Choosing to remake a game is a difficult (and often controversial) decision.
Not only are you committing yourself to redoing a tremendous amount of work already done by yourself or others, with added pressure to exceed the quality and success of the original--you’re also in many cases asking consumers to pay for something they’ve already bought again.
Justifying this process starts as soon as the seed of the idea springs into a developer’s mind and doesn’t end until a final product is in consumers’ hands. To get some insight into what provokes a remake and what that process is like, we spoke to Scott Brodie, game designer and founder of Heart Shaped Games, whose Hero Generations: ReGen (a remake of the original, Hero Generations, owners of which will receive a coupon for 67% off ReGen) launched August 18th on iOS and August 19th on PC, Mac, and Linux.
Hero Generations: ReGen tasks players with shepherding a bloodline of heroes to fame and fortune by defeating monsters, collecting treasure, and pairing with mates to produce talented offspring. Every step you take in the tile-based, top-down game world subtracts a year from your heroes biological clock, and if it hits zero without you producing an heir, it’s curtains for your bloodline. A typical lifespan sees heroes balancing the building up of towns with various improvements to produce wealth and fame (an important currency in ReGen) with slaying monsters, chasing down quests, and exploring locations in the hopes of impressing an appropriate beau.
The reboot (left) versus the original (left).
The idea of launching a remake just over a year after the original title shipped (Hero Generations was released on Steam on April 10th, 2015) might raise some eyebrows, but Brodie says the impetus to remake evolved naturally out of the process of porting the original to mobile.
“I received a lot of feedback that Hero Generations is a natural fit for mobile and touch screens, so I wanted to see if I could make a port happen,” Brodie explained. “There are ways to put a Flash game on mobile platforms, but as I investigated, it started to look more and more like I would have to re-implement a lot of the game in order to make it playable.”
Issues that arose trying to find talented developers with Flash experience to help move the title to mobile solidified the decision to rebuild the game from the bottom up.
“Thankfully, a local friend and programmer, Kep Amun, suggested remaking the game in Unity because of all of the platforms it could export to,” Brodie says. “We ended up partnering on the project, and as we started the process it became clear that choosing Unity gave us a lot of big improvements out of the box. Even though some of the content was going to be the same, the changes really felt like a new game, so we decided to make an even larger investment with the hope of releasing something new for our existing PC audience as well.”
Of course, deciding to wholly remake an existing game is much simpler than actually doing the work. Brodie says some unexpected challenges arose from the special rules attached to the individual objects in a game with as much content as Hero Generations.
“Strategy games in particular typically have more of these special case rules, and I should have realized there wouldn’t be a shortcut to implementing those rules a 2nd time around. There are a lot of buildings, items, traits, quests, characters, etc. that are all just a little different from each other. Those all added up to bloat our schedule, and impact how much new content we could get to.” He advises designers embarking on similar projects to carefully consider what kind of game they’re remaking. “I’d definitely recommend to other developers thinking about a remake to consider their game genre first. Then decide how much effort will be involved in just getting the game all put back together.”
He emphasizes how important preparation is to the process. “One of the things we got right was doing thorough investigations to make sure all of the games systems, characters, and objects could be replicated in Unity. Most of the game was re-implemented without issue, and our major changes, like creating a giant single screen Overworld map, took about as long as we planned.”
Other obstacles presented themselves as a result of Brodie’s ambition to support five platforms simultaneously. While Unity makes pivoting across multiple platforms a lot easier than some engines, it was important to the team at to make each version feel native to the platform it lived on. “There was still a lot of duplicate design, code, and UI work involved in making a game meet the expectations of 5 different audiences. For example, we redesigned and re-implemented every screen of the game UI. This is not news for most larger, multi-platform developers, but I definitely learned a lot about what’s really involved in releasing a game simultaneously across multiple platforms as an indie.”
The reboot (left) versus the original (left).
Of course, one of the most difficult parts of any design project is tamping down the desire to pack it full of every idea that springs into the designer’s head. “We knew we wanted to add a lot of new things to make the game feel fresh for our existing fans, but at a certain point we knew many of those ideas were out of scope for a remake. I think we found a good balance in the end, but it was hard to figure out how much was ‘enough’ or ‘too much’ for ReGen.”
A difficult balance also had to be struck between providing enough novel, fresh content to justify a whole new release against the diminishing returns of overstuffing a game at the expense of time and resources. “I think the line we ended up settling on was really thinking hard about any change that had wide-ranging design implications. For example, we came up with a lot of ideas for more radical changes to how worlds were generated, how enemies behaved, or how combat worked. As soon as you start changing those types of things, you have to also start thinking about how the rest of the game needs to react. As a designer, that’s the fun part of the job, but it is also probably not the work that should be done in a remake situation.”
Once the scope of the project had been roughly sketched out it was time to pick out elements to prioritize in a remake. Brodie had a number of issues with the original game that he wanted to address, but the most important involved how the game’s systems were surfaced.
“The biggest thing, which I think we’ve achieved, was to expose more of the game systems that were already there. We built this giant world with 6 biomes, a full tech tree, 22 town crafting variations, but it was common for people who played the game to be surprised to learn about all there was to do in the game. So with the remake, I put a big emphasis on making sure all of those things in the game were exposed at a higher level.”
A big part of the solution was to eschew the original game’s partitioned off, more discreet areas in favor of one massive map. “By having everything on screen, that you can pan around and inspect with the camera, seems to get the point across to players that there is a lot to do. We also totally revamped the UI, and created nice visual representations of the technologies and crafting options I mentioned.”
In the end, Brodie says the process has been instructive and inspirational. “I really enjoyed doing this remake, as it allowed me to focus on developing different skills as a dev, and let me add some important new features.”