There is no debating the fact that the golden age of gaming has been and gone. As was covered in the last issue, the art of video game development is now, more often than not, squeezing every last cent out of consumers. This is why we see such an incredulous reaction when a game such as Cuphead is released. Art is often lost in modern game development, and what happens when a studio truly runs out of ideas? They remake/remaster a game. A remaster of a game is where an old game is given an upgrade to suit modern gaming, whether through graphical upgrades or simply increasing compatibility. This phenomenon has grown year on year in the games industry and, while not all games are simple cash-grabs, some stand out more than others. As gamers, we thrive off nostalgia. My favourite game of all-time will always be Star Wars Battlefront 2 (2005). This was a complete shooting game set in the Star Wars universe and there were simply no flaws in the game, or so I recall, because this game was a huge part of my childhood. The issue here is that these game developers have, at times, taken advantage of our rose-tinted glasses and exploited our love for these games for the sake of some extra cash.
Gaming began so simply, with the most recognisable early game being Pong, a simple black and white table tennis game that was released in 1972. This early period of gaming is often known as the Golden Age, where home consoles were not economical, and most gaming took place in Arcades. The impact of games from this era cannot be overstated, seeing as most of these games are still played today. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Space Invaders, Asteroids, the list goes on! Arcades were at their most popular from the late 70s through to the early 80s. By 1981, the arcade video game industry was worth $8 billion, or $21.5 billion when adjusted for inflation. Advances in home video game technology during the late ‘80s led to the popularity of arcades fading. These simple 2-D games still hold great pop cultural significance, with god knows how many Pac-Man themed snap-backs and key chains you can buy that try to pass themselves off as merchandise.
The original Pac-Man game, as in the arcade booth, has seen 12 separate releases, each for a new price, with the first release being in 1980 and the latest official release of the exact same game coming in 2010. That’s not to count the various spin-offs, such as Mrs Pac-Man, Baby Pac-Man, Professor Pac-Man, Jr Pac-Man, Pac-Man Battle Royale and Pac-Man Kart Rally (these are all real games, google them). The same can be seen for many other iconic characters, Mario, Sonic, Crash Bandicoot, and so on. Even non-gaming industries have leaped on this Pac-Man bandwagon! The Adam Sandler ‘movie’ Pixels used Pac-Man in attempt to boost sales in Asia and amongst children. There have been 49 different Pac-Man games released. Let us not forget that this is a game about a character loosely based off of a Hockey Puck eating tiny Eucharists while running away from ghosts, one of which is named Clyde.
Game Freak, the developers of Pokémon are another serial offender in another category of shame, the HD remake. It is fully expected that they will remake each game. Pokémon games are released in ‘Generations’ where a new generation of games means a new generation of Pokémon, so far they have released 8 Generations, remade each of the first 3 Gens and now they are remaking the first Generation again. While no one is complaining, you can’t help but feel like whenever they run out of ideas they just throw their good ones into a HD remaster and spend their evenings bathing in the cold hard cash of millions. This is not an uncommon thing. In 2015 a 2-year old Deadpool game was remastered in order to try and force some sales off the back of the excellent film. There was no major graphical update, no real change of any sort of meaning, but the developers expected us to just throw our money at them again.
Not all HD remasters are the spawn of Satan himself; saying that would be silly. I personally very much enjoyed the HD remaster of the Crash Bandicoot series and increased compatibility with modern software can only be a good thing, but where does it end? Developers are in an unusual monopoly here. When I buy a DVD, there is no real reason that I should ever need to pay to watch that film again, nor should I. Sure, I might want to buy the Blu-Ray so that I can watch Big Momma’s House 3 in ‘jaw-dropping HD’, but no one is forcing me to do so. That is not always the case in video games. If I buy a PlayStation 4, then the only way that I can play Crash Bandicoot is by paying another €60 on the game. There is no backwards-compatibility, there is no other option, and what if there is no HD remaster?
I’m not asking for the latest titles, such as FIFA 19 and Assassin’s Creed 5, for free as part of a subscription service, all I’m asking for is a service to offer us that glimpse at nostalgia, that look at what came before, that one game of Star Wars Battlefront (2005), without making us jump through hoops. We’ve all felt nostalgic for an old film, song or tv show, but there is no Netflix for gamers. There is no Spotify. There are no options. The game developers know that they have us over a barrel and are happy to keep it that way. It should be noted that there have been announcements of streaming services, but I will believe it when I see it. If EA could make games half as good as they market them, then the games would be twice as good as they actually are. As for Microsoft’s streaming service, they still haven’t been able to launch Hololens, a mixed reality headset announced before the Oculus Rift. These are positive changes, but we long for more extensive and greater choice for gamers everywhere. Imagine trying to play Wheatus’ ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ on Spotify and then it asks you to insert the CD. Without a Netflix style streaming service then modern gaming will remain unapproachable and overly expensive.