Home > oldschool, retrospectacles > Everything old is new again

Everything old is new again

So an interview with Jordan Mechner, creator of the Prince of Persia series (the original Prince of Persia series kids, not the one where he’s all time-controlling, wall-running and 3D-having) on his remake of the Karateka game has me thinking. Where do we stand on gaming remakes?

I suspect for many people the Halo: Combat Evolved remake would be a more likely catalyst for this discussion. While it is, when we’re categorising our remake candidates it falls in a distinctly different camp – the original is only a little over 10 years old, and still fresh in the hearts and minds of those who cut their teeth on it back when console shooters were still territory as untested as Microsoft’s gaming chops. No, Kareteka must be a faded memory for all but the oldest of gamers. I myself – disconcertingly approaching the average age of the Australian gamer – missed out on it by a year or two, our Apple II having gone gently into that good night not long beforehand.


Either this takes place in the worlds sunniest country, or the computers of the time couldn't process cloud sprites.

This raises a few more questions – what is ‘remaking’ a game that old, anyway? Recreating a game from the time when a 10 pixel high sprite of two colours was the graphical norm in today’s world surely doesn’t come any closer than creating a ‘spiritual successor’, and even that term feels fairly generous. For all intents and purposes, the ‘rebooting’ of the Prince of Persia series with Sands of Time in ’03 was a remake in this vein, and there’s not much in common between the original and the ‘reimagining’. In fact, there’s not much of a relationship at all, beyond the setting, a moustachioed villain and a hero with a penchant for parkour. Of course, the stunning success of the later series might indicate Mechner is hoping for a similar experience with Karateka, although it will likely be on a different scale, as its being pitched as a downloadable rather than a big budget AAA title.

More importantly, what will be the reaction to a remake of a game that almost no-one remembers? In a way, its the safer route – one can easily imagine the horrifying backlash 343 Industries would have suffered if the Halo remake had harmed the game, story or universe in any way, and even that was purely a re-skinning and re-engineing, more akin to George Lucas’s digitally remastered 20th Anniversary editions of the star wars movies than a complete do-over. In this instance, Mechner is free to take all the liberties and risks he likes with the original property, knowing that the only person likely to make a comparison and be disappointed is himself.

Having said all that, and admitting that I’m quite keen on both the remakes mentioned above, I’m struggling to think of another game (new or painfully old) that I’d be interested in seeing redone, regardless of whether the reasoning is that technology and the game industry is now at a point to deliver an experience closer to the original dream (as with Mechner), or as a pure cash cow (you know who you are).

Thoughts? Anything you’ve got in your nostalgia cupboard you’d be happy to risk a remake of, or are the classics too sacred? Conversely, are you worried the trend sets us on the path to where Hollywood is now, frantically remaking and rebooting every single movie in an attempt to avoid the difficult and expensive process of generating new ideas?

  1. Liam Brokas
    March 1, 2012 at 11:34 pm

    Great post.
    Well, aside from joining the cacophony of voices crying out for a Final Fantasy 7 remake, I think reboots are dangerous territory. Think about the revival of Syndicate, where the new IP holders have veered away from what made the original game great and instead went for a bland and generic FPS remake. Or the XCOM debacle going on where it too has been desecrated in the minds of fans and turned into something it should never have been (Thank god for Firaxis is all I can say). Remakes should remain true to the original concept while trying to fix or improve what was lacking. Unfortunately, it seems companies don’t believe this, and instead think that a floating gun and a name that tenuously links to the original will be enough.

    • March 2, 2012 at 12:00 am

      Final Fantasy is an interesting one (although I’ve not played it myself – didn’t get on the FF trolley until X), I’d say the potential for pissing off the massive fan base would be massive, so they’d need to be pretty sure of what they could get out of it.

      Syndicate is almost in a third category – a really game they could have re-made in the same mould as the first one, albeit with updated graphics and a modern engine, but chose instead to go the ‘re-imagining’ route. Looking forward to playing this, although the reviews I’ve read suggest I should be lowering my expectations if I want to get much out of it – very much the ‘floating gun’ school of remaking.

      XCOM I don’t know much about – whats the controversy?

  2. Liam Brokas
    March 2, 2012 at 12:35 am

    The X-COM IP was bought out by 2K Marin and re-imagined as what they call a ‘tactical first person shooter’ based loosely in the X-COM universe. Fans have been champing at the bit for an X-COM reboot for years now, and when this was first announced they were excited. XCOM (differentiated by the lack of hyphen) was discovered to be a bland and generic first person shooter with old and barely working squad management. It was decried as a cash grab by 2K trying to take advantage of the fanbase of the original game, and some fans even called it a betrayal (Noah Antwiler of The Spoony Experiment in particular http://spoonyexperiment.com/2011/06/16/e3-2011-xcom/). It was a complete departure from what made the original games so brilliant and they threw it away to make a generic shooter. It got so bad, that Sid Meier’s company Firaxis Games (who we know as kings of 4X games, and thus a perfect match for tactical games) has stepped up and promised an X-COM remake that stays true to the series and does it right.

    • March 2, 2012 at 8:41 am

      Ah, that makes a bit more sense now – I’ve been seeing a fair bit in the news recently about Enemy Unknown, but beyond the squad based tactical element, didn’t know any of the backstory.

      Its funny – the concept of taking an existing IP with a loyal fanbase and developed value proposition and rehashing it into the current style du jour, then acting surprised at the backlash has typically been the domain of the movie business. Hopefully XCOM and Syndicate are isolated examples rather than a parallel trend.

  3. March 2, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    The whole XCOM thing has been really interesting. I never played and don’t know anything about the original games, but that first E3 trailer had me really excited:

    Looked like an awesome X-Files inspired shooter in the vein of Bioshock to me. Generic, maybe, but a lot of fun in it’s own right. I love the art direction and basic concepts presented in that trailer, so it’s been pretty sad for me to see the project get pretty much destroyed due to fans having a fit. But again, the name X(-)COM is meaningless to me.
    But I guess it’s a lesson about remakes; without the name XCOM I feel like it would’ve gotten a positive reaction instead of being hacked apart for not being the original. Though I do think the accusations of 2K trying to cash in on the IP are warranted, don’t really see any other reason for them to use the name for something so different.

    • March 2, 2012 at 8:07 pm

      Just to link two ideas, thats almost how I feel about American Nightmare – that without the Alan Wake name, I’d be praising it for daring to be different, and having great gameplay, but because its bearing that name, I expect it to deliver certain things which it didn’t.

      That XCOM trailer above looks intriguing (if graphically subpar, even for 2010) although it certainly doesn’t gel with anything I’ve read about Enemy Unknown, so if the latter is a return to the gameplay roots of the series, I can see how this one would have been a disappointment to the fans, just from the genre switch alone.

      Regardless of how well its executed, you bear a massive risk remaking/rebooting/continuing a beloved series – doubly so if its a different genre, and immeasurably if you add in a different developer as well. I’ll keep an eye on the newest XCOM – if it works out, it might end up being my entry point into the series.

      • March 3, 2012 at 5:44 am

        With the Alan Wake connection, Bioshock also comes to mind, though to lesser scale. I really liked the second one, but I felt like the improved gameplay came at the expense of atmosphere and story. In the first game you were just some guy with a wrench fighting off monstrosities, in the second you were a monstrosity with a giant drill plowing through meaty people. The gameplay was a lot more “fun”, but it really lacked the special something that the first one had.

        Yeah having read about the original X-COM games, I really get where the fans are coming from. Hopefully the 50’s X-Files idea will get rebirthed into something new, maybe as a new IP (I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff). It’ll be really interesting to see where they take it, especially with Enemy Unknown coming out I hope they don’t just attempt (and inevitably fail) to please the fans, and focus instead on making something they’re passionate about. I’m definitely looking forward to Enemy Unknown, though. The mechanics of the original games sound really interesting.

  4. March 3, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    Yeah, Bioshock is another good example, although a little watered down (no pun intended) compared with American Nightmare. I’ve wondered before whether the loss of atmosphere and story was at least partially attributable to the loss of the surprise factor that the first one had – returning to rapture was never going to be able to have the same impact the second time around, although I think they really tried to capture the mystery again by having you play a big daddy. That was a risk that didn’t quite work out, as beyond being able to carry bigger versions of the same guns (and weapons/plasmids) at the same time, you weren’t really any more powerful relative to the splicers than you were in the first game.

  5. Liam Brokas
    March 7, 2012 at 12:49 am

    Just an update on the new XCOM title: Enemy Unknown.

    THIS is X-COM. They look to be doing the original justice, while also innovating and updating. No ‘floating gun’ mechanic here, just tactical, squad based gameplay.
    If they maintain this, it’s a day one purchase for me.

  6. March 9, 2012 at 11:52 pm

    I’ve watched a few of these videos since, and they definitely look the goods – this may be an obscure shot in the dark, but this is exactly the way I would expect a decent shot at a video game version of Necromunda to play out. Since we’re making every single other conceivable Games Workshop IP into a game these days, I’m very surprised no one’s had a stab at that yet.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: