The Reality of Video Game Remakes & The Industry’s Long Love Affair With Them

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These days, hearing about modern remakes (or remastered titles) for current generation consoles feels like a daily thing.  Hell, one of the biggest announcements at this year’s E3 was a remake rather than a new title: Final Fantasy VII.  While the initial response was positive, it didn’t take long for detractors to start up their battle cry, “What’s with all the remakes anymore? Can’t they make something new?”  

Well, yes, of course the companies can make something new and the reality is, they’re working on more new titles than they are older ones.  I’m getting ahead of myself here, though.  I’ll discuss industry practices and development in a little bit.  Let’s back up a tad.  

FF7 remake

It does feel like the latest console generation has seen more than its fair share of remakes/upgrades of older titles. From virtually day one of this generation’s cycle, remasters have been there.  With the announcement of new games in long running franchises, it seems a remastered version of the previous titles aren’t too far behind them.  It feels like a lot and with game developers also looking at new versions of classic titles, (a new Gauntlet launched on PlayStation 4 and Capcom confirmed a Resident Evil 2 remake) I get why some gamers have this negative sentiment.  

Most recently, this vitriol for remakes popped up at our own news regarding a Knights of the Old Republic remake.  While many Star Wars and gaming fans have been ecstatic about the news, I was surprised at the ridiculous amount of people complaining about the state of the games industry and its “reliance” on remakes.  The overwhelming amount of comments regarding the deplorable nature of remakes in general got me thinking more about the situation and how it’s almost ALWAYS been that way with game titles.  

SMAS

Time for a quick history lesson.  Let’s start off with one of the earliest console “remasters” that landed on the Super Nintendo: Super Mario All Stars.  The game launched in 1993 and compiled 4 Super Mario Bros. games from the previous generation into one big cartridge for everyone to enjoy.  These weren’t simple ports either, they were ENHANCED with updated graphics to make better use of the more powerful hardware…Sound familiar?

That’s an early example and throughout the SNES’s own lifespan it saw collections from older arcade games, and remakes of titles within their own catalog (Kirby, Dr. Mario, Fire Emblem, etc.).  The Sega Genesis was no different in this regard, as Capcom brought the first three Mega Man titles from the NES together in one collection, Mega Man: The Wily Wars.  

Mega Man The Wily Wars

The list goes on and on throughout every single console generation.  The Final Fantasy series has been ported in just about every which way, the first few Prince of Persia titles (not the PS2 games) have found their way onto just about every system following its release in some form.  I’ve lost count of the amount of Tetris ports and full-on remakes that seem to happen every year (with Pac-Man being much the same).  Street Fighter II may very well be the most RE-MADE game ever, along with various collections of Mortal Kombat, a variety of Resident Evil titles, and I’m fairly certain the Namco Museum collection has made it’s way onto every console (including handheld) since the original collection released on the N64.  

I could go on. Frankly, I could do a straight up LIST of titles that have been remade/re-released throughout the last few decades and it’d end up over 10 pages long.  The argument that remasters and ports of older titles is a “new” and troubling trend in the gaming industry, doesn’t hold much weight for me.  This is especially true when I see it used as an argument for how the game industry is failing and growing weaker (these articles exist out there).  I can’t decide if the people who make these claims simply weren’t around long enough to remember the other generations, or are willfully ignoring the history of gaming.  Regardless, not enough research is being conducted.

super street fighter ii turbo hd remix title 

I can see why some of the newer announcements may be troubling to some, even when you take the history into account.  Retro gaming has always been popular and the beauty of nostalgia is that those titles will ALWAYS be in demand.  In an age where “virtual consoles” and retro backlogs are easy to create on any console, why do developers want to put out upgrades and remakes?  Is it really just a way of milking money from gamers?  

The simple answer to the latter question is “Yes”, though it’s not as nefarious as some gamers have made it out to be.  Sure, these re-releases are specifically designed to garner more money off an already established property, but that’s okay.  In fact, it’s a necessary aspect in getting those new games everyone wants so badly.  One of the key arguments you’ll find against remakes is how game developers have no original ideas anymore, “These systems need NEW games, not old ones!  Why don’t they stop being lazy and make something new.”  I can see why some would feel that way, but the truth has more to do with the industry in general and the way game making works.  

Dune 2000

As is true in any venture, in order to produce something new you have to money, or capital, in order to do it.  Game development on ‘AAA’ titles is entirely different these days and changes with each new generation.  It’s a costly and time consuming endeavor.  Look at the amount of titles we’ve seen announced over the last couple years that were hit with delays, despite already being in development for some time.  The reality is, great games NEED time to be developed.  It’s how we get amazing experiences like The Last of Us, Dragon Age Inquisition, Witcher 3, Arkham Knight (just to name more recent ones).  Even those aren’t perfect upon release, despite all the efforts put into them.  

From a studio standpoint and, more importantly, an INVESTOR standpoint, waiting 3-4 years for development on a new title is tough.  In that time you’re unable to make any money off the future project, yet it’s constantly taking up resources.  All the people making the game deserve to get paid and new technology is costly to create and use.  

Imagine you’re giving your own personal money to someone in order to create something.  It’s taking a long time to get done, and every single month you’re giving over more money knowing you won’t get ANYTHING back for another couple years (if you’re lucky).  That’s a big financial risk to you, and it’s the same for big studio developers as well.  Not to mention the fact the money in question doesn’t appear out of thin air either.  So where do you get the money from to make the next ‘AAA’ title while giving yourself enough time to do it right?

Remakes.  Boom.  There’s the truth of the matter.  

66706 Metal Gear Twin Snakes 2

Since a remake is based off of an existing game, the development time is significantly shorter (depending on the extent of the remake), and can be done with a smaller team.  The title already has instant brand recognition and, as such, presents itself as an easier sell to consumers because of it.  It’s a revenue stream that’s far more accessible and easier to procure, so you can use those funds to help keep the development of your NEW game going strong.  

Investors and big corporations are always looking for monetary returns.  The quicker the better, and this is true of virtually ANY market out there.  It’s tough as a game designer to pitch a big game title that’s going to be a long time on returning a profit.  If you present something that can see a quicker turnaround, however, (like a remake/re-release) the odds of a green light are much higher.  You’re promising a quick profit with the remake, which will give you time and extra funds to get the OTHER game made you really want.  

This is the way of the world.  If you want to see those new games so badly, you have to put up with a few other things in order to make sure they get made.  Too often, great looking games are announced and subsequently cancelled because the devs ran out of funds.  In some cases we’ve heard horror stories about teams not being paid on time, or at all, with volatile working conditions to put up with (like the recent Konami stories).  

uncharted nathan drake collection logo

While it’s easy to complain about ‘unimaginative’ remakes, their presence has been a part of the gaming industry for decades.  You cannot discount the history and precedent for these things, nor their relevance in helping to new games get developed.  Personally, I love getting the chance to play my favorite games on my new consoles, and oftentimes these remakes give younger generations the chance to experience them for the first time.  This in turn can build an even bigger fan base for franchises, increasing the likelihood of seeing a NEW entry in series to be released. 

So even if you think of video game remakes as an evil concoction of the gaming industry, at the very least, you can think of them as a necessary evil.  If you’re still thoroughly convinced of that fact, then at least don’t refer to it as a “new” trend either.  It’s been happening for decades.   

Now, all this said, let’s think positively.  Tell me, in the comments below, what some of your favorite video game remakes are, or any titles you feel deserve a reboot of some sort.  

-Jordan