I live old video games. I suspect that game developers realize I like old video games, so they keep on re-releasing classic games with a fresh coat of paint. But even I have a hard time considering games that appeared on the Playstation 2 “classics,” at least not yet. I don’t think a game from five years ago has sat long enough to develop even a thin film of candy-flavored nostalgia over it.
Fun Fact: Nostalgia tastes similar to fondant.
Recently there’s been an explosion of remakes, HD collections, and “remastered” editions. In the past few months or the near future, there have been HD collections of Metal Gear Solid, Silent Hill, Devil May Cry, Zone of the Enders, Jak and Daxter, God of War, Tomb Raider, Splinter Cell, Prince of Persia, ICO/Shadow of the Colossus, and Resident Evil. With the end of the current console generation quickly approaching, are game makers (and Sony in particular) grasping at their tried and true franchises to make a quick buck before plunging into the uncertainty of the next console era? It would be cynical to suggest that it’s all simply about money, and I think it goes deeper than that.
In most cases it’s difficult to figure out what “HD” even refers to. In the case of Halo: Anniversary Edition, the game has been completely remade with painstaking detail, preserving all the flaws and hiccups of the original while rebuilding it graphically from the ground up, and including DVD-like extra features for fanatics. Other HD remakes, like Devil May Cry, are little more than compilations that have been up-rezzed to display correctly on a widescreen TV.
Let’s get one thing out of the way. Two games does not a compilation make. I can’t dig my old sneakers out of my closet, put them on a shelf, point at them, and declare it to be my shoe collection. In the case of the Silent Hill and Metal Gear Solid collections, the Playstation originals are not even a part of the deal, making the “collection” obsolete before another game even comes out.The reason for this, I presume, is that a rehashed PS1 game is always going to look like an origami simulator in comparison to sleeker modern games, regardless of how many pixels the screen displays.
That leads me to my next point. Without an actual graphical overhaul, putting a five to ten-year-old game in HD resolution is just going to make the jankiness of outdated technology come through with greater clarity. Playstation graphics just don’t age the way 8 and 16-bit graphics do.
To be clear, I’m not against the actual idea of an HD collection. One of my favorite SNES games has to be Super Mario All-Stars, itself a collection of four Mario games from the previous console generation (one of which was never released in the US). But unlike this recent spate of HD remakes, All-Stars featured completely redone graphics and the added feature of much-appreciated save system. Furthermore, for a seven-year-old me, getting four Mario games for the price of one was more mind-blowingly incredible than getting the coveted Ninja Turtles’ blimp for Christmas.
Game companies trying to sell these HD remakes is akin to one of your friends breaking into your house, stealing the gifts they got you for your birthday from the past three years, smashing them in the process, then taping them all together, gluing some glitter to them, slapping a fresh price tag on there, and finally giving it back to you with an emphatic, “I hope you like it!”
So, why the sudden interest in Playstation 2 games? Sure, game companies are always keen to cash in on nostalgia, but more than that, the video game industry is in a period of transition right now, and a lot is uncertain about the future. Companies are seeing more innovation in game design than ever before, and consumers tastes are changing along with the shift in the gaming audience toward the more casual. So it’s natural that game companies would want to fall back on the games they know are sure-sellers.
Specifically, some series are trying to reinvent themselves, Devil May Cry and Tomb Raider in particular. These reimaginings of classic characters have received mixed reactions from fans, prompting the IP holders to remind gamers why they loved these series in the first place.
Other series, including Silent Hill and Devil May Cry, have been handed off to untested developers. In this case, the HD remakes are one way to reignite the fanbase and generate a buzz for the upcoming sequel.
The same could be said of Splinter Cell and Jak and Daxter, neither of which have seen a sequel in a long time. Now that they’ve stoked the fire, sequels to both those series can’t be far off.
But why is this happening now, in all at once, and why in this console generation in particular? Games are more expensive to produce than ever before, and the costs are only going to get higher in future generations as games widen in their scope and detail. More than ever, publishers need a quick slam dunk to help jump to next-gen. And I imagine it's pretty cheap to rehash an eight-year-old game to make some quick cash.
But beyond making a quick buck, the reinvigoration of the fandom surrounding these games can rebuild interest in the franchise, create buzz for future sequels, smooth over the bumps in a game’s transitional period. And that in turn… will game the game industry more money.
So shit. I guess it all really is just about money.