Remake something until you get it right

“Remakes” is generally a dirty word around me. Whether we’re talking about a movie or a novel or even a cover of music, the idea of a remake seems like a general cop-out. First there’s the idea of cashing in on an existing well known property, instead of producing original work. If it were an exact reproduction of the story with newer graphics or different actors, that’s one thing. However most movies don’t feel they can get away with that and instead they decide to re-write the plot adding new twists. Recent “big movies” such as Planet of the Apes, Ocean’s Eleven and The Manchurian Candidate all follow this. The writers and the director decide that the plot needs to be mucked around with, and frankly I find that insulting to the original work (especially in the cases where the remake ends up being worse or unwatchable compared to the source material).

But my blog post isn’t about movies, even though I felt the need to open a conversation with them (and I’m not going to talk about books or music despite mentioning them in my 1st line. Sorry). I talk about games instead. Videogames have also been subject to the remake syndrome as original programmer teams as well as new programming teams get to work “updating” old classics for newer systems. But unlike films, I notice that forums don’t have the same amount of venom for game updates as they do for other media. So why is that?

The first reason is platforms. Quite simply, not every game exists for every game systems. Remakes partially fill this need. By hiring a studio to “update” gameplay, graphics, story and other elements, the company is often investing in a way that they believe will be needed to appeal to the gamers on newer systems. It’s not so much that many players agree with their changes, in that they have no choice. If they want a version of [Game] for [System], then they’ll take whatever they can get. Likewise, gaming history has been filled with official ports that were essentially remakes in everything but name. As a result, quality can vary quite wildly. Already we’re seeing that versions of Spider-Man 3, a brand-spanking new game… plays very differently on an XBox360 and a Playstation3 than it does a Playstation2 and a Gamecube. Even though the game is the same, you won’t learn anything new by playing one version after another version, it’s still a drastic change in mechanics and ultimately experience.

Now let me just go back to my movie example. Do you think people would be happy if different versions of a movie featured different scenes? If actors said different lines? What about different endings? In fact they’ve tried it before. The movie Clue if I recall was shown in theatres, and depending on the specific reel, any one of three or four different endings would conclude the movie. People who own the VHS or DVD copies of that movie get to watch all the endings. This feels so much like the situation we have with gaming platforms right now that it’s ludicrous. Yet at the same time, people *have* put up with George Lucas/Frances Coppola muddling around with footage 20 years later, just as they’ve put up with a new imagining of a movie 10-20 years later.

Back to games… full remakes happen here too. Resident Evil on Gamecube is essentially Resident Evil “remade” entirely for a faster system, Several games on X-Box Live Arcade are “remade” with snazzier elements rather than being the original. We accept these, because they allow us to play. Movies don’t have this problem, an original version will always be shown on TV, or found in a pile of VHS or re-released on DVD (often to cash in on the remake). Games just don’t get this luxury. If you want to play Elite, it turns out you actually NEED hardware from 20 years ago… or software that pretends to be that hardware, with all kinds of extra overhead and artificial limitations.

When I started writing this, I was hoping it would sound less like a rant. Now that I’m here at my last paragraph I’m not sure I’ve made the point I set out to. Quite simply it is this: Remakes are insulting. Rewriting the ideas that make something memorable is akin to saying those ideas were not good enough in the first place. Yet it’s always the “hits” and famous titles that get remade. In other words the material that has proven itself “good enough” gets remade in some new designer’s image. This hurts me because I think the focus is wrong: A message to Hollywood and the Games Industry would be: The products that need to be remade are the ones that FAILED the first time around. There are hundreds of material that would fall into something I would call “almost good”. And because they’re not good… they’re unknown. In terms of games, there’s titles like Daikatana, Robinson’s Requiem, Solar Jetman, Omnikron: Nomad Soul…. (quick examples off the top of my head) these are things that have great elements… but as a whole, aren’t that great. If we were talking movies, I might mention: Flight of the Albatross, Ice Pirates… (less complete list based off the top of my head) UNDERDOGS.  And I really wish if a company were to focus time and energy to do a remake instead of their own original ideas… they’d focus on the items that NEED a remake. Need a little push to become great.

Sorry this turned into a rant. If any part of this didn’t make sense, leave the standard comment and I might go back and edit some text to make it more clear.

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3 Responses to Remake something until you get it right

  1. 2 of my most oft-played games on the GameCube have both been remakes: Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes. Perhaps it helps that I was never exposed to the original PlayStation versions. Based on screenshots I’ve witnessed (and the legends of RE1’s original voice acting and dialog), I’m not sure I’d be able to enjoy them now.

    You weren’t fond of Solar Jetman? To each their own, but that one afforded me countless hours of entertainment circa 1991.

  2. wildkard says:

    Well actually I love Solar Jetman, at least in terms of gameplay, and have actually written a review on it. However the game is flawed in many many ways… and a lot of gamers simply detest it. I think it could benefir from a remake.

    As for the games you mentioned: Anything you haven’t experienced before is new content… and in fact I’d agree with you that it might be more fun to play the remake, with all the features that usually get added. Having said that… wouldn’t it be even better to be playing a NEW chapter in the Resident Evil or Solid Snake series? Not have the same content repackaged and rehashed?

    Surely there are other places featuring zombie threats, or other missions that made Solid Snake the soldier he is.

  3. KC says:

    A solar jetman remake. I’m all for that. I bet it would be 3-D, intuitive controls, with a highly advanced dynamic range of thruster physics. Powerful weapon upgrades, anti-gravity and matter repelling shield technology, cosmic radiation deflection arrays, singularity and black hole detectors, mercury powered gyroscopic turbine warp engines, nano hyperoptic flux sensors, transmutable quasicrystal hull, reinforced with tungsten titanium alloys, synthetic protein based tissue replicators, solid hydrogen fueled tachyon emitters, solid gold bullion generators, matriculated vector thrust coils, cryogenic super-fluid coolant manifold, omni-dimensional navigation, a trillion petaflop processing control board, pulsar inhibitors, neuronic wave amplified trajectory actuator…

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