Game Preservation. By Connor Walsh.
As the media has evolved, so has consumer expectations. Films have been re-issued and re-released to keep up with evolving technology, but videogames’ previous titles are often left behind with consoles of the past. Large video game libraries being trapped on previous consoles’ has changed with the trend of remastering iconic games through the technology of modern gaming. Over the past few years, the gaming industry has been inundated with remastered titles of the past with modern graphics and programming of today’s consoles. Unfortunately, this has resulted in many opting out of making older games accessible on current gaming systems.
The continual output of remakes to replace the original versions is concerning as some appear to do so to increase revenue with a guaranteed hit rather than preserving the legacy of iconic titles. If remakes are less than great, they can muddy the lens in which the original intent was once viewed. Should remakes be forced to include the original version of the game, or should video game consoles enforce backward compatibility as a preservation method?
The video game industry has recently been overrun with remastered content and remakes. From 2021-2023 the industry was overrun with remakes of Triple-A titles such as Resident Evil 4, The Last of Us, Dead Space, and a to-be-dated Silent Hill 2. While the original versions of the first two titles remain available alongside the remastered versions, the former two have reduced accessibility. For instance, the original Dead Space is only available on Xbox platforms and PC, with only the remake available on PlayStation 5. While the original Silent Hill 2 can only be played through cloud-streaming, otherwise, players have to purchase the remake.
This can diminish the series’ legacy as the updated version has removed many iconic elements and features from the series. In the past few years, a fair share of shoddy remasters have diminished the impact of games’ first iterations. One series that comes to mind is the Grand Theft Auto’s remastered trilogy. While fans were initially excited, as many anticipated updated graphics and mechanics for a story they loved, the finished product was disappointing as the game was riddled with bugs and lackluster visuals. To make matters worse, Rockstar announced that they were delisting the original versions from consoles to promote the remasters despite the new versions being riddled with errors such as inconsistent weather effects, glitches, and typos.
This may have been caused by Rockstar attempting to cut corners through the collaboration of Grove Street Games, who mainly worked on mobile ports before remastering this series for consoles and the pc. Grove Street Games used A.I. to upscale old textures, resulting in typos and sloppy graphics, clearly prioritizing the budget over quality. Consumers expected more from a remaster of a trilogy approaching its 20th anniversary. Longtime fans received a subpar experience that conflicted with their memories of the original iterations of the beloved series, tainting their opinions of the game and their thoughts on Rockstar Games. There needs to be a way to hold companies such as Rockstar Games accountable for how they treat games of the past by rushing inadequate remakes.
Unfortunately, GTA’s remaster misstep was not an isolated incident in the video game industry, as the remasters of another iconic series was tarnished by prioritizing profits over quality. Silent Hill 2 and 3 was ported for HD consoles in the early 2010s when Konami hired Hijinx Studios to remaster the game, however without access to the source code, the developer had to work from an unfinished build of the game and patch out technical issues already solved within the original game files.
Because of this, the HD bundle had many issues that were not present in both Silent Hill 2 and 3; For example, Silent Hill 2 was in such a broken state that a significant patch was unavailable on the Xbox versions of the game. Unfortunately, this iteration introduced many would-be fans to the series, potentially turning many away. There should be regulation with digital games, stopping the developers from removing games from the storefront to make way for these remakes. It may be time that previous versions are included with these remakes to ensure their legacy is restored regardless of quality.
Lately, video game remakes have been largely consistent with horror games, where a lot of detail and respect was given to the previous versions; In the 2010s, remasters were a mixed bag as many of them made jarring changes to the original series because of the need to convert them to High-Definition. The quality began to improve in the late 2010s heading into the 2020s. However, despite the authenticity given to the remake, these remakes could not recapture the original games’ atmosphere. The Last of Us’ (2022) remaster reframed the game as an intentional two-part series.
This remake swapped out an orange and green tint for more naturalistic colours and updated the character models to look closer to what they looked like during Part IIs flashback sequences. The gameplay was also significantly altered to feel smoother and resemble Part II gameplay. It increased the A.I.’s behaviour, so the companions were more valuable, and the enemies were seen as a more significant threat.
The next remake to follow this was Resident Evil 4, and rather than a one to one remake, this version has switched scenes and bosses around and gives more context to certain storylines of the game. While the gameplay elements were familiar, modern features had been introduced, such as a quick item selection. This version of the game excludes the DLC on launch and reduces the original’s tongue-in-cheek nature, as well as changing the environment’s colouring, opting for a more naturalistic feel. While the original Resident Evil 4 was widely accessible, Resident Evil 3’s remake faced criticism for excluding scenes and content that altered the game’s plot and progression.
Lately, remakes have restored games while the originals are often trapped within particular platforms.. By not enforcing backward compatibility and using remakes to replace the previous versions of the games, we are losing vital history that contributes to a storied legacy of this industry. Remaking games is not an adequate preservation measure; remakes change how a game plays, as well as updating the level design and visuals for the modern era.
Changing a game to adapt to how technology itself has changed does not preserve the flaws and respect the original game’s influence by incorporating elements that spawned after that game within its remake. When one watches a remake of a film, whether it is John Carpenter’s The Thing or Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear, the original versions remain available through streaming and DVDs. Video games often are locked behind services and previous console iterations.
As media formats change and technology evolves, many developers have clung to remakes to restore the original version of video games to a new audience, but it should not come as a replacement for the original titles. In contrast, in the film industry, remakes serve as a different lens to view the original film, with both versions remaining widely accessible. Speilberg’s West Side Story does not erase the original; neither does John Carpenter’s The Thing or Scorsese’s Cape Fear; they serve as alternative versions to interpret beloved stories. With video games, remakes come at the cost of the original content being inaccessible for new generations of gamers.
The video game industry often locks away iconic games behind dated hardware in favour of increasing profits; a regulation must exist that enforces games of the past to exist on the services of modern-day hardware because by losing the past and opting for shiny new versions of the same model, how can the industry learn and grow from the past if they seek to sand away the edges and shred away every flaw? The answer is they can’t, remakes are perfectly fine, but this can not become a widely seen restoration method; it is an alteration to the past. If the videogame industry wants to grow, it needs to not run away from the past because of how less modern it looks.
By embracing the past and having decades of past games available, the industry can grow, not by running away from the past but by honouring it.
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