The remaster plan: Is it time for publishers to leave the past alone?

Dark Souls, Banjo-Kazooie, Zelda, Resident Evil, God of War, Devil May Cry, Final Fantasy, Grim Fandango, Borderlands, Gears of War, Journey, Saints Row… 2015’s release schedule reads somewhat like a greatest hits of the games industry.

These aren’t really new releases, of course. They’re titles from the last three decades of gaming, remastered and revamped for the new generation of consoles: from 1983’s Jetpac, the first game from the company now known as Rare, which is included in Rare Replay, to 2014’s Dark Souls II, which waited just one year to reappear as Scholar of the First Sin.

Given the sheer power of the new hardware, developers and publishers now have opportunities to really create remastered titles that actually make a big difference versus last-gen,” observes Antoine Molant (pictured, left), marketing director for EMEA at Capcom.

While there is a fine balance to strike between new games and remastered titles, we’ve seen increased demand and a very positive reception.”

Molant knows more than most the popularity of bringing past games back for a modern audience; the HD remaster of seminal horror entry Resident Evil sold more than a million copies in under three months and became Capcom’s fastest-ever-selling digital title, as well as the best-selling game on PS3 and PS4 for January, following its release at the end of the month.

Craig Duncan (pictured, centre), studio head at Rare, which launched a comprehensive remastered collection spanning its 30-year history back in August, adds: When you have great games and franchises that fans love it’s great to bring them back in a way that is easy and accessible, either for players that have played before to experience again or new players that maybe missed the original the first time round.

"More content and choice is a good thing for players.”

"Re-releasing an older title can have a big benefit on the sales of a brand new game."

Rod Fergusson, The Coalition

Remastering a game is harder than it sounds: it’s not as simple as uploading better-looking graphics. Depending on how much time has passed since the initial release, these complications can be exacerbated by out-dated technology or, in some cases, completely different development teams.

Rod Fergusson (pictured, right) is studio head at The Coalition, the studio that was tasked with taking over the Gears of War licence following Microsoft’s acquisition of the former Epic Games IP. The outlet’s inaugural release was an overhauled version of the first title in the third-person shooter franchise.

Initially my expectations were to bring a core Gears of War experience to Xbox One for the original fans and demonstrate to them that the franchise they loved was back in a meaningful way and that The Coalition were worthy caretakers,” Fergusson recalls.

I also expected that it would serve as a training ground for The Coalition – and it has.”

Some remastered titles have been criticised for providing little more than a facelift to aging games, with gameplay and other factors left untouched. Molant highlights some of the key boxes that must be ticked to justify a completely new release of an older game.

We make sure of two things: real technological improvements, improved visuals, sound, frame rate and so on, plus added extras and/or all the previously available DLC packed in the offer,” he advises.

Add to this a very reasonable price point and you have a good formula for everyone.”

Fergusson offers the counterpoint that, despite the necessity to iterate on the original game, a remaster must still be recognisable to existing fans.

You can be too new and leave behind the game you’re trying to remaster,” he warns.

In making Gears of War: Ultimate Edition we needed to walk a fine line between nostalgia – bringing back all those great memories you had when you played it nine years ago – and modernisation, having agame that holds up to the standards of contemporary gaming today.The scope of what we wanted to accomplish in bringing back Gears meant that we were remaking rather than simply remastering with upgraded textures.”

Remastered games should primarily serve as a way of maintaining brand loyalty and keeping fans of a franchise interested, as Molant explains.

There are development considerations – it isn’t always possible or viable – but, at the end of the day, the two main criteria are: how the original was received and whether the fans want to play it again,” he says.

Duncan observes that remastered titles can serve as a great entry point to a franchise for new audiences – but adds that the gameplay of older games doesn’t need to offer anything new. After all, many of these series became popular in the first place for a reason.

Great experiences are great experiences; platforms may change, graphics and audio improve every generation, but it’s fun to play through a great experience,” he states.

I recently played back through the original Halo in the Master Chief Collection co-op with my son who was too young to play the original – he’s now a fan.”

In an age of countless sequels, one of the benefits of remastered games is that they reset the clock for new fans, allowing them to understand the story and evolution of franchises that they have previously seen as impenetrable.

In general terms, re-releasing an older title can have a big benefit on the sales of a brand new game, if done correctly, as it provides a type of ‘on ramp’ for new players to the franchise or players who felt they were left behind and a way to reignite the existing fan base to remind them what they loved about the franchise in the first place so they are even more excited about the next instalment,” says Fergusson.

Duncan agrees, positing that a lower price tag at retail is an attractive way to bring new fans into the mix.

We always want to provide value to people that invest in our platform and remasters are a great way to appeal to people that maybe missed the franchise the first time round or let fans have it in their library,” he explains.

Our goal was to celebrate Rare’s 30th anniversary, which had a couple of influences on the price point: firstly, we wanted the price to appeal and reward fans who had bought Rare games before and be attractive to new players that maybe only knew about a few Rare titles. Secondly, we liked the clean message of 30 years, 30 games, $30. We didn’t want price to even be in the conversation apart from – wow, what great value.”

Enticing new players is of particular importance following the launch of PS4 and Xbox One, Fergusson adds, as many gamers found themselves switching sides in the so-called ‘console war’.

Of course, if the brand new game is on a newer platform, re-releasing could help grow the install base of the new platform – creating even more potential new players,” he comments.

Although there are exceptions (don’t expect a Grim Fandango 2 anytime soon), a majority of remasters are timed to coincide with the launch of completely new entries in their respective franchises. For already storied series, revamping old titles can help maintain momentum between the latest games and drive up sales of accompanying merchandise and products at retail. This was the case with Resident Evil HD, which was released one month before the episodic Resident Evil effort Revelations 2.

Molant recounts: In that particular case, creating a Resident E

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