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Everything old is new again

March 1, 2012 10 comments

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.

Karateka

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?

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Retrospectacles

February 5, 2012 Leave a comment

I’d been worried about February, and the backlog of games I’d been earmarking to finish within it. The plan (as much as it could generously be called a plan) was to clear out a small pile of half finished diversions (Rage, Dead Island) maybe have a second crack at Skyrim, and then commence the serious business of GoldenEye: Reloaded, Battlefield 3, and Arkham City, putting my brand new PS3 through its paces at the same time. Long story short, I lost interest in the first two (being ‘great looking but pedestrian’, and ‘staggeringly potential-filled but poorly executed’, respectively) and the last three moved beyond my reach due to a catastrophic technical failing on the PS3 (fortunately the process for returning a nuked PS3 is, at least in Australia, disturbingly well oiled).

Anyway.

Casting about for something to sink my teeth into, an ‘enthusiastic’ pub discussion about the title of this blog reminded me that Bungie had recently put the Marathon trilogy out onto the internet for free, and so a lengthy (and probably frustrating) trip to nostalgiatown was booked.

(I am aware, before we go any further, of the irony of titling a blog beyond marathon and then immediately throwing up a post talking about marathon like it never went out of style – in the long run, it’ll make perfect sense. Possibly.)

I was quite prepared for the hideousness of the visuals (there’s nothing like a 5MB download of a relatively long, fully featured FPS to set your expectations about graphics quality), so the thing that’s really throwing me is the control scheme.

Welcome to awesome graphics, circa 1994

Badass graphics, circa 1994.

I’d quite forgotten the heady days of 1994, when we controlled our FPS’s purely via the keyboard. ‘Aiming’ at an enemy meant nothing more than revolving to face them, while any enemy more than about 10 degrees above or below your direct line of sight resulted in a frantic look at the keyboard and overcompensation up and down multiple times before finding the right angle. (Remembering the fact that the Marathon series’ multiplayer was the spiritual and mechanical progenitor to the genre-defining gameplay stylings of the Halo series makes an archaic scheme like this all the more incomprehensible).

Add to this a bevy of peripheral controls unnecessary in its contemporaries (99% of Doom requires only five buttons) and its been a serious learning curve – repeated early deaths are seriously detracting from the already limited FPS chops I had prior to this afternoon. And yet its more than worth it. The story is as engaging as I remember – even if it is probably helped by my memories of just how convoluted and fascinating it becomes over the course of the sequels – running errands for a series of battle damaged or outright insane AI’s during an all out war between multiple species with complex and changing relationships is immediately more engaging than the efforts underpinning most modern shooters (Rage, I’m looking in your direction).

Control based handicap aside, I’m very much looking forward to rediscovering how the series ends, many dozens of levels from now. Lets hope that happens before the PS3 gets fixed, or my backlog will stay just that for the forseeable future.

Has anyone else revisited this classic since its re-release, or is it just me?

Origin Story

February 5, 2012 1 comment

So it’s happened, and 2012 becomes the year in which I turn up on the internet, blog in hand. Partly in an attempt to contribute in some fashion to the wider discussion on games and geek culture from which I’ve taken so much, and partly, (masochistically) to see if I can keep another spinning plate in the air this year.

From lofty ideals of deeper discussion about gaming themes, mechanics, and exactly what elements of my favourite games would create the most amazing and unholy frankensteinien super-game in a given year, this may well end up being a collection of ill considered ramblings rehashed from heated, circular pub debates. My apologies to the few of you who will inevitably end up hearing everything twice (you know who you are).

I was fortunate enough (in retrospect) to be off-centre in my formative days – when the world was new and bright, and the most epic new games came on multiple floppies. I grew up in a Mac only household (spanning the Apple II – gen 1 iMac era) and didn’t own a console until the original xbox, so I cut my gaming teeth on the likes of Dark Castle, Prince of Persia, Escape Velocity, and the spectacular Marathon series. On the Mac platform, I compensated for the comparative scarcity of new games by playing the ones I had to death (literally, in the case of many of my floppy based games).

My experience of the ‘big’ games of the time – the Marios, Sonics, Dooms and Wolfensteins – happened at the houses of friends, and on temporarily borrowed consoles. At the time, these forays were exciting not just because of the amazing (and ground breaking) nature of a lot of those games and the fact that they were normally out of my reach, but also because for me, they were they were rare excursions into what seemed to me to be the ‘real’ gaming culture of the time. The one with whole magazines (this was pre-internet, remember) and communities devoted to it, rather than the 2 pages a month I got from dad’s MacWorld’s. In a way, I think this made the escapism of my time with my ‘own’ games more of an all-encompassing experience. The worlds I ventured into, I did so alone. I mapped every star system and planet in Escape Velocity, and became the celebrated hero of every faction in EV: Override, but never shared my exploits with anyone. I wandered the crumbling passageways of Pathways into Darkness (and died countless times doing so) with neither advice nor encouragement (nor peer pressure) to keep me reloading saves and trying again, and remember the experience as more intense and immersive because of it. No one to say ‘oh yeah, I remember that part – what you need to do is…’ to dilute that feeling of stepping into uncharted territory.

My gaming is much more mainstream these days, and the inevitable expansion of responsibilities, coupled with the now staggering breadth of available titles, has brought about the death of my completionist approach to these adventures. There’s been a seismic shift in the way games are played and shared, and its overwhelmingly positive. I’m fascinated by the way the gaming experience changes (and is, in almost every way, improved by) being shared – not in real time via multiplayer, (which is a whole different kettle of fish/future post) but as an augment to the game itself in those times when you’re not playing but want to be, and can live in the world vicariously through tales of your various exploits, and those of others. My recent experiences with Red Dead Redemption, Fallout: New Vegas and Dark Souls were amazing examples of this – I enjoyed the discussion, the strategising and the stories as much as the games. My posts here will likely be a distillation of these, and hopefully over time, a channel for new ones.

In some small ways, I miss the time when I felt like a game and my experiences in its world were mine and mine alone, but short of becoming a housebound, internet-less social pariah, I don’t see those days returning, and on the whole, I’m happy with the trade.

I’m hoping my origins in the humble minority will serve as a reminder to keep my posts here a little off centre – we’ve probably got enough news/preview/review sites already. Unless (until?) the big game studios see fit to use this humble blog as a conduit for all their juiciest breaking news exclusives, and/or send me sweet sweet free review copies of their latest blockbusters, I’ll likely restrict myself to ill-considered rambling. Any factual errors, offensive generalisations and secret hidden agendas are of course, entirely my own.

Your feedback, constructive abuse and flame-war invitations are most welcome. Fire at will.

Categories: oldschool Tags: ,
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