier, playing into the idea that "retro" games hard and newer games are just too easy.
Remakes are developed to reinvent history in the developer's favor.
This reason is incredibly farreaching and potentially impossible to support, but it applies a historical concept to modern video games. A famous quote from Winston Churchille, "history is written by the victors" ties deeply into the notion, suggesting that many commonly held notions about historical fact are truly or potentially lies perpetuated by those who have control over the way ideas are spread.
Obviously video game companies do not rule the world or have a huge baring on the lives of the majority of people, but within the continuously ballooning world of gaming there's always going to be a struggle for companies to remain on top. Many publishers continue to make money off of older intellectual properties, continuously producing more Castlevania or Resident Evil games while the trends of design and technology make the games entirely different from the older, "classic" titles in each respective series.
For some, there is no assertion that the newest titles are designed as remakes. The recent Hitman games, simply called Hitman and Hitman 2, are not rebooting the series. Publisher Square Enix probably determined it's less marketable to title them Hitman 6 and 7, much in the same way all the Rambo movies have wildly different names. But Hitman and many of the other games treated this way are not considered classic games, and so remaking them would not be a particularly monumental event.
There's a point where a creative entity wittingly recreates a prior work in a manner that attempts to reinstate their previous work as the dominant gaming text. Oftentimes in combination with many of the previously noted approaches, these games will take innovations made by others or by themselves at later times and apply them to their recreated work. This new work replaces the original and now competes directly with newer games that it potentially outshines, keeping the creative minds behind the original in control of the gaming audience.
King's Quest 1 is a siginificant game in manys ways, an important evolution of the graphic adventure genre in interface and animation. Ken and Roberta Williams were lauded as luminaries, bringing their company Sierra On-Line to the forefront of PC gaming. The graphic adventure genre, then often referred to as story games due to their heavy narrative focus compared to arcade titles of the time, dominated PC gaming for years, and they were regarded as the biggest and best until LucasFilm Games usurped their spot.
Maniac Mansion and other games by LucasArts introduced a novel point-and-click interface into adventure games, one which Ken and Roberta quickly adopted a year later for King's Quest IV. LucasArts soon began to create games that also eschewed some of their other design choices: in most Sierra games, dozens of choices you make lead to the player character being harmed or killed, ending the game and forcing you to reload or restart. Starting with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and more famously in The Secret of Monkey Island, the player never accidentally dies while playing. The Last Crusade will simply start you back at the previous cutscene, and the Secret of Monkey Island features only one easter egg death that's found by not completing the game's most simple puzzle. Sierra never eschewed the death sequences, but they became fewer and more sensibly avoided. Continue functions started to appear, and more hints were given when the death's occur.
Six years after it's initial release, King's Quest 1 is an antique compared to the flashy and less murderous Loom and Secret of Monkey Island. Whether or not it was a threat to their legacy, Sierra churned out their remake in 1990. Having added to the backstory of the game already in previous re-releases, this new version adds more story, midi support, VGA graphics, and a more linear design.
Sierra quickly released remakes of their other popular games, including Police Quest, Space Quest, and Leisure Suit Larry. Rather than simply create new experiences in their popular series that boldly innovated the adventure genre, recreating their past successes was crucial to maintaining their significance into the then current generation of games.
Through the rest of the decade, LucasArts created new titles that hit critical acclaim with varying degrees of commercial success. Most well-versed PC gamers know of Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, and Grim Fandango, while Sierra's 1990s catalogue is comprised of some heavy hitters like the Gabriel Knight series alongside many dated or forgotten titles like Shivers. Many aren't even aware that King's Quest 8 is for all intents and purposes a Legend of Zelda style game, and Sierra's legacy remains with those '80s classics.
The upcoming Final Fantasy VII remake might wind up having the same intent and purpose, although it's currently difficult to tell. With a much longer story arc being planned and an action-based combat system, this is a case of Square Enix doubling down on the history of Final Fantasy to take them into the future. They've been coasting on massive success of Final Fantasy VII for decades, but the potential to literally coast of a more contemporary version of it has dollar signs written all over.
There remains a distinct difference between both examples: Sierra On-Line managed to maintain dominance during a time of massive technological advancement. A computer from 1993 is incredibly less powerful than one from 1995, whereas a computer from 2015 is probably able to play games from 2019. Roberta and Ken Williams made daring risks with the multi-million dollar production of Phantasmagoria, which itself sold millions of units. In comparison, Square Enix has managed to survive for decades off of a stagnated culture that yearns to relive it's perceived finest hour. Roberta Williams wanted to stay on top to create something unique and spellbinding, while Square Enix churns out most of its current line up to appeal to the lowest common denominator.
Roberta Williams complained about the design for Kings Quest 8 upon release, stating she felt that the more every Joe Shmoe played games, the more she had to dumb them down. It was the last game she designed for decades. The Final Fantasy 7 remake will probably epitomize this concern, excising some of the best elements of the original to make way for open-world, mission-based, action-RPG buzzword drivel just so the next set of grandkids can hear about how great Final Fantasy VII once was.
How do you measure these and why does it matter?
With the five intentions described being the primary reasons developer's recreate games, there's obviously going to be a lot of overlap. Most will exhibit potentially three or more of them, and thus cannot be measured discretely. It's probably difficult to find a game that fits into all, especially considering the specific circumstances that need to be reached for a game to attempt to "rewrite history".
Gamers determine whether or not they care about the intentions behind a text. Most won't as there are very few people who critique games in the same way they do films or books, as though the fact that games aren't an inherently narrative medium keep them free from a literary analysis. This also makes it difficult to find any critic who will actually discuss these concepts at length and attempt to measure them, so players are forced to actually play the game to unravel the developer's true intentions.
Even then, a gamer is free to find some or all of these intentions a bad reason to remake a game. Why would someone who wishes only to play with the newest technology really care about celebrating past achievements? Why should a player care if Sierra or Square Enix is trying to rewrite history when the older versions still exist and they can simply try a newer experience?
The degree to which a game can actually accomplish any of these goals is entirely subjective, and analysis is unfortunately influenced too much by preconceived notions of what is good or bad in video games. Perhaps that is the thing that prevents a deeper analysis of games in general: the "bad" game garners much less interest than a "bad" book or film, but this is a discussion for another time.
Return to front page!