The Thing of remakes

Remakes seems to be a subject I return yearly. This time inspired by a friend’s words; Remakes of great movies have an almost impossible task to improve on the originals. I’m inclined to agree with him, and the same goes for video games, generally speaking. Even with the technology gap between now and a game from e.g. the NES era, it’s still a task that rarely is done right.

I admit that the requirements this blog tends to set for remakes, mainly that they need to influence the culture of gaming in some significant way and create make the original completely and utterly, are almost far too high standards to meet up. Almost is the key, as if you’re not going to make something better than the original, why make it at all?

The same applies to movies to a very large degree, even prequel remakes of sorts. John Carpenter’s The Thing is probably a good example of this, to both directions. Originally a novella named Who Goes There? in 1938, it was adapted to the silver screen for the first time in 1951 as The Thing from Another World, just in time for the 1950’s boom. While Carpenter’s 1982 version is far more true to the original novella, it still draws elements and inspirations from the 1951 movie. The two movies show what thirty years of difference can do in movies. While the 1982 movie obsoletes the 1951 in pretty much every way, it could be argued that it’s worth a watch for the sake of having a perspective. However, it does lack the signature element of the Thing itself; mimicry. Then again, perhaps it could be said that Carpenter didn’t remake the 1951 movie, but stuck with the source material all the way through.

2011 saw a new version of The Thing in form of a prequel, but it’s essentially a beat-to-beat remake of the 1982 movie. Opinions whether it’s a good movie or a terrible one is up to each of us, but perhaps one of the less voiced opinions is that it was unnecessary. Much like other side stories, prequels and sequels that expand on story elements that never needed any expansion and were best to be left as they were. After all, we’re curious about mysteries that are not wholly elaborated on, but often feel let down if that mystery is shown to be terrible. I’m not even going to touch the PlayStation 2 game here, it’s just a terrible piece.

Both games and movies stand on the same line with remakes; they need to have the same core idea, core function if you will, and create something more era appropriate. One could argue that Mega Man X is a good remake of Mega Man. While it has a new lead, new enemies and stages, it evolves the formula and tackles the franchise in a new way. The idea is still the same nevertheless; beat a number of boss robots in an order selected by you and then advance to the multi-levelled final stages before you face the mad last boss.

However, both Mega Man and Mega Man X got remakes on the PSP, and while we can argue whether or not they obsolete the originals, they are pretty much beat-to-beat replicas with some new stuff bolted unto them and do no deviate from the source material jack shit. This isn’t the case with the Ratchet and Clank remake, which opted not only to change things around, but changed them so that it could have been a completely new and independent game.

Perhaps this is where we should make a division between reboots and remakes. Maverick Hunter X is a remake whereas Ratchet and Clank 2016 is a reboot. Reboots can and often do change things around to fit this new reimagined world. That’s one of the reasons why reboots don’t go well with long-time fans, as it would mean the series they’ve been emotionally (and sometimes financially) invested in for years is no longer the same. There’s an 80 minute video that goes over how Ratchet and Clank‘s reboot missed points from the original game. If you’ve got time to kill, it’s a good watch. Especially if you’re even a passing fan of the franchise.

Mega Man as a franchise is an interesting entity that for almost two decades it had multiple series and sub-franchises running alongside each other. While Battle Network could be counted as a reboot in modern terms, the 2018 series will probably be a total franchise reboot, at least for the time being.

The point of reboots is somewhat lost when the end-product does not stand up to the comparison to the original. Some claim this is unfair, as the new piece should be treated as its own individual piece without any regard to the original. There can be validity in this, if the product can stand on its own without resorting on winking to the player about the previous incarnation. This is a two-bladed sword; on one hand it’s great to acknowledge the history your remake stands on, but on the other hand any sort of reliance devalues the whole point of a remake. It’s a line that needs to be threaded carefully.

Perhaps the thing with remakes (or reboots for the matter) really is that they are facing a task larger than just the original product; they are facing the perceived value of the product from the consumers. People tend to value things on an emotional level a lot more despite their faults (like yours truly with Iczer-1)  and when something new comes into play to replace it, our instinct tells us to resists. It doesn’t help that most of the remakes and reboots then to be terrible on their own right, even when removing from the original piece. Just look at Devil May Cry‘s reboot, which luckily seems to be just a one-off thing. Maybe remakes like this are needed from time to time to remind us that capturing the lightning in the bottle twice is far harder than it seems, and perhaps creating something completely new is the better solution.

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Monthly Three: What’s in a name (of a remake)?

Remake get a lot of hatred, overall speaking. Unlike with remasters, remake takes something that exists, and rather than creating something new, it recycles elements of the previous product to create something new. Rather than creating something new or enhancing something old with new techniques and technology. Still, simply using the same core starting point with a piece does not make a remake. For example, the Transformers live action series are less a remake of any of the cartoons and more a different take on the work and story. Their quality is another thing altogether.

In film, remakes have become something to abhor, especially how the 2000’s was largely controlled by panned remakes of reheats of past franchises. From Clash of the Titans to Wolfman and whatever the latest horror movie remake out there is. That actually may be Godzilla Resurgence, which shows that remakes have their time and place as well, and that they can be done well, potentially. 1982 The Thing is an excellent remake that brought the story to a new generation with visuals and tone that still haven’t made obsolete. Similarly, The Fly from 1986 gave David Cronenberg a reason to do further body horror through a classic horror movie, and

That is the core idea of remakes after all; to take the old piece and recreate it for modern audiences. The problem is that not all pieces require a remake of any sorts. Wolfman is an example of an ageless classic that works more as a period piece nowadays, and much like 1934’s Dracula, works the best because of the era they were made in. This particular Dracula has never seen a remake, but further adaptations of Bram Stoker’s original book have been many, for lesser success most of the time.

The 1998 Pyscho is an example of a remake that remakes the original film point by point, almost replicating every scene of Hitchcock’s version. It’s a largely pointless way to make a remake, as it doesn’t do anything on its own, outside one added masturbation scene for shock value. The resources wasted on this Psycho could’ve been used for something better.

While we do expect remakes to do their own thing and add something to stand apart from their progenitor, often they just miss the point of the original piece. 1999’s The Haunting went straight up haunted house with being absolutely explicit that yes, there are ghosts about. The original film from 1963 is very subdued, never defining whether or not the main character is truly seeing ghosts or not, and works in allegories. It’s a subtle piece, something that the 1999 remake is not. It’s completely in your face remake with broken budget and has absolutely no subtely to it, not to mention it lacks any sort of legit scary moment. It stands apart from the original, and outside them idea basis, has nothing to do with the original piece and should’ve been named something else completely. Just like Gatchaman Crowds.

2010 A Nightmare on Elm Street on the other hand is just a bad movie outright, largely having worse special effects than the original 1984 and being explicit in everything it does instead of treating the viewer with respect.

In music, covers and different versions of songs are essentially the industry’s remakes. The basic beats and lyrics are the same, most often, but given completely new sound to them most of the cases, or simply taking it as it is and trying to do it better.

Remakes in music does offer much more freedom, in a sense. While a film remake can aim to change genre and stand completely apart from the previous work, just use it as an inspiration, in music you can take pretty much any song and give it a completely different take without much any hate. Game music is an example of this, with large number of songs being remade in rock, metal, symphonic, jazz and other arrangements. Companies themselves do this very often, Nihon Falcom having perhaps the largest selection of different pieces of each of their songs.

I’ll have to indulge myself just a bit here and list few of Yuzo Koshiro’s Morning Grow from the first Ys game, because the piece is simply one of my favourites in the series…





…Thou this dance pop version confuses me to this day. Provincialism Ys is a strange album

Unlike with films, cover songs in music are often less about the money and more about the love for that a particular song. The other side of the coin there are songs that are remade simply to be sold rather than about the song itself. Still, some authors and studios push remakes and covers of certain songs to ride on their popularity for simple monetary. After all, all remakes, film or music, are meant to be sold. However, in music remakes rarely obsolete the original piece, if ever.

In games all this is a bit mucked because companies tend to use remake and remaster liberally. Ducktales Remastered is an example of this, as it is a full-blown beat to beat remake and not a remaster.

Much like films, game remakes may get a cold shoulder from the consumers, sometimes because they don’t simply play as well as the original, sometimes because they have nothing new to them outside lick of new paint, or sometimes because they’re simply not wanted or needed.

CAPCOM tried to reboot the Mega Man franchise on the PSP with Mega Man Powered Up and Maverick Hunter X, but the main problem with both of them was that they were the exact same games CAPCOM had re-released for decade and a half at that point, solid two now. It didn’t help that they were on a system that wasn’t really all that successful, Maverick Hunter X ran slower and had more issues than the Super Nintendo original and only fans really bought MM Powered Up. It looked too cutesy and despite its addons offered nothing of real value, at least according to the bush radio. It didn’t help that it was a game aimed for a younger demographic on a system that was clearly meant for the older audience in the market.

What do the consumers expect from game remakes? The general idea seems to be that keeping it true to the original, refining some rougher elements and adding more content seems to be the right thing to go with. However, with older games this can become a problem, especially if the title is required to move from 2D to 3D, a change that can screw up the gameplay.

a boy and his blob is an example of a remake that took the original game and worked it from the scratch up. It’s a pretty good game on its own rights, and rather than hitting on nostalgia cashgrab, did something good. It largely ignores stages and everything else from the original game. Perhaps this sort of ground-up remodelling of a game is beneficial, as it allows the remake to stand apart from the original game, and act both as an independent piece and semi-sequel/reboot.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have Metroid: Zero Mission, a game that remakes the NES original with seemingly the same maze layout while streamlining the experience, adding new content and forcing a story narrative in. Zero Mission is often called the better between the two, but it can’t be denied that it only stands on the shoulders of the NES original, removing large parts of the adventure the original game had going on for it, and perhaps even saying that Zero Mission tries to pander with nostalgia rather than stand on its own legs. It’s speedier gameplay is not necessarily better either, as original Metroid was very methodical, seemingly slow, and required a lot exploration from the player’s part instead of being directed to the next destination. In many ways, the Metroid is similar to Dark Souls in this rather than to its remake. To many the simple fact that Zero Mission is on a better hardware and plays more like a modern game makes it better, despite the fact that as a game it is a simple repeat, just like Ducktales Remasted.

Remakes have a place in every industry, despite their divisive nature. The good remakes show that you can use the same basis and narrative to create a new wholesome piece that can stand against the original without any problems, whereas the bad ones on the other hand show you how much certain works are largely timeless, at least for now. Remakes can work as a vessel for something great, despite their inherent repeating nature. Sometimes, repeating something is required to move forwards.

Monthly Three: Of remakes and remasters

The difference between remakes and remasters to some is cosmetic or about marketing terms, but when you look at the examples, there’s a bit more to them. A remake is based on a previous work, a new piece of product that recreates the original piece somehow. Another meaning of course is that something is taken and remade anew, like reconstructing a knife. Remaster on the other hand is completely tied to the original piece, like video or audio, and then improved on it somehow. For example, the recent Fight!! Iczer-1 Blu-Ray release was a good one, containing a properly digitally remastered version of the original.

NES remaster

Unlike what the package says, Ducktales Remastered is a remake. Nothing really is taking from the original game outside the overall stage designs. The musics have been remade, the graphics are remade and so on. If WayForward had remastered Ducktales, the two screenshots would look the same, except the resolution of the remaster would be higher. Digital things are pretty neat in that way that in principle as long as you have the source code and assets, it should be relatively easy to adapt those to a new machine. This is essentially doing a higher resolution ports, but I’m leaving HD “remakes” for next week.

Remasters on the other hand would look something like this.

dvd_28_09.57.35] screenshot016

The first one is from the Anime Works DVD, the second being the recent BD release. The difference is rather staggering, with higher definition bringing the line work out much more and showing more detail in form of dust specks and the like. For more colour, check the examples for these two stitches, first being from the DVD, the second being from the BD.

A remaster can bring new life and vibrant dimensions to a product that didn’t really have it before. An original master may have all the elements in there, but for whatever reason it could not be put into use. The LP-records  could not contain as much data as the compact cassette could, just as the compact cassette couldn’t hold as much data as the CD could. A CD on the other hand lost its place to digital sound formats that can, in principle, be as large as one wants them to be, even to obscene amounts.

While having as pristine version of something is desirable, the fact is that at some point there is no point of trying get any higher version of that piece. It could be even argued that the screenshots of Iczer-1 above is too highly defined, as it was never intended to be seen at that resolution. That goes for anything in audio and visual department, as in case of Star Trek, sixty years of development in television technology show every bit of those sets, costumes, double actors and the like, which were never visible before thanks to the lower standard definitions. This can have a largely negative effect on the piece from some, as they will point out and laugh at how cheap some of the things look nowadays. Can’t really fault them for using the best technology they had available at the time, which would be a good thing to keep in mind.

Another thing that pops up from this is that now that we can see absolutely everything, we can enjoy and even research the way some of those sets Trek used were made and so on. In animation we can admire all the fine lines and colours that were put in there by the animators and painters, things that we didn’t see before because of the lower definitions.

The necessity of remakes can be questioned, as in film their quality has been largely dubious. From making remakes cult flicks like Nightmare on Elm Street to remaking television series like Charlie’s Angels and Kamen Rider (The First is an atrocious movie with great suits), none of these really all the well received. The idea is solid; take an existing franchise and update it to a modern audience with modern techniques and technologies. However, rarely these remakes are made for the benefit of product and aim for pure nostalgia grabs instead. Very few remakes stand against the originals because of this, like the 1982 The Thing against 1951’s Who Goes There?, and 1986’s The Fly against its 1958 counterpart.

It’s often argued that remakes miss the point of the originals, and that the excess use of CGI elements do not stand up to the originals’ practical effects when it comes to films. Simply put it, it can’t hold the candle in direct comparison. This can be up to opinion to some extent, but it is true that CGI ages faster than practical, so take that as you will.

Maybe the most pressing argument against remakes is that they do not add anything new to table. While everything we produce nowadays is more or less a remade variation of pre-existing myths, stories and legends, exact remakes in and out of entertainment media don’t even try to create a basis for something new or expand into region less explored. An example of starting with a similar core idea and making it its own piece could be made in comparison between Star Trek and seaQuest DSV. On the surface, the both shows have similarities with their missions and overall idea of a top of the line ship send to the unknown for exploration and research. Yet, both shows stand apart from each other because of their themes and how they were handled, adding something to the cultural view in ways that a simple film remake never could.

I would wager that the bottom line is that some expect a remake to simply remake an original piece for the modern era, while some expect a remake to stand on its own two legs and be something more. There is a golden middle way, but not many seem to be willing to take it.

Emotionally attached and rewound

It feels like both Hollywood and video game industry is full of rehashed products nowadays. HD releases, 3D releases, re-imaginings, compilations, upgrade releases for newer platforms and so on. Sometimes it looks and feels like we’re getting only these and sequels and less original, new products.

This ties to the previous post to some extent, with us expecting new products that would be better than out favourites. Having a movie that is better than something that has come before is always a positive thing. Having a game that obsoletes a previous one is just as great.

It’s never that simple thou. We’re not absolutely rational beings that can wage things with a perfect balance. We have preferences and we like things we know is most likely bad for us or is generally considered as shit. Some like modern pop music, some like the 80’s rocks and so on. We tend to be on the offensive when something we like is called out on its less than high quality nature or when something better comes up. We don’t just prefer what we know already, we are heavily biased towards to what we have forged an emotional bond with, and that’s what providers like. The moment they manage to make you emotionally attached to their brand and franchise, they are able to sell side products and other items to you. This isn’t something we should be ashamed of, as we do it willingly and we enjoy it to large extent. This applies to our philosophies and personal believes too despite them being absolutely insane at times. Then we look for similar circle and disregard the opposition most of the time, but we are able to step out from this circlejerk and observe ourselves and our interests and choices from a third view point. More often than not we simply do not enact this option due to comfort we have. It would be healthy and recommended thing to do, and I encourage everyone to do so occasionally.

But let’s move the talk towards remakes.

Remakes, any sort of remakes, is perhaps a bit too common thing nowadays. HD upgrades are a bit too common nowadays, but I it is in fashion to bring up older games to new hardware that does not support backwards compatibility. This is something that companies should avoid, as backwards compatibility was once a standard, and then came back with the PS2 and similar devices. With the increasing complexity in hardware, true backwards compatibility is becoming a rarer thing and companies are thus resorting in emulation. Emulating backwards compatibility is not the best option, and 360’s compatibility list is riddled with errors. Xbone’s compatibility is very, very low at this moment and it seems the developers needs to code an emulator for each and every single game separately to achieve at least satisfying results. Then again, consoles like NES don’t demand as much as juice to gain high accuracy emulation, and Nintendo should already offer cross-platform accounts, so we don’t need to buy Super Mario Bros. for each console one has.

In this sense, remakes do make sense. With a new release the developers are also able to upgrade the visuals to modern day standards if they so choose to, but also to fix errors and bugs in the game code. Perhaps even add a better translation, if necessary. This is very rarely the case. Remakes are more or less HD ports of PS2 games, and I would even call the games that were developed for the 360 and PS3 and then ported to current generation consoles as HD ports too. I’m not sure if they lump the DLC content with them, but if so, then you’re really getting the game that it should’ve been in the first place.

But if we have backwards compatibility, even if it is emulation, do we have a need for remakes? Seems like the customers seem to think so, especially if there’s an emotional attachment to the product.

You saw this coming; does Final Fantasy VII need a remake? Who am I to argue against the core fans of the product or those who have a deep emotional connection with the Final Fantasy VII as franchise? We all know it’ll make truckloads of money simply because it has such rabid fanbase and a lot of the people who weren’t even born when the game came out can now play the game without any problems with emulation or dated graphics.

Remakes can never really stand on their own because of their inherent nature. They will be, and should be, compared to the original piece they are based on. It’s not a given that they’ll be better than the progenitor. Maverick Hunter X on PSP, a remake of Mega Man X, is often regarded as a lesser version due to chances it made to the overall feeling of the game.

A question is; how can a remake of FFVII stand up to the original? Well, it really needs to be the same shit in different pants with better graphics and it’ll do fine. We know that the devs want to stick with the original as much as possible, or at least so they say. We’ll have to wait for the actual results when the game is released.

Let’s disregard the emotional and clear nature of the remake and fans. Let’s ask if a game that managed to be a huge hit in really needs to be remade. If the product is as good as people say and has managed to hit just the right spot with so many people across the world, then why should it need a remake? Because times have changed? Because they know how there are people who can’t stand pre-2010 graphics?

Final Fantasy VII doesn’t need a remake, as the original game plays as intended to this day and fantasy stories like this rarely lose their power. However, it does need a remake because Square-Enix likes to get money and the development team seems to be unable to make a better product. We can argue whether or not either Final Fantasy VIII or IX are better than XII, but that’s up to individual opinion. What we can’t argue against is the popularity VII still enjoys and the amount of its copies always sell. Then you have the fact that VII is the only series that has become a franchise of its own. It’s only natural to appease the long time fans and introduce the game to people who haven’t experienced it before.

The question is; will it concentrate on the plot more than previously? If it is a proper remake, it would also upgrade the game mechanics, but seeing how badly Final Fantasy XIII was handled as a whole, I’m not holding my breath. It is kind of sad to say that the only way to make a product obsolete is to remake that exact same product, just with a lick of new paint on it with additional bells and whistles, and then see it fly off the shelves. I don’t know if tells more about the consumers or about the companies.

Perhaps the remake turns out to be completely awful and everybody will be disappointed after their initial hype. You never know, but it wouldn’t be good to assume either direction. You always have the original, and it’s not going to go anywhere.