Editor’s note: After a lengthy hiatus while he concentrated on working for The Other Side, with stints at Gioteck and Prif, this feature herald’s Steven Gurevitz’s triumphant return to Critical Gamer (while also working for Asiiya, the new accessory company that he’s co-founded and where you can find both Steven and I writing reviews).
I chose the pictures and wrote the captions. No way Steven’s getting the credit for that.
This is a franchise industry, and in many ways it always has been. This isn’t some new corruption of our pure art and entertainment, brought about by big corporations and large publishing companies taking over the industry. Just think about it…. How many Nintendo games have there been? How many iterations of Final Fight? Even on the old ‘indie’ ZX Spectrum we had Match Day followed by Match Day 2. The list goes on.
So franchises are not new, and they make sense in gaming even more than they do with films. With films ideas can be carried across, but each feature starts from scratch (unless like The Lord of the Rings films, you film it all at once to save costs). With games, often assets are carried across; entire environments and large parts of code. Sure, sometimes people start again, but not always. To start afresh is quite rare unless it’s a generational leap. For example, Assassin’s Creed and CoD have stuck to the same engines/animations for many years, just to name two games franchises we all know. Even FIFA, which moved to a new engine this year, still reused many assets and animations from previous versions.
What seems to have really kicked into gear since the launch of the Xbox One and PS4 is a new variant of the whole franchise/sequel machine; remasters. Thinking back to previous generations, there were no real reason why you couldn’t do a remaster back then, but this seems to be the generation where every other game being released seems to be doing it.
It is similar to the launch of CD for the music industry. As the leap in tech was so vast, the perceived value to the consumer was very high, both in terms of convenience and in terms of the vastly improved sound quality (over cassette more than over records). With this generation of console there is both a huge leap in quality (potentially at least, with a well-done remaster) and the convenience of either a digital download (who wants to walk across the room to put a disc in the machine?) or at least installs, with faster disc access, patches being downloaded in the background etc.
The recent release of Skyrim is an example of a superb remaster. Of course, if you have the game on PC, it’s not such a revolution; but for console gamers it’s like going from cassette to CD. If you recall, PS3 gamers couldn’t even get the game to work half the time (the PS3 was a pain to code for, due its unique ‘Cell’ processors), and Xbox 360 gamers had disc swaps and it all looked rather ‘grey’. Now it looks lovely, with 1080p visuals, almost locked to 30 frames per second and, if you have a PS4 Pro, you get 4K visuals which are almost on a par with a powerful PC (except with a lower frame rate).
The Uncharted collection is another example of a nicely produced remaster. The original games, even on PS3, had a gulf between each release in terms of visual quality (the gap between the first and second is the greatest) and the opportunity to remaster them allowed us to have them feel like a consistent experience, brought up to 1080p and with solid frame rates.
So why am I moaning? Well I’m not too sure I am, despite this being a column called ‘Grumpy Gurevitz’. Let us call it more of a discussion piece. ‘Discussion Gurevitz’ just doesn’t sound as good. The issue is quite simply that these remasters, which we expected soon after the PS4 and Xbox One’s release as a quick way to get games out, have now become a constant stream of releases. New games are literally being squeezed out of the market. Let’s look at this year’s ‘xmas season’ (which we are now truly in the middle of). Every single major retail release between now (mid November) and the end of January are either sequels or remasters. Some of the sequels will be more than simple iterations, and are generational leaps… so I like to think that whilst these might carry themes across from previous games they are very much new pieces of work. Yet, I see no big new games or concepts. In fact, the last big
new game (clearly there are many indie, digital only games being released which are new) was No Man’s Sky, which, er, well… didn’t quite turn out the way people had hoped.
As we move into February and March, there are some new titles coming out and that is encouraging, but there certainly used to be more dotted in between the sequels. Now, though, remasters are being dotted in between the sequels. Heck, this year a remaster was even packaged with a sequel to help the faltering franchise shift units. CoD we are looking at you. Based on the huge number of great games released on the Xbox 360/PS3, it’s clear that there is a vast volume of titles which publishers can tap into to remaster.
Nintendo, of course, is the king of iterations, but has always managed to do it in such a way that there are evolutionary leaps in gameplay due to the myriad of hardware and user input changes their consoles force upon their players. The Nintendo Switch could dawn more of the same, but I suspect this will launch with many Wii U games, slightly updated (as I assume the device operates with only one screen, not games spread over two as with the Wii U). After that initial burst of games, we will see what is released for it. Ubisoft is promising new and exciting experiences, but whether they mean Assassin’s Creed on the move but exactly the same as on PS4 (with slightly worse graphics) or new games that can only be played on the Switch is unknown. I suspect the former. The revolution of the Switch will be to allow us to do what we do at home, but on the move. The PSVita threatened this, but never executed it successfully. Perhaps the Switch can.
As the hardware between all the companies become closer, and hence the ability to move games between consoles and console generations become easier, so the decision makers who have to decide which games to produce will become lazier. Why take a risk, when there are so many proven ways of creating content by simply re-using and re-selling old content, albeit with a welcome fresh lick of paint.
Maybe this is the natural state of things. We see already in the movie industry that ‘remakes’ are all the rage. How long will it be till even the ‘recent’ Harry Potter films will be remade? Mass market, commercial entertainment is still a relatively young concept for humanity. Perhaps we are already running out of ideas?
As the costs and complexity of making modern movies (or in our case games) increase, commercial decisions become riskier and people hark back to known ideas and stories people have already experienced and remember fondly. Yet, once again, there is a difference between a movie and a game. The movie will re-tell the tale but visually, and even in terms of execution, will be completely different. Hence Sony can relaunch Spider-man every 10 years and not one version will be the same as another. With games though, the material is the same. Even if every asset is remade, the map, the corridor, the plot, the campaign length, all of this stays much the same.
It’s an opportunity to revisit a virtual location we’ve been before, like going back to a location we remember on an old holiday and re-treading our own steps. We justify to ourselves the time spent treading creative water by telling ourselves that with games you wouldn’t want to play the original on that old console. We tell ourselves that the experience won’t hold up, as what we expect from gaming has moved on, and improved. Sure, there is truth in that. Go back to Skyrim and see how much better this new version really is… but then stop and think about the entire retro scene where none of that argument hangs together. Nintendo knows this, and just released a mini-NES, looking just like a real NES, with NES games pre-loaded in their original forms.
Remasters, remakes… they are a fact of life. We though as consumers should not get too used to them. We shouldn’t make publishers’ lives too easy. We should be demanding more. There is a reason why to grow their audience Netflix and Amazon are investing in new content, and leaving ITV and traditional networks (who lack the money of those two businesses) to wallow around in remakes, or revivals. Ultimately new content wins through, but it takes money and courage to invest in it.
Can someone in the games industry please stand up to claim that mantle?