The discourse surrounding remakes is pretty cyclical; you usually hear the same response from people whenever a new one is announced. “Why is this necessary?” Almost every single time a new version of a movie is announced, even if that previous movie was already based on a book, comic, or something, you see that question. We hold movies on such a high pedestal, it’s almost unfathomable to see someone’s creation handed over to someone else in such a manner, even if the remake ends up being solid. But in games, the discussion tends to be different, or more complicated. And a recent, high-profile remake is causing some discourse.
A new trend in games is the remaster, a sort of re-issuing of a game from, typically, outsourced developers meant to keep the game around for new generations, but with a higher resolution, performance enhancements, perhaps even redone visuals in more extreme cases. But, many games are still subject to remakes, when steps further than remastering are taken and often by developers who almost exclusively do these types of projects for big publishers. And since games are still teetering on the edge between “art,” and “product,” you see talk of the source material being “improved,” or “fixed.” So now, instead of the worth, value, or ethics of the new version being immediately a point of contention within the fanbases, we instead often compare the two versions in terms of quality, as if one makes the other obsolete depending on the execution. Like a quality test on an assembly line.
In 2018, we’re seeing what may be the most extreme example of this type of project, and the discussions I’m speaking of, to date. I’m referring to Shadow of the Colossus, originally published for the PlayStation 2 in 2005, directed by Fumito Ueda, and developed by Team Ico and Sony’s Japan Studio. While ported to the PlayStation 3 in 2011, Sony then enlisted Bluepoint to develop a remake for the PlayStation 4, attempting to take a game renowned as an all-time classic and cut it off from its ancient, PS2 roots. And the end result is a game that, despite being “old,” looks right at home on a contemporary platform. But not everyone is happy about it.
A video by Amr Al-Aaser, or “Siegarettes,” is a growing (in a viral sense) figurehead of that voice of dissent. His argument is that in dialing up them graphics, Bluepoint has effectively defanged what made Shadow of the Colossus so special. By improving, fixing, and adding things, from the perspective of people who are into the idea, the other side of the coin sees all of these things are antithetical to what is a key entry in the video game canon. This argument see’s the original game’s sparse world, intense bloom, and jagged frame rate as deliberate, or at the very least, key parts of the experience. Check the video out on dude’s YouTube channel; it’s great.
Of course, plenty of people are into what Bluepoint is selling. The remake is a more colorful world, full of flourishes including more vegetation, more detail in the world, more life overall. It has new collectibles that introduce further lore to the world of Shadow of the Colossus, a previously quiet endeavor. Hidden secrets even exist, which I won’t get into now for obvious reasons. It’s the same game, but more. Furthermore, when it comes to things like frame rates, it can be tough to argue that those performance metrics aren’t just hardware limitations that should freely be iterated on.
I think the most important takeaway in this discussion is not figuring out which version of a game is better. It’s not about one overtaking the other, with a “definitive” version being what everyone should play. It’s about building on a legend, much in the way we tell stories over and over across hundreds of years. Those stories evolve, and there’s no reason our modern myths can’t find ways to do the same. But the cool part is, the original Shadow of the Colossus can’t be erased. You can still run it on a PS2 for now, and things like emulators only improve over time. Even if the PlayStation Network crumbles into dust tomorrow, preservation efforts will at least have saved a bootable disc image. We have the ability and access to play both and use that combined experience to learn more about games and ourselves. That’s pretty cool.