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Shacknews Spotlight: Remasters - Sour or Sweet?

Remasters have been around since the early ages of gaming. With new systems come new ideas and notions, and even new possibilites to make the games we love even better, but does this idea of "remastering" help or hurt the gaming industry? Shacknews Staff members Ozzie Mejia, Steven Wong, Daniel Perez, and Joshua Hawkins decided it was time to dig a little deeper into what remasters mean to them.


"Remastered and better than ever!"

We've all seen that tagline on our favorite video games when they hit new systems. But does this idea of "remastering" old ideas help or hurt the gaming industry? Is it just a cheap shot way for the developers and publishers to make more money without putting in a lot of extra work? Shack staffers Ozzie Mejia, Steven Wong, Daniel Perez, and Joshua Hawkins sit down to share their feelings on the matter.

Joshua Hawkins: Remasters have become a pretty popular thing lately. We've seen re-releases of The Last of Us, Halo, and Grand Theft Auto V. This begs to question what other games could benefit from a remaster. On the other side of things are remasters good for the industry? Are players happy with them? Or do players feel cheated because developers are releasing the same games with updated graphics?

Daniel Perez: There has to be a reason as to why the industry continues to re-release popular games on new consoles. I mean, this is something that has been going on since the early days of gaming. The earliest game I could recall that brought older titles to a new console is Super Mario All-Stars for the Super NES. I think the people who complain about a game being re-released are a vocal minority as I believe most customers like to play the same game with improved visuals and other enhancements, or will wait if they believe a game that's been released at the tail end of a console generation will make the "remastered" leap to the following generation. I have several friends who didn't play Grand Theft Auto V on last-gen because they knew it would be headed to the current generation.

This Trailer for the Next-Gen version of GTA V was repeatedly broken down and analyzed by players to discuss the changes made.

Ozzie Mejia: Remasters are largely for the people that enjoyed playing those games the first time around and would like to experience the magic again with a few new bells and whistles. Sony, by far, has been the master of this with remastered collections for Sly Cooper, Ratchet & Clank, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, and even more recently with The Last of Us: Remastered. They're aware of how much of a fanbase those properties have and if they can bolster them to look better with new hardware, the fans will gravitate towards them.

I think fans tend to trust first-parties like Sony and Microsoft with remaster collections, because there's a sense that they won't offer any sort of follow-up. Sony's remasters are usually an indicator that there's another game in the series on its way, while Microsoft offers them up as a tease for the future. Look at The Master Chief Collection, restoring all our favorite Halo games, while also offering up the Halo 5: Guardians beta. Even Nintendo has dabbled in this idea once or twice with Super Mario All-Stars and the Legend of Zelda compilation disc that came with Wind Waker pre-orders roughly ten years ago.

If they're done right, I absolutely believe fans benefit from remakes. In the case of something like Ace Attorney Trilogy, which was just remastered for 3DS, it gives newcomers a chance to discover a series' origins and how it would become the phenomenon that it is now. Or in the case of a Super Mario Galaxy Collection, which I will not stop begging Nintendo for, it would be a way to deliver games in the peak condition they're meant to be.

Steven Wong: Some might believe that remasters are an easy way to cash in on old games, or a sign of creative bankruptcy. I used to think that, but I've learned to appreciate them now. Remasters, when done well, make it possible to enjoy classic games with on new technology. If you've made the switch and want to play The Last of Us on the PS4, while getting a nice visual upgrade to boot, you can have it. Similarly, you don't have to dig through your basement or attic for that old Xbox because you can play Halo 1 and 2 on the Xbox One.

Although sites like GoG do a great job porting over old games to work on newer systems, they don't compare to a full rework of the game, using updated graphics and controls. We don't have to play The Secret of Monkey Island using super-pixelated low resolution graphics unless we choose to. I played Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father 10th Anniversary Edition and was surprised at how different the remake is. The developers didn't just slap on a new coat of paint. They reworked the music, recorded new voice actors, and trimmed out a lot of the tangential parts from the original game. That's fantastic dedication!

I'm also sure that there's a generation (or two) of people who missed out on old, classic, games when they originally released. Remasters are a chance for them to experience the games without having to overcome the obstacle of dated graphics or gameplay.

JH: I'm inclined to agree with a lot of stated points here, however, I feel like sometimes Remasters aren't a good thing. It's come to the point that Remasters tend to introduce new things, and these new things while sometimes fantastic can include things that just break the nostalgia for the players who have spent countless hours playing the game. While numerous games have done it right in the past, and even the present, it only stands to reason that one day we'll be faced with a remaster that completely changes what we think of the game-- for the worse. That is my only grief with remasters.

As Daniel stated, many people won't pick up a game that releases late in a console's life cycle, because they know it's going to hit the next generation of gaming as a remaster. I was the same way with games like Grand Theft Auto V, and The Last of Us (although that was more of a hope than a known fact). I didn't see the point in dropping cash for a PS3 to play those games, not where chances were they'd be coming to PS4 within the next year or so.

Personally I'd love to see a remaster of System Shock 2, that game has so many fond memories for me, and I'd love to play it in an updated form.

SPOILER ALERT: This fan remaster of the famous Shodan Reveal scene from System Shock 2 is a great idea of what the game could look like with today's technology.

DP: You make a good point, Josh. Lucky for consumers, most of the remasters released thus far have been games that people would actually want to buy again because they were so good on previous generation consoles. The day we get a remastered version of E.T. is the day gamers start taking to the streets with their pitchforks and torches in hand.

At the same time, this should speak volumes for the PC gaming scene as they often can already get really impressive visuals from the original source, so long as they have a machine that can provide that kind of performance. That's why you really don't see many "remastered" versions of a particular game being made available on PC. PC gamers will likely scoff at the offering as they already have the same game with all downloadable content and sick visuals, either through official support or from the mod scene. I mean, look at the PC version of Skyrim these days and what the mod community has been creating.

OM: Yeah, remasters aren't necessarily a thing in the PC scene. Just look at the Doom retrospective we did last week and how people took the original game and upped it to fit modern machines. People can remaster PC games themselves, as long as they have the source code. There are a few exceptions like Metro Redux, but that's not always the norm on PC platforms. If you see remasters there, it's for new features and such, not really for improved visuals.

JH: I see both your points, it does seem a bit pointless to remaster a PC only game when upgraded visuals can usually already be obtained through the use of third-party mods, but then you run into the group of people who are wary of modding, and refuse to delve into that scene. Sure games like Fallout 3 and Skyrim can be played without mods, but with mods the world comes to life even more, and thus leaves the people afraid of modding left out. This of course isn't the developer's fault, but still I can't help but feel that some games could do well from a full scale makeover. Especially something that's considered a classic.

But I agree Daniel, I think that game remasters should BE WANTED by the people, otherwise it does become a bit of a quick try at cash grabbing by the developers, especially if they don't add new features or make the game better in anyway other than visuals. Just because it's prettier doesn't always mean it works better.

SW: Let's not overlook the one qualifying reason why remasters are made: to update popular games with newer technology. The general measure of popularity is through sales, which has to be demonstrated. So, even though The Last of Us was remade for the PS4, there had to be a worthwhile demand to make the effort worthwhile. Most of the time, remasters are visual upgrades, like what we see with the The Last of Us or Metro Last Light Redux. Sometimes they'll fix things that were broken in the original release, like how Watch Dogs made some of the combat smoother, and Metro 2033 Redux redid the cut scenes. The fact is, developers want to keep the stuff that made the game popular, and maybe do away with some of the annoying stuff. It would probably be an exceedingly rare instance where developers will mess with a game in a George Lucas kind of way and make a game worse.

Then again, I remember, way back, a game called Dune 2000, which is a partial remake of Dune II - based off the sci-fi novel and regarded by many as one of the first real-time strategy games. Fans demanded a remake for years, and the developers didn't have a lot of time or resources to dedicate to the project, so they told people that the game would pretty much be getting a fresh coat of paint, and that's all. The problem is, they did exactly what they said they would do, and although the game looked pretty good, the dated gameplay ruined the experience. So, the lesson is, if you're going to remaster a game, don't do it halfway. Some nostalgic games need more fixing than others.

This Shacknews featured playthrough of one of Halo 2's levels shows off the changes made in the Halo 2 Anniversary Remaster released in the Master Chief Collection.

I don't think people holding back due to a console switch will be much of an issue, considering how they only happen every five years or so. By then, there are games that are begging to be remastered. Or, in the case of Halo, four games. Multiplayer issues notwithstanding, having all the classic Halo games on one disc, for one platform, and all updated with the latest visuals is quite a feat. Especially since that series spanned two console generations. That being said, I think the biggest worry should be a future where we have more remakes than we know what to do with. You just KNOW that the entire God of War Collection is eventually going to be remastered for the PS4.
It also sort of doesn't matter if a remaster doesn't get it right, because the originals are still around. I understand why some people might not want to dig around for their Dreamcast of N64, but that's pretty much where you'd have to go for an original experience. For PC gamers, they'll have to keep hoping that their favorite games will show up on GoG or something.

OM: To add to what Steven is saying, I can't believe we haven't made the point that the new consoles aren't backwards compatible. It isn't just that these remasters have new bells and whistles and such, it's that you literally cannot play these games on your new console without a new version. If you sold your Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, you can't play those games anymore. It's part of the reason people got excited about Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. They're visually better than they've ever been, but they also can't be played on a PS3 without buying the new disc. For as much as I liked DMC: Devil May Cry, I was pretty "meh" over a remaster announcement, until it hit me that I can't exactly play the previous disc on any of my new consoles.

It's a situation that really stinks, but might as well make the best of it, I guess. Make the remasters worth my while by offering a giant package like the Halo collection. If I absolutely have to buy a game that I already owned all over again, I want to at least know I'm getting my money's worth.

JH: That's a great point made Ozzie, I can't believe we missed that one all this time either. You also make a great point with DMC:Devil May Cry, I haven't played the game yet, and was a bit confused by the idea of a remake so soon, but I guess since I don't have any last-gen consoles a remake for current-gen isn't a half bad idea. Of course that doesn't change the fact that they'd need to make the remake worth my time, otherwise I could just (for this instance at least) pick up the earlier, cheaper version on Steam for PC. On the otherhand, like Steven said, if you really want to play the original game then dig up your old SNES, N64, or Original Playstation and boot it up. You won't have the updated stuff, but the nostalgia should drown all that away.

However, I do have to say, it's baffling to me when people complain about games like Call of Duty, who have for the longest time survived by copying and pasting from their last game. But you also hear many saying that Call of Duty 4 was the best Call of Duty yet. with Modern Warfare 2 and Modern Warfare 3 people were upset that the games were so similar. I wonder how well a remastered Call of Duty 4 would do. Although, I suppose this hatred for COD comes down to the fact that it isn't a remaster, the developer/publisher aren't open about it just being the same game over again, so when they release it as a new title in the series it causes some backfire. At least that's my opinion on the matter, but that's a different set of issues entirely.

SW: Isn't every COD a remake of the last one? I kid! But you never know. Somewhere along the way, we can probably look forward to the Modern Warfare Trilogy. Like I said earlier, I'm a strong supporter of remastered editions of old games. I just feel that some games are more worth upgrading than others. I also think that some games, especially older ones, need more attention when being remastered.

I think that maybe we should be more concerned about entering an era of remasters, instead of the overall merits of them. Is every Square Enix game going to get a Definitive Edition? There are a lot of PlayStation games that are primed to be brought over to the PS4 like Killzone, Infamous, and Uncharted. Double dipping on all these games is part of the big master plan! 

JH: That is a dark time to look forward to indeed Steven, I mean you make a great point with the whole Square Enix and their Definitive editions. Will it ever stop? 

Either way I think that remasters are bound to disappoint and excite. In closing I think it's safe to say that when you pick up a remastered edition of a game you're going to walk away with one of two feelings, either you'll love it, or it's going to leave a sour taste in your mouth, other than that we can only hope that new IPS continue to crop up from developers and we aren't endlessly stuck in the hole that Hollywood seems to be stuck in with horror movies.

Shack Staff stories are a collective effort with multiple staff members contributing. Many of our lists often involve entires from several editors, and our weekly Shack Chat is something we all contribute to as a group. 

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