When a Classic Just Doesn't Cut It Anymore

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/vbpxk9/when-a-classic-just-doesnt-cut-it-anymore
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I’ve honestly never gotten into Age of Empires that much so it was interesting to read how much they evolved over the years. Empire Earth was always my jam.

Remasters are tricky though. The nostalgia I have of games I played when I was younger come a lot with those frustrating mechanics. I remember when WoW forced you to pretty much always sleep at inn for the rest exp, when any amount of travel was a huge pain and raiding involved spending an hour in town spamming the general chat hoping for anyone to join you. When I look back, I look back fondly on those mechanics.

And then I played a modern MMO in FFXIV and I realized that I didn’t want any of that anymore. Those mechanics were charming and innovative at the time, sure, but games have so far that it’s simply hard to go back to games with absolutely zero QoL additions. I had the same feeling when I tried the Baldur’s Gate remaster.

So I think, if a game has to be remastered, they do need to change some stuff. Making these games even slightly more approachable is huge for not only letting us get back to it, but also for bringing new people into these games. Unless the game has simpler mechanics like Ico or Shadow of the Colossus, then it needs to be left alone as much as possible. Those game mechanics tie into the themes of the game, and to switch them up or change them would alter the experience of the game itself. It’d be like taking away all the fog from a Silent Hill remaster.

So I believe remasters should look at what mechanics matter and what don’t, and see if there’s small changes to make. When they rerelease Vanilla WoW, I would like a raid finder. I would like the better exp system and a few other of the changes they made through the years. It’d be silly to throw out Vanilla WoW as it was because then I might as well jump back to the Everquest servers that are still kicking.


What do you want from a re-release? Especially when you’re talking about a game that was significant, but has been so thoroughly imitated and surpassed that there is little that is novel or irreplaceable about it today?

Generally speaking I want there to be some touch-up to the game mechanically. I think there is value to straight-up remasters, mainly for archival reasons, but I agree with Rob Zacny that often I’m not interested in playing more than a few minutes of such releases. For a re-release to really keep me interested past that amount of time though, either there needs to be meaningful change and improvements to the game visually and mechanically, or is a game I never played and am interested in trying.

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I agree with Rob on pretty much every point. AoE:DE felt like a weird thing ever since the announcement.

There have been plenty of opportunities to think about re-releases the last few years. I feel like there are, broadly speaking, two approaches. Either you remain faithful to the original, which is what AoE:DE seems to have done. Or you fix everything that was wrong that with the original and make that game like it always deserved to.

My go-to example for the latter approach is Wind Waker HD. While they fixed a lot of issues with the original release, they managed to ruin its most characteristic appeal: the graphics. And I think that is a common problem with the second approach: you’re always going to miss something. And if you’re going to re-release a game that is a classic, I don’t think that is good enough.

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I wouldn’t mind just flat out remakes of historically impactful games are are just not that good. Give KOTOR 1 and 2 full on remakes with added stuff that didn’t make it in the first time (aka almost half of the entirety of KOTOR 2), balanced systems (aka actually make the skills in KOTOR useful) touch up dialog options (aka let KOTOR 1 actually let you act like a human being), ect.

Deus Ex would also benefit from mechanical updates that don’t make it an esoteric puzzle to control for modern audiences, but the vast majority of it is kept the same.

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If we’re talking a straight re-release, then I want as little changed as possible to get it working on a modern system, or in the alternative I want there to be a mode that emulates that. Re-release to me means just that, you’re putting out for sale what I had back in the day, warts and all. You’re selling nostalgia directly to those who crave it and curiosity to those who never had a taste. Change as much as you want, tweak whatever you like, but give me the option on the main menu that let me plays “the real shit.”

A remaster I expect to be pretty close to the original, but with some drastic variation. Totally new graphics, modern control contrivances, updated levels, all are fair game. If everyone hated something back in the day, I wouldn’t be surprised or annoyed to see it gone. Adding some gentle hints to the Water Temple in OoT is an example.

A remake, do whatever. I know I’m not getting anything original here, so as long as you haven’t totally abandoned the vague notion of the original, I’m not going to fault you.


I’ve honestly never gotten into Age of Empires that much so it was interesting to read how much they evolved over the years. Empire Earth was always my jam.

aw hell yeah

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In a weird way, I don’t know how I feel about this remaster. Age of Empires is one of my favourite games only because I have such fond memories of playing a lot of the custom campaigns that got released on HeavenGames that pushed Age of Empires archaic mission restrictions as fall as one could creatively allow. Will those scenarios be able to play in AOE:DE? I haven’t been able to find out.

The appeal of Age of Empire’s ancient setting is one I love but I also like the speed of AoE compared to AoK. AoE is quicker and is far from realistic. I appreciate it in hindsight.

I love the remaster, and it’s good fun, but at the same time I have to nod to the fact that the genre and I have grown away from it in the past 20 years. It inspired and continues to inspire, but there would be a lot I would do differently today.

I feel like you might be right. Games are still innovative in a way that other mediums are not. A BluRay release of Indiana Jones might be as “simple” as being the same movie with extra features in the menu. Or a reprinting of “Frankenstein” might be updating the cover and adding a forward written by a prominent sci-fi author. But video games change so drastically from generation to generation that the method of consuming it might be too out of date to enjoy it.

I think KOTOR holds up better than most (Baulder’s Gate for example), but even then I don’t blame anyone for thinking so much of it has problems. I’m currently watching a Let’s Play of KOTOR 1 and Carth’s lines towards a female protagonist are a problem. Maybe its better to do remakes along the lines of Resident Evil 1. They keep the design decisions and the “feeeeeel” of playing the game, but eschew some of the bad stuff. It would allow us to see games which are major influences on our current industry without souring the experience on the little stuff.

With remakes and remasters, I’ve always felt that Nintendo is particularly good at striking a balance that works for me—leaving stuff alone that’s remained successful and updating things that have become clunky or outdated since an original release. It’s particularly noticeable when they bring Nintendo 64 games to a modern console (thinking Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask’s 3DS remakes, or even the DS remake of Mario 64); they manage to translate the experience of the game pretty perfectly to an extremely different console while making significant quality-of-life changes or updates. (Like how the Water Temple on N64 is a legendary pain, while Water Temple on the 3DS is pretty fun, all because of some remapped options.)

So it’s probably worth floating a few recent examples of remakes that haven’t gone over well.

Square-Enix put out a remake of Secret of Mana a little while ago. The reviews have not been kind. Then in a “hold my beer” moment, they topped that today with a surprise port of Chrono Trigger on Steam … that turned out to be a port of their incredibly ugly mobile version.

Square-Enix has been doing weird re-releases of their NES and SNES-era stuff forever, usually split between 2D and 3D remakes with no rhyme or reason as to why they chose one over the other. Some of their 2D remakes are considered to be the definitive versions of those games, thanks to improved mechanics and new content. However, their mobile ports are almost universally panned – and it’s the mobile stuff that’s being ported to other platforms now. (Yes, they’re so lazy that they’re literally porting a port.)

Nightdive, a studio famous for releasing remasters of System Shock 1 and 2 (and Harvester … which we will pretend never happened), Kickstarted a remake of System Shock 1 back in 2016 to the tune of 1.3 million dollars. Things have not gone well since.

The CEO’s statement makes it sound like the team were uncertain of the direction of the project, and ultimately hit pause because they felt they were betraying their backers. The Polygon article makes it clear that they actually blew through their entire KS budget, went to publishers for more money, and got rejected.

It’s worthwhile to take a step back, and ask exactly how is a team supposed to remake or reboot System Shock, with 2018-level production quality, on a budget of a little more than a million. I’m frankly not sure how that game even gets out of the wishful thinking phase, without a team like Arkane and the backing of a major publisher – and given Prey’s underperformance, it’s not that surprising that publishers refused to care.

Uh, the Chrono Trigger port isn’t “gutted.” It’s just ugly as all sin thanks to trying to make sprite graphics higher resolution and putting in the ugliest font imaginable.

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*pushes glasses up nose

Technically the version of Chrono Trigger on Steam isn’t a port, because it’s just run in an emulation layer like most designed-for-mobile games.

… I did say “ugly”, not “gutted”, yes?

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there was simply nothing that Age of Empires did that Age of Kings did not do better. We’ve known that for 20 years.

How much can you really bank on nostalgia? Especially when the muddy graphics and “ugly” sprites added a real charm that isn’t experienced in this HD re… make/master?

QoL changes are what would bring me back, not a gaudy reskin.

Short piece by one of the Age DE devs (contracting, formerly of Ensemble Studios) about the changes made to pathing while still trying to retain the majority of the original’s feel and design.

It’s interesting for a game that’s not held up in the same way as a Blizzard RTS (where remasters aim to recreate every tiny glitch because the deep meta evolved around those glitches and so they have to be recreated) that you still get a similar conversation around how to preserve the original (with some improvements) rather than just remaking the game using a different engine (eg replacing all pathing with Age2’s different system and turning this DE into a completely different game because the game doesn’t play like the original - not even a slightly fixed/patched variant of the original).

Hate to be that guy but Vampire: The Masquerade doesn’t hold up and I’m amazed that it did at the time of release, looking back on it.

Bloodlines was also pretty bad in my experience. You you play that game long enough, it will actually feel like you can taste garbage on your tongue just by the aesthetics alone.

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Ahahaha did not expect that to be the response. The whole aesthetic of those games is pure cringe.