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Freeverse Examines Marathon 2 'Enhanced Port' Quandaries

As part of an in-depth postmortem of Marathon 2: Durandal for Xbox Live Arcade running on Gamasutra today, developer Freeverse has been fascinatingly discu
As part of an in-depth postmortem of Marathon 2: Durandal for Xbox Live Arcade running on Gamasutra today, developer Freeverse has been fascinatingly discussing the merits of altered 'enhanced ports' of games, suggesting evolution must be tempered with faithfulness. Though in favor of enhanced ports that also allow the original to be played, the developers at Freeverse ended up putting the factor 'Was an updated port a good idea in the first place?' in their 'What Went Wrong' section in the in-depth postmortem, and they explain: "Why do people play old games, especially old games they have never played before? Some do it for nostalgia, to reinforce their memories of when the game was brand new. Some do it to satisfy their curiosity about an experience that others feel is worth remembering even after countless other games were released. Some do it to witness the evolution of modern games, and see brand new concepts in their unrefined states. Fundamentally, the goal is the same regardless -- to go back and experience the game as it once was, to see for oneself the greatness that was once discovered in it without preconceptions or the relaxed standards of hindsight. We had decided to go in a different direction. We felt the core of what made the game great -- the level design, the feel of working the game’s controls and weapons, the story, deserved a stronger technological foundation. Some of the game’s limitations added nothing to it and could be discarded, and additions could be made that enhanced the parts of the experience we felt were lacking. In hindsight, this was a fundamental mistake. Fidelity to the original should have been absolutely paramount, and it could have been done while playing to the [Xbox] 360’s strengths all along. Our long experience with the game and its tightly-knit original community led us to fail to consider what a player approaching it for the very first time was expecting to find. Practically every other port on Xbox Live, and older games running under emulators or virtual machines on PCs, can be made to look so similar to the original that it’s practically impossible to distinguish screenshots of the two. Ours cannot. Texture filtering is always used; the blocky nearest-neighbor look of software texturing is gone. Vertical foreshortening always occurs in the truly 3D renderer. The new HUD, while unavoidable for reasons stated above, is nevertheless new. The port’s 60 fps performance makes some effects carefully tweaked for half that rate look strange, such as the flamethrower or the rocket’s contrail. The high-quality mode is not simply a tweaked version of the standard, but a completely new look that warps the aesthetics of some areas in unexpected ways. These changes may be superficial to the gameplay, but they are pervasive and unavoidable and they make the game a unique experience to old and new players alike; an experience that can’t decide whether it wants to be judged as a modern game weighed down by gameplay and rough edges a decade old, or a relic of the past that tries to deny its players the very reason they sought it out. Lost in the gap between contemporary expectations of polish and the implicit forgiveness in gaming archeology, the experience is not exactly what we had intended for any one player." You can now read the full Gamasutra-exclusive postmortem, with more details on what went right -- and what didn't -- in the port process (no reg. required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).

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