Remastered video games are all the buzz, but what do they mean for the game industry? Are we heading towards a Hollywood-esque world of stale franchise refreshments? Or is remastering a video game something more? Are publishers just trying to suck the money out of our wallets? I mean, probably yeah, but whatever.
Essentially, remastering a video game is a process to get that game onto the latest consoles. A remastered video game will generally have a a graphical upgrade, rendering the graphics in higher definition so that the young’uns don’t projectile vomit when they see it on their HD TVs. The extent to which a game’s graphics change really depends on who is remastering it and what effect they want to achieve.In the upcoming Final Fantasy VII game for PlayStation 4, the art is changing drastically from the original. Since none of those original assets will end up in the game, I think it’s safe to call it a remake. But with games series like Uncharted, which is coming out in a collection for the PlayStation 4, the remaster consists of a graphical spit and polish to make it HD.
As Omar Elaasar writes on Medium, “high-definition” is a meaningless concept. What we consider HD will change with every technological leap forward, and technology moves at a startlingly fast pace. That’s another thing that sets video games apart from films. When we see old actors in films, we can appreciate the film as an artifact of its time. Their clothes, their way of talking, the painted sets—we recognize the legitimacy of those things. And at its core, the way that we make films hasn’t changed all that much.
A video game shows its age more readily. Whether it’s in the awkward mechanics of a game from 10 years ago or just an ugly texture that was once the best we had, people are quick to cringe at “the way things were.” And since it’s all artificial, what we now consider shortcomings are way more apparent.
Of course, there’s a lot to appreciate there, especially if you do consider video games as valuable artifacts of their time. Read the full Elaasar piece for an in-depth comparison of original and remastered games—some of the “improvements” aren’t improvements at all.
The big value of remastering a video game isn’t in the graphics though. It’s in the console. Like I said, technology moves fast. Many of the video games that I played growing up simply don’t exist anymore. Getting them to run on my laptop would require some illegal downloading and an emulator, and that’s a lot of trouble to go through for Jump Start Adventures 4th Grade.
But this means that hundreds and thousands of games are lost to the passage of time. If this were any other medium, there would an outcry; imagine if that many books just up and vanished. Remastering video games to bring them to current consoles is a cash grab, sure, but it’s also one of the only ways we can keep them around for a little longer.
And it’s a band-aid on a big problem. Because what we now call current-gen consoles will be last-gen in just a few years. As Courtney points out in our conversation, Nintendo has been pretty good about making their new consoles backwards compatible. The Wii would play GameCube games, and the Wii U plays Wii games. But that’s just one generation of backwards compatibility. Making a console backwards compatible is no small feat, either. The Xbox One will be backwards compatible with some Xbox 360 games, but it’s an ongoing effort and it still won’t cover every game from the 360 generation.
That’s why I don’t understand a lot of the grumbles and complaints when a remaster is announced. Sure, we don’t need Bioshock on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, but if my PlayStation 3 combusted one day, I would be thrilled to know that one of my favorite games was still playable, even if I had to repurchase it.
Courtney and I both had a near-spiritual experience playing Zoombinis for iPad this summer when it came out. This was a game we had both played on our computers as children. Like a lot of games, it was unplayable on newer machines. Then an educational company decided to remake it for tablets. The art has changed considerably, but the gameplay and audio are all the same. And guess what? It’s still good.
I don’t have a better solution to the archiving problem facing video games today. If rereleasing them for new consoles is what we have, I’m all for it. It’s still a process that leaves a lot of games, mostly indies, out of the loop. With no big publishers fronting the costs to put those games on newer machines, a lot of indie games will most likely disappear into the void.
I hope that moving forward we’ll come up with better solutions for preserving games as they were, not just as we want them to look.