Remasters Are Bad For Gaming: Here Is Why

Remasters Are Bad For Gaming: Here Is Why

Remasters and their subsequent demand from the gaming community are becoming a bit of a beast. Bringing back experiences from the past by applying a new veneer based on modern needs has become a bit of a problem really, and it’s causing a distortion in the market of products available to gamers. It’s also changing what gamers expect from developers and what developers expect from gamers and the relationship is leaning the entire industry towards a stagnation, even while upstart and indie devs are furiously pushing out fresh titles. What are the consequences of a remaster culture and where does it come from? For video games to move forward as an art form and as an industry, these are questions that must be addressed.

The Same Ol’ Same Ol’

The biggest and most egregious consequence of the proliferation of remasters is they discourage the development of brand new IPs, especially from industry heavy hitters. This slowdown in the amount of new games to learn about and discover adds to the sludge of recycled ideas and names that are backed by recognition and resources and get the most attention. Just a quick visit to any number of news sites and aggregrators shows a rotating short list of topics and news on games we’ve all played for years: Final Fantasy VII, Skyrim, Crash Bandicoot, Final Fantasy XII, Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, Resident Evils, Ratchet and Clank, God of War, did I say Final Fantasy?, Devil May Cry, Dark Souls and those are just the ones that are a reality.

When I was young, there was a local buffet nearby called the Carousel Buffet. It was a revolving carousel of food, which consisted of a handful of options. It was a revelation at first, helping ourselves to as much as we could and we loved it. But over time, it wore, as we all stood and watched as the same 5 dishes rotated past us, hoping that when the mashed potatoes came back around, they’d be as golden as the first time we had them. It was a sad scene for everyone involved and the food became as poor as the atmosphere.

Dark Souls Camera

This discouragement of risk permeates the industry similarly and trickles down so deeply that these remasters become mega announcements on convention show floors. It’s like being told there’s a big surprise in store for you, you’re brought into a room surrounded by all your friends in a huge party atmosphere and you’re presented with your middle school picture in a nice frame. Everyone screams, they tell you to get hyped and you’re wondering if someone has spiked your drink and holy crap did I can’t believe I wore glasses like that and did my hair that way.

Furthermore, remasters retread the old, so it rarely breaks any new development ground with innovations. It just pretties up dated experiences. The adage of putting lipstick on pig applies here 100%. These games are usually old and by modern standards, are now bad. This is not just visually. They may feature poor controls, outdated conventions related to gameplay or designed around technological principles that were modern once but no longer.

However, even in the case of a game considered a classic, like FFVII, it’s perceived perfection is a function of it maximizing the potential of the development at that period in time. Re-skinning it is anachronistic and awkward, putting the game in a weird uncanny valley. It’s as odd and arresting as asking Paul and Ringo to re-record the White Album using more modern instruments and recording equipment. What would come out the other would be good, but it would not be the masterful experience that changed music and allegedly drove other competing musicians into despair and insanity when it released in 1968.

final-fantasy-vii-remake

Overall this is development time and resources wasted that could be better spent exploring new frontiers and technologies with processing and peripheral architecture. This is even more ridiculous when the game being demanded is from the most recent gen. It’s still cooling down from its first pressing and is already on its way to the rigmarole of remastering. Sometimes I wonder if it’s actually feasible and profitable for a company to make one game ever, and just remaster it for re-release every new gen. The thought that this is something even within the realm of possibility is terrifying.

Fool Me Once

Moreover, remasters rip off gamers. You shouldn’t have to buy a non-consumable product twice, providing it hasn’t broken. Sometimes, the marketing powers obfuscate this production and give the game a slight rename, not only adding to confusing but exacerbating the psychological problem of excess of choice. Appending Mega Redux Ultra Definitive Version and other ridiculous suffixes is A. Confusing and B. Infuriating. I can’t look at that title and determine if it’s even a game. Once you do surmise that this is the same game you spent sunrise to sundown playing while eating Cheetos and drinking soda, you’re faced with a decision. Should I spend my hard earned money that’s possibly tied up in bills and needs on a game that 20 years ago, I already purchased with my hard earned part time job money that was earmarked to wine (soda) and dine (burgers) a high school flame at a local diner? Having something drive a wedge between you and a choice once is unfortunate. Twice is masochism. Having it separated by decades is something new altogether and it’s nothing nice.

shadow-warrior

Games are expensive. Yes, they provide value. But, they’re expensive. My first car was an 89 Corolla and it’s probably still running. I’m just really not in the market for an 89 Corolla right now, even if it had a new paint job, all the dents were fixed and the engine was cleaned up. I have new needs and I’m certainly not interested in something that was suitable in the past, especially at full price, and especially when I can typically reacquire the original, used, and for a fraction of the cost.

Even reboots and sequels are a better alternative because they are freshly developed experiences that can often take the genre forward. Not all sequels are bad, and some can even be better than their progenitors. Reboots, similarly still exist in the modern development architecture. Crash Bandicoot is a perfect representation of the problem. While there is something to be said for the nostalgia of keeping the experience in the past, a reboot of the franchise could transport the character into an adventure setting that takes advantage of modern hardware, providing a completely brand new experience. However, it’s a remaster we’re getting. It will look nicer, but it will be familiar and uninspiring. They run the further risk of ironically alienating fans by attempting innovation within the remaster, which is a terrible position for a developer to be in.

crash-remaster

How Did We Get Here?

But why are these such risk free moves? Why is so much attention and so many resources poured into these experiences? It’s because of us, the gamers who demand these remasters. This is our fault and our appetites will have to change for the industry to move forward. There isn’t even anything inherently wrong with the nostalgia. I love connecting my NES and playing Mario Brothers and Captain Skyhawk and the incredible demand for the NES classic is a testament to that.

The issue is we want our childhoods back but we don’t want to boot up the old console or load the backwards compatible old version. It’s a twofold combination of laziness and hedonism. First, we want things to be easy and don’t want to have to manage a bevy of old consoles and chords. The console makers are partially responsible in this case, as their inability to create consitent backwards compatability creates a hoarding issue. This is probably the only unique situation where I can concede the point a tad, especially if you don’t own the old console anymore. Still I’d gather you could get lucky and buy a used console and the original game for about the same price or close. Just a quick shopping search of the Playstation One shows that for $60, I can get the console, controllers, and a few games. It’s ultimately the better value as you have an entire new platform to explore on the cheap.

playstation-one

However, the desire to be scintillated constantly is an increasingly common byproduct of the digital era, where enhanced visual experiences are the rule. This results in a general distaste for anything low res or outdated looking. Graphics, graphics, graphics. The pursuit of which is fine as I love the photorealistic experiences of Uncharted 4 as much as anyone, but if it comes with an inability to appreciate the past as it is, it can result in a troubling bit of revisionism. Yes there are new generations who did not experience the game in its prime, but these are opportunities to cultivate an appreciation for the effects of time on art. Modern visual art takes advantage of tremendous new technologies, working with new tools, materials and other tech advances like we see in Jeff Koons’ work. We know the renaissance painters did not have access to this and couldn’t possibly create an impeccable stainless steel balloon animal, but that does not mean both the young and old can’t appreciate the work of Da Vinci in its original state, and in fact be inspired by it.

mona-lisa

I dare you to remaster me.

We wouldn’t ask our aging loved ones to get a remaster and although games are not people, the fondness and memories attached to them can be just as powerful a prompt of a time or place we’ve been in life. Personally, I’d prefer to remember them as they were, because that is when they were at their most meaningful. It does no one justice to re-purpose our old memories for today’s desires and instead just encourages us to forget the value of the past and the potential of the future.


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Editor at Fextralife. I look for the substantial in gaming and I try to connect video games to the emotions and stories they elicit. I love all things culture and history and have an odd fondness for the planet Jupiter. I think my dogs are pretty awesome too.

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35 comments on “Remasters Are Bad For Gaming: Here Is Why”

  1. Avatar Shadeon says:

    I feel very much the same regarding the consequences of remastering, and I would even argue that sequels when developed long after its predecessor, puts developers in the awkward position of deciding whether or not to try and break new ground or reuse the same formula. The decision often falls down the path of following suit because of the reduced risk factor, or ending up in a wierd position where the game try’s to do both and ends up half-assed.

    When a new team comes in later on down line and creates a sequel, it’s more likely an attempt to cash in on an old and widely loved label, rather than creating a worthy successor that doesn’t rehash things.

  2. Avatar TSMP says:

    I agree to a point. On the one hand, I don’t like the idea of a "remaster" that’s basically the same game but with updated graphics or a slightly redesigned menu/control scheme, because I already bought that game and it doesn’t change the experience at all. On the other hand, I can give a couple examples of remasters that significantly improved upon the original game and story, and made the series better off for it, and was worth paying for again just to experience it in a new light (Tactics Ogre PSP is my go-to example).

    I think there’s a time and a place for remasters, but the developers have to take it seriously. "Remastering" something just to make it shinier and repackage it for another $60 is no good, especially if the game was already a hit and they haven’t changed it beyond graphics. When they add entire new systems that affect the gameplay and allow you to approach it in new ways, when they add new characters that take the story in different directions and let you see it all from another angle, when they add entire chapters wholesale that directly expand the content, that’s when it’s safe to call it a remaster. Otherwise, it’s just a re-release.

  3. Avatar skarekrow13 says:

    This is why I’m all about Indies and smaller titles. More risks and way more reward in the experience.

  4. Avatar Forum_Pirate says:

    I half agree?

    When I was asked to pay $20 for a 4k resolution version of FF10 with engine tweaks that resulted in dramatically improved lighting, that was kinda a no brainer. It’s not even like the console is competing for space, if I wanted to play it I could just slap the PS2 disk in my PC and be playing the original in less than 60 seconds. It’s no different than buying a blueray re-release of a DVD you already own, a better version of something you already know you like. I don’t have a problem with the Crash Bandicoot remaster either, for basically the same reason.

    In my mind, there are several categories of game:
    1) The games that don’t benefit much/at all from remastering.
    These are your Chrono Triggers, (many of the) Mega Mans and basically ever last gen game. Really any game with good Pixel Art falls into this catagory, but so do many earlier 3d games that focused on art style over technological prowess. Really you could just run these games at a higher resolution to fix most issues they might have, if you even had to go that far. (which does not require them be remastered, a simple patch has made many a game run at a much higher resolution, as the PS4 pro is currently demonstrating.)

    2) Games that need full on reboots/remakes.
    These are your Tomb Raiders. When it was first released, merely navigating a 3d world was a novel concept in console games and was the core of most of the games challenges. Obviously, this does not translate into modern gaming where everyone is very fimiliar with the idea and so remastering it doesn’t do any good, it will be the "lipstick on a pig" scenario, a prettier version of a bad game whos inferiority is obvious to anyone who already knows how to navigate 3d enviroments. The only way to "redo" these and carry the franchise into the future is to minimize or abandon what doesn’t work and refocus on what still holds up. Really I don’t feel games that do this (IE Tomb Raider) should keep the franchise name because they aren’t really the same series anymore, but they do it as a marketing thing. Usually (but not always) when these happen they miss what made the game good in the first place and end up sucking.

    3) Games that *really* benefit from a remaster but take so much work that you’re basically starting from scratch, and so won’t see a remaster.
    Final Fantasy 7, and many other early 3d games. You can’t just reskin FF7 and pretend now the character models look acceptable by any modern standard, they’d have to rebuild the whole thing from scratch, even if they were making an exact replica of the original. As that kind of investment is unlikely to be justified by sales, even if the original game otherwise holds up and just needs new visuals, they don’t happen. You get reboots or remakes that are chasing whatever (they think) the market trends are this month.

    4) Games that actually benefit from a remaster and are also easy to do.
    These are your actually competent 3d games that were going for a more realistic look and so haven’t aged (visually) very well. Mostly, these are PS2 era games. Halo: Combat Evolved is still fantastic, and the remaster was a dramatic improvement. Paying full price for it is hilariously stupid though. To use your metaphor, you don’t pay full price for a 1989 Corolla, but if you still have (or miss having) one you might be willing to pay someone to fix it up for you so it looks nice and it stops stalling when you go uphill.

    Of these types, only type 3 and 4 should see remasters. Type 3 though (as I mentioned) is unlikely to meet the sales requirements necessary to support such a product so they don’t happen.

    I’m not about risk in an experience. Research everything before spending money.

  5. Avatar skarekrow13 says:

    I research all titles as well. The risk I meant is on the part of the devs.

    For instance, using one of my favorite games of all time, Brothers takes an exceptional risk by having the player control two characters at the same time. Each gets their own joystick. Given the nature of the environment and puzzle system this was a dramatic deviation.

    That’s all known prior to the point of sale which leaves me with little risk.

  6. Avatar Castielle says:

    You see this same thing happening in Hollywood right now, and the movie industry is dying. In my experience anytime I have gone back to play a game or watch a show/movie from when I was a kid, that I absolutely loved, it nearly ruins the nostalgia because I am disappointed it isn’t as good as I remember. Somethings are just better left as fond memories…

    Cas

  7. Avatar Forum_Pirate says:

    Cowboy beebop, Samurai Champloo, FMA:B, Oceans Eleven, Futurama and Howl’s Moving Castle are all better than I remember them being as a kid…

  8. Avatar EldritchImagination says:

    maybe you just didn’t watch anything truly good. I still have a lot of games and movies from when I was a kid, and they’re still great, perhaps even better since I have the ability to fully appreciate (complete/understand) them. It may be a case of romanticizing it too much. My memory of what something was as I experienced it is usually accurate to what it really was, so I’m not disappointed.

  9. Avatar Carphil says:

    I have mixed feeling about this. Some of these games I really wanted to see with current graphics so yes indeed I get all excited for it, such as FFVII. But I can understand all of your points. being really honest though: Skyrim, Crash Bandicoot, Final Fantasy XII, Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, Resident Evils, Ratchet and Clank, God of War… NONE of these games should get a remaster. Simply because they’re timeless, they have aged pretty well and most of them are not that old. If by remaster you mean putting in 60 FPS and updating a few textures, you should charge at least a DLC price for it and it’s still expensive.

    I loved Scholar of the First sin, but let’s be honest, either that should have been a free full patch for dark souls 2, or sold as an expansion. to be fair that’s how the game should have been launched in the beggining, but, we know how the gaming indutry is nowadays.

    I always wanted a Metal Gear Solid 1 remaster, but have you seen that game? It has not aged well. The only reason I like it so much it’s because of the nostalgia effect, anyone else who would play it for the first time surely won’t feel anything. The story it’s still amazing, still cliche as hell but it works, even today, so I keep wondering what would be like with today’s graphics and I would love it. But you’re right, if we keep asking for this, they will bring up nothing innovative. Just pick a PS1 games list and remaster everything, that sounds like some lack of creativity right?

    I still want Dark Souls 1 for Ps4 though. Don’t even change anything, not even the graphics, just port it and we’re good :P

  10. Avatar zephid7 says:

    Didn’t they already remaster it with The Twin Snakes for GameCube? And they added most of the mechanics changes from 2 as well. It wasn’t a hard game before, but giving the player the ability to lean out from behind cover and shoot a guard made it almost too easy.

    I felt the Ico/Shadow of the Colossus remaster from some years ago was a good one largely because they packaged the games together and sold it for IIRC under $30.

  11. Avatar ElvesRule says:

    I like them and want more. Many PS4 gamers did not have a PS1 or PS2 so the only way is the remastered way. I think I just read that the PS4 has sold 53 million units so far. That makes it potentially profitable to remaster. Skyrim was only 2011, last-gen, so maybe that remaster was questionable but I bought it anyway, on sale. I would like PS2 games remastered, with updated graphics and trophy support.

    It’s an option, and I appreciate more rather than less gaming options. Does it lead to stagnation of creativity in game development? I don’t know, maybe a little bit. But I would still like to play PS4 versions of the oldest Harry Potter games, with trophies. So I vote for more remasters.

  12. Avatar Forum_Pirate says:

    Or you could, you know, buy a PS2 (which plays all PS1 games.) They’re like 40 bucks, and most PS2 games run under 20 bucks. Or throw the disk in a decent PC and emulate the PS1 and PS2. You can also play PS1 and PS2 games on early PS3 models.

  13. Solaris68B says:

    Some games deserve a remaster. The classic games. For instance, I`ve bought the remastered versions 0f BG1&2 and IWD. Sometimes I still like to play these; and for young players it`s a good opportunity to play them. And since it`s Beamdog who made the remastering, it doesn`t divert the resources of say Bioware. Skyrim was probably an one off, being an iconic game for Bethesda, and they wanted a graphic update.

    If you consider some games a form of art (and iconic RPG`s qualify easily) then preserving the best games for the next generation is a worthwhile task. It`s like the classics in art, music and literature. I won`t stop listening Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, King Crimson, so I need their music available in new formats. Like "Kind of Blue" by Miles Davis, holding the record of the most remastered jazz album. The same for literature. Having e-book versions of novels from H.G. Wells, J.R. Tolkien or Frank Herbert is normal. These are part of our classical culture now, and so are some classic games.
    This doesnt` mean I consider everything should be remastered. Far from it. The distinction between a classical work of art and something not as good emerges only with the passing of time. Most games are not in the masterpiece category. Also, there is not much point to remaster the original Civilization game when there is the new Civilization VI to play.

    As for the remastering: it`s important in my opinion to preserve the original game elements as much as possible (environment, art, combat & movement, dialogue). Otherwise it`s a different game. Just like "remastering" Shakespeare`s tragedy "Othello" by allowing him to use a surveillance camera network in order to spy on Desdemona. Updating a classical game in order to make it playable by contemporary equipment sounds good; remastering every game is a very bad idea.

  14. Avatar Elhanan says:

    Depends on the title for me, Skyrim, Dragon’s Dogma: DA, and the upcoming player made KOTOR all appear to be quality made products. But I avoid some that only seem to slap a coat of paint on old games, and do little to nothing to truly update them. In this regard, some might say that Skyrim looks to be this way, but the inner working of the game received a tuning as well, and runs much smoother, esp with mods.

  15. Anonymous says:

    For me I really only buy remasters of games I haven’t played. Seeing as I own a PS4 now after years of having an Xbox and a 360, my first buys were remasters of The Last of Us, God of War 3 and the Nathan Drake Collection. The only remasters of games I already had were freebies – Oddworld New’n’Tasty from Playstation Plus (which was awesome btw) and Skyrim Special edition for already owning the original and DLC on Steam.

  16. Avatar Emergence says:

    I completely agree with you about the preservation of art. Which is why I don’t have a problem with say buying Medieval from the PS store digitally and playing it on the PS4. The game is in its original state but has been brought along into the new format. I just strongly feel that the game should be preserved as is for posterity and history. Some of these games are still a blast to play, which shows how timeless some mechanics can be regardless of how pretty it looks.

  17. Solaris68B says:

    :) Exactly! :) Many of the old masterpieces can still be played in their original versions (or by using emulators). Remastering such games as close as possible to the original version, for the sake of being playable on new hardware is the only meaningful way in my opinion. It`s like remastering an old music album from the original tapes.
    In my case, such a game is Lord of the Realms 2. A strategy game about Middle Age warfare, with the same turn-based map strategy and real-time combat as the future Total Wars series. With just the right amount of complexity.
    As for the re-run of some game series like Lara Croft, or "re-engineering" some old games… It`s not my cup of tea, and it`s a waste of time, effort, and creativity. Or lack of it…

  18. Avatar SilkyGoodness says:

    To be fair stuff like the new Ratchet and Clank is NOT a remaster. It’s a reboot. The collection of the first three RaC games that came out on PS3 was a remaster.

    The new Final Fantasy 7 would also be a reboot. I think it’s important to distinguish between these two.

    Remaster=Cleaned up, made HD/increased resolution. No changes to gameplay elements.

    Reboot=An entire remake of an old title.

    Please do not conflate the two for clarity’s sake.

  19. Avatar Fexelea says:

    Emergence makes some excellent points, but if there was a Demon’s Souls or Dark Souls remaster that brought the game to PS4, with modern graphics and a fresh influx of coopers… I’d be all over it in a hearbeat.

    I understand that it creates stagnation, and in some cases it seems strange (Scholar of the first Sin was so close to the original). But… if Demon’s Souls… yeah I think E would probably be standing in line in front of me to buy :P

  20. Avatar ElvesRule says:

    Demon’s Souls is my number one wished-for remaster. I periodically tweet Shuhei Yoshida to beg for it. DS1 would be great to play on my PS4. I so favor my PS4 and now Pro that I can hardly bear to start up my PS3 and only do so to finish off some backlog. I would abandon those purchases for a PS4 version. Price is irrelevant. I don’t want an old PS2, or even a new one.

    Btw, isn’t an emulator a pirating device and therefore illegal? Why would I do that? I’d sooner buy a PS2, which I will not.

  21. Avatar ElvesRule says:

    Fex, what is "a fresh influx of coopers…"? Are those people? Graphical upgrades? Workers who make barrels?

    But the millions who didn’t have a PS3 but now have a PS4 should get to play the original masterpiece. I believe Demon’s is absent from Playstation Now, which makes me suspicious. And the recent Famitsu poll where it was voted best game ever on PS3. I believe it’s secretly being developed but on a Last Guardian timetable.

  22. Avatar Fexelea says:

    Heh co-oppers I guess? Noobs to guide through levels and watch have amusing deaths as I desperately gesture for them to be careful.

    I think Demon’s Souls won’t happen easily because the publishing rights are distributed among not two but three different publishers. What could happen is a Japan only remaster makes it out, and everyone else buys it from the Japanese store.

    I have a feeling about Dark Souls One tho… I think it’s happening. And it would be glorious as well.

  23. Solaris68B says:

    I understand you perfectly! :) Iconic games elicit such a reaction. Ultimately it`s all about portability. Why it`s so hard to port such masterpiece games to new hardware? And I`m sure Sony doesn`t plan to sell more PS3 units…

  24. Avatar Forum_Pirate says:

    Yeah, but that’s your choice. You can’t say the remasters are the only ways because excluding very rare instances (Like, say ICO) they are both available and cheap and you’re choosing not to get them.

    What? No. Emulators aren’t illegal, and they aren’t "pirating devices" either. Downloading or distributing copyrighted software (so games or the official bios) is illegal. Emulators don’t do either of those things, so they aren’t illegal.

    Emulators mimic the machinery of the console in question and usually have custom made bios files that don’t use any of the originals copyrighted code (or in rare cases they require you get those files legally from the system in question.) There is a reason I talk about putting the physical disks in my PC, because it doesn’t involve the illegal distribution of copyrighted software (even though, at least in the US, I’m within my rights to copy every game I own to my HDD provided I maintain posession of the physical game.)

    It’s no more illegal to make, have or use an emulator than it is to make, have or use an off brand 3ds charger or replacement coffee filter.

  25. Avatar Emergence says:

    Fex is correct, I may be ahead of her in line for a Demon’s Souls remaster because my inner indulgent self sometimes wins even if I functionally disagree with it haha.

    To the point about Demon’s Souls not being on PS Now, this fits with my gripe with the game creators who bear some responsibility in this. The resistance to make hardware backwards compatible and to exclude stuff from services like PS Now does help to create the market demand for remasters. I find this manipulative. Remember when the old consoles could play last gen games and in some cases even upscale them? Imagine if your PS4 could play Demon’s Souls with trophy support? I’d still be playing it actively. I’ve probably opened up a whole can of worms now that I’ve brought backwards compatibility into it but there it is.


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