Missing Innovations

Credit to Zelda Wikia-Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess 

Credit to Zelda Wikia-Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess http://zeldawiki.org/File:TP_logo.png

Joshua Marlowe, Guest Writer

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD. World of Warcraft: Legion. Final Fantasy VII Remake. Gears of War: Ultimate Edition. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. All of these new entries into major franchises may seem new and innovative, but they are anything but. They are sequels, remasters, or remakes- forged by the likes of Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo, the triple-A industry (a classification term used for games with the highest development budgets and levels of promotion. A title considered to be AAA is therefore expected to be a high quality game or to be among the year’s bestsellers).
Sequels are the least “intentionally evil” of the three, as a good sequel builds off its predecessor’s mechanics and attributes to improve upon them. Sometimes they go in a radically different direction (see Legend of Zelda II or Donkey Kong 3) and succeed as well or better than its predecessor. Then again, the industry is eager to release the same game that treads the same ground as its original (see No More Heroes 2, the Gears of War series and Bayonetta 2 to an extent) to rake in the money. Even when the industry isn’t trying to make a big buck off of name recognition, it can still screw up a sequel by straying too far from the original game in mechanics (see Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts) or characters (see Thief (2014)).
Will sequels ever cease? Probably not; Pokémon has had indirect sequels since the early 2000’s, Mega Man kept putting out sequels and spin-offs since its start in the late 80’s, fighting games continue to make millions game after game simply by adding characters and improving the graphics (and sometimes they don’t even do the latter). As long as the sequels released are worth playing and succeed in building off the originals, then they are fine. Otherwise, the time and labor needs use elsewhere.
As a reader’s feature on Metro.co.uk writes, “The most important factor, though, is that a sequel that merely fixes the flaws of the original, however relatively minor they may be, is often seen as well worth another £40 [about $60]. Which is fair enough if customers are happy, and yet so often developers take the Hollywood approach and merely start overegging the pudding.”
Remakes can be creative, but the current path of remakes has followed a typical pattern – following what made the original games well beloved. Depending on the company in charge, one of two things follows. Some companies stomp out the originality and what made it unique in order to reach mass appeal (see the 2014 remake of Thief and the 2009 remake of Wolfenstein). In other cases, the company remakes the game, effectively making it a port to modern consoles or a remaster (for example, Conker: Live and Reloaded and Grim Fandango Remastered). The reboot is the more practiced tactic to “remaking” a game, giving plot overhauls, changing character traits, and putting it on the latest console (see Rise of the Tomb Raider and begrudgingly Sonic Boom).
Do remakes do anything to help support the hole of creativity that at one time in the past had been a well?
As said by The Verge writer, Sam Byford, about Halo’s re-release on the Xbox One, “It’s easier than ever to play old video games. Well, perhaps that’s not the right way to word it. It’s indeed easier than ever to access old video games; the widespread adoption of digital distribution means that, depending on rights, publishers can sell their back catalogue on modern consoles at minimal cost. But actually playing them can be rough without prior experience or a strong sense of nostalgia to smooth out the edges. And, while 2D games’ pixel art often has a timeless quality that holds up today, that’s much less common with early 3D games, which very rarely age anywhere near as well.”

The only viable reasoning for a remake is to bring back an old game for the new generations to enjoy it in its original state – in theory, this is a great method to preserve a game’s history. Yet again, the triple-A industry takes something that could help, but uses it to instigate ruin. Rather than remake games from years past, the tradition has become “remake a game from last year for this year’s console”. What is worse is that development for the new consoles is expensive, even when using the old games’ assets – instead of tapping new ground like a sequel, it becomes a sinkhole, taking money away from new projects. If the industry goes back to the idea behind remakes– remaking older games for a new generation, rather than remake last year’s games– then remakes are fine. Otherwise, they don’t have a place in the industry.
At last, the more problematic of the bunch; remasters. Like remakes, remasters aren’t bad in theory- but execution derails this method even more than the remake does. While remasters typically stick exactly to the original game, they sometimes add new features (sometimes to justify it being on a new-generation console) and typically bundle all the DLC (downloadable content) from the original release. Again, the same idea that old games should be passed over for too much criticism – they bring the old classics people liked back to the forefront (see The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD and the Mega Man Anniversary Collection). They do bring occasional older games back from the dead to much fanfare (see Twilight Princess HD and FF7 Remake), but then games are brought out from last year or even earlier. The Last of Us is a prime example, released shortly before the PS4 for the PS3, only to have a “remastered” version a year later for the newer console. What makes this worse than a simple remake? A- nothing particularly new is being implemented; B- it takes resources and manpower from new ideas to work on the old; and most importantly C- they stagnate the market simply because it’s not new – sure it might sell and make its development money back, but a reliance to stay in the comfort zone won’t get us anywhere. Remasters need to reduce their frequency – maybe a few every year, not a few every month.
Is there a solution to this madness? Will the industry decide anytime soon to stop replaying its favorite songs and listen to some new ones? Retreading the same concepts will wear out the sidewalk faster- a problem only new games from bigger companies can resolve. Nintendo released Splatoon, it’s first new series since 2002’s Pikmin, and all they’ve had to do to preserve the fanbase is releasing free content updates to add variety. Shovel Knight, Undertale, even Goat Simulator all had their own charms and brought something new entirely or gave their genres the spice of variety and wholesomeness they needed. If anything, the mobile and Steam scenes, after you wade through all the shovel-ware and rip-offs, is full of innovative concepts or new takes on the old that the industry desperately needs. Maybe the triple-A industry should try taking notes from the indie scene, rather than from each other.
“Yahtzee” Croshaw, the mind behind the game review series “Zero Punctuation” once said, “Games should be remembered, not remastered.” – that’s how it should be; the past should not impede the progress of today.