In theory, March is about renewal—the weather warms up, the little flowers that grow in grasses spring up, and the month marks the Persian New Year. (What do you mean I’m the only person who cares about that??) Anyway, this kind of renewal has us thinking about rebirth (we already talked about renewal in games, after all!), and rebirth in games means remakes and remasters.
What is the point of remakes and remasters? Feel free to be as generous or as cynical as you like.
Melissa Brinks: I am the notorious remake-defender. I think there’s a lot of value to be found in remakes and remasters, especially for people who, like me, grew up without access to a lot of games. But (and this is a big but), I don’t know that companies produce them because they take pity on people like me. Most of the time, I imagine they’re playing to our nostalgia. There’s an implication with both remakes and remasters that these are the versions the developers intended, which isn’t necessarily true—there’s as much beauty and innovation in constraints as there is in a huge budget and photorealistic graphics. Remakes and remasters can be valuable, but they are not inherently “better” than whatever version came before.
Zainabb Hull: I have to agree that I think, mostly, remakes and remasters are done to make easy money. Publishers know there’s an audience for them—existing fans at a minimum, as well as folks who didn’t get to play the title the first time round, if it’s a culturally significant title like Shadow of the Colossus or a Final Fantasy title.
I think Melissa’s point about remakes and remasters theoretically being the “developer’s cut,” as it were, is a good one, because that’s rarely the impression I’ve got (it’s very possible I’m just not paying enough attention to the marketing!). I totally agree that upgrading old games to modern graphics and processing doesn’t make them “better” or better reflect the devs’ original vision, necessarily—especially when we consider how far games technology has come since the ’90s and ’00s, and how difficult it was then to conceive of the capabilities of modern games. The point of playing a remake or remaster for me personally is mostly, as Melissa said, to scratch a nostalgia itch, and if the devs want to give me nice graphics at the same time, then even better—but it’s not my top priority.
Naseem Jamnia: There also can be value in introducing older games and stories to a new generation of gamers. If nothing else, their reactions to and inspiration from older games could inspire them. I don’t know how often that happens, but games can resonate across times!
There’s an implication with both remakes and remasters that these are the versions the developers intended, which isn’t necessarily true—there’s as much beauty and innovation in constraints as there is in a huge budget and photorealistic graphics. Remakes and remasters can be valuable, but they are not inherently “better” than whatever version came before.
What value do remakes and remasters (interpret this as broadly as you like—different game editions, for example) have for the gaming industry?
Melissa: A big part of the value is putting more money in the pockets of companies that produce them, for sure. But I also think building and improving on an existing game can be great, too. If we set aside the (admittedly large) section of games that are remade and remastered to appeal to people’s sense of nostalgia, we also have games that didn’t reach their creators’ visions for whatever reasons—budget constraints, time constraints, technological constraints, and so on—and remasters can help them reach that without overwriting the achievement of the original.
I also find remasters like Grim Fandango really interesting, especially because much of it had to be rebuilt and reconstructed after original files were lost. This is also the case for a great number of early games that weren’t archived—rebuilding them helps preserve gaming history, though the end product may be different than the original.
Zainabb: I totally agree. I think the value of remakes and remasters for gaming as a whole comes from indie and small company titles, rather than AAA publishers who mostly want to cash in on existing audiences. I enjoy seeing small developers improving on an existing title once they have a better budget, bigger team, or whatever they lacked the first time round. Melissa brought up the issue of archiving and I think that plays a big role in the creation of remakes and remasters. Instead of erasing old versions of a game or the experiences of playing a particular title on an older console, we can update the game for modern technology and players and preserve those prior experiences and that history.
I also think that any kind of adjustments or “improvements” (it’s subjective!) made to an existing title can really open up opportunities for creativity and playfulness in game design. I’m sure a lot of adjustments made to remakes and remasters mostly involve matching UI and controls to modern trends and tastes, but there is also an opportunity to play with expectations, to bring in new game mechanics and playable segments, and to riff on retro UI styling and gameplay norms. Do you choose to totally recreate your title, but with better graphics and smoother processing, or do you go a bit weird, like with Grim Fandango?
Finally, I think remakes and remasters can improve access to games, including DLC and expansion packs. Some remasters, like the upcoming Mass Effect trilogy, include all existing DLC, which allows players to experience all of the content and worldbuilding without further price tags. Game of the Year editions work similarly, and they have allowed me to play games I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to afford, while feeling included in the world and the fandoms because I didn’t have to miss out on any extra content.
Naseem: One thing I wish remakes and remasters did is update content, or at least acknowledge potentially problematic things. I mentioned in my review of the Spyro remaster that a disclaimer at the beginning of the game would have helped field the content that didn’t age well. Although it’s a more drastic/time consuming/expensive move, I also think there is value in updating story-heavy games with changes to the narrative itself—whether it’s for the purposes of rounding out a story that was cut short (looking at you Dragon Age 2) or because there are problematic elements (maybe rethinking, uh, like, all of Resident Evil 5).
What does the future look like for remakes and remasters?
Zainabb: Remakes and remasters seem to be increasing in popularity, but I do think it’s interesting to consider what is getting remade or remastered. Thinking about the upcoming Mass Effect remaster, that’s a fairly recent title for someone of my generation. I’m used to seeing remakes of PlayStation titles like Final Fantasy VII and VIII or Crash Bandicoot and Spyro, rather than updated PS3 and PS4 titles, which will feel more nostalgic for younger gamers. So I’m interested to see how remake titles will change as publishers attempt to appeal to a younger audience.
Melissa: Yeah, I’m very interested to see what games get selected as candidates for remasters. I’m really grateful that Shadow of the Colossus was remade, irritated that Myst for 3DS was so bad, and unsure why really recent games like The Last of Us see remasters. I’m personally interested most in remakes of older games, particularly those that are unplayable on modern systems, but game developers and publishers are gonna do what game developers and publishers are gonna do, such as release Skyrim on every single device imaginable.
Naseem: Agree with this—I’d love to see remakes of games I maybe haven’t heard of or never got to play, especially if they’re indie games (although I’m not sure how many indie studios have the budget to remake/remaster things). Although I’m pretty sure it’s for money only, I see the benefit of rereleasing Mass Effect, if only because now I can play it altogether with the DLC (like Zainabb mentioned above).
We mentioned this already, but I’d also love to see remakes that actually update the content of the game, whether it’s the “director’s cut” or for other reasons. Quality of life updates are really great (Wind Waker HD is a great example of this), especially for replayability, but I would love the opportunity to explore stories or plots that didn’t get to make it into the original game. In other words, give me more Persona 5 Royal and Persona 4 Golden, which do enough to the vanilla versions of the games where they feel like whole new ones unto themselves. (I haven’t played Final Fantasy VII Remake or the original, but it isn’t even the complete story? That is not what I mean here, although I can understand people saying the end result is worth the wait—I’d just rather play it all when it’s complete.)
Are there any remakes or remasters you’d like to see?
Melissa: Give me Kid Pix or give me death. Microsoft Encarta also kicked ass; it felt like Myst for babies to baby-me. Neither would be as good as I remember, but I would absolutely drop real money on them, play for 20 minutes, and never touch them again.
Zainabb: Now that you mention it, I kind of want a Myst remaster (as long as someone else makes a playthrough guide for me, thanks), specifically Myst III: Exile which was very pretty on my PS2, and I would love to see it all snazzy in HD (I’m not up to 4K yet, leave me alone, I’m poor). Just so I could play it again, I’d buy a remake of Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King, if they made it with less sexism, but generally I’m not super fussed by remakes and remasters. I don’t really need impressive graphics—possibly because I’ve spent my entire gaming life on last-gen consoles, so I’m okay with last-gen graphics and processing, too. I’m much more likely to follow and buy remakes and remasters that do something interesting with their updates, like overhauling the gameplay mechanics, improving the narrative to be more inclusive, and including extra content.
Naseem: DRAGON AGE! DRAGON AGE! DRAGON AGE!
Sidequest’s former managing editor Naseem Jamnia used to do sciencey things, but they now slam their keyboard and call it art. By night, they play a lot of video games. And regardless of the time, they spend way too much of it on Twitter, @jamsternazzy. Also, their debut novella, THE BRUISING OF QILWA, comes out in August 2022!