Monday, May 8, 2017

20th Century PC Game Remakes, Remasters, Sequels and Successors

The home computer has produced many, many classic and groundbreaking games.  Some games have been sufficiently successful to spawn a series, others have just been held to be a pinnacle in their own right without sequels.  Eventually, interest in many games and series that were once popular tends to wane and commercially many of these series were seen to have no future.  Occasionally, however, a long dormant game or series can be reactivated with a new sequel.  Since 2010, there have been quite a few new games released for the PC that are late sequels, remasters or spiritual successors of older classic PC games.  It is still somewhat rare for PC games to get remade, but those that do should be identified.  However, it is especially impressive for a game to be revived after ten years or more without a commercial release (budget re-releases don't count), so I am going to focus on those games.

In this blog article, I will try to identify games that were released during the twentieth century I will not be covering late ports or fan mods, otherwise the blog article may include too many games to manage.  Several games have been successfully ported to mobile devices, but tracking down ports is too much to manage with my ten-year rule.  I just don't have the time to track down every re-release of Dragon's Lair, Defender of the Crown or The Oregon Trail, games that always seem to be ported or rehashed.

To be on this list, a game has to have the following criteria :

1.  Originally have been released in the 20th Century, more specifically the years 1981-2000, inclusive.
2.  Had been released for the PC & compatibles
3.  For remasters, not have had an official commercial remake in at least ten years (which is why Defender of the Crown isn't on this list), ports and mobile releases don't count, must be available for the PC, and must provide some substantial improvement over the original game
4.  For remakes, at least ten years since the original game was released
5.  For Late Sequels/Prequels, not have had a release in the game's series in at least ten years
6.  For Spiritual Successors, have a successful Kickstarter and otherwise come roughly within one of the above
7.  Must be sold for a fixed, non-nominal price (no freemium pay models)

Here is what the formatting means :

Category in bold
If the game was part of a Kickstarter, its title is underlined
The italics are used for games that have not yet released as of this blog entry's publication

So, with the criteria out of the way, lets talk about some games.

Remastered
Day of the Tentacle Remastered
Grim Fandango Remastered
Full Throttle Remastered
Starcraft: Remastered
The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition
Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge Special Edition
Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition
Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition
Planescape: Torment: Enhanced Edition
Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition
MDK2 HD
The 7th Guest: Remastered
Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour (improved from Megaton Edition)
System Shock Enhanced Edition
Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded
Gabriel Knight – Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition

Remasters or Enhanced Editions are essentially improved versions of the original games.  The gameplay is generally the same, although the adventure games may have a few extra puzzles and the RPGs a few extra quests and characters.  Some games have had their graphics completely redone and added voice acting and re-recorded the soundtrack.  Gabriel Knight had to have its voice work totally redone despite the enviable talent lent to the original game.

Surprisingly, relatively few remasters have been directly funded by Kickstarter.  Most often, a company headed by industry veterans has the connections to secure the rights to remaster.  The Monkey Island games were converted by LucasArts themselves before it was bought by Disney.  Tim Shafer's company Double Fine converted the games he originally designed for LucasArts.  The Bioware games were revamped by Beamdog and its Overhaul Games division, run by former Bioware employees.  Only the Sierra games remakes had to go to Kickstarter.

Some of these remasters have been criticized because they offer little over mods.  Infinity Engine mods can bring widescreen and new features to the original games.  There are ways to obtain mouselook from System Shock.  Duke Nukem had built-in support for higher resolutions, although getting them to work was not guaranteed on the older systems. The point of many of the remastered editions is to make playing the game as easy as possible for average gamers, no mods, no emulators, no install workarounds.

In anticipation of the Starcraft Remastered release, set for later this year, Blizzard released Starcraft & Brood War as free to play.  Of course, their version only installs in Windows XP or later, but has no difficulties with more modern OSes.  The original game only required Windows 95, but Blizzard has broken Windows 9x support for Starcraft, Diablo II and Warcraft III in more recent patches.

I could list Planet M.U.L.E. here, which is M.U.L.E. remastered and supports internet multiplayer, but that is a free game, so it technically does not qualify.

Remake/Reimagining
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
System Shock (demo available)

To date, remakes of classic PC games have been few and far between.  XCOM: Enemy Unknown was released in 2012 to critical acclaim.  It was very unusual for a turn-based strategy game to be remade when real time strategy games like Starcraft 2 dominate the landscape.  It received an expansion pack in 2013 and a sequel in 2016.

Nightdive Studios is remaking System Shock.  The playable demo shows the opening area of the Medical Level as being almost identical to the original game, but I would expect the final product to diverge given the expectations of players in 2018 compared to 1994.  Nightdive also did the System Shock Enhanced Edition and made System Shock 2 available on digital downloading services like Steam and GOG.

Late Sequel/Prequel
Choplifter HD
Wasteland 2
King's Quest
Elite: Dangerous
The Bard’s Tale IV (2004 console game not considered part of series)
Descent: Underground (early access)

Late entries in a series can be difficult to pull off.  The ownership rights to a franchise may be somewhat less than clear.  Selling investors on a series that has long laid dormant is a tough sell.  What sold in the 1980s is not going to sell in the 2010s without some major reworking of the original concept.  So for most of these games, crowdfunding is necessary to build critical interest and investor appeal.  inXile Entertainment likes to appeal to its fans for startup costs, but the quality of the games that it has released has been reported to be high, so they are important victories for crowdfunding original games.  inXile was found in part by Brian Fargo, who had previously helped to found Interplay and was heavily involved with the earlier Bard's Tales and Wasteland.  Elite: Dangerous was the project of David Braben, who was co-created the original Elite and developed its two sequels.  Elite: Dangerous has also received good reviews.

King's Quest was officially revived by Activision, which had previously acquired Sierra, but developed by an external company.  Given that the new King's Quest game reinterprets some classic moments from the original games, it comes close to the previous category.  Choplifter HD was released by inXile just before the crowdfunding craze really got serious but did have the blessing of Choplifter's original designer, Dan Gorlin.

Spiritual Successor
Thimbleweed Park – Maniac Mansion & Secret of Monkey Island
Torment: Tides of Numenera – Planescape: Torment
Pillars of Eternity – Baldur’s Gate & Icewind Dale
Planetary Annihilation – Total Annihilation
Satellite Reign - Syndicate
Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues - Ultima (early access)
Overload - Descent (early access)
SpaceVenture – Space Quest
Squadron 42 – Wing Commander
Hero-U Rogue to Redemption – Quest for Glory
Underworld Ascendant - Ultima Underworld

Unlike the late sequel, the Spiritual Successor comes about when a company or a designer would like to return to or evoke past glories, but cannot afford or does not want to make a new game in an existing series.  Instead, we get games that bear the hallmark of a designer but not the prior game history.  Unsurprisingly, with only a famous name and not a series, all these projects have had to turn to crowdfunding.  Some, perhaps those with more modest goals, have demonstrated success.

Pillars of Eternity may have saved Obsidian Entertainment, many of whose employees previously worked for Interplay's Black Isle Studios.  Black Isle and Bioware collaborated freely back in the day, and several key individuals worked both on Pillars and Torment, the latter being released by inXile.  Thimbleweed looks and plays like a SCUMM game, and was developed by the developer of SCUMM, Ron Gilbert.  All three have received good review scores, and even Planetary Annihilation received mixed reviews.

As for the other games, I note that Overload has an Steam early access release, so the backers can have something to show for their money even if the game never is completed.  However, Chris Roberts' Star Citizen, of which Squadron 42 is a spin-off, received massive amounts of money since 2012 and nothing to show for it to date.  Similarly, Richard Garriott's Ultima successor has also seen a lot of money for a similarly extended development cycle.  The Two Guys from Andromeda's Space Quest and the Coles' Quest for Glory successors had far more modest fundraising success, but little has been heard regarding either game in some time.

Mobile Spinoffs
Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar
Dungeon Keeper Mobile

Finally, Electronic Arts has never been shy about exploiting past properties.  In the 1990s, it bought Origin, Bullfrog and Maxis.  Maxis and Will Wright's legacy (The Sims, SimCity, Spore) has been consistently profitable for EA, but the legacies of Origin and Bullfrog have been less than consistently impressive.  EA's mobile division has sought to bring some beloved franchises to smart devices, but both have seen harsh criticisms for hitting you up for money too often in the form of microtransactions.  The Ultima game was shut down within a year.  Ultima Online, however, has been officially online for almost twenty years, something of a record.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Maybe try to add some of the better HD mods to this list as well, they often offer more than these official "remasters". Compare, for instance, this mod: https://sites.google.com/site/heroes3hd/ with the official Ubisoft remake.

Anonymous said...

Underworld Ascendant? Although it's unreleased.

Great Hierophant said...

Good call, added. Most of the spiritual successors are still unreleased at this point.

Anonymous said...

x-com is missing

Omer Mor said...

What about the fan remakes by Tierra/AGDI and Infamous Adventurers of KQ1, KQ2, KQ3 (2 remakes), QfG2 and Space Quest 2?

Telltale's "Tales of Monkey Island"?

Stardock's upcoming "Star Control: Origins" (https://www.starcontrol.com/starcontrolorigins)?

DamoclesAlpha said...

One curious case is Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap. It is a multi-platform remake of Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap, which was originally released for Sega's 8-bit console, Master System in 1989. The console versions were released in April and PC version is slated for release through GOG.com and Steam in June 8th:
http://www.thedragonstrap.com/

However, it probably doesn't qualify for this list, since the original game didn't get any official versions for PC before this. On the other hand, stuff like this is right up this blog's alley:
http://www.thedragonstrap.com/blog/post/201609_ReverseEngineering/