More Than Nostalgia: In Defense Of Remakes & Re-Releases

Isometric-turn-based-point-and-click-platformer is a string of words taken for dead. Sent to the abattoir. They’re all huddled for warmth, waiting for the reaper, when along comes the sausage man and snip-snip-snip he sets them free. “Go on,” he says as he pats their bottoms. “Go back home.”

Recent years have seen remastered versions of Baldur’s Gate, Monkey Island and MDK, Steam and GOG have provided new platforms for old titles, and the most successful Kickstarter projects have been new games in old styles. ‘Classic’ games are seeing a surge in popularity and it’s a trend that’s so far been largely attributed to nostalgia – to people wanting to play the games they remember from their childhood. Is that all this is?

Following the announcement of a remastered version of Grim Fandango, Keith Stuart from The Guardian criticised the display of nostalgia on show at this year’s E3, highlighting “a lack of self-confidence about the way games are going”. The man has a point. There’s a definite argument to be made about repackaged games and how they detract from innovation; how the industry is hedging its bets on titles which already have a fan-base instead to taking risks on new work. Stuart is right to kick against the pricks of cynical publishing but there’s more at play here than just nostalgia for classic games.

“I think the term ‘classic’ games no longer applies to Pac-man and its ilk and I am thankful for that every day,” says Trent Oster, creative director of Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition and former Bioware game director. “I think ‘classic’ now applies to broader concepts than the earlier generations made possible.”

As Oster points out, the idea of classic gaming is undergoing something of a development. A decade ago ‘classic’ tended to be shorthand for cartoon characters people remembered on the sides of arcade machines and enthusiasts blowing lustily into SNES cartridges. Recent years have seen the term expand to include more than mascots and technological fetishism, now the word refers to games which have value beyond personal nostalgia and historical-technological relevance; games which are being held up as important creative works.

“In some ways I think it represents a rising connoisseur movement within gaming,” says Oster. “I think of it like drinking a bottle of wine. Your first wine is probably quite cheap, quite easy to get and crafted to appeal to a broad market. As you drink more wine, you begin to appreciate what makes a good wine, so you seek out good wines, trying the recognized ‘classics’. I think the same happens with video games, you start mass market, find your interests, and then search the breadth and depth of that interest, paying attention to the major milestone games and ‘classics’ along the way.

“I think the effect can be partly attributed to nostalgia but I think there is an equal measure of new gamers discovering those classic titles they have only previously heard about, whispered in reverent tones on message boards…Thanks to digital distribution, you now have access to a library of countless great games, which you may have previously missed when they shipped in retail.”

PC gaming has been at the forefront of the resurgence in old games, first through emulation and more recently through online distribution platforms like Steam and GOG. Being able to download classic games without having to worry about physical storage or incompatible operating systems has simplified the way players archive and access old games. Guillaume Rambourg, managing director of GOG agrees that digital distribution has done more than feed nostalgia, he claims that it has allowed a new generation of gamers to engage with classics they didn’t necessarily grow up playing.

“Retrogaming, whether we like it or not, exceeded the boundaries of the core gaming community and has become something of a fashionable trend,” says Rambourg. “As gaming becomes more and more a prominent part of the popular culture, lots of people are being exposed to gaming-related tropes and games themselves. A big part of what gaming culture consists of is the classics. They’re at the root of the whole phenomenon, as common grounds to many gamers.”

Rambourg points to the fact that a lot of games tend to exist in series. This naturally leads players to look up earlier incarnations of the game – if you finish Fallout 3 you’re most likely going to see if 1 and 2 exist, etc. “A younger audience is quite often presented with a blockbuster game with a title that’s followed by a number revealing that the title is actually the fourth, fifth, or maybe even sixteenth game in the series,” says Rambourg. “Now, wouldn’t you–out of plain curiosity–like to see what the previous games were about? What were they like? How the series’ have evolved?”

While digging into past entries of a series like Fallout or The Elder Scrolls seems like a clear reason for new gamers to delve into older games, the obvious problem with tracing series in this way is that the experience players have come to expect isn’t always present. Unlike reading classic books, graphics have improved over time. Games are perhaps closer to cinema in this regard, where technological shifts are more common. In the same way that classic films are given a spit and polish for modern audiences, old games are now seeing remastered re-releases.

Matt Glanville, designer of the remake of 1997’s Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty, suggests that looking back at old games provides developers with an opportunity to “re-evaluate” the classics: “Developers revisiting old ideas can view them with a fresh set of eyes, and bring to the table a lot of the paradigm shifts that have occurred since these games first saw popularity,” says Glanville. “The older games are revamped and in some cases they’ve had their kinks ironed out. In designing Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty, we were careful not to simply redo the original Abe’s Oddysee with better graphics, but to fully re-evaluate every aspect of it.”

Although Glanville emphasises the facelifts which can be given to old games to make them more accessible to a modern audience, he also draws attention to the fact that it is the lack of hefty graphical requirements which often attract players to these games in the first place: “The big games from 10-20 years ago are now available on a piece of hardware that is always in your pocket. Those experiences are right there and they’re cheap or free. Crucially, they’re now back in front of the people who stopped trying to keep up with buying expensive hardware dedicated solely to gaming.”

This is an important point. While gaming up until now has been largely preoccupied with great graphical jumps, in recent years this emphasis has lessened. It’s not enough for a game to look realistic. People are not as excited about how amazing a game looks compared to a similar game last year. Instead, people are paying more attention to the quality of the gameplay and narrative.

“Ten years ago, if you showed a cutting edge game to many people vs a game from a few years before the difference was huge in terms of detail, polygon count, etc,” says Oster. “Today, if you take the average person and show them a recently shipped game vs a game from a few years earlier they may not perceive the difference. The perceptual improvement gap has shrunk to a point where each new game no longer feels like a generational leap from the previous title. I think this lack of perceived progress is driving gamers to seek out new experiences with less emphasis on graphic fidelity and more focus on gameplay and variety.”

Does this shift in focus away from graphical progress signal a change in how games are perceived? Early cinema was hugely focused on technological leaps; within a few decades it jumped from silent to sound, but it reached a point around the mid-twentieth century where that attention plateaued. The result was a Golden Age of Hollywood. Are games reaching a similar point? If so, should we still solely attribute an attention to past games as nostalgia?

While there is a fair share of cynicism which can be justifiably aimed at how the industry is drawing on nostalgia to excuse itself from innovation, there is a clear positive perspective to this interest in playing old games. This is an outcome of an industry emerging technically and culturally to the extent that it’s developing a greater sense of self. Crucially, it’s the outcome of a medium which is placing growing importance on meaningful content over formal improvements.


  1. Premium User Badge

    distantlurker says:

    The great thing about Fandango (Sam & Max next plz!) is that it isn’t about the gameplay precisely, or the graphics, it’s about the story and mental acuity of the player.

    The rerelease of Fable (Anniversary) showed that the evolution of gameplay mechanics means many ‘classic’ titles really should be left to the past.

    Yet when the game was all about the writing and the characters, then with a little tweaking and brasso, they can be presented to a new generation of gamers. Delighting them just as much as they did us decrepit old windbags when we were all green and shiny.

    Moar of this sort of thing!

    • Rich says:

      “The rerelease of Fable (Anniversary) showed that the evolution of gameplay mechanics means many ‘classic’ titles really should be left to the past.”

      My main problem with Fable Anniversary is with the bits they’ve changed the most. The shiny new engine doesn’t like older model XBoxes, and the new inventory UI is utterly horrible.

  2. satan says:

    I’ve been playing Heroes of Might and Magic 2 (just the one map that was in the demo, Broken Alliance) for almost 20 years because it’s basically perfect and infinitely replayable.

    • hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

      Hear hear. HOMM2/3 have great longevity.

    • Kefren says:

      I’m still playing through the missions in HOMM2 and 3, they’re always installed.

      • Ketchua says:

        HoMM 3 is the first thing I install after reinstalling Windows, on any PC.

        • scottyjx says:

          Please stop, people. You’re making it very difficult to not go and spend 50 hours playing HoMM.

          • Kefren says:

            Do it! It’s gaming perfection, infinitely replayable, and after a decade I still haven’t completed every mission. We play games to discover this kind of thing. Luckily there are some veins of gold that never run out and we already know where they are. Don’t stop looking for more, but rest assured, there’s always this to fall back on and love.

          • Darth Gangrel says:

            What? Is their HoMMage disturbing you :P?

            I started playing games in the late 90’s and I still like games from that period. Earlier games, not so much, because they look far too simple and stick figure pixel-like. I don’t feel I’m missing out, though, since I’ve got far too many newer games I haven’t played yet, because I keep playing the old games so much.

  3. Mooglepies says:

    I have to confess I’m not overly fond of the industry trend towards this kind of thing at the moment, but, as Matt Glanville appears to be doing, it can be really great when work is done to the whole package, not just tweaking graphics (although I’m sure this is not trivial) and calling it a day. Resident Evil for the Gamecube springs to mind immediately, which was reworked almost from the ground up. That to me is the ideal to strive towards.

    I also kind of get it when the game in question doesn’t run on new machines, but the way it’s going out in the realms of consoles feels a little ridiculous. You have re-releases of 1 or 2 year old games, emulated games sold at a huge price premium, (sometimes buggy as a direct result). That’s where apathy can set in, I think.

    That said, I did get The Chaos Engine re-release last year. Online play on it is fantastic, if exhausting.

    • CommissarXiii says:

      I agree with you entirely about the Resident Evil remake. It allowed me to experience the game in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to had I tried to play the original.

      I think comparisons can be made to modinizations of plays – the more recent BBC productions of Hamlet and Macbeth come to mind. If a truly classic game can be reinterpreted to resonate with a modern audience, then the art of it is preserved for another generation.

  4. Rich says:

    I don’t think I’ve bought a newly released, full price, game for over 5 years (not including early access). With Grim Fandango I fully intend to break that streak, assuming RPS approve of the final product.

  5. 731 says:

    The audience’s increased interest in old games and their possible remakes has risen from the fact that there is serious lack of innovation in modern games. We indeed only seem to get sequels or reboots these days and with the serious monetization of the industry, big devs are too afraid to take a risk and do something wildly different.

    My fear right now is that modern games will face the same problem as movies today. New tech makes it possible to enhance pretty much every aspect of a game and according to many, makes it also possible to revolutionize games. But at the same time, devs are also disregarding aspects that make games such a good medium: player agency, great writing and player freedom. These things are getting rarer and rarer in AAA-titles.

    When a remake is done right, it can be a really good thing. When it is done badly, well..

    • mathead says:

      The problem is that the new techniques have made the production of AAA games as expensive as the production of blockbuster movies. The consequence is that new games are increasingly generic results of market research and in every new AAA game, we find more than just the DNA of other AAA games, instead of innovative ideas. Maybe the remaking of old, approved games is the ultima solution to pump “new” enrgy into the stagnating pool of ideas.

  6. DanMan says:

    I’m not much of a nostalgic. I’ve played a lot of those old games when they came out, so I’m looking for recent stuff. “Been there, done that”.

  7. DrChaos says:

    I must say, I find this whole discussion absurd. Just as I love music from past decades, and even centuries, I love games from past generations of hardware. I can go back and play NES or SNES games, and appreciate them for what they are. Games that were great back then are still great. The problem is that an obsession with higher-resolution and more processor-intensive graphics has made it so that older generations of hardware are seen as “inferior.” We need to stop seeing the evolution of games as improvement, and look at it like we do in other media – as change.

    Far from being a negative sign for the industry, the current interest in older games signifies that games are finally approaching the same level of cultural importance as music, film, art, etc.

    • says:

      Well what about the said paradigm shifts and evolutions which occurred naturally over the last 20 years?
      First and foremost, the (good) UI has been fairly standardised, codified and is much more easy to manage/learn/understand than some of the messy pictograms of 90es.
      Then, almost every game has subtitles, which I, as non-native speaker, appreciate.
      Then tool-tips – a standard.
      Then say scalable graphics options. Not every game could change resolution or format, etc.

    • ansionnach says:

      I’m more of a fan of playing the originals too. Like the idea of going back and experiencing them, warts and all. Not that I like warts – it’s just that often remakes remove warts that aren’t warts!

      I don’t think that the “standard” input methods and interfaces that have emerged are necessarily better, they’re just more familiar to most. While they are often better, I scratch my head at people who cry foul of Ultima Underworld’s excellent, but “different” interface merely because it isn’t exactly the same as what they’re used to. The game isn’t a first-person shooter and its keyboard and mouse interface gives you enough precision to meet its demands. Given the amount of interaction you do I reckon this is a better interface than WASD mouselook… and it’s certainly better than playing an FPS with a controller. Many people seem to find controllers acceptable merely because they’re familiar! Anyway, for most old games worth playing the interface is certainly sufficient once you get to know it. Maybe an example of a bad interface is the three Ultima VI-engined games since the mouse support makes them a bit of a chore to play when you’re used to the fast keyboard input of the first five!

      It’s a shame that officialdom has done little towards getting the classics going. Not that they’re needed seeing the amount of community support there is, but there’s very little appreciation of history by licence holders and that’s just sad. Even though I’ve never had a problem getting my PC collection going, and I think they often butcher their releases, GOG has been great for raising this appreciation of the past. The greatest old games museum I’ve ever seen, however, was Home of the Underdogs (when it was fully up and running). It was a bit like gog but with less inflated review scores! It galls me that the official faces of gaming went to great effort to shut this site down so they could jealously guard their chunks of gaming history… and do absolutely nothing with it until it was forgotten and perhaps even lost forever! Best part of HotU was the reviews anyway – was surprised how many good games I hadn’t even heard about. Would never have bought them had I never heard of them!

    • Reapy says:

      Many things don’t hold up well. I missed a lot of key snes games for example. I tried to go back and play a few like chrono trigger. I could clearly see that had I played the game at the time I would probably replay it from time to time, but as a new user the limit on dialog length of snes games does hold up well enough. I can easily go back to ps 1 era RPGs and be fine.

      Many games of the past also had things we don’t worry about now such as game ending paths where you get stuck and have to find an old save or even restart to continue the game. Other games fall prone to micro management issues. I love masters of magic as much as the next person, but that game can get damn tedious in the end game.

      Graphically, I find that pixels hold up well while early 3d models do not at all, which makes a whole swath of good games hard to look at.

      Generally what we’ve lost is simulation and systems in our games. We’ve got a lot of smooth scripted experiences, but alway light on complex systems interacting. I think the more we can return to that ( and it seems we are a bit), the less well need to go back in time except for the key classics.

      • ansionnach says:

        I agree that some games don’t hold up well. These are often the ones that wowed us with technology at the time but seem primitive now. Racing sims can be a good example.

        I’m surprised that you picked Chrono Trigger as an example of a game that didn’t stand the test of time (it’s not completely clear but that’s how I read it). I played that soon after playing Final Fantasy VII (circa 2000) and I thought it was excellent. In fact, my opinion of FF7 (which had been high) nosedived. One of the great things about Chrono is that it isn’t stuffed full of text – the greatest mistake JRPG designers can make is to think that they are in some way dealing with profound issues and then bore the socks off you with linear, unskippable, tedious, “deep” “storytelling”. Chrono moves along at a fair clip, has a fun battle system and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

        I’ve played quite a few of the old Final Fantasy games too (all after FFVII). Thought FF3 and FF5 were a lot of fun, while self-important, story-laden titles like FF4 were awful. FF4 also commits a number of game design faux pas, trolling the player by cheaply killing them off. It’s a repeat offender when it comes to making you fight a boss, trick you into thinking it’s all over… and then forcing you to fight another without letting you save (sometimes it does this twice in a row!). A good trick to see if you’re being trolled is to use an escape item. If it doesn’t work you’d better heal up! Funny thing about FF4 is that in spite of all this it’s pretty easy. I played through it running from all battles. All bosses were beatable – most difficult ones require some trick that isn’t dependent on level. The exception is the last one which is just dumb – you can’t beat it without two or three characters who’ve got a tonne of HP.

    • admiralharkov says:

      It would be interesting to read a comparison between cinema in, say, 1950 and games now. Some games, to me, are simply too outdated to enjoy (for example, the old Elder Scrolls games). I do wonder if, during the golden age of cinema, some of the very early films (silent films?) also felt like that.

    • mathead says:

      Absolutely. I play so alled retro-games all the time. I always have a Game Boy in my bag and the NES and SNES are always plugged in and I never played either of these platforms out of nostalgia. I just play the games and, for me, there’s no difference if I play a good game that’s 20+ years old or a good game which is brand new. Would using a 50 year old table service be regarded as nostalgia?

  8. Frank says:

    Nice first essay (that I’ve noticed), Mr McMullan.

    Personally, I have no need for remakes of Baldur’s Gate, Age of Empires or Grim. For most old games, compatibility fixes are all I’d like to see. And my favorites need no remastering (though HOMM2 has always had a graphical glitch with the cursor… and could maybe use even more shortcut keys).

    • P.Funk says:

      To be honest there are games I would consider replaying but the thought of having to struggle with a widescreen gui mod or a compatibility fix or something turns me right off. I spent enough years of my life trying to make software work, I don’t want to have my nostalgia experience mostly made up of me staring at a desktop trying to figure out how someone’s compatibility mod read me is supposed to make sense.

      • Frank says:

        I mean built-in compatibility fixes of the sort GOG does, so that the game runs nicely without all the manual work you describe.

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      Agree with both of you. Most of the time, just make the damn thing run on modern OS’.
      It comes down to it being more of a gouge though, they can’t justify as much of a price tag if all they did was make the original run on windows 7. Certainly a lot of their potential profit from these re-releases is from fans of the original. In my mind if I own the original and all they did was patch it to run on Windows 7 I shouldn’t have to pay anything extra, my original copy should still be valid and patchable because it’s the exact same game. However if they spruced up the graphics, “improved” the control system, added achievements etc, it’s more acceptable for them to sell it as a new version.

      • ansionnach says:

        I agree that once you own a game there’s no need to buy it a second time. People seem to do this when it comes to GOG and all they do is configure DOSBox (which sometimes needs improvement anyway) or install all the official patches plus free community compatibility fixes. They also crack the game (usually a crack already exists as well). In the case of Gabriel Knight 2, for example, there’s a problem with stuttering sound that can be fixed by adjusting the cycles down… and they didn’t include the very useful subtitle patch. The initial release of the Ultima Underworlds was not configured to use MT-32 for music. They almost always remove the DOS setup executables required to change config and either the main Windows or DOS executable where they don’t use it. Butchery!

  9. Shooop says:

    The real problem is when developers decide just making a game look like an older one is all they have to do to cash in on nostalgia. It’s as reprehensible as anything else the industry is doing.

    Taking inspiration from older games’ stories and desires to do things differently is great. Basically cloning old games right down to their MIDI sound and 2-bit pixels and calling them “retro” is not.

    • P.Funk says:

      Hi, everything in culture is subject to this “reprehensible” trend. Apparently the cultural activities of most of humanity is reprehensible to you because people spend a lot more time shallowly imitating rather than channeling classic cultural chic.

      Its not a good thing, but “reprehensible” is such a strong word for what is basically a truism of cultural activity.

      • Shooop says:

        How reprehensible you find that sort of thing is up to you. Some people find it more, others less.

        I don’t like myself because it misses the point of the older material – the pushing the envelope with what they had to work with instead of looking at a checklist of things another game had.

      • CommissarXiii says:

        Good points, to the both of you. Perhaps the exploration and the regurgitation of the old are equally necessary to promote innovation?

  10. Mman says:

    Dismissing interest and enjoyment of older games as “nostalgia” has always been pathetic (that’s not to say there aren’t plenty of instances when it’s justified, but the off-hand thoughtless use of it as things are does nothing but suggest the medium and audience’s immaturity). The interest in classic games is pretty much inherently a good thing; for years now we’ve had games mindlessly move “forward” – which in many cases just means following the trends of the time rather than having a real vision for improvement, and even involves outright reinventing the wheel at times – by looking back at successful older games their strengths can be combined with the strengths of newer games to create something new and (in theory) superior, rather than just ignoring what has already worked for many people.

    • Shooop says:

      What then of the games that don’t do anything except move backwards? That do nothing except use an older game as a checklist because the makers noticed people’s interest in older games? That’s also following a trend.

      • Mman says:

        When I mentioned “moving forwards” as a pretty meaningless term that goes for it’s opposite as well. If a new game based on older design styles is crap that’s a good sign the game would be crap regardless of what it was basing itself off, conversely if it’s good then that’s a sign that it’s just a good game that’s using different design principles to the current accepted norm. I can’t think of something like you’ve posed (outside of mobile clone stuff that’s essentially porting) because even the most blatant modern clones of older games pretty much always taut their (alleged) improvements over anything else.

        Edit: Looking at your post above my first. Stuff like using “retro” graphics and audio is much more than just a nostalgia grab in most instances; it’s legitimately the most efficient way for small developers to make games with a coherent art style that’s simple and fast enough (to iterate on) to not get in the way of experimenting with game mechanics and level design, without the requirement to swallow large amounts of budget on hiring artists/musicians/whatever else.

  11. Brinx says:

    Basically the only game I wanna see this happen to is Freelancer.

  12. Lemming says:

    I spend far more time playing old games than I do buying and playing new ones. For the last few weeks I’ve been replaying Unreal Gold and the original Quake games, and having a blast. They make you realise just how sluggish modern fps’ are. It’s much more fun leaping about gothic Chinese puzzle box levels like a gazelle.

    • Burgmond says:

      Quake/HL bunnyhopping, “leaping around like gazelle” as you gracefully put it, are more enjoyable then any GAME I’ve played/seen in the past year. Ah, wherefore have thou gone, fast movement?

  13. Zorlan says:

    As a person who almost exclusively plays “old” games (released pre-2006), the fun in it (for me) is that there’s often different ways to solve things, rewards for exploration and fewer “on-rails” experiences – less corridors and straight paths.

  14. Chuckleluck says:

    The resurgence of “classic” games is fine by me as long as World War II shooters get popular again.

  15. ansionnach says:

    I think in any one year, both now and in the past, the minority of games released are truly remarkable. It makes sense to seek out the gems that already exist, rather than be enthralled by the hype machine around future releases that are, more often than not, going to disappoint.

    I’m not really a fan of remakes. For them to be as good as a remarkable original, lightning would have to strike twice. Not that this is impossible, but why not just play the original? Even ports released at the time have often been dodgy. I can see the reasoning behind it where the original title was held back by technical limitations now gone… but then how easy would it be to remake a film like Metropolis for modern audiences while staying true to the original… and for it to turn out well? When something is viewed as very old and dated there’s the temptation to “update” it to something currently acceptable. With gameplay this often means making it easier and more forgiving, which may just dilute the experience as many older games were about a challenge that you may never succeed at if you try for the rest of your life! I’m not saying that it’s a mistake to try to do something merely because it is difficult, though! It might be interesting to get some remakes of old adventure games that were full of death and dead ends. How do you get rid of these (anachronisms?) and still make the player aware of their existence so they can fully appreciate what the original was about? Introduce a rewind feature? Add an afterlife area that serves as a reminder of past mistakes as well as an opportunity to undo them? Might be funny to visit such a place populated with Sierra characters and Guybrushes who tried to hold their breaths for longer than ten minutes!

    • Frank says:

      In one calendar year: Dishnored, XCOM, The Walking Dead, Hotline Miami, Stacking, FTL and zero bad games. I win.

      • ansionnach says:

        Good for you! I once went on an RPG binge and played Ultima Underworld, VII (Black Gate and Serpent Isle) and I-IV back-to back. Think I may have played both Baldur’s Gates, Icewind Dale and Planescape Torment within the same year. Of those, only Ultima II was a dud. They certainly don’t make ’em like they used to… can’t see any single other year matching whatever one that was!

        • Frank says:

          Heh, my pick was 2012. I’m pretty sure Torment came out at least five years after Underworld and ten after the first four Ultimas, but that sounds like it was a good year for role-playing for you. :)

          • ansionnach says:

            Celebrating the glories of time travel!

            As far as temporal years are concerned, I seem to remember 1998 and kind-of around 1993-1996 being pretty good. 1992 as well. Actually, all of the nineties bar 1997 and 1999. Well, those did have some stand-out games as well, but 1999 “only” gave us Planescape: Torment, Gabriel Knight 3, Hidden & Dangerous, X-Wing Alliance, Discworld Noir… and a few more notables. Both those years are out anyway!

          • Frank says:

            97 had Fallout and 99 Jagged Alliance 2, which both make my top 10!

            (Yes, I actually have a list.)

          • ansionnach says:

            Yup, maybe 1997 has enough games-worth-playing to be a classic year. I think I’ve got something against the number itself… or that most of them are still on my to-play list!

            Other than Fallout, I played:
            Grand Theft Auto
            Lost Vikings 2
            The Curse of Monkey Island
            Jedi Knight
            Tomb Raider II
            Ultima Online
            Age of Empires

            On the list, I’ve poked at these:
            The Last Express
            Realms of the Haunting
            Interstate ’76
            Dungeon Keeper
            X-COM Apocalypse
            Realms of Arkania III: Shadows over Riva
            X-Wing Vs. Tie Fighter

            Might be okay, must give them a poke:
            Lands of Lore II
            Ecstatica II
            Quake II

  16. syllopsium says:

    I think it really depends on the remake.

    To pick a particularly bad example – Ultima Underworld 1 and 2. Still not finished them, still decent games, but they should not be remade. Not only would they require a huge graphics overhaul and a user interface revamp (8+ buttons for actions modern first person games do in 2), but it’s simply missing too many conveniences and expectations compared to modern RPGs.

    Good examples are any decent adventures from the time. Monkey Island 2 was a damned good adventure and the remake is simply brilliant. They should absolutely do the same with Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Day of the Tentacle, and Sam and Max, as their core gameplay is still solid and accessible to modern players. The graphics are now a tad too low res, and the music would need resampling for the majority of gamers that don’t have a Roland sound module.

    It also helps that out of the above games, only Fate of Atlantis is available, and frankly it’s a tad inferior to running the original game on the best hardware available at the time.

  17. Armante says:

    Sir You Are Being Hunted is currently 75% off on Steam, only $5 :)

    • hprice says:

      The extremely more expensive (at the moment since the title to which you refer is currently on sale) Flower Shop: Summer in Fairbrook is $14.99 on Steam at the moment … currently.

      link to

  18. hprice says:

    Nostalgia is a funny old thing. I found Grim Fandango to have quite a nice art style but the puzzles were the kind that I hate ie totally illogical. And I found that big hairy big eyed creature thing in it to be incredibly annoying. After one of the puzzles earlier on in the game (can’t rememememember which one it was now but it was fantastically stupid), I gave up on it and never went back. I may dig out my original copy at some point and … maybe … have another go at it but sure as there are really delicious biscuits on god’s own earth, I ain’t gonna buy another copy of it … unless it becomes super cheap on steam of course … hypocrite mode off …

    link to

    • ansionnach says:

      I think Ron Gilbert mentioned in an interview once that humour is important in a genre that’s probably going to try your patience. He may have mentioned how in Zak McKracken there’s only one lighter in the entire world and the interview may have been in PC Review – memory is definitely hazy. Even though the humour didn’t get me past the lighter in Zak I think his point was that it works a whole lot better than a deadly serious world full of illogical puzzles that whacks you over the head with death and (worse!) dead-ends.

  19. Emperor Norton I says:

    It’s important to remember that many PC genres were more or less deliberately killed off in the early 2000’s, when MS decided to abandon PC gaming and encouraged EA to go along. Consoles were the wave of the future, and genres that were not popular on the consoles at that moment in time were discarded. The consolidation of developers via publisher buyout, and the narrowing of retail options that was ongoing through the 90’s meant that when MS said jump, the whole industry jumped.

    So, FPS moved to consoles. Adventure games, space sims, and complicated CRPG’s were summarily executed. RTS went into prolonged decline, and may have died entirely if it wasn’t for the fact that Blizzard was a big enough independent developer to keep things alive.

    It’s not as if these genres had run their course and died for lack of new ideas. Much the opposite. Grim Fandango hearalded a new direction for adventure games . . . and was the last. Freelancer 2 was universally regarded as the pinnacle of the space sim genre, but . . . nothing. Baldur’s Gate . . . yep.

    So yeah, when something like the new Divinity game, or Star Citizen, or whatever nostalgic title you’re talking about, whenever that comes around, and promises to bring back the genre, it’s not just nostalgia. Those genres did not die a fair death, and they were not buried happily. They have haunted the PC gaming landscape for years, not dead but not alive, either . . . but now they are back.

    • Stardreamer says:

      Well said.

      The word “nostalgia” makes me itch. It’s so often used as a criticism but it’s chronically simplistic when actually there are more complicated things happening beneath the surface or in wider contexts.

      I do love seeing “classic” games given the modernisation treatment, even if it’s just to fit widescreen monitors and update the control interface. I loved tomb Raider: Anniversary, a faithful re-imagining of the classic first Tomb Raider game. Then again, the recent Flashback remake failed to understand what made the first one so good, so YMMV.

      Brilliant older games should never be forgotten. If someone wants to give them a new lease on life they have my full support. Just don’t fuck it up.

    • CommissarXiii says:

      I agree with you mostly, but I can’t completely fault Microsoft or the big game devs. Business-wise, it’s attractive to work within a closed system, and especially so for software developers. Microsoft offered a single hardware architecture that PC game developers already knew how to write for, to a much broader consumer audience, all at an affordable price. Developers reduce their costs in development, testing, and bug fixing, while gamers get to experience PC quality graphics at a fraction of the cost.

      Enough with the apologetics though. I can’t say Microsoft’s decision to jettison PC gaming was wise, but it was smart at the time.

    • ansionnach says:

      I don’t think it was as pre-meditated as you make it sound (deciding to kill off PC gaming genres). As CommissarXiii has said, Microsoft wanted in on the console market and both they and the other developers followed the money from there. Even though the adventure is my favourite genre, I think it was certainly fading into the background on PC before then. I wouldn’t say that Grim Fandango heralded a new direction for adventures. Unlike the myth, it did make a profit (Tim Schafer has stated this and that he got a royalty cheque), but it was quite similar to other Lucasarts adventures. I would say that even though I had no issues with the interface it was largely a pointless change – as both it and Escape from Monkey Island only made cosmetic use of 3d (unlike Gabriel Knight 3).

      Anyway, PC developers following the console money has lead to a dilution of its genres as they’ve moved towards less complexity and on-rails experiences. Slow FPS games designed for controllers as well as whatever you call the games that Bioware and Bethesda make these days have resulted, certainly, but I don’t think there was any great anti-PC plot to speak of. From the console gaming point of view some of their staple genres have become rarer over the last fourteen years and console exclusives (seem?) to be becoming less common. On both sides it seems like the mass market has boomed and hardcore players have been spurned. With the casual crowd going towards mobile, perhaps more developers will come crawling back?

  20. MadTinkerer says:

    “Isometric-turn-based-point-and-click-platformer is a string of words taken for dead. Sent to the abattoir. They’re all huddled for warmth, waiting for the reaper, when along comes the sausage man and snip-snip-snip he sets them free.”

    Ssshhhhh! You’re going to accidentally give someone at EA the impression that we want a remake of Ultima VIII on the iPhone with microstransactions!

    EDIT: ““I think the term ‘classic’ games no longer applies to Pac-man and its ilk and I am thankful for that every day,” says Trent Oster, creative director of Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition and former Bioware game director.”

    I think someone is bitter that Pac-Man is in the new Smash Brothers but none of the characters from any of his games are.

  21. corinoco says:

    Why need to be bitter when your game gave the world Minsc & Boo, the Minature Giant Space Hamster? “Go for the eyes, Boo, go for the eyes! Ruuuuuuuuuusk!”

    Smash Brothers who? What PC game is that then?

  22. Risingson says:


    Jumping all over the many many well written opinions to just say something: putting all the old stuff in the nostalgia or classic gaming sack is stupid. There are old movies, there are good ones and bad ones. There were teenage 80s movies, ones that depend on pop culture of the era, others that do not depend that much on them, ones much better, others much worse. There is old music, music from decades, many decades ago that still work well in the dancefloor and… and there is a lack of context when talking about this stuff that really makes me nervous.

    You cannot say that the problem a young guy will have with Daggerfall is the graphics. Or with Baldur’s Gate. Both games have graphics of their era, but what has been changed a lot is game design, which has been streamlined quite a lot, quite a brutality. Remember: in the 8 bit era it was rare for a game to be finished, in the 16-bit it came a time of making a lot of notes and maps in PC and the era of repetition during endless days. Some games stand up well today, and by “stand up well” I mean games that you knew nothing about them, run them and see that they are actually fun… but others depend on design choices that were frequent at the time they were made and now they are not bearable.

    Problem? All the video game journalists and, as I see, CEOs, think that they are all the same thing: old games. And that they can all be analized as a mass of gaming. That is, simply, alienating the audience. It is like going to GOG.COM and seeing all positive reviews for every game, as if the catalog of the 90s was uniformly excellent (and it is not, sorry for the spoiler), and that is something that is shared between every other piece of pop culture. For example: Citizen Kane, that masterpiece. Why is it a masterpiece? Let me take the book… because of this, this and this. “But I don’t think it is that good! I have seen it and I don’t think it is that special, I didn’t have a revelation!”. “Then, burn witch!” . This kind of old analysis is spreading to videogames, so it seems that Final Fantasy VII, Daggerfall, Eye of the Beholder 2, Ultima VII and Magic Candle are all the same: old RPG masterpieces. If you don’t put the context to make the player understand why they are considered good and, maybe, say what is really dated about them nowadays (many red herrings in EOB2, bugs bugs and bugs in Ultima VII, repetitive ad nauseam game design in Daggerfall…) in contrast of what they did well (the streamlined design in EOB2, writing in Ultima VII, complete freedom in Daggerfall) we would achieve something: that people younger than us understanding these games and not putting all of them in the same sack: old crap.

    TLDR: nostalgia is bs, “old games” is a far too broaded concept to talk generically about all of them.

    • Premium User Badge

      Ninja Dodo says:

      You raise an interesting point. Historical context helps a lot in appreciating older games if you “weren’t there” at the time. Maybe it would be good if each GOG game page had a press and analysis section with both contemporary news and reviews and later retrospectives, linked or scanned (maybe with a timeline of surrounding relevant games). Better still if it also includes original behind the scenes material.

      • ansionnach says:

        Interesting. The reason I say that Home of the Underdogs was a great site was that its purpose was to raise awareness of the under-appreciated games that had fallen by the wayside. When you decide you want to play a game you decide to spend a certain amount of time (hopefully) being entertained. Since your time on this earth is limited it makes sense to pick something that isn’t a complete waste of that time. If you’re a big fan of a particular genre you’ll find that release schedules aren’t laden with enough gold to keep you from twiddling your thumbs… unless you sift through what’s come before. I don’t see any point in judging something on its merits at the time unless you’re a historian so why not ask yourself the following question when you play any game from any era: “Am I being entertained?”. You may not enjoy some of the “greats” (I’ve never liked Doom, even at the time), but so what?

        Would be nice to see more background on gog. All you get now is the glowing reviews of even the most risible games. Some of the old shareware efforts like Catacomb-3D soon became dull and repetitive at the time! The technology kind-of wowed, they were free (never played the registered versions as a kid), but now they’re just decrepit, repetitive key hunts in mazes. Hell, even Wolfenstein 3D and Doom dazzled with technology that’s now past old hat. While I did enjoy Wolfenstein a lot, I don’t think game design was ever a hallmark of id in the early days when Tom Hall wasn’t winning the battle. The FPS really started to develop with excellent releases such as Dark Forces. It’s been a while but I’d be confident that it would still stand up today and should be worth a go. I’m far from a genre expert, but in terms of challenge (limited lives to complete each level) it’s certainly one of the very best titles I’ve played.

        A nice quick-and-dirty genre guide might be a start. RPG gamers should certainly play Ultima I, III – VIII and perhaps even the Worlds of Ultima games. Then take a look at some early dungeon crawlers like Wizardry, on to Dungeon Master, Eye of the Beholder, Ultima Underworld. They could then take a look at games like Dragon Quest and the early Final Fantasies (and Phantasy Star)… after playing some of the console conversions of Ultima and Wizardry to appreciate the little-spoken of direct influence between computer and console games as well as western and Japanese games. Then take a crack at FF3, FF5, Chrono Trigger and Phantasy Star IV to gain an appreciation of how fun JRPGs can be… and then FF4, FF7 and the rest to witness how they descended down the dark avenue of bloated self-importance!

        As for adventure… haven’t taken the dive into IF yet… but I’d guess that poking at the likes of Zork, Hitchhikder’s Guide (licensed game), Trinity, AMFV, then some of the more evil adventures to gain an appreciation of how developers could block progress by making you get out the thesaurus… then move on to graphical games… take a look at how evilly full of death and dead ends they could be… then on to Loom, Monkey Island, its sequel, Fate of Atlantis, King’s Quest VI, Gabriel Knight… Longest Journey.

        When it comes to the dud games it should be enough to have a bit of a bash at the likes of the original Final Fantasy or FF4 (or whatever it is you take a dislike to) to gain some perspective before moving on!

        Guess I’d better not attempt to write such a quick-and-dirty guide here! For now, they can always take a look through Underdogs, pick some interesting-sounding games and seek them out. Just like back in the old days of retro-gaming when men were men, women were women… and seagulls were seagulls!

      • cpt_freakout says:

        I think you guys are hitting the nail right on the head. A remake is pretty much a new game if it’s not accompanied by historical analysis, and what I see as the problem with this part of gaming (in terms of the archive and the history) is that it’s still pretty much the domain of the industry, which is mostly concerned with commercial issues. This has meant that so far the history of games has been in the hands of a few DIY enthusiasts, who have made amazing progress on the archival, factual, and documentary tracing of gaming, but that due to the speed with which our hobby changes are unable to make sense of it all. Sure, there’s a few books on the matter, but from what I’ve seen they’re exercises in archival thinking, which is only a good start at most. In turn, those who could have been making sense of this chronology all along, games journalism and criticism, have functioned as little more than the voice of the industry (which is why the Guardian reporter finds such trends worrying, since he’s thinking through commercial terms), and it is only relatively recently that sites like RPS and others have started to (only sometimes) engage with the history of games as such.

        I’m not saying we need professional historians (it would help, though), or that games journalism needs to start writing history (also would help, though I know this is not really its job) but there certainly is a lack of historical thought regarding videogames. We can talk all we want about why metroidvanias, roguelikes and 2d platformers are all the rage right now, but the truth is that only someone doing a systematic study of this context can offer a significant hypothesis as to why this is. However, academia has pretty much only begun dealing with pop culture at large, and videogames are too recent still to be a part of it. This leaves us, once again, with enthusiasts, game critics and journalists, whose job only tangentially covers this kind of thing. It’s a difficult place for those of us who want to think beyond the common sense terms (nostalgia, retro, etc) because the only option is, like we’re doing in this comment section, to generate speculation that will be figuratively lost when this article is off the main page (or lost for good if RPS ever shuts down).

        Still, I’m fairly confident that someone somewhere will eventually start making a history of gaming that goes beyond the documentary, and just like we now have Film Studies departments in universities we’ll have Game Studies people whose writing can illuminate just why Thief was so significant in the context of 1998, and Art History people making a respective aesthetic-cultural analysis, and so forth. For all of them, the efforts of GOG, Home of the Underdogs, Moby, and all of the enthusiasts out there will be crucial to write all sorts of amazing histories of games. Remakes, of course, will play into that, but only as gateways on one side and as cultural phenomena to also be analysed on the other, and that’s OK.

        • ansionnach says:

          One of the things that worries me is how uniform versions of the history of games get spread around. My own opinion differs with that of most quite a lot so I don’t expect others to agree with me at all… it’s just that when you consider how much disagreement there is about gaming present I’m doubtful that this narrative, or “accepted wisdom” is even something that should exist. This is especially true when quite a lot of the discourse contains glaring factual errors that aren’t a matter of opinion. What’s worrying is that I feel some of this thought could have emerged when people have read the likes of Edge a bit too much. It does take itself (maybe a bit too) seriously, but at least makes a stab at discussing gaming history and its current direction from a more academic point of view. The version of history it comes out with is overly console-focused and they have never seemed to understand computer gaming at all beyond talking about the Amiga and Spectrum a bit. Examples of the kind of misconceptions I’m talking about are things like:
          * Nintendo created 3d gaming with Star Fox
          * They went on to finish the job when they created the anaologue joystick and then the first playable 3d games in Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time.
          * People have very odd ideas about what a “western RPG” is. I expect any discussion wherein these are the two “types” of RPGs to be full of factual errors. It’s very important that more people play the early games to understand that the JRPG came about as a cut-down version of the likes of Ultima and Wizardry (that were popular in Japan) for consoles. It was then increasingly influenced by animé and ended up eating its own head.
          * A lot of discussion around Ultima Underworld is worryingly full of people who know nothing about the game but pretend that they do. I’ve had some glorious nuggets of “wisdom” where some guy lectured me on how Doom was technically superior to UW because UW was all flat with no variation in level like Wolfenstein.
          * Game design didn’t develop in a vacuum in Japan – the contributions of the likes of Richard Garriott (hub worlds, tile-based graphics, forgiving and fair gameplay where death isn’t necessarily “game over”, and loads more) are often completely forgotten. I don’t think it helps that cross-platform publications seem heavily influenced by the children of the NES, SNES, Megadrive, N64 and Playstation.

          What I’d like to see is more divergent opinions and discussions following on from this where people actually listen to what others think and consider the merits of what they say rather than make every effort to shoot the other guy down and show off your superiority. Gaming is too big for any one person to know it all… so anyone who talks like they do is likely an idiot! For now the best people can do is play the games themselves and make their own minds up, then share them so they can benefit from the experiences of others as well.

    • ansionnach says:

      From a PC point of view there was no 8-bit era – we’ve been 16-bit since 1981!

  23. waltC says:

    The fact is that many of the older games are extremely entertaining, and modded, improved versions of those games play and look better on today’s hardware than they did when they were originally shipped. I have experienced that in several instances. Baldur’s Gate Reloaded, for instance, a mod based on the NWN2 engine, translates the entire game to the NWN2 engine–and the result, imo, is a Baldur’s Gate that is more like Baldur’s Gate than Baldur’s Gate…;) It isn’t perfect, but it breathes new life into a great old game.

    Many older games, developed by a handful of people on shoestring budgets (compared to today’s money-grubbing black-hole game devs), are simply better because they had to be. They had to be more imaginative in many ways because the technology wasn’t near as good as it is today, and much in the way of graphics simply wasn’t possible. Game making today is much like movie-making. It costs so much that originality is rarely produced–when one zombie game/movie comes out, ten zombie games/movies come out immediately after. I was for years a big zombie fan–long before it became fashionable. Now, the subject has been run into the ground and I’ve had enough.

    Today’s games often look and feel as if they were created by committee, and as though the devs couldn’t decide between making a movie or making a computer game. Ideally, however, the game dev will do both, but that is rare, indeed. The older games had to be better at some things because they couldn’t be as good at other things–ie, they didn’t try to be all things to all people. As a result, I think some of the older classics have yet to be surpassed–the ability to create them seems almost a forgotten art. Nobody wants to spend hours looking at a pixellated mess, of course–I remember that I loathed Daggerfall when it shipped for just that reason, but I otherwise thought it to be a great game (although buggy as an abandoned mobile home.) Some of the older games just have a sort of indefinable “magic” to them that newer, “produced by committee” games simply lack.

    • WhatAShamefulDisplay says:

      I think the “target market” was smaller around the years 1998-2004. Few devs were making allowances for the non-core gamer, or even someone not familiar with a particular genre. (which is funny, because when I was a kid I figured it all out. Hmmmm)

      Anyhow, these “designed by committee” games of which you speak are, in reality, designed by that committee so as to sell to as many people as possible. Many will laud that as an appropriate objective, but if that not everyone views game development as some kind of John Stuart Mill-esque utilitarian exercise in bringing the most pleasure to the most people. What if a developer, in allowing a game to be popular for the many, stops it being appreciated by *me*?

      Case in point, the media and people in general fawn over Skyrim like nobody’s business, yet for me it’s a shallow, boring, artistically bankrupt game that I put away despite numerous attempts to like. Bethesda are never, ever going to do what *I* want them to do (make games like Morrowind), because they would alienate millions. The solution? Stop buying elder scrolls games, start buying stuff from small-medium size developers who feel able to keep their budgets small enough to appeal to a niche like me, and indeed many on this site. (see also: kickstarter). As the space-game resurgence has proven, enough interest exists to keep these genres alive, even if not mainstream media sensations like CoD or GTA

    • ansionnach says:

      While there was probably less by committee design in the increasingly distant past, cloning successful concepts has been done since the very beginning, even when the people pulling the strings may not have been from the business end. This originality debate has been discussed for a long time. Who played Corridor 7, Blake Stone, Rise of the Triad, the Terminator games by Bethesda or any of the glut of FPS games that gushed out after Wolfenstein and Doom? Not saying they were all awful, but there were certainly a lot of less-than original clones… and many of them (especially the ones I can’t remember) were dire. Going back further, Pong, Breakout, Pacman and more were cloned to death, too.

      Appealing to the mass market is certainly a problem if you like games that are both interesting and challenging. Maybe what’s happening is similar to Hollywood – where studios are becoming so good at making money on their investment that they’re happier making dumb popcorn flicks than anything else? It’s not that they don’t recognise there’s money to be made elsewhere, it’s just that there’s more risk of making a big loss… so they make the consoley FPS and at the very least turn a small profit. Soon as there’s a bit of a break-through from somebody else they’ll be all over it, though!

      All that said, it would be unfair to suggest that the big studios don’t take any risk at all… or, more importantly that they were big risk-takers back then. In the golden era of PC gaming the graphic adventure; CRPG; turn-based strategy; FPS; RTS; flight, space and driving sims… as well as all sorts of crazy experiments had mass appeal. The very best of these games can still often be excellent, while a lot of the attempts at aping the successes of Lucasarts, Sierra, Origin Systems, Bullfrog, Maxis, Westwood, Microprose, id, Blizzard, Dynamix, Digital Integration, Digital Image Design and others fell by the wayside for a reason. The likes of EA followed the line of least risk even back then. Ultima VIII was released in 1994 and Garriott had a nightmare working with his new overlords. The problem that a lot of these genres had was saturation. There were so many of these games out there that people got a bit tired of them and they didn’t sell as well… or something else sold better. Some of the publishers got stung producing games like the original System Shock and Sacrifice – so Joe Public has quite a share of the blame, too! Anyway, the rot had begun quite a while back. As far as I’m concerned PC gaming died circa 1999, maybe somebody else might say it happened earlier. Still seems to be going strong, though!