Before feature films were shot digitally, the finished film was stored on an ultra-high quality reel called the “Master”, from which quality could be reduced and content cropped for individual copies made of it. When a film was remastered, the master reel was taken from storage and a new copy was made, either to add content not in the original release copy, or take advantage of advances in fidelity and allow more quality. With the current generation of consoles, we are currently seeing a flood of older titles being remastered. While there are quite a few reasons for businesses to pursue this, and the fans of the series get hyped, is there really any benefit to the larger gaming audience from this practice, or is it simply a way for studios to resell new copies of old games?
From a business perspective, remastering the right titles can be a no-brainer. The games have to be well remembered, easy to update, not available on the current console, and ideally have a devoted fanbase. If these all apply, it would be foolish for a publisher not to try this. They already paid for the bulk of the game, so from their perspective they can farm it out to a cheaper studio, have them update the graphics and textures, and fix whatever code broke while they were doing that. Furthermore, when the publisher announces the remaster to the public, they typically gain a great deal of goodwill and support from long time fans, who may have missed playing their favorite games on their current console. The remaster is typically, but not always, bundled with all additional content and sold at a bit of a price hike from the devalued original. While this is all good in theory, the final product is often far more hit or miss. These projects are often given to studios that lack either the resources, talent, and/or time to do justice to the original, leading to lackluster, disappointing products. The “Silent Hill HD Collection” is a perfect example of this process gone horribly wrong. Even discounting everything else, the simple removal of the fog to compensate for the PS1’s draw distance destroyed the atmosphere the game worked so hard to create when it was new. Even if everything is mostly as it was, though, publishers can still find a way to destroy the goodwill a move like this is designed to foster. The recent remaster of “Bulletstorm” released at full price, as well as having a partnership with N4G drove fans of the original into a frenzy, beyond the power of adding Duke Nukem for no reason. “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered” is a completely different story. Initially, it was only available as a bundle with “Infinite Warfare”, a game with a current Metacritic user score of 3.5, a move which reeked of desperation on Activision’s part. After release, crafting and microtransaction systems were added, adding to the backlash against this release. Finally, Map packs and DLC are being sold for the game for more than they cost for the original release. Now, many of you may be thinking that the practice of remastering has no positive benefit for the consumer, but that’s where we would have to disagree.
The game industry has some serious problems, that’s where this site gets it’s name, however, blanketly saying that certain practices have to be stopped immediately is not always the answer. The simple fact is that many times, these remasters, while they may be ancient to many of us, are introducing games to an audience that may have never experienced them when they were initially released, either because of financial constraints at the time of initial release, or because they were too young the first time around. How many times have gamers on forums and other websites that foster discussion have older gamers bemoaned the fact that the younger generations “never experienced the classics”. Remasterings, done well, are a perfect answer to that problem. They take a game that was popular, or even just critically acclaimed, and reintroduce it to a fresh audience who will then gain an appreciation for the titles. A lot of gamers might argue that they could just buy the older versions, on the older consoles. The problem with this is not everyone has the multiple hundreds of dollars to blow just to experience an older title sight unseen. For these people, no matter how good a game is, they will probably never experience it. At least with quality remasters, they can play the game and have the original experience, with some tweaks to difficulty or mechanics. This allows these gamers to participate meaningfully in discussions about the titles, adding to the gaming public just like that. So, what does this mean in the long run?
Simply put, remasters, as a concept, at least, are a great idea for both the industry and the public. The game industry gets to make more money on a title for little investment, compared to creating a brand-new IP, and whole swaths of the public get to fill holes in their lists of games they missed. The problem lies in quality and greed. The companies remastering these games need to put as much care and love into them as they did when the game was being developed, and that means respecting the original intents and market the game was released to. This does mean don’t add too much, and what is added can’t just be there for no reason other than to make the publisher more money. These games are often touchstones in gaming history, and need to be treated with respect. Many remasters are done with this in mind. For all the backlash about the “Ocarina of Time 3D” release, it really is an example of how to do this correctly. Gently update the game, and make it more accessible to new audiences playing it for the first time.