It’s another one of those slow news weeks, where there’s no one story or stories that stand out as particularly huge that I’d need to open over. Well, okay, there’s one announcement that made my social media feeds absolutely explode when it dropped. Problem is… reporting on it is going to expose me as a fraud. Sort of.
But maybe it won’t be so bad. We all have blind spots in our gaming history: legendary games or series we haven’t played. Sometimes it’s due to a language or availability barrier, sometimes we were just too busy when the games first released, or maybe it’s a genre that’s simply never clicked (ha) with us. But the more I think about this one, the more I feel like I have absolutely no excuse.
THERE’S A NEW MONKEY ISLAND GAME COMING, AND I HAVE NEVER PLAYED A MONKEY ISLAND GAME
Ron Gilbert, original Monkey Island creator and alumni, posted on his blog on Friday (April Fools’ Day, in case you forgot) that he’d decided to make a new Monkey Island game. You know, typical foolin’ stuff. But then, earlier this week, he expressed regret about the joke and “whipped up the game so no one was disappointed.” Here’s Return to Monkey Islandreleasing on probably everything under the sun later this year:
Cue all of my social media buddies exploding with glee, and me sitting in the corner feeling extremely awkward because I can see that a lot of people are extremely happy about this, but I can’t understand why because I haven’t played them. I know the games are supposedly great and people love them, but that’s it. I attempt to shrink into the virtual corner to hide my embarrassment, only to realize that oh no, I’m going to have to write about this, aren’t I?
I mean… I should have played them! These are defining games in the point-and-click adventure genre! Our family had a 386 PC in the early 90s! I definitely used it for gaming and playing adventure games, yet somehow, it was never one of the games I “borrowed” from my friends and extended family members back then. (Don’t Copy That Floppy never reached our school, apparently.) Since then, it’s been re-released numerous times across all manner of gaming platforms. I’ve had thirty-two years to play The Secret of Monkey Island, and I haven’t. This is my shame.
So, apparently Return to Monkey Island is the “true” Monkey Island 3. Ron Gilbert left developer LucasArts in 1992, you see, so subsequent Monkey Island titles were handled by others in the company. When LucasArts stopped producing adventure games, Telltale Games scooped up the license and made their own episodic Monkey Island series. Unfortunately, we all know where Telltale wound up, so it really seemed like the series was dead for a good while.
Maybe after Return to Monkey Island‘s 2022 release, the Monkey Island Special Edition will show up on current-gen platforms. I hope so, because this is one massive gap in my gaming knowledge that I need to patch. What about you all? What major games or game series are you just completely out of the loop about and ashamed to admit? Perhaps we can start a nice little support group in the forums and help each other out.
Monkey Island isn’t the only classic PC gaming franchise in the news this week, either: Remedy Entertainment and Rockstar have announced that they’re in the process of creating huge from-the-ground-up remakes of the first two Max Payne modern-noir shooters. Not a re-release or a remaster—a full-blown remake in the vein of Final Fantasy VII. But can a remake really capture what made Max Payne so special back in 2001? A lot of games that followed have been inspired by what Max Payne They did in gameplay, presentation, and storytelling—and, in some cases, have done it better.
Indeed, there’s a whole lot of talk about remakes this week in general. It’s a good time to ask the question:
WHAT MAKES A GOOD CLASSIC GAME REISSUE?
This week sees the release of the House of the Dead remake and the Chrono Cross Radical Dreamers Editionboth of which have been seeing mixed reception, albeit for very different reasons. House of the Dead Remake changes a lot of elements from the original game, and in most cases, not for the better. Chrono Cross RDEmeanwhile, is being criticized for a perceived lack of effort and performance issues.
It’s clear that there’s money to be had in re-releases, remasters, and remakes of games, because we’ve been getting a lot of them lately. And that’s good! Anything that makes old games easier to legally obtain and more accessible gets a thumbs-up from me. But more and more often, these classic game reissues—be they simple emulated compilation packages or full-blown do-overs—are being met with trepidation from fans, many of whom have been burned by sub-par products.
The truth is that making a good game reissue, in any form, is extremely hard to do. I’m not trying to excuse companies putting out lousy products *glares at Nintendo Online N64 emulation*; rather, I’m examining why so many of them seem to miss the mark.
Releasing a game that’s basically an emulated ROM (or a compilation of ROMs) might seem like a simple task, but there’s a whole lot that can go wrong: does it look OK on modern displays? Is the emulation accurate down to the smallest detail? Does it add extra input lag? What about weird control schemes—can you adapt them to modern controllers? And then there’s the “added value” content, because folks want to have extra features that make them feel like they’re getting more for their money besides a bunch of ROMs. What sort of extra features are you going to put in? Will those features work properly and enhance the experience? All of these factors can mean the difference between a great retro compilation and one that’s not worth anyone’s time.
Remasters, like the Chrono Cross RDE, are tricky in their own right: you’re not completely remaking a game, but you’re still trying to modernize and improve it to some degree. This usually involves graphical touch-ups like redrawing sprites in high-resolution, increasing texture fidelity, and UX design improvements. But what you can do for a remaster is often limited by what you have access to and how much time you have. Don’t have the game’s original source code, design documents, or raw assets? Then you’ve probably got a pretty miserable job ahead of you! There’s also the issue of consistency: for example, if you improve one element of the graphics, then you’re going to have to touch up everything else to keep things looking right. Otherwise, you wind up with a gross-feeling mishmash of assets, like in those old Final Fantasy PC releases.
Then there’s remakes, which hold the most potential to both turn out really great or become a crushing disappointment. You have to walk that tough tightrope of pleasing fans of the original audience and appealing to a new—goals which sometimes can be at direct odds with each other. I feel like a lot of bad remakes come from the folks working on them not fully understanding what made people like the originals beyond the surface level: House of the Dead isn’t beloved because it’s just a “gun game with zombies and campy dialogue”; Rather, it’s a tightly designed experience that rewards skill, encourages repeat plays, gets creative with enemies and how you fight them, and is consistent in its gameplay “rules.” These are all elements that the remake just doesn’t seem to understand.
So, in theory: a perfect reissue is faithful to the original, but also unique and new enough to draw in reluctant repeat buyers and new players. It has improved visuals and sound, or at least options for displays and sound that don’t substantially affect gameplay, which all look and sound consistent. It runs at a good speed and framerate and doesn’t have any performance or control issues. It needs some sort of extras or quality-of-life improvements to make the package a better value. Oh, and it needs to totally, accurately recapture the nostalgic magic you felt when you first played the game so many years ago, despite not knowing what your mindset and life situation was back at the time. Damn, that’s a lot of boxes to tick!
I don’t think the flood of reissues and remakes and remasters is going to be stopping rise anytime soon, but I do think that, as people become pickier with what they spend money on, expectations are going to. Companies like M2 and Digital Eclipse are pushing for higher-quality compilations and remasters, and I hope their efforts will raise the overall quality of retro products as a whole. With the current state of the market, however, I feel that it’s important to read reviews and watch footage first to get an idea of what you’re getting. Maybe someday we’ll have that mythical perfect streaming emulation of everything ever, but until then, we need to be aware of what we’re getting—and demand better when we have to.
- I wrote about this in the column a while ago, but now Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman owns over 96% of SNK, up from the 33% he owned a while back. That’s just peachy.
- Activision, in their unending quest to be the most two-faced villains of the gaming industry, recently announced that they would be converting over 1,000 and contract QA workers to full-time employees, guaranteeing temporary minimum 20-dollars-an-hour pay. That’s great! Except for the part they neglected to mention in their big press release: this isn’t going to apply to the recently unionized QA testers at their Raven Software division. Oopsies!
Alright, well, that’s all for this week. So, like I mentioned above… what’s your secret gaming shame? Let’s all share the medium-defining titles that, for some reason, we’ve never actually played! Or maybe you’d like to talk about remakes and remasters? Heck, you can just update us on what you’re playing right now if you want—hop down to the forums link below and join your fellow ANN-going gamers in a big group hug. Enjoy the weekend, and I’ll see you all again soon!