The Merits of Remakes, Remasters, and Rereleases
My last post ended with me coming to a sudden impromptu realization that almost all the games I’ve played recently and all the games I’m interested in playing in the near future are remakes, rereleases, or HD remasters of games that were released some time ago. These include the HD remaster of the Resident Evil remake for Gamecube (a remaster of a remake!), Grim Fandango, Duke Nukem 3D on the Vita, The Last of Us Remastered, Brandish: The Dark Revenant, and the upcoming Majora’s Mask for 3DS. This left me considering two very important questions: First, why am I apparently more interested in these rereleases than I am the original releases coming up on the slate, and, second, is there merit to there being so many of these types of releases as of late?
To me, it seems that the modern craze over rereleases began when Sony realized that it could smush together an entire series of PS2 ports onto a blu-ray disc (an advantage it had over the Xbox 360), and the transition from SD to HD resolution that occurred during that generation created a reason why such ports would be attractive to customers over just buying relatively inexpensive used copies of the PS2 originals. But that’s not to say that this sort of thing hasn’t always been a part of the gaming industry. From Super Mario All-Stars to Final Fantasy on the GBA, it’s easy to come up with a long list of efforts by game producers to mine their old content across electronic gaming’s short history. While there’s a ton of cynicism toward these kinds of releases now, I think there was a time “before” when gamers were much more receptive. I know there was a lot of fanfare for the GBA Final Fantasy versions, as well as many of the SNES ports that system received. It was exciting to get to play those universally-praised games on a convenient handheld format. And it was exciting to get all the Mario games with updated graphics on SNES. So what has changed? Why now are people so derisive toward making the great games of the past more accessible?
I don’t think all that much has changed really. Rather, I think that gamers now get excited for rereleases of specific games, while they are dismissive toward the trend as a whole. I’ve seen near universal excitement for Majora’s Mask, Resident Evil, and Grim Fandango. So the question then becomes more about why gamers can be both welcoming and shunning toward the practice. I think this incongruous attitude is deeply rooted in the hyperconsumerist mentality that unfortunately remains entrenched in certain parts of the gaming community.
I think ever since the proliferation of home internet access, a large chunk of the gaming community has become particularly susceptible to pre-release marketing with there being an overbearing term that has crystallized around this behavior: “hype.” It is that pervasive obsession with trailers and previews and getting nasty about reviews that inevitable bring things back down to earth. I’ve always considered hype a bad thing, because it generally leads to a complete irrationality and immaturity regarding the ultimate quality of a game. But these are just my opinions, and I know that there are a lot of gamers out there who actively demand to be hyped up by marketing machines and see it as a critical part of their gaming experience. All of this ties in with the topic of this post in that this deep-rooted obsession with the latest new thing hampers our appreciation of those things which are far less new. Playing a game becomes more about being caught up with a marketing and consumer event than it does about playing a game for the simple entertainment and stimulation that it provides. And when the old is released as new again, I think there is maybe an inclination to feel as if these companies are trying to take advantage of or trick their customers, hence why there is some backlash. (With all that said though, I don’t want to be too judgmental of anyone. Heaven knows I’ve spent way more on gaming than anyone should in a given lifetime.)
This cult-of-the-new attitude has been especially inflamed by the trend of the release calendar being seen as a bit barren ever since the latest round of consoles came out. And then to exacerbate the issue further is the fact that a nontrivial portion of the big name releases have been hampered by serious issues, both from a design and technical perspective. This hurt the perception of rereleases in that many gamers began seeing them as cynical attempts to fill out an empty release schedule instead of delivering new experiences that exploit the power of these new gaming machines.
But are all these rereleases just a cynical cash grabs? The answer is probably yes, but I say that under the realization that it is a certainty that every action a major game producer takes is largely guided by its business interests, rather than its creative interests. So really, you can’t fault these rereleases for being cash grabs unless you leverage the same complaint against original titles, because they’re both just calculated attempts by a company to make money. And while some may complain that these are being pushed on the market in lieu of new experiences, I also doubt that is the case. The amount of manpower and resources that went into fixing up Resident Evil for modern gaming machines is probably a much smaller fraction than what would have went into making a new Resident Evil game, and, in fact, Resident Evil Revelations 2 is being released in just a short while. Same thing for Grim Fandango and Zelda, as Double Fine seems to have a number of other projects cooking, and Nintendo plans a new Zelda for later this year. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago that we got an excellent Zelda for the 3DS.
I’ve also heard the complaint levied that returning to and reproducing so much content isn’t good for gaming as a collective creative endeavor. I agree with this to some extent. I always want gaming to move forward, and I strongly support the growth of new creative experiences. I don’t want to allow obsession with nostalgic past experiences to take over any part of my life, gaming or otherwise. But I also feel that it’s important to have played and experienced the great games of the past to have a better understanding of the potential and depth of gaming as a creative endeavour. No one in music has ever said that you shouldn’t listen to Led Zeppelin because Fall Out Boy just released a new album, and, similarly, I don’t think anyone should say that you shouldn’t play Ocarina of Time because you’ve played the latest Dragon Age. I get most excited by rereleases of great games I’ve never gotten the chance to play. I don’t think anyone can say that they’ve played every classic game out there, and these rereleases create accessible and convenient versions of these classics for the broader audience of gaming today that are compatible with the current technology we use for gaming and attainable through the storefronts that are most readily available to us today. And taking it a step further, I hope this trend can help introduce younger audiences to what I/we consider important gaming experiences.
To wrap up this long rambling post, I want to return to the other question I asked myself in the opening: Why am I more interested in rereleases than I am original content right now? I think it’s just a coincidence really. The release schedule right now is not so good. It’s typical of the post-holiday time really. The big name original releases that are coming out, such as The Order and Evolve, just don’t resonate with my personal interests, and even the indie gaming scene, which is usually so restless, is a bit quiet right now. So I turn my attention to all these classics that are gurgling up. And having just got out of grad school (which was a long period where I had to agonize over all my buying decisions), I have the time and money now to go revisit some of the games I’ve felt bad for missing but always wanted to play, and I’m actually somewhat thankful for this opportunity.