State of Play: Remakes we need
Everyone has a list of their favourite games, and some of those games are now unplayable. Perhaps two years ago, my personal version of this list would have been a lot longer. After all, most of the games I personally want remade are mostly in the process of being rebooted, or having spiritual sequels made to them.
I mean, look at the list of ‘90s spiritual sequels and reboots (many of which we covered last week). Total Annihilation was remade as Planetary Annihilation, Ultima Underworld is being made as Underworld Ascension, Goldeneye 007 has GoldenEye Reloaded, Baldurs Gate is getting its Project Infinity, Ultima Online has Shroud of the Avatar, Syndicate Wars has Satellite Reign, Grim Fandango is being remade, and Mighty No. 9 couldn’t be more Megaman if it renamed its main character to Rock. It’s obvious that our nostalgia has no bounds where Kickstarter is concerned, as most of these games were funded that way. The ones that weren’t – Thief, Syndicate, Ultima Forever, Dungeon Keeper – bear the deep scars of corporate compromise.
Most of these games – both the ones that I want and that garner popular approbation – are of the mid to late 1990s. Why is it this generation of games that’s being remade and getting the attention? Perhaps because they were the first era where there was a small enthusiast press playing all the games then telling a larger consumer audience what to buy. There are many earlier games which are probably equally deserving of remakes, that someone will have nostalgia for – Tennis for Two or Spacewar! for example – but there isn’t the clamour there is for a Phantasmagoria or Bioforge, say, because this audience was tiny and academic.
Or perhaps it’s because the larger precursor games to that era – say Jet Set Willy or Maniac Mansion or Lords of Midnight or Golden Axe – were so simple, both in terms of ruleset and appearance. Most games after the ‘90s (indeed, until the present post-Indie Explosion) weren’t particularly mechanically-innovative. But the great ‘90s games tended to be in genres that had coalesced without having been finally defined and bounded, where they’d explored thoughtfully. Is Tie-Fighter more a flight sim or an adventure game? Is System Shock more an exploration game, an adventure, a RPG, or a FPS? Can you really say Grim Fandango and Alone in the Dark are both adventures?
Star Wars: X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter
As you might be able to guess from Gratuitous Space Battles 1 & 2, this is Cliffski’s most-desired remake. In the 90s, LucasArts had everything, and these galaxy-spanning sims had the official tick of canon approval from George Lucas himself, whilst deepening the world of Star Wars in a way that the fiction managed but that only KOTOR has replicated in games. SW: XVTF is the third in the series, and the only one that lacks a storyline, being entirely focused on multiplayer – though of course, we’d like the whole series remade.
Of course, it’s unlikely to happen. LucasArts killed 13 completed projects like Rogue Squadron when Disney shut them down. Now the Disney licensing department is focusing on outsourced big hitting titles like Battlefront from established developers – not remakes of nostalgia-redolent titles.
Estimated chance: 5% – it would require a pitch from a top-end developer to persuade LucasArts to share the IP.
Though Zork itself was a mere iteration of Colossal Cave Adventure, itself an iteration of Adventure, Zork was a complete world. (Ironic, given that the word ‘zork’ itself was MIT hacker slang for an unfinished program.)
Zork was the first text adventure to get widespread play, with commercial re-releases as recently as 1996, for the Playstation and Sega Saturn. Players explore an underground kingdom characterised by snarky humour and a hundred varities of instant death. It’s the source of many references. If it was remade, it would have to be as a traditional graphic adventure, to drag it kicking and screaming into the 1990s.
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines
The main reason that this one needs a remake is that the first game wasn’t finished at all. Rushed to be finished so that it could release the same time as Half-Life 2 (which in the history of stupid marketing strategies ranks up there with Madame Guillotine trying to sell her eponymous invention as a cigar cutter for whales), Bloodlines had more bugs than a flea circus. Notably, the game itself simply couldn’t be completed, crashing at the end of the Society of Leopold mission.
Perhaps the plan of the developers (then known as Troika, but mostly comprised of Black Isle / Obsidian staff) was too ambitious. Given that the game has several playable clans, each with branching storylines to explore in its slightly-more seedy version of a vampire-infested Los Angeles, and used the Half Life 2 Source engine when it was brand new to create unsurpassed characters, an argument for excessive ambition could be made.
Certainly it’s taken literally years for fans to rescue the game, first patching it so it worked at all, then working to restore the huge amounts of cut and missing content. Given that the Source engine hasn’t aged that badly, a remake would just need to take all those content fixes and release it as a commercial product.
Estimated chance: 1% – Activision-Blizzard own the game rights whilst CCP own the rights to the universe / RPG.
Though System Shock was always on most self-respecting games journalists’ top 100 lists, many of them won’t have played it. They’ll have played the sequel, System Shock II, not the original. That’s sad because the original is a much more original game, with a tighter mesh of overlapping systems in a smaller, more coherent space.
You play a hacker, trapped on a space station with an AI whose moral constraints you’ve removed – and the army of mutants and cyborgs she’s turned many of the station’s staff into. At times it feels like its sister title, Ultima Underworld II, at others like introversion’s Nethack, and at other times it has the terror of Aliens.
But it’s also understandable that many of those who laud it won’t have played it, because the original is old. It features strange expectations of controls and extremely low-res representational design atop a lethal combat system. This makes in severe need of a remake – if not to move the graphics away from that endearing clunkiness, but to bring it up to modern standards of control and resolutions.
Estimated chance: 10% – a fan remake might happen, but EA are more likely to reboot it themselves.
When Take Two turned DMA Design into Rockstar North, they also turned the top-down Grand Theft Auto 2 into the 3D Grand Theft Auto III. Though you could still play GTA III in a bodged-together top-down mode, the character of the world has gradually changed through the years, and moved away from the keening arcade joy of the original. Now it’s all outrageous schemes and pork-palmed satire, with increasingly unlikable lead characters.
But GTA 2 was an entirely slicker arcade title, featuring pseudo-3D destructible buildings, a fun car-theft system and riotous humour mingled with in-game cartoon violence. To give you an idea of it, the violent combat has been recreated by Hotline: Miami.
Estimated chance: 3% – Take Two are unlikely to make it themselves and would stamp on fan recreations.
DMA’s other game, and arguably a bigger success than GTA, Lemmings was a smart, puzzle game where you had to preserve the lives of anthropomorphised furballs by altering their roles into parachutists, diggers, bombers and so on, to get to them to an exit somewhere on the level. Like many of the best puzzle games, it was essentially a resource-management problem to be solved with limited tools.
It also had thrilling classical music and cute characters. Though the series survived into the 2000s, it died eventually, perhaps due to the transition to 3D, which undermined many games that had thrived in the 2D hand-drawn era.
Estimated chance: 30% – whoever has the IP will almost certainly try to revive it at some point. Yet, given how cross-generational and -gender its appeal was, it’ll almost certainly be a mobile game.
Alone in the Dark
Frederick Raynal’s adventure game was unusual in many ways – he made it in just one year, he married his artist during production, he built his own 3D engine and tools – but it was most unusual for its mix of combat and adventure in a true 3D environment, inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft, with a private investigator exploring an oddly-haunted house.
You could argue that Alone in the Dark has already been rebooted, back in 2007, by the company that’s been variously known as Atari, Infogrammes and Namco-Bandai. But there was almost as little left of the original game as there was in the infamously-dreadful Uwe Bolle movie.
Though Alone in the Dark is still eminently playable these days, thanks to Raynal’s visionary decisions about the control scheme, it needs a remake because its once-revolutionary 3D models are unrecognisable blobs to modern eyes.
Estimated chance: 2% – as the game has already been rebooted into a modern action-adventure, a remake is unlikely unless it was very, very cheap.
The Ultima games, were the peak of western RPGs before Skyrim. As we said last week, Richard Garriott is attempting to remake his last hurrah, Ultima Online, as Shroud of the Avatar. And EA did attempt to maintain the Ultima franchise, with Ultima Forever, a rich recreation of the world marred by mobile game mechanics.
But it was Ultima 7 that was regarded as the peak of the series, presenting a rich isometric world packed with dungeons, monsters and treasures, alongside towns packed with varied characters going about their daily lives. It was expanded three times, including the huge new continent of Serpent’s Isle, and dealt maturely with concepts ranging from being orphaned to cultish religious groups like Scientology – unheard of for a game at the time.
The RPG developers who are best placed to do such a remake, would probably be XXX, who are obviously fans. Their creation Driftmoon has much that’s redolent of Ultima 7, and includes several sly references to the game, whilst being just as smart and dark.
Estimated chance: 3% – EA has had no luck rebooting Ultima so far, so using an internal dev might be a step too far.
The iconic schoolyard item of the late ‘90s, these egg-shaped devices (‘tamago’ means egg) were originally designed for teenage girls, to show them what it would be like to take care of children in Japan’s patriarchal society. When the craze spread to the West, though, every child played with them, so much so that they were widely banned in schools.
Though 80 million Tamagotchi were sold, that was in the 1990s, and the clever little devices have since disappeared from sight everywhere except Japan, where they’re still sold. A remade Western Tamagotchi, with today’s tech, would surely impress, and could be made for very little and sold for less
This otherworldly game, like Sacrifice or Giants: Citizen Kabuto (both of which score highly on the must-remake chart), was a revolutionary open world game, with elements of the John Carter stories about it. You play Cutter Slade, a human arrived in an alien world, using only two mouse buttons – one to aim your weapon, the other context-sensitive. It’s open world, and can be completed in almost any order, and had an action-sensitive reputation system, meaning the aliens would get friendlier or more hostile depending on how you had behaved.
The original game developer Appeal attempted to kickstart a remake, having acquired the rights from Infogrames / Atari, but the Kickstarter failed.
Before DOTA there was DOTT, LucasArts’ mid-series cartoon adventure, which span off Maniac Mansion, one of the first graphic adventure games. The game’s a time-travelling romp, as three students – Bernard, Laverne and Hoagie – stumble through history, attempting to redress their screw-up which allowed the evil Purple Tentacle. They travel back to George Washington’s time, and into a distant dystopian future where Purple Tentacle has taken over the world.
It’s a daft plot, but it allows the LucasArts writing team to show off why they were the best comic writers. It also featured inspired puzzles – such as persuading the founding fathers to change the design of the american flag, so it can act as a tentacle disguise in the distant future.
However, like many of the older LucasArts adventure games, it doesn’t work particularly well on modern PCs. A remake, bringing the graphics up to modern standards, like The Wolf Among Us, would be a welcome change.
Estimated chance: 1% – it’s not a Star Wars game so probably doesn’t exist in Disney’s franchise-oriented eyes.