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Combating the March of Time with Remakes and Remasters

How developers can use the opportunity of remastering or remaking their games to improve the reach of the game's audience; improving accessibility in three key areas and preserving the "essential experience".

Attila Branyiczky, Blogger

June 13, 2016

6 Min Read

The following article contains my Extended Thoughts on "Remakes and Remasters" discussed in the Gameology podcast with my co-host Mathew Falvai. You can listen to the Podcast via RSS, on iTunes, Google Play Music, or watch the episode in video format:

Remakes and Remasters

All art is created in, and for its own time. Society advances, cultural touchstones come and go, new phrases enter language, and stories age until they can entice only scholars of history. No work of art is immortal, but it certainly seems like video games age like few other forms of art, so quickly that it has become common practice to remaster, or even completely remake games that were new only a few years ago. The reasons for these recreations vary on a case by case basis, but chief among them should be making the original experiences accessible to new players.

Games seem to age quickly compared to other forms of art, and so are subject to far more remakes and remasters

One such barrier that developers should tackle is that of the game's controls. Control paradigms shift over time and across game genres; what was the standard method of controlling a particular game years ago will likely feel awkward to a gamer of today. An awkward control scheme will pervade the entire experience, and might serve as a barrier to entry for new players. Giving players the option to remap their controls does a lot to prolong a game's lifespan, but it does not make it immortal. Games released on the Wii U's Virtual Console allow players to fully remap the Gamepad buttons, but in the case of N64 games, this doesn't compensate for the fact that where the N64 controller had four C-Buttons, the Gamepad has a second Analog Stick. In the case of Ocarina of Time where the player assigns items to these buttons, the Analog Stick is an awkward substitute. As game consoles adopt ever more varied controllers, each with their own features (some might call them gimmicks) it will make it difficult to recreate those control schemes in future. This is why, even if a developer has built in a relatively robust control mapping system, it does not guarantee immortality. After all, can you really create a control customization system that accommodates the potential lack of analog sticks where your game normally relies on them? The more complex your game's control scheme is and the more tied into controller specific functionality it is, the more likely it will need to be (at the very least) retouched to keep it accessible to players.

Giving players control over their controls is incredibly helpful in prolonging a game's lifespan, but cannot guarantee immortality

Further to updating a game's controls, developers would do well in retouching the game's entire interface and menu systems. There is an adage when it comes to planning concrete paths across a campus; simply plant grass the first year, then wait and see where the grass has worn down before constructing the permanent paths, as this will be a perfect indicator of the paths people take as they move from building to building. If a game has been out for years, developers can look at which actions players want the fastest access to, and build in these quick-access options directly into the new menu system.

Quick-access to the options players use the most will go far in making the remaster more accessible

While the most significant way to improve a game's accessibility is through improvements to its interface, most remakes usually take the opportunity to improve the original game's artwork, and for good reason. While some games have a stylized art style that can stand the test of time, there are many games which tried to have a "realistic" art style in their time, few of which have aged gracefully. Specifically, improving the artwork of the "photo-realistic" games of the N64, PlayStation 1, and Original Xbox era would, in many cases, constitute an accessibility improvement. Given how important artwork is in directing the player's attention and aiding them in traversal of game environments, when a game's artwork can improved through the availability of newer and more powerful hardware to run on, this can improve the entire gameplay experience. And, let's be honest, many gamers (especially young ones) are much more likely to try a game if it's graphical fidelity can match the standards of modern AAA games, so even in this way, improving the artwork of a game can help in making it more accessible to a new audience.

Improved graphics can improve the accessibility of a game just like improving its controls or menus, but only if that artwork isn't so flashy as to detract from the environment's readability

Even with a new coat of paint and an updated control scheme, sometimes there are significant things like a game's combat mechanics that (despite how good they were at the time) now feel dated, even to fans of the original game. This is usually due to hardware limitations or mechanics constructed around a limited range of inputs that leaves a game feeling "old", no matter how good it felt in its prime. This is where we enter the world of remakes; the chance to take inspiration from a game's original plot, characters, and setting, but ultimately create a new experience from the ground up. This is where developers truly need to decide whether it is worth creating a spiritual successor or numbered sequel instead. If the original game was particularly popular, the decision will probably land on a remake since this can help ensure a return on investment for all the resources that are going to be invested in what is essentially a brand new game. These are the kinds of games where the experience might be very different from the original game; entire sections added, altered, or even removed to keep things in line with modern pacing expectations. The most important thing a developer should seek to do in creating a remake is building upon the essential experience of the original game. So long as they can preserve (and hopefully build upon) the original reason players fell in love with the original game, those same players and more will love the remake.

Above all, remakes must preserve the essential experience of the original game, for that is why players liked the game in the first place

Want your game design questions answered? Submit a question or comment to the Gameology podcast on BluishGreenProductions.com, and check out the Extended Thoughts articles while you're there. You can find me on Twitter @BluishGreenPro

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