State of play: Remakes and Spiritual Sequels
Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, as the old joke goes. These days gamers are an astoundingly lucky bunch, with high disposable incomes and easy access to cheap games. The only thing that still costs a bunch is the hardware to play on, and once you’ve got that, most games turn up in a Steam sale or Humble bundle eventually.
Many older gamers want to recapture the first moments of their youthful gaming or to evangelise the games that started them gaming to a new generation. We’re happy to pay through the nose for that experience again, brought up to modern standards. And many of our favourite franchises died in the multiple videogame market crashes of the mid -80s, or were tangled up in ownership disputes, like anything associated with Interplay, or even were bought up by big corporations who liked owning IP (Infogrames, Activision, EA). The others that kept going – Mario, Sonic and the like – don’t merit a mention here.
There are some spiritual successors that didn’t make the cut here: Godus might be a spiritual sequel to Populous, but it’s learned too much from mobile games to be much fun. I hear repeated quibbles over Chris Roberts’ Star Citizen, mainly because Elite: Dangerous has proved so good. SimCity, Syndicate, Monkey Island, Carrier Command and Thief have all had so-so remakes.
Moreover, many of these games deserve to be on ShowMeTheGames because they’re mostly sold directly, after successful kickstarter campaigns.
Planetary Annihilation / Total Annihilation
A portion of the team behind Total Annihilation (led by Chris Taylor) went onto make the more commercial Supreme Commander. But another segment of the team claimed that their vision was what they’d always wanted to do with TA, way back in 1998, and their pitch for ‘Planetary Annihilation‘ won a lot of Kickstarter backers. Though strictly speaking ‘planetary’ is smaller than ‘total’.
The game has you take control of a robot faction, building factories and harvesting resources across the surface of several planetoids. So far, so C&C. But the scale and variety of troops – from scuttling infantry and light trikes to nukes and carpet bombers to giant tanks and (one day) death stars – makes it more tactically interesting, even if it’s still very much an APM (actions-per-minute) game at heart.
Like TA, PA is better in skirmish than in the confusing and limited campaign mode. (And TA’s campaign, whisper it, was much better than the PA’s more modern take.) Admittedly, there have been complaints about PA – the game has been released unfinished, according to many kickstarter backers, and they’ve flooded the public reviews with that. Despite this, PA still has a respectable average score, implying that most punters are pretty happy with what they’ve got.
Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues / Ultima Online
If anyone deserved a second (or possibly third) chance, it was Richard Garriott. He left his genre-defining Ultima series in the hands of Electronic Arts, following the debacle that was the cutting edge but sadly awful Ultima 9, and then resurfaced at NCSoft to preside over Tabula Rasa, an innovative and fun MMO, which would have survived nicely in today’s F2P world.
The Ultima series, if you missed it, was around from the very beginning of modern RPGs, starting from 1979’s Akalabeth: World of Doom, and peaking with Ultima 7, a game so huge and twisty it came in two parts. It really was the Skyrim of its day, when Bethesda were just in small pants. Garriott can also fairly claim that his team created the modern MMO with Ultima Online.
So Shroud of the Avatar is Garriott’s attempt to reclaim his Ultima franchise in all but name, after EA misused the brand awfully (despite the best efforts of some at Mythic to revive it). With a plot written by Dragonlance’s Tracy Hickman, it aims to combine the offline solo story of the singleplayer Ultimas with the PvP and world-building of the MMO. Garriott and his lead designer Starr Long know their MMOs and they’re rethinking this from the bottom up, with some truly innovative player-friendly mechanics. It’s raised over $4,800,000 at the time of writing and is creeping closer to release, with regular alpha events.
Oh, and you can use coconut shells in the game to pretend to be a horse. Just saying.
(If you want something a little more RvR combat-oriented, check out Camelot Unchained, the Dark Age of Camelot remake.)
The Mighty No. 9 / Megaman
Megaman wasn’t a complicated protagonist – in the first nine or so games, he did exactly the same thing. Kill the malfunctioning robots, take their powers, use them against each other, defeat them all over again, take down Dr Wily. Over the years the powers got more complex, but essentially that was the game.
So when Keiji Inafune quit Capcom, he couldn’t take Megaman with him. So The Mighty No. 9 is his attempt to leave his copyrighted biscuit behind whilst eating it. It’s fundamentally Megaman again, with a lot more modern cartoon shine and a few new tweaks. The designs for the new boss-bots look wonderful though.
Obduction / Myst
Much maligned by PC games journalists and hardcore gamers, Myst and its successors were a very different sort of game, appealing to a very different (mainly female) audience. They didn’t test your reflexes but your mind and your capability to understand alien concepts and worlds. Their simple controls made them accessible to non-hardcore gamers, whilst their requirement for . Despite presenting a 3D world from a first person perspective, it and Doom couldn’t have been more different.
Myst’s legacy lies in games like The Room, The Witness and, to a lesser degree, the million hidden object games you can find on flash sites. And now, in Obduction, the Rand brothers’ return to the area that they’ve always wanted to work in. However, this time they’ve followed the trend of games like Dear Esther (aka Myst without the interaction) and Gone Home, and started building it in Unreal 4. The game is looking astoundingly pretty, though it’s moved from Myst’s clockwork fantasy to something more alien and lushly otherworldly, mingling the Old West, mountainside monasteries, and many elements where there’s no easy earthly analogue.
Pillars of Eternity / Baldur’s Gate
Baldur’s Gate was much-loved by the 90s generation of gamers. Few other worlds were so large and free-roaming, with such distinctive characters to travel with, and so much replay value from different classes and moral alignments. And it had a great damn twisty plot. The second one was even better.
Of course, Baldur’s Gate has indeed been remade already, as Baldur’s Gate: Extended Edition. But that’s not enough for Obsidian Entertainment who pitched an Infinity Engine type fantasy RPG without specifying very much at all – except that it would be just the same as before – and got nearly all the money in the gaming world …
Torment: Tides of Numenera / Planescape: Torment
…but not quite as much as the Torment kickstarter did, which is the most any game has ever got. Yes, more than Tim Schafer’s “I’ll make an adventure game if you give me all your money” pitch, which worked surprisingly well. Torment got over $4 million on Kickstarter alone.
The first game was a magnificent meeting of fiction and insinuation, with spectacular handdrawn scenes and a simplified D&D combat system. Oh, and it was set in the city of Sigil, on top of an infinitely-tall spire, in the middle of the planes (D&D’s version of heaven and hell and parallel universes), where your anonymous character tried to find out why he couldn’t die with the help of a motley cast of desperate, forsaken souls…
This new title is set in a different world, Numenera, rich in fallen civilisations, and the question has changed. The first game asked “what can change the nature of a fan?” The second game asks “What does one life matter?” That said, it’s going for the same dangerous universe and questions of immortality… but this time you’re not the immortal one.
Underworld Ascension / Ultima Underworld
Few games have had as lasting an effect as Ultima Underworld. The Elder Scrolls games pretty much owe their existence to it. It was the first true 3D dungeon crawler, with the player heading down 25 miles of corridors to talk to the humans and monsters. With a rich, apocalyptic plot, alphabetic magical runes, and tough enemies, it was only surpassed by its sequels – The Labyrinth of Worlds and a science-fiction spin-off by the name of System Shock…
There’s little information on Underworld Ascension, mainly because the original Underworld creator Paul Neurath didn’t expect to get the Underworld rights from EA when he did. The game was announced pretty much as development started, so we don’t expect to see anything until 2015.
I have to admit that, for me personally, this is the game I’m looking forward to more than anything else. I have reasons.
Satellite Reign / Syndicate Wars
Syndicate was one of the Amiga’s flagship games – complex, but reaction-heavy, it rewarded accuracy, planning and multiple replays. Syndicate Wars, which was almost a reboot, came out a generation later, and included destructible skyscrapers, crazy firepower and a horribly amoral storyline. Its cyberpunk aesthetic married with its use of in-world video very neatly indeed.
The game has changed slightly. This time around its a class-based affair, with your agents specialising in particular elements. (Previously, you’d customise your cyborg’s kit and limbs to change up their role between missions.) Despite that, it’s recognisably the same game. The alpha will be going out to Kickstarter backers soon.
Elite: Dangerous / Elite
The first Elite conjured a galaxy out of wireframes, where you could trade, explore and fight, from Fomalhaut to Sirius. Considering this was 30 years ago, where the height of tech was platformers, Elite had 3D graphics, an open procedurally-generated galaxy, and proper Newtonian physics, where you could even land on planets. Braben has spent years fending off questions about doing a sequel to it – until now, it seemed he was just pissed off that his first game might be his career high but Dangerous is redressing that.
Dangerous, by contrast to the original, is a very modern game, but highly polished. So far only the space element is ready, but, boy, is it ready. The space environment itself has already knocked the hitherto dominant X series into a cocked hat. It’s massively multiplayer and persistent, much like Eve Online, and has a singleplayer story if you want that. Updates include huge proc-gen planets to explore, first-person combat and boarding actions.
Midwinter / Midwinter
Mike Singleton died about a year ago, but he’d already seen a few of his famous games get ported to modern platforms. Singleton was the creator of strange simulations, most of which have never been properly honored. Lords of Midnight was essentially an Aragorn simulator, showing how bloody hard it is to get an effective fantasy alliance together even when the enemy’s hordes are on your doorstep. Midwinter, by contrast, was an insurgency simulator, set in a snowy island apocalypse, where you had to ski around, recruit other agents, and defeat the invading enemy. It had a unique mechanic, where you got to play as each agent in sequence for a two hour period; once you’d played as all of them, time would move on.
Again, little has been revealed about the new game, save for a single image, which looks like an artist’s mock-up. We should know more in 2015.
Wasteland 2 / Wasteland
The original Fallout was a post-apocalyptic RPG mixed with a tactical combat game, much like a mix of UFO and Baldur’s Gate, except with 1950s Americana thrown in. It was inspired by the earlier Wasteland game, which has seen its own reboot in the form of the excellent Wasteland 2.
Fallout 3 and Wasteland are both effective tributes to their originals, but Wasteland 2 is more true to the original game, retaining its perspective and team combat, whereas Fallout 3 remodelled itself into a pause-time FPS where you were mostly a lone wolf. I mean, both are great. God, and Fallout: New Vegas was pretty fine too.
XCOM / UFO: Enemy Unknown
There’s not much to say about this. The original XCOM was a masterpiece of attachment theory, demonstrating that even when you’re running a global alien-repulsion and -research agency, you still care for every one of your troops. Especially if you’ve named them after friends / family / pets. You had to recruit troops, fight aliens in the skies above earth and in tactical combat on the ground, and research their tech to take the fight to them.
The remake by Firaxis and led by Jake Solomon was near perfect. It brought modern day polish and something of an updated 1950s space aesthetic, but also heavily simplified the missions and combat, reducing squad sizes to increase the speed. Otherwise, it was a very similiar game.
Of course, Julian Gollop himself was so satisfied with this as a remake (even if he thought his version was better) that he focused on an even older game, Chaos, which he’s remaking right now.