Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Revisionist History

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March 16, 2010 was an important day for Playstation manufacturer and video game publisher Sony Computer Entertainment.  It marked the release of God of War III, a technological stunner that promised to be every bit as fun as it was beautiful.  Not only was God of War significant for being the third in the series (and subsequent end to the second title’s cliffhanger), but it was to be the first outing for Kratos on the Playstation 3 console.  God of War II had been slated for the PS3 at one point in development, but Sony opted to keep the title on PS2, marking it as one of the best titles on that console and a fitting end to usher in the PS3.  There was just one big problem.

God of War Collection PS3

Starting in November, 2007, the Playstation 3 consoles had removed backwards compatibility with Playstation 2 titles, rendering them unable to play God of War or God of War II.  When the decision was made to put God of War II on PS2, it was always thought that new PS3 buyers would be able to use this feature to replay the previous titles.  In an era where storylines are significant and a series like God of War required you to know the storyline of the previous titles to understand the current one, Sony was in trouble.  Fortunately a long rumored concept ended up coming to pass – a high definition remake of the first two games on one PS3 compatible blu ray, and at half the price of a contemporary release.  In November of 2009 the God of War Collection was released to masses, an impressive appetizer to the third iteration, which still loomed more than four months away.  Not only that, but it was a great deal, amassing an impressive 1 million+ sales to date and a solid holiday season.  Not bad for two titles that had released a generation ago.  At $30 apiece gamers (myself included) ate it up and IGN’s Chris Roper even declared it the “definitive way to play the game” (guessing he meant games) in his review.

While the God of War collection was an impressive addition to the modern gamer’s library, it was a clear case of circumstantial success given several factors mentioned above.  Unfortunately it opened a floodgate of HD remakes for games predominantly dating from the previous generation and among the sea of titles now available and soon to release, I’m nervous about this trend.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of these titles and there’s nothing more useful than only using one console for all my needs, but then I have a launch PS3 purely for that reason.  Furthermore, if you are that determined to play these games it isn’t hard to either pick up an older backwards compatible PS3 (although not cheap) or dropping $50-$75 on a used PS2.  You see, while trophy support and a new shiny coat of paint are great and all, these remakes are coming out far too often to justify their market presence.  Like so many other things, it’s a flood of product that will wash the potential for future quality releases.

My first, and probably biggest, problem is that these HD remakes come only from the previous generation (Xbox/PS2/Gamecube).  The reason for this is simple: it’s the only generation where the assets can be quickly and easily uprezed to look great.  In most cases they don’t even have to do any touch-ups, which is only further proven by the lackluster cutscenes in all HD collections unless they are in-engine.  Basically, if it takes re-building the art they leave it alone, which is why we don’t see anything from the generations that drastically need it, like Playstation 1 and Nintendo 64 titles.  God of War had a heavy amount of touch-up work, but many other collections don’t take this kind of care.  As a result, we are consistently buying titles many of us had purchased less than 10 years ago and with no updates to the actual content.  Future HD remakes have also raised in price, as the market will often do, to $40 and now even $50 for collections.  What started off as a cheap way to re-visit previous incompatible titles has become a way to cash in on a quick buck with little effort at nearly full-release prices.

RE4 HD Comparison

Definitely an upgrade, but not blowing me away

Not only is this an issue from an effort and cost-to-benefit ratio for the consumer, but it also hinders new releases.  I don’t know about you, but I want to see new titles, intellectual properties and innovations, not a shelf filled with upgraded recycled titles from last generation.  At this point the justification for these games is pathetic.  Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia collection may have been its own trilogy and was the breeding ground for Assassin’s Creed, but it was completely unnecessary for an HD remake.  That story was told and wrapped in the previous era and this generation we have the Assassin’s Creed plotline, there’s no need to reintroduce the past.  Not only that, it was a lackluster effort and included titles that had shaky consumer and critical response – hardly a God of War.  Splinter Cell had the same problem; Sam Fisher has had plenty of adventures in this generation and they don’t remotely mesh with his last gen endeavors, plus they removed multiplayer features and other functions.  Even Tomb Raider¹, which includes the remake of the original with Anniversary along with two modern titles, one of which already released this gen, stinks of the “me too” mentality.  And despite these being amazing games, Sucker Punch and Sony aren’t safe from my frowning face regarding the Sly Cooper Collection, even though Sly 4 will come to PS3.  If it was to refresh gamers before the 4th releases, then it should have been held back until closer to launch (no release date has even been set yet).  I can’t even justify the more recent remake collections, like Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill², which completely ignore the original title and break the whole “getting to know the story” concept.  Devil May Cry’s collection may have been more useful in 2008 when the fourth title released or before they decided to reinvent the series.  I have a bad taste in my mouth just thinking about it.  You’ll notice that Team Ico’s collection is mostly safe given that it follows the God of War Collection formula.

Still, as a collector and huge fan of video games, I can’t ignore titles like this.  HD remakes and re-releases make some of my favorite games relevant again, allowing me to talk to my friends about titles they have never touched and to enjoy upgraded versions myself.  That is, until I realized that I was buying $40 and $50 collections for minor upgrades to PS2 games that eBay and GameStop were giving me about $10 for (all of the games in a collection for $10, that is).  It started to tick me off so much that I am basically boycotting them at this point.  I can play Playstation 2 games, I have these games, I know their value.  It just seems like more work to pump into re-creating blockbusters in a downed economy instead of taking some risks and making solid unique titles.

The only exception I can find is in the download market.  I feel these games are perfectly suited as cheap download titles that can be brought to modern day systems for gamers that want them.  Sure, no box or instructions, but then modern games barely have those anymore so if you want a complete package then get the original.  In order for this to work you also have to be realistic about your pricing.  Ubisoft nailed it perfectly with Beyond Good & Evil HD for $10 – it moved copies, saw success, new gamers got to play it and old gamers could pick it up on the cheap (at that price it nearly rivals used copies).  I also liked that the Prince of Persia trilogy was available a la carte for $15 apiece or $40 for everything.  In that case it allowed me to grab Sands of Time for $15 without bothering with the horrendous sequels but also gave an advantage to those who never played these games and wants them all.  At $20 a pop, I can’t agree with the Resident Evil HD remakes, even though I’m an avid fan, but thankfully the $10 markdown of PSN+ saved those titles from being overlooked.  Publishers, if you’re going to do an HD remake, especially at the caliber I’ve seen so far, you can’t charge more than $15 a game.  Furthermore make sure it’s part of a series and hopefully a series that is relevant and still active.  Make it downloadable to keep demand realistic and for god’s sake don’t ignore upcoming releases.

Metal Gear Solid Essential CollectionMGS 2 SubsistenceMGS 3 Subsistence MGS HD Collection
Technically speaking: this is the least amount of versions you’ve been asked to buy of the Metal Gear Solid Trilogy to date.  C’mon Konami!

I know, my thoughts are controversial, I love these games just as much as you guys and appreciate the HD upgrade, but this is ridiculous.  If you are going to sit there and tell me that Halo: Combat Evolved needs to be remade with online multiplayer for $40 while the original (backwards compatible) sits on store shelves for $10 and even $10 in digital format, then innovation is truly dying.  No one would buy a boxed copy of Grin’s amazing Bionic Commando remake (Rearmed), so why in the world are we letting the brief passage of time excuse a critical problem with the re-release economy?

1: Tomb Raider HD Trilogy is a PS3 exclusive that includes Tomb Raider Anniversary, Tomb Raider Legend, and Tomb Raider Underworld.
2: Both the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection and Silent Hill HD Collection omit the original first game in the series because they were on Playstation 1 and would have required much more work to remake in HD.  As a result you are forced to start with the second game without plot explanation.

Written by Fred Rojas

October 19, 2011 at 10:56 pm

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