History of Frustration: Reinventing the wheel – in HD!

Wheel2

The games industry is in a confusing state at the moment. On the one hand, we’re teetering, delicately on the precipice of the next-generation of games consoles. The industry is about to erupt in a shower of new games, new peripherals, new ways to play your games, new ways to share your experiences and new arguments about which console stands supreme over the industry!? Always online is out, borrowing and trading games is in – and everyone will be able to chat to everyone over the headset that will be packaged with every console!

However, there is an increasing epidemic that is at odds with all this newness. I am talking, of course, of the ‘HD remake’ that is sweeping the gaming nation. All of the big 3 platforms (Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii U) as well as the major handheld market (PS Vita and 3DS) seem to be as involved as each other. A remake SHOULD be an opportunity to improve a game, balance the gameplay, tweak the little things you got wrong – add the part that had to be cut the first time around. In short, there should be a reason for the game to be remade. Possibly as a response to the used game market (companies complaining that one sale of a game for them might go on to have have 10 owners over its lifespan thanks to the used game industry), a lot of developers seem to be making the decision to release a ‘classic’ game with a ‘modern’ look. Saving a lot of money in development costs and providing gamers with – at best- a fresh feel to a historic game; at worst – the exact same experience they had before. At Twinstick, we have been questioning whether this is actually a good thing for the industry – or just a quick way for games companies to fill the coffers?

Sharper, cleaner and maybe even harder? But does that justify the price tag?
Sharper, cleaner and maybe even harder? But does that justify the price tag?

It’s hard to pinpoint who actually started the epidemic (‘console zero’ if you will) but, whether responsible for the outbreak or not, Nintendo seem to have embraced it quite happily. Having previously re-released Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, porting it from the N64 to the 3DS with ‘updated and 3D‘ graphics, Diddy Kong Racing (On Nintendo DS), SNES Classic Legend of Zelda: A Link to The Past (DS), Super Mario 64 (again to the DS) and many more. Each game offering little more than a slightly updated visual style.

The latest in a long line of Zelda remakes: Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD is set for an October release this year. This isn’t the first Zelda remake and probably won’t be the last – but it IS the latest and worthy of our attention (the original was released on the GameCube back in 2003). However, is this really what gamers and Nintendo need right now? Their flagship console is already struggling – and that’s before the launch of the PS4 and Xbox One. We used to look to Nintendo for innovation, but re-launching their past successes is a far cry from this (and yes, I’m looking at you 2DS).

For a long time, we worried that, aside from the ‘updated’ visuals and rumours of a harder difficulty setting, Nintendo was not adding anything new to the Wind Waker experience. Back in 2003, when the game was originally release, Nintendo took harsh criticism for the look of the game. Its cartoony visuals were an extreme contrast from the darker and grittier Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask from the previous console generation (N64). The interesting thing about the change in the games visual style though, is that it totally stands up today! I have the original Wind Waker for the GameCube sitting upon my shelf right now – and it looks as good now as it did in 2003. So, if nothing has been added to the game and the visuals – whilst a little more glossy – are not significantly changed, why would I buy Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD?

If you watch the video below, you’ll see that the graphics really haven’t aged badly at all!

Last week’s Gamescom announcement has alleviated some of these worries. Approaching the eleventh hour, Nintendo suddenly released a whole batch of new information of ‘extras’ they’ve managed to shoehorn into their remake. Including, but not limited to, being able to play the whole game in first person perspective, alterations to side quests – meaning they can no longer be missed, early availability of the ‘swift sail’ and – by far the most important announcement for anyone who has played the game before – only three pieces of the tri-force will require translated maps (down from the painstaking quest for 8 in the original). On paper, they are at least trying to deliver something worthy of a remake. Ok, so there are still dungeons that were cut that haven’t been restored, but they have at least made a bit of an effort to give fans a small reason to return

Of course, sometimes when companies DO try to add things to the original, it can have an affect quite different to the one desired!

Metal Gear Solid: Twin snakes was a glossier (though not truly HD) 2004 Nintendo remake of the 1998 Playstation masterpiece Metal Gear Solid. I loved the original MGS on the Playstation(PSX) and though it would be exciting to revisit this particular classic, especially an updated, improved version. Guilty of being ‘remade’ at the wrong time perhaps, as the long awaited sequel, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty had been released for the Playstation 2 three years earlier and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater was scheduled to be released on PS2 in Japan later that same year. The Cube’s MGS: Twin Snakes gameplay itself felt dated by comparison, they even tried to bring in gameplay elements from MGS2 (first person gun play) – but this was widely

Flawed masterpiece. Did the GameCube need this game?
Flawed masterpiece. Did the GameCube need this game?

criticised and seen as changing the challenge; making the game too easy – and totally ruining boss battles.  Though the graphics were far less blocky than the original (and cut-scenes had been lengthened), it didn’t actually play as well as the original. The 1998 version still stood up well next to it. The original just seemed to have a bit more soul – I actually played the Playstation MGS more AFTER the release of Twin Snakes. The difficulty, of course, was once the decision had been made to bring the franchise across to the Nintendo machine – it was a brand new and much more powerful console than the Playstation (128 bit machine compared to 32 bit one) – so a straight port would not really have been viable either. So, did it need doing? MGS2 was already in the public consciousness. The only people it would likely attract were Metal Gear Solid fans – who would undoubtedly have moved to the PS2 for the game’s sequel than to the Cube for the re-hash of a game they knew and loved.

This is the flip-side of HD remakes. Into every generation, the purist is born. As with movies there are some who would have games kept in their pure, original form. Anything that deviates from this is seen as sacrilege and worthy of nothing but derision. Of course that’s also a handy excuse for unbelievably lazy remakes. One for the ‘purists’.

These guys never looked better, but they played exactly the same...
These guys never looked better, but they played exactly the same…

At least Nintendo occasionally tried to put some differences into their remakes. Even before Wind Waker Legend of Zelda:Ocarina of Time 3D (on the 3DS) included the ‘Master Quest’ which had new puzzles and dungeon layouts accompanying the classic story; A Link to the Past included the multiplayer side quest ‘Four Swords’, etc.
The Sony Playstation 3 and Microsofts Xbox 360 side of things has been far less inventive. There have been a boat load of High Definition ‘remakes’ across both machines including: Sly CooperPrince of PersiaTomb RaiderIco & Shadow of the ColossusTom Clancy’s Splinter CellMetal Gear SolidTekkenOddworldJak and DaxterThe House of the DeadSilent HillDevil May Cry – that have offered absolutely nothing new, save for the HD graphical updates (some of which are negligible at best). Some may argue that these are not being sold as ‘full price’ games – which is certainly true for most. However, in one example – ‘Splinter Cell Trilogy HD’ was initially sold at £29.99 at a time when you could pick up all 3 original titles on PS2 for around £12 – less if you were playing on PC! I know there are SOME development costs when polishing a game’s graphics – but nothing like the cost of designing a new game.

Sadly, love them though I do, Nintendo are possibly the most guilty of over-pricing. They are known to sell innovative, exciting new consoles, typically at much cheaper prices than Sony or Microsoft (bare in mind that, though the Wii U is the most expensive on the market currently, this IS Nintendo’s ‘next-gen’ console and will be a lot cheaper than the £349.00 PS4 and £429.00 Xbox One). However, Nintendo then release the same handful of titles (Mario, Mario Kart, Smash Bros., Mario Football, Mario Tennis, etc), remakes of classic games and sell them at full price. As any Pokemon fan will testify, Nintendo’s first party titles rarely drop in price! Currently, Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD is listed at £44.99 – can this really be right for a 10 year old game, even with the improvements, it seems a bit steep?

Some suggestions have been made that these HD remakes that are being churned out are a clever marketing tool – to see which franchises are still popular and therefore worth investing more money in. If true, this would certainly cut down on some of the risks that come with developing either a new game or choosing which franchise to extend, but is charging customers £20-£30 per game really the fairest way to go about it? Sony, reportedly, took this idea one step further by releasing Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale. Though not a remake, it featured a lot of different franchise characters fighting it out to see which mighty champion was…the most popular and therefore ripe for further investment.

So should we never look backwards when moving forwards? Well, that depends on HOW you use what you see when looking back. In the case of the avalanche of HD remakes above, I would say that is NOT a good way to make use of gaming history. I will admit that a broken 60GB PS3 and a lack of backwards compatibility on the PS3 Slim DID result in my buying Ico and Shadow of the Colossus HD versions (I also sold my Shadow of the Colossus limited edition PS2 version for MORE than I paid for the HD versions, so I don’t feel TOO bad), but for the most part these games do not need remaking.
However, in other cases, I think there IS justification in looking back. One such case would be that of Delphine Software’s Flashback. Released way, way back in 1992 (I was 10 at the time), Flashback was a side-scrolling, futuristic, ‘cinematic platformer’ – it was also my favourite game in the world at the time. Due to popular demand from fans, developer VectorCell spoke to Ubisoft about a possible remake. Ubi agreed and VectorCell started development which would see the return of original game designer Paul Cuisset returned to direct (along with 5 of the original Delphine team) – and didn’t just remake. They expanded.

Flashback
Delphine’s iconic Flashback gets given proper remake treatment.

Game mechanics, plot (including new twists), dialogue, a new skills and customisation system, voice acting and graphics have all seen massive tweaks and improvements and developments. The levels have been expanded and made deeper – yet at its core it is unmistakable Flashback. Cuisset says this is the Flashback he’d always wanted to make, but was held back in 1992 by, among other things, the technology of that time.

For me, this is how remakes SHOULD be approached. Preserve the original idea, but bring something fresh and new that isn’t just a graphical ‘update’. For fans of the original, the game is at once recognisable and totally new! Unfortunately, on this occasion, the experiment was not quite what it could have been. Uninspiring level design and voice acting that wasn’t well received, held the game back from much critical success. However, in terms of remakes, this was still a project worth taking on.

Part of the attraction is that they’ve taken a game from such a long time ago. A lot of gamers today won’t even know the game existed! This is really delving into gaming history to bring a fresh experience to today’s gaming public. This may not have been the most successful, but I hope more developers take this kind of a risk and try to restore the ancient relics of gaming rather than polishing a 4 year old game and calling it something new.

Another game that is almost along the same line of thinking, is the ‘restoration’ of Bitmap Brothers’ The Chaos Engine. This is a more difficult one to assess. They are branding it a ‘restoration‘ rather than a remake, something that already suggests that we won’t see anything ‘new’ here. They are introducing online co-op modes and smoothed out graphics – but not really offering much different in terms of gameplay. But it is SUCH an old classic, that it is still an interesting project. Released, initially, for the Commodore Amiga in 1993, it was ported to other platforms the following year. I love that gaming history is being brought to the twitter generation – but something about this just feels lazy. Had they attempted to give the game a full overhaul treatment, like Flashback, this might have been something truly special. Update the graphics, expand, tweak the things that didn’t work – give me a reason to buy a ‘new’ version rather than just dusting off my Atari ST or Amiga and playing the original.

That may sound like a contradictory statement. On the one hand I’m suggesting that a graphical update is not enough, then simultaneously arguing that a lack of graphical update is lazy. Actually, graphics should be the least important thing. What I am really talking about with remakes is new ‘content.’ Nothing highlights this like the next game I want to discuss in this look at remakes -and graphics have certainly not made the leap into HD here!

The perfect remake? Masses of new content! Totally free! Lasted only days.
The perfect remake? Masses of new content? Totally free? Lasted only days.

The honestly titled, Streets of Rage Remake is a fan made, retro inspired, respectful, masterpiece of a remake. It takes all of its cues from the popular Sega Megadrive side-scrolling beat-em-up Streets of Rage trilogy (released between 1991-94).  SoRR offers truly staggering amounts of extra content. Developed for nearly a decade by a Spanish fan known only as ‘Bomber Link‘ – the final project contains over 100 stages, a cast of 19 playable characters, 64 enemies and a full 76-song soundtrack remixed by five different musicians. The new stages branch off from the original stages. Doorways, used only as backdrops on the originals, open up to reveal new paths and challenges through the game. It is the ultimate remake – a true fan service – and all done with visuals that are completely faithful to the original.

Perhaps the most staggering thing to recognise about this remake is that it didn’t take a single line of code from the original games. The whole thing was recreated – and improved – using only ‘visual interpretation’! Sadly, the tale of this monstrous undertaking, requiring ‘Herculean efforts’, does not end happily. Mere days after the game was launched – for FREE – on Bomber Link’s website, SEGA had it pulled down. It IS still available out there in the internet ether, but where and how you can obtain a copy – we really couldn’t say.

Another side to this ‘remake’ debate, is an interesting thing that we’re seeing less of, but is something I actually have more of an interest in. The ‘reboot.’
It has been happening in the movie industry for the past few year. Rather than just remaking a movie. They take a tried, old or forgotten franchise – or just one that had been headed in the wrong direction – and ‘reboot’ it. Batman, Superman, The Incredible Hulk and Spiderman have all seem relatively successful reboots in recent years – it was only a matter of time before someone in the games industry would take inspiration from this and return the idea of ‘rebooting’ back to videogames.

In my opinion, the archetype for the reboot, is Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider. If there was one example of a long running franchise that had lost its way. The original, made by Core Design in 1996, had really impressed gamers. The inevitable sequels also performed well for a time. But as years drifted by, each installment of Tomb Raider (Angel of Darkness,Legend, etc) seemed to get more dull and listless.

To reboot rather than remake carries bigger risks - but CAN be stunning!
To reboot rather than remake carries bigger risks – but CAN be stunning!

The 2013 reboot took the series right back to the start. It re-introduced Lara Croft, gave her more of a story and back ground as well as packing in some truly impressive graphics and amazing game mechanics. This, accompanied by stellar voice work and rousing soundtrack made for one of the most enjoyable and memorable gaming experiences of this generation. Crystal Dynamics did something incredible. They not only brought back fans who’d given up on them, they brought a whole new audience to the game AND made us all collectively excited for the next installment! The game had a lot of effort put in, was well supported and, ultimately, it paid off. Very brave, if you consider Lara Croft had reached a point where long term fans were actually turning their backs on the games.

I couldn’t possibly write an article examining the highs and lows of remakes without mentioning the one game EVERYONE wants to see remade – but just never seems to happen. Square’s timeless classic, Final Fantasy VII.

It feels like ever since its release on Playstation in 1997, people have been dying for a remake. A stunning RPG that captured the hearts and minds of millions of gamers all over the world. Characters you became emotionally invested in; shocking – game changing – twists in the first third of the game alone; the best antagonist gaming had ever seen (Sephiroth sits right alongside Darth Vader in the ‘Bad Ass Hall of Fame’); an awe inspiring soundtrack and a game so jam packed with side quests, meta games and hidden secrets it wasn’t uncommon for players to exceed the 99 hour timer on the save screen! It was immense. It was amazing. The only criticism people could launch at it (aside from the end of disc 1) was that the game, eventually, had to end. It had SOME faults as all games do (the biggest for me was the time the game glitched, causing Hojo’s assistant to vanish with a crucial keycard and ruining the last 8 hours of gameplay…), but its quirky charm made them all so easy to overlook. It is still the finest RPG Square, arguably anyone, has ever produced. The world and his or her dog have been DEMANDING a remake for 15 years – but Square, as yet, have refused.

Ripe for a remake?
Ripe for a remake?

The strange thing is Square HAVE remade plenty of other Final Fantasy titles. FF III and FF IV both got a DS re-release – updated visuals and all! Final Fantasy X and X2 are scheduled for an HD release in the near future, but they won’t touch 7. Not yet.

It may not surprise you that, unless it’s done perfectly, I’m quite happy for SquareEnix (as they now are) to leave Final Fantasy 7 alone. Part of the problem for SquareEnix is that, like me, they have no idea what getting it right entails? Does the game need new graphics? Yes, probably. What about new content? Almost certainly, but what kind of content? Do they need to introduce voice acting? For me, NO definitely not – but not everyone will feel this way. Like a good book being made into a film, everyone has their own idea of what is right – and usually it’s impossible to please everybody. For now, SquareEnix are opting to please nobody – this is actually a GOOD thing.

An article surfaced a while ago that suggested Square won’t remake Final Fantasy VII until they’ve made a game that is better than it. A tall order by anyone’s standards. However, with most people feeling that the Final Fantasy franchise has been on a downward slope ever since VII, we could be further away from a remake than we ever have been. August 27th will see the release of Final Fantasy XIV: A realm Reborn (their SECOND attempt at the 14th installment) – and, unless a miracle should happen between now and then – it is not looking as though it will touch the glory of number 7.

Another reason Square may be holding back is they know this is their ace in the hole. THIS is the remake people actually want to be made – while they still hold onto it, they still hold some power over the industry. Once they play this card, they have no-where to go. Fortunes are down over at SquareEnix and unless things start to improve, they could end up laying down the remake before they’re really ready. This would be a huge shame. Though it will undoubtedly make them millions upon millions when it, well, eventually happens, I hope that they tackle it when they are in a strong position and can make it right (whatever that turns out to be) rather than giving us another re-hashed, rushed out, HD remake that sees the light of day just to keep the wolves from the door.

Some of their recent games have not been to my taste, others I have enjoyed, but the decision to hold off the Final Fantasy VII remake, I feel, is one to be respected.

In conclusion, I am most certainly not against remakes and reboots of classic games or tired franchises. But I do expect to see some effort put in, this is meant as no disrespect to the people who work hard on getting the HD remakes out to us, but as a reference to the attitude of the people at the top. If a games is worth remaking, its worth remaking well. This means they must be supported, funded and allowed to blossom into something that will not only bring the nostalgia fueled fans back, but will bring brand-new fans and fresh support for classic gaming.

The Legend of Zelda: Windwaker HD will be available on Nintendo Wii U on 4th October

The Chaos Engine is available now on Steam, Get Games and GOG on 29th August for PC, Mac and Linux.

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