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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?

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