Friday, September 11, 2015

How Game Remakes Skew Perceptions

When you play a remake of a game, then progress to the next game in the series, which has not been remade, often you can feel a sense of disappointment.  This is because you have not really progressed through the series as the developer intended over the years.  You are getting only a skewed impression of a game when you do not play the original.  In this post I will profile a couple of well-known series in which the first game was remade at a later point and dramatically changed expectations for the next games in the series.

Ultima to Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness

Ultima - Title 1
Ultima - Title 2
Ultima - Demo 1 
Ultima - Demo 2
Ultima - Main Menu
Ultima - Character Generation
When Richard Garriott was programming Ultima on his Apple II Plus with 48KB of RAM, he programmed the game using Applesoft BASIC for the most part.  He released the game in a ziplock bag with a crude manual through an early distributor of computer software called California Pacific Computer in 1981.  The game was a comparative success, selling about 50,000 copies at the time, in the nascent computer game market. However, Temple of Apshai and Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord were much more successful at this point.

Five years later, Garriott was publishing his own games through his own company, Origin Systems.  Sierra On-Line released a port of the game for the Atari 8-bit computers after California Pacific Computer went bust in 1983.  Sierra also released Ultima II: Revenge of the Enchantress across almost every major computing platform of the mid-1980s.  Origin had already had considerable success with Ultima III: Exodus and Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, publishing both games on most major computing platforms.  Feeling the original Ultima was a bit clunky and rather hard to find, Origin decided to give it an assembly-language makeover.

Ultima 1 - Title 1
Ultima 1 - Title 2
Ultima 1 - Title 3
Ultima 1 - Title 4
Ultima 1 - Main Menu
Ultima 1 - Character Generation
Even though both Ultima and Ultima I were developed on the Apple II and fit on one double-sided disk, the differences are quite profound.  Ultima gives you an intro with crude outline drawings.  Ultima I gives you a colorfully animated intro with an Eagle and a sword being thrust up out of the water, Excalibur-style.  Ultima uses the Apple II text mode and mixed text/high res-graphics mode, Ultima I uses graphics mode everywhere.  Screenshots of the two versions look similar, but the differences in gameplay are quite drastic.

Ultima - Castle
Ultima - Town
Ultima - Outside 1
Ultima - Outside 2
Ultima I is a lot less frustrating to play.  You move over the overworld quickly, and can see your enemies coming.  Ultima has a slow shifting overworld and you do not see enemies until you are on top of them. There are more than one town and one castle map in Ultima I and you move much more quickly across them.  In the dungeons, Ultima I gives rapid movement while Ultima redraws the screen every turn.  Finally, when there is dialogue, you see it overlaid on the main graphics area rather than on the four lines of text.

Ultima - Dungeon 1
Ultima - Dungeon 2
Ultima - Death
While there are many more differences between the two versions, you can get a sense that the remake went through a lot more polish.  The presentation was also vastly upgraded in the remake, with a large cardboard box and a manual that gives detail about the world and feelies in the form of Sosarian coins.   There are also cardboard maps of each of the four continents in the game.  The original (non-Progame) manual does not even give you your goal, you have to learn that via the pub in game.  The manual illustrations also got a huge boost in quality.

Ultima 1 - Dungeon 1
Ultima 1 - Dungeon 2
Ultima 1 - Dungeon 3
Ultima 1 - Dungeon 4
Ultima 1 - Dungeon 5
Ultima 1 - Dungeon 6
When you go from Ultima I to Ultima II, you may be disappointed.  In Ultima I, you could shoot with some weapons more than one tile but you can't in Ultima II.  Your stats in Ultima II will roll over if they go above the maximum, they do not in Ultima I.  Ultima II has some nasty saving rules (essentially whenever you enter or exit a town or dungeon on any Earth time period).  Death in Ultima II requires a reboot.  While death in Ultima did allow for resurrection, the pathetic stats you continue with and the possibility that you may respawn on a mountain or ocean time make it useless.  Ultima I is sufficiently lenient with death and respawning to make it worth considering.  Ultima II has vast and mostly empty overworlds and the dungeons are not particularly useful.  Ultima II does not have custom text fonts (with the exception of the Apple II update in the Ultima Collection) and the PC version does not have an animated intro.

Ultima 1 - Town 1
Ultima 1 - Town 2
Ultima 1 - Outside 1
Ultima 1 - Outside 2
Ultima 1 - Castle 1
Ultima 1 - Castle 2
However, when you compare Ultima to Ultima II, there are many, many improvements.  First, the towns, castles and the overworld all use the same tiles.  Second, the world is far larger and exploring it is no longer a chore.  Third, you can explore planets and do not have to engage in space combat.  Fourth, the dungeons can be mapped, they are no longer randomly generated each time you start a new game.  Fifth, there are many, many more items to acquire from killing enemies.  Sixth, you can warp to different time periods in Earth with Time Doors instead of needing a boat.  Seventh, you can talk to people in towns and castles, some of whom will provide you clues without payment.  Eighth, water now animates, giving a more lively feel to the world. Ninth, there was a proper manual, box and cloth map.

King's Quest to King's Quest I: Quest for the Crown SCI

The original King's Quest was released for the IBM PCjr. as a showcase for that system's graphical capabilities.  It came on one floppy disk and that disk was copy protected and cannot be installed to a hard drive.  Sierra released versions for the IBM PC and Tandy 1000 when it discovered that PCjr. sales were not going to break any home computer sales records.  Eventually it ported King's Quest and its other games to many platforms.  In late 1986 or early 1987, Sierra revised King's Quest for the PC to support hard drives and improved the music and sound effects, added support for EGA, MCGA, VGA and Hercules graphics and added drop down menus.  This brought the game to parity with King's Quest II and King's Quest III in terms of presentation at the cost of an extra disk. Even with improved 3-voice PCjr./Tandy music support, things sounded a little sparse.

King's Quest - Title
King's Quest 1 SCI - Title
In 1990, Sierra decided to remake King's Quest I and the other inaugural games in its Quest series (Police Quest, Space Quest, Quest for Glory, Leisure Suit Larry) with its new SCI engine.  King's Quest came first and still used 16-color graphics and a text parser.  However, these graphics were far more detailed because they were in 320x200 instead of 160x200.  A musical soundtrack was added supporting the popular sound devices of the day, Adlib, Game Blaster, MT-32, Tandy 1000.  It even supported the DACs found in the later Tandy 1000s and the Sound Blaster for sound effects.

King's Quest - Castle of King Edward
King's Quest - King Edward's Throne Room
King' Quest - King Edward's Quest
King's Quest I SCI - King Edward's Castle
King's Quest I SCI - King Edward's Throne Room and Quest
Of course, Sierra did not leave everything in place exactly the way it was.  The Sorcerer's spell can leave you vulnerable to other monsters now (death by Ogre, theft by Dwarf) and different monsters can appear on the monster screen.  The most infamous puzzle (involving the Gnome) now has a different solution.  One item has to be found in a different place.  The castle takes up three screens instead of two and the screen scrolls rather than redraws.  Instead of playing the introduction, you watch it.  The game is now linear, you have to complete the quests in a certain order.  The Magic Shield, which could shield you from almost any enemy, must be found last.  Essentially, the changes allowed Sierra to keep people who played through the original version (and may have kept their hint book) from breezing through the game as well as give a more cinematic flair to the original game.

King's Quest - Golden Egg
King's Quest - Dragon's Lair
King's Quest - Stairway
King's Quest - Gnome
King's Quest - Witch's House
King's Quest - Woodcutter's Hut
Sierra eventually dropped its plans to remake all their old games in each quest series.  Remakes took a long time to make, were not cheap and did not sell as well as original games.  When Sierra began to release CD compilations of its Quest series games, it would release both the original game and the remake.  If you played the remake, you would be disappointed when you played the next games.  From King's Quest I SCI, the next two games would appear to be inferior because they are still using the AGI engine.  With other Quest series games, the contrast would be even starker because their remakes were using 256 color VGA graphics.

However, in August, 2001 a group of fans remade the SCI remake with 256-color graphics and support for then-modern computing platforms.  King's Quest I "VGA" was released and received major upgrades in version 2.0, 3.0 and 4.0.  The game was last updated in September, 2010.  King's Quest I VGA followed in the footsteps of Sierra's other SCI remakes by using an icon based interaction system.  Graphically it is on-par with King's Quests V and VI and takes a few assets from the former. It essentially follows the Sierra SCI remake in terms of quests and solutions.  Music was originally General MIDI based (the MT-32 was supported directly) but was later digitized.  Support for digital speech came as an option in 2.0, which in those days was a hefty-sized download.  Eventually speech became integrated into the main download, and they got Josh Mandel to voice King Graham as he did in the CD versions of KQ5 and KQ6.  The portraits were given a graphical overhaul in 4.0, making them look more professionally done.

King's Quest I SCI - Witch's House
King's Quest I SCI - Woodcutter's Hut
King's Quest I SCI - Suspended Walkway
King's Quest I SCI 0 - Golden Egg
King's Quest I SCI - Gnome
King's Quest I SCI - Dragon's Lair
KQ1 VGA was well-received, and encouraged Tierra Entertainment, later known as AGD Interactive, to remake more games.  They released King's Quest II: Romancing the Stones, Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire, and later King's Quest III: To Heir is Human Redux.  Infamous Adventures also released a KQ3 remake and a Space Quest II: Vohaul's Revenge remake.  Eventually, even Sierra developers got into the act, Al Lowe released Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards in 2013 as Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded.  Of course, in LSL's case, that game was sold for profit received a license from Activision, which owns the Sierra IP.  The other games were fan remakes are freeware and are tolerated by Activision with a fan license.

Educational Games

However, if you want to get really nutty about remakes, no article can go without mentioning Sierra's Mixed Up Mother Goose.  Sierra originally released the game as an AGI game in 1987, then an SCI 16-color remake in 1990, a 256-color SCI remake on floppy and CD-ROM in 1991 and finally a Deluxe SVGA remake in 1995.  This continual cycle of remaking the game was important to try and capture each new generation of preschoolers with a game with graphics and features they would appreciate.

It is not uncommon for educational/edutainment games to nearly-continually reinvent themselves to keep up to date with new technology.  Math Blaster began on the Apple II and the last game in the series was released for Windows 7.  The Oregon Trail has been around for 40 years, beginning on an HP2100 minicomputer, a beast the size of a large dresser, but the latest edition has been released for mobile devices far smaller and more powerful.  Despite vastly different technologies that have come in that time, the basic game is still the same.

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