Like movies, video games are remade for a new era

A still from Final Fantasy VII Remake. The game was first released in 1997, so its graphics were limited by the technology at the time, but it has since been updated for a modern gaming experience.
A still from Final Fantasy VII Remake. The game was first released in 1997, so its graphics were limited by the technology at the time, but it has since been updated for a modern gaming experience.PHOTO: SQUARE ENIX

NEW YORK • Nostalgia has always been a powerful source of revenue for Hollywood. It turns out this is equally lucrative for video games.

From its beginnings with the likes of Pong, a two-dimensional table-tennis game, the video game industry has grown into a US$120 billion (S$165 billion) business.

Over the years, memorable games have garnered strong followings. Like Hollywood remakes or remasters of old movies, video game publishers are overhauling and re-releasing games to tap ready-made fan bases for popular franchises such as The Legend Of Zelda, Crash Bandicoot, Spyro The Dragon and World Of Warcraft.

"I think nostalgia is the major driving force for the success of a remake," said Mr Doug Clinton, managing partner of venture capital firm Loup Ventures, which focuses on emerging technology and gaming. "Any game that doesn't have meaningful nostalgic value isn't likely to be successful."

In May, Activision Blizzard, the developer behind World Of Warcraft, announced that two games from the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series, originally released in 1999, would be brought back this year.

The remake trend is not just for the most highly rated games. Children - and adults - who received SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle For Bikini Bottom for Christmas in 2003 can now buy a "rehydrated" remake, which hit stores in June.

Although the game received decent reviews when it was first released, it was by no means a classic. But the remastering shows how nostalgia is driving publishers' decision-making.

"Because you can actually revisit those virtual spaces, it's a more powerful type of nostalgia," said Ms Alyse Knorr, assistant professor of English at Regis University.

Initially, publishers capitalised on the nostalgia trend by curating games from the 1990s on plug-and-play devices. But developers saw an opportunity to make even more money by investing in substantial upgrades.

One of the biggest events in gaming this year was the release of Final Fantasy VII Remake. In 1997, Square Enix released the original Final Fantasy VII, a futuristic cyberpunk epic with multiple characters and twisting plot lines that became one of the most beloved titles in the Final Fantasy series.

Visually, however, the creators had to make do with the technology at the time. For example, the game had blocky-looking characters, no voice acting and no 3D backgrounds.

After years of teasing, Square Enix remade the game to match a modern experience.

Final Fantasy VII Remake used entire teams of voice actors, artists, animators, engineers and producers to create a game that could stand up to any contemporary release.

The strategy paid off: It became the best-selling game of April, according to data from the NPD Group, a research firm that covers the video game industry.

Fans have largely been receptive to the re-imagined game, and its modern systems have made it accessible to new players who found the original mechanics difficult.

"I tried the Final Fantasy VII remaster on Xbox; it was a little too far gone for me," said player Preston Bakies, 27. "But when the remake came out, I put a lot of time into it. It's been a lot of fun."

Square Enix is not the only publisher capitalising on this trend. Capcom, the publisher of Street Fighter and Mega Man, has also been rummaging through its back catalogue.

Last year, it released Resident Evil 2, a remake of the 1998 PlayStation original. Not only was the remake loved by critics, it had sold 6.5 million units as of April.

The success prompted Capcom to green-light a Resident Evil 3 remake, which was released in April.

Remastering and remaking have become so common that some studios are dedicated to bringing old games to modern hardware.

Bluepoint Games in Austin, Texas, has a reputation for creating some of the highest-quality updates in the industry. In 2018, it released a high-definition remake of Sony's Shadow Of The Colossus, which originally came out in 2005.

Bluepoint revamped the game in 2011, bringing the original up to 1080p standards, and then substantially reworked it in 2018 for 4K televisions.

"We revitalise an older game, somebody's baby," said Bluepoint president Marco Thrush. "New gamers get to play games they otherwise wouldn't."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2020, with the headline 'Like movies, video games are remade for a new era'. Print Edition | Subscribe