Wave Foam – “Needs More Bling”

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I am really glad that now, more than ever, players are interested in exploring the roots of video-games. It is becoming increasingly popular to (re)play old games, and they keep popping up in download services. The demand for these wonderful games, that have stood the trial of time, is staggering, and companies have astutely capitalized on that market by re-releasing their games whenever and wherever possible.  It’s a win-win deal: companies get increased return (some of which will hopefully make its way to designers), and players can say bye bye to night-time vigils on eBay auctions that end up costing a fortune.

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What I have a hard time in understanding though, is the need for a presentation overhaul in these revivals. Is it wrong on my part to think that, if these games were so good in the first place, so that they’ve even become timeless, they shouldn’t be touched anymore than strictly necessary to make them work in new platforms? Why the need to do half-baked graphical updates that, let’s be honest, most times don’t even show half the craftsmanship of the original version? Whether it is to add snazzy 3D graphics, like in “Bionic Commando Rearmed” or “Prince of Persia Classic”, or to simply add a new coat of HD paint as in “Street Fighter II HD”, these versions are poor and imperfect replacements of otherwise outstanding works of art at the time of their design.

The latest, and one of the most disappointing examples of this trend, is the revamping of LucasArt’s classic “Secret of Monkey Island”, of which Destructoid does a nice comparison gallery between the original (which will also be included in the download) and new version. The new visuals are so horrible that I can barely look. Why break the visual coherence and stunning artistry that made this game unique in the first place? We’re murdering the essence of  these classics, and for what? For the sake of (and I can only guess) making them easier to understand for younger generations that aren’t used to slightly less flashy screens? But they look worse anyways, so why bother? It would be bad enough if the process was well realized, but it isn’t! It reminds me of Lucas himself trying to add cool CGI to his older movies, like “THX 1138” or the original “Star Wars” trilogy, and in the process screwing up some of the most credible, consistent special effects to have ever been used in film. What’s next? Casablanca in color? Venus de Milo rebuilt with robot arms? Mona Lisa in 3D???

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  • Comments (15)
  1. The “Mona Lisa” is actually somewhere between 2D and 3D as most paintings from that period. A seemingly flat image over the canvas, but once your eyes face it they’re invaded with the illusion of depth provided by several elements of the painting. Which should be no different than playing, say, Audiosurf on an LCD screen.

    I can’t lie and say that I did not enjoy playing a game like Nights with a higher resolution on the more or less recent “Sega Ages” release – although this release included the original Saturn version and it was very much intact.

    But if we are to constantly update these games using the latest graphic technologies then I ask when will it stop? And also what does that say about videogames in general? Seriously, how do designers expect to be taken seriously when the show such open disrespect towards the integrity and originality of a game? The ancient “create vs. recreate” question…

    In the world of literature, a book can have different editions whose preface might be different with each release: small blunders or omissions are also corrected with each new one. This would correspond, in the world of games, to the actual process of finding and fixing bugs in between different editions of certain games (this happens mostly when the game is released in different dates across the world). But this is a conscious decision from the creators in order to perfect and conclude their work within time restraints.

    There is also another example with which most should be familiar with: the actual author releasing one of his games under a different title and adding slightly different features and mechanics. Iwatani did it with Pac-Man Championship Edition, for one. And in that case I can’t deny him the right to do so, since he is for all intents and purposes the creator of the original game.

    We have yet another case in which something even more bizarre took place: when Jeff Minter redesigned David Theurer’s Tempest, releasing it as a 3D game named Tempest X, a large number of people started to associate the game title “Tempest” to Minter – journalists and book writers went as far as to claiming that Tempest was a Jeff Minter game. So in the end, the creator of the remake became the creator of the original work. Go figure.

    Such an interesting theme I could go all day debating it. By the by… I clearly remember that last we discussed this subject, you (yes, YOU!) went as far as to defend a possible ICO remake with higher resolution and smoother graphics. You said that games should not be regarded as something stuck in time or something like that.

    “Are you John Wayne? Is this me?”

    • ruicraveirinha
    • July 8th, 2009

    I still defend (what was then) an hypothetical re-release of “ICO” in HD. Just in the same way as you enjoyed the “Nights” of the Sega Ages in higher resolution. That is also HD when compared to the original. We need to discern these two, very different, cases.

    One thing is to increase visual fidelity by simply upping resolution or adding some minor effects, like anti-aliasing, smoothing textures or polygons, whilst maintaining the original models, soundtrack and aesthetic. As far as I know, the PS2 and PS3 emulators (like almost all) did that by default, and I do not think it hurts in any way the authorial imprint of the originals. You’re not even changing the original code, you’re just using a virtual “magnifying glass” to have better image and sound. Furthermore, an HD “ICO” could always be down-scaled and would feel exactly the same as the original. A parallel exists in film, as new prints are also subject of image and sound treatments, as to improve the transfer for new Theatrical releases or even DVD and BluRay editions. As long as the original work is kept intact, I have no problem with these minuscule embellishments.

    Another completely different thing is to revamp the visuals with new models, animations and soundtracks, like the games aforementioned. In these cases we are rewriting history, changing the very content and aesthetic of these works. A completely different matter if you ask me.

    Not to mention, as we discussed then, that a re-release of “ICO” HD on something like PSN, would have a lot of positive benefits. A boost of interest in a game that didn’t sell but deserved to, a lower price for those who would want to buy it again or anew (would surely have made Jaggie’s present more cheap), more money for Sony, etc, etc, etc. For example, like “Rez HD” or “Ikaruga” on XBLA: it was a way for me to remember these games existed, it was a great incentive for me to play these games again, and without having to scour the internet and lose half my wallet, nonetheless! Not to mention the added bonuses of playing the exact same game with slightly better image quality and sound, and offering some money to the companies that produced it. How can that be bad?

    I am a great defender of re-releases, but only as long as the original is kept intact (or, in other cases when it is remade, as in a totally new interpretation of the original).

    Cheers Sensei!!!

    • Coyote
    • July 8th, 2009

    I am not sure f you were being sarcastic, but Casablanca was rereleased in color, as well as Citizen Kane and It’s a Wonderful Life. Just to show that videogames industry is not alone in this “lets do it newer, and better” trend.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • July 8th, 2009

    Thanks for the correction. I knew that certain classic movies were updated with color, just not exactly which. Fortunately, it is an otherwise forgotten practice these days, which serves to show how ridiculous it was in the first place. But you’re also right when you say games are not alone in this matter. My example of Lucas’ movies would surely be corroborated by many others.

    Cheers!

    • Coyote
    • July 8th, 2009

    It was not a “correction”, as yours was not an error per se. Just wanted to make a comment about your example, which I thought you were aware given your photos selection.

    And Lucas example is an interesting (and sad one), because it was the creator that decided to remake it. If Michael Curtiz would have decided to remake Casablanca in color it would be different than want happend (although probably a wrong decision, nevertheless), but in Lucas case, he was the one that though the movies would be much better with more 4 legs creeps walking around.

    I personally have no problem with remakes if the people that make them show some “love” for the original game. As hollow as that word can sound, I think differently of Bionic Commando Rearmed than most of the Final Fantasy remakes Square has pulled of lately, as I think they passion they feel for a game gets noticed in the end result. I guess the difference is wheter they feel they can update the original, or improve the original…

    • ruicraveirinha
    • July 8th, 2009

    The thing that bothers me about “Rearmed” is that it’s not really a remake, as much as it is a presentation upgrade. Because the game is borderline the same, except with 3D graphics. I would prefer a remake in the proper sense, like the 3D version that came out next – that is a remake in the full sense of the word, it is the same concept remade for a different generation (even though it’s not that good of a game).

    Doing a parallel with movies, “Rearmed” could be a color reprint of Wolf Rilla’s original “Village of the Damned”, while “Bionic Commando” (2009) would be John Carpenter’s “Village of the Damned”. One features a visual uplift, while the other is a new movie, based on the idea of the first. I always prefer the second, because at least there’s a new work with a different author, which can be judged on that basis. The other is just a cheap way of trying to make the original more appealing to those who are not willing to see it in black and white / playing it in 2D.

    If a game is good, it is also because of its aesthetic, and so, in order to fully appreciate it, you should always play the original.

  2. If you apply an effect of today (improved resolution, anti-aliasing, etc) then you’re not keeping the original. Image and sound treatments in cinema are a process of restoration – to clean the image so it becomes as close as possible to the original version. The same is done with ancient pieces of art.

    I enjoyed playing Nights on the PS2 and even Rez HD on the XBOX as an experience detached from the original game. But I don’t approve them completely – and the fact that I do, partially, has to do with them keeping the original game mode. It’s already bad enough that the games, even in the so called original mode, are so different from the original versions. Visual boost is always an update. And you don’t update works of art – at all. Unless you see games as just a piece of software or as a product, in which case you get… well, all this you so emphatically pointed you finger at.

    I can’t say I disapprove of re-releases. But it’s always a shame to play a game outside the systems that it was originally released for – the control pad is one of the first great changes.

    Don’t mistake restoration with updating: they’re significantly different from one another.

    Think of Super Mario Bros. Let us think that someone re-edited the game and used some “minor effects” like smoothing – anti-aliasing, Eagle-Engine, 2XSai Engine, etc. Sure the visuals would look much smoother after that. But the pixelated Mario, the pixelated mushroom would no longer possess those (jagged) edges that are vital to the aesthetic of the game and to the games from that period.

    In fact I think that these current technologies should be applied not to embellish the games but to make them look like they were meant to be played in their days. Here’s an example:

    http://www.bogost.com/games/a_television_simulator.shtml

    The same happens with vector graphics in arcade games: Red Baron, Asteroids, they all had a particular glow to the vector lines (because of the standard arcade cabinet CRT monitors) that is by no means emulated in these PC multi-Arcade machine emulators. And that is a step away from providing the true game experience. Of course you can say: that’s being obsessed with meaningless details. To which I would likely say: there’s a snapshot of your admiration and respect for the videogame medium right there.

    Cheers Ryu-San!

    • ruicraveirinha
    • July 9th, 2009

    “If you apply an effect of today (improved resolution, anti-aliasing, etc) then you’re not keeping the original. Image and sound treatments in cinema are a process of restoration – to clean the image so it becomes as close as possible to the original version. The same is done with ancient pieces of art.”

    What is the original? The way you saw it in your TV set when you first played? Or the way the polygon models look, as the designer made them, beneath the distortions imposed by a CRT, for example? In 3D, improved resolution and anti-aliasing don’t distort images. Quite on the contrary, they’re a process of making it more clear, by ridding it of imperfections that came with the hardware. You are not adding anything to the game. You’re simply rendering the exact same code in a better window-mode, as a way of making it more clear. You’re clearing up the image so that the real work of art, that lied underneath, becomes clearer. That is, in every way comparable to what happens in film. In the same way that original film prints and the projectors used didn’t allow to see certain details, or had the needed color levels to accurately reproduce the image captured by cinematography, the original game hardware wasn’t capable of clearly showing the game the code dictated.

    I’ll even say more. If you play old games today on an LCD/Plasma/LED (which sooner or later will be the only way to play games), without HD rendering, you’re actually getting much worse results than the original. Because these screens render lower definition images in a different way than CRT’s did, you end up getting a smudgy image that in nothing resembles the original. However, if you render them in HD (through emulators or re-releases) you actually get really close to the original, and get an image as faithful as technically possible. And this is true in 2D (as long as done right, as it usually has been in recent times) and 3D games. As to why this happens, I won’t bother with boring technical lingo.

    Besides, because we’re talking exactly the same game being rendered, you can always downscale and get as close as to the original feel as possible. Whatever makes it work for you 😉

    “I can’t say I disapprove of re-releases. But it’s always a shame to play a game outside the systems that it was originally released for – the control pad is one of the first great changes.”

    Re-releases of any form, whether one likes it or not, are the only way people will be able to play old games. It is not reasonable to think that we can collect all the consoles and controllers since day one. And, in general, I find the difference in controllers a minor hiccup that has little, to no impact in playing games.

    “Think of Super Mario Bros. Let us think that someone re-edited the game and used some “minor effects” like smoothing – anti-aliasing, Eagle-Engine, 2XSai Engine, etc. Sure the visuals would look much smoother after that. But the pixelated Mario, the pixelated mushroom would no longer possess those (jagged) edges that are vital to the aesthetic of the game and to the games from that period.”

    Smoothing was a horrid example on my part and I retract it. Smoothing can be prejudicial, specially in 2D images, because it adds a layer of blur between us and the game. But the same is not true for HD and anti-aliasing.

    Cheers!

    • Coyote
    • July 9th, 2009

    In games, which are a result of the technology, unless you have a working NES you could never experience the game as was originally intended (or, if we are going to be trully purists about it, an arcade machine). You can argue that people haven’t listened to the Beatles unless its heard from a vinyl disc, but that is just being unfair. Many of those remake works are like remastering of music… they don’t claim to “reinvent” the game, they just update it.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • July 9th, 2009

    I partially agree with you Coyote. I think that just like CD’s give out better quality sound than the original Vynils, games with upped resolutions and anti-aliasing do exactly the same – they allow us to get better quality versions of the original work.

    Bruno, however is what you call a true purist and won’t have it in any other way than playing them on their original versions 😉 And despite disagreeing with him, his opinion is clearly well justified.

    But I disagree with you in the other part of this debate. I think that when you redesign the aesthetic, with new models and so forth, you’re actually changing the code(which is what artists actually ‘do’ in video-games), and therefore you’re changing the original work, and that is going too far. You’re no longer just updating it, you are redoing it. In our Beatles analogy, it would be the equivalent of somebody doing a new recording of the same album. That is not the same as just clearing up sound and recording it in a better medium. And so, unless the new recording is done in admittedly remake fashion, I feel, it is prejudicial to the memory of the original ouvre.

    These are the reasons why I think it is important to distinguish “Rez HD” type of re-releases, which I believe truly honor the original, from “Rearmed’s” kind, in which the game is just getting a visual face-lift. Unless, like I said, if it is a remake in the true sense of the word, like “Shinobi” for the PS2, in which case it’s it’s a different game altogether, and so a completely different matter.

    Cheers!

    • Coyote
    • July 9th, 2009

    I guess we can at least agree on disagreeing, it is just that when you say “…These versions are poor and imperfect replacements of otherwise outstanding works of art…”, I find them not to be “poor and imperfect” as long as they keep the gameplay, character and level design, even dialogue of the original (which are, in my opinion, the kind of things that help to make them classics); nor “replacements”, as long as they acknowledge the original with proper respect.

    It’s a no-brainer that the original Mario Bros is different than the one found is Super Mario All-Stars, but it still feels like Mario Bros.

    I think what I liked about Rez and Rearmed (yes, I am actually placing them in the same category) is that I felt like their actitude was not arrogant about the original work… It was not about replacing it, but about remembering it, not “making it better, newer and nicer than people that make it 20 years ago” (which is an unfair comparition, they did it they way they did it because of technical limitations, which is pretty impressive from a creative point of view), but “helping get this classic game to a newer generation”, by making it better looking for current TV standards, agreed, but keeping most of the elements that helped it be a classic (I guess you can call it “the familiarity”). Maybe that was just my impression, which separates those games from cheap cash-ins; or games that stick to the status quo out of lazyness (a different issue althogether)… But that, as many other things here, is completely subjective…

    Wheter this trend is uncalled for is another issue. God knows I would like to have a working copy of Final Fantasy 7 and a PS1 that could run it; but that is not the case for me and for other people, many of whom heard about games that became classics or must-play before they were born or into games, for whom the claim of playing it on the original media is just not fair…

    • ruicraveirinha
    • July 10th, 2009

    We’ll have to agree on disagreeing 😉

    A small side note first. Today you can play the original “Final Fantasy VII” on Ps3, and it costs only 10 euros/dollars. That is the type of re-release I think is honorable and healthy. But if Square remade it, with better graphics and maintained everything else it would just be some cheap cash in for fans to devour.

    I do find it odd, that if you treasure so much a game, you’d be willing to discard its original aesthetic just because you can change it for “better graphics”, like in “Rearmed”. “Bionic Commando” isn’t good despite its visuals, it’s good also because of its visuals. Even if it looks good now, it’s no longer the original game – it’s a bastard child between the original and a hypothetical remake.

    And yeah, I do find it arrogant for designers to think that for a 1980’s game to sell today, it needs 3D graphics and cool special effects. If they maintain everything else (as you say – level design, game-play, etc), because they find it valuable and honorable, why discard the aesthetic? If all else was right, who are these guys to judge the aesthetic as bad, and change it? Are they even the creators of the game? Are they the ones with the legitimacy to change how the game looks? Have they the right to re-write a game and its history? I’ll tell you who they are: they’re corporate suits that want to sell more games, by cashing in on the original, without having any respect whatsoever for its artistic identity. If they had, they would leave it be as is.

    The bottom line is: would you let someone, say Picasso, repaint Mona-Lisa so that it would look modern? Let some cover band sell their own “White Album”, just because they had better sounding electric guitars? Let a cool young writer, say Palahniuk, rewrite “1984” so that it featured the same story, but with an updated language? And what if in all of these cases, you could only buy the new version, and not the original? That’s what’s happening in games right now, and nobody seems to understand how ridiculous and infantile it is. If we treasure these games, and give them value, then we should support re-releases that are as faithfully as possible – that is the only way to truly honor these titles and make them timeless masterpieces.

    Cheers!

  3. Spell Check Your Text
    Language: English (change)

    To Coyote:

    – The process of remastering consists of transferring old formats to new one. The master copy of a record of film, once remastered, will now be available in the form of digital master copy – mainly because analog technologies such as tape or vinyl records are subject to deterioration while the digital counterpart isn’t (in theory at least?).

    So when these specialists remove noise and filter the music using the latest Digital Audio technologies they are in fact “restoring” the music. This music, while not physical, refers to the result of an actual performance (in studio or stage). So when the Beatles were there to record Penny Lane, their sound must have been great: however the available technology could only allow a certain amount of quality from that performance (or series of performances later edited) to go into the public recording. Meaning that technology, for the Beatles and for so many other rock bands, is not as much the medium of music itself but the process through which the music was recorded and sold to the world. So when you restore the old recording you’re getting closer to what must have been to hear the band play right beside you – ideally speaking that’s the objective, to go near the original music and away from the recording. The Beatles never played in monaural even if some of their recordings were, perhaps, recorded in that mode due to technological restraints. See what I mean?

    Videogames are intrinsically digital and inhabit very deep within that world. So why re-digitize when the current media is still “digital”?

    To Rui

    – Think of the Dreamcast: using the same console I can several degrees of image quality using RF, Composite, EURO-AV, S-Video or VGA cables. A game can produce different visual levels of quality according to the image output method and, of course, the television.

    Of course the Atari 2600 only had a RF output and, at the time of its release, the games would materialize in CRT definition. Not only that: the games would be made using colors, shapes and sizes according to the features of television from back in the 70’s and 80’s. It is a mutual interference that permeates both spaces. If you regard it as disposable then you regard part of the game to be disposable.

    What emulators do is to emulate a certain system. Stella for instance reproduces the Atari 2600. But where in the world would the 2600 produce such definition as that which can be seen while running the emulator on any computer these days? So are we speaking of a competent emulation? No. It’s merely a process of making that library of games work on a computer. Are those games close to the original? By all means no. The original experience? Surely not.

    If you regard videogames to be art – which I still don’t, at least not conventionally – then you must not tolerate any update (that meaning the process of refreshing the game by means of a series of alterations that synchronize it with the present date) or alteration whatsoever. If you want to go all “engineer” you can argue “it’s the code that matters, man” or some such. But since when is the videogame domain exclusive to the engineering party?

    In the end it’s about how much you think it is important to have the original or if you just feel like you’re enjoying yourself with the emulated versions. I always go for the original whenever I can and feel very bad when playing emulated versions of games – be they free PC emulation, XBLA or Virtual Console versions. A NES knock-off console is much more accurate in playing Mario than the Virtual Console.

    The phenomenon of digital games’ prostitution should not be allowed. But since games are mostly a corporate product, authors cannot protect them. In fact it is shameful that most of these despicable remakes and retouched versions come from the same corporations that own the games.

    Let’s just shed a tear in a minute of silence for the death of creative integrity in videogames.

    ;(
    [1min]

    • ruicraveirinha
    • July 13th, 2009

    I could spend all week debating this, but there’s no point in doing it. I think I made my point clear, though I don’t think you got it at all (guess it’s because I went all out “engineer” on your ass)… You’re adamant about playing these games exactly as they were played when they were first released, independently of whether or not some aspects of the experience were part of the work. And that’s the greatest proof that you are exactly like a Vynil buff – you want the noise that came with the recording to be part of the experience. And that’s admirable, but I cannot agree with it: I want to have the cleanest possible recording of the original as possible.

    And no, I didn’t shed any tears, or minutes of silence on the subject. I think digital distribution is the best thing that happened to video-games in a long time.

    So, no more comments on my end.

    Cheers!

    • ruicraveirinha
    • July 15th, 2009

    “For those who already harbour fond memories of this beloved LucasArts adventure, more troublesome questions remain. First and foremost, have they mucked it up? The words “special edition” have taken on a less than enticing air when applied to projects connected with George Lucas, and the prospect of Star Wars-style tampering must surely cause concern to long-serving fans. Thankfully, this makeover is purely technical in nature. The whole game has been redrawn and reanimated in HD, and the soundtrack re-recorded with real actors and musicians, but the game itself remains mercifully untouched. It’s the same script, the same puzzles, the same brilliant gags. Even Mr Lucas’ fish-munching cameo remains unaltered.

    Personally, I found the visual makeover a little hard to accept at first. The original game is so deeply ingrained in my mind that the change took some time to feel right, a bit like seeing a colourised version of a classic black-and-white film. It doesn’t help that they’ve redesigned Guybrush to fit in better with the cartoony makeover the series received after the somewhat controversial third entry, the first to be produced with no input from creator Ron Gilbert.

    The shift from scrappy young hero to gangly blond fop still feels awkward, although almost every other character and location benefits from the fresh lick of paint. Some puzzle sequences – such as the cave search with the navigator’s head – work much better with the crisp new definition, while many jokes are much funnier when spoken aloud. Purists like me will almost certainly find something to grumble about over the span of the game, but the overall impact of the redesign is undeniably for the better.”

    Curious how Dan Whitehead, reviewing the game at Eurogamer, mentions some of the issues we addressed here… and then gives the new version a whopping 9 out of 10… what are we coming to?

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