With the infamous release of Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition, it has become more apparent than ever that remastering video games, something that ought to be comparatively simple in theory, is actually a task that can end up breaking even the gigantic AAA game studios.
For the game devs who actually want to do it right – here is a guide on how to approach the arcane art of improving and conserving old games.
Do your homework – pick a good initial version (if applicable) and gather as much data or files as possible.
Ultimately, remasters depend a lot on the original edition they are based off of. In the days of old, many console versions of games somewhat differed in content to their PC equivalents. With more modern titles, the differences are far fewer but they may still have their own limitations. Picking the correct, definitive edition of the beloved game may be hard, but in general its either its newer release or the PC edition or the most beloved/ feature and content complete version of the game. For the exceptions that exist, taking content from the other versions of the game and adding them to the remaster is a good idea, provided they fit the game of course. And even if the original edition is a console port of a game – always pick the one with the better engine. Art assets are relatively easy to port or enhance otherwise.
Basing a remaster on the PS3 version… not the best idea…
There are possible complications here. If the game’s source code is lost, then remastering it becomes quite a bit harder (not impossible!) and many developers may lean towards using an inferior version whose source code still exists.. Ultimately, that is understandable, if unfortunate. Thankfully, skilled and dedicated developers can still either remake the game in engine (if it has an SDK) comparatively quickly or alternatively even reverse engineer the game itself. That is much harder though. An acceptable way to do it is that even if an inferior version of the game is used, like say a PS3 edition or a mobile port – take extra heed into porting or recreating the missing features. You can get 100% quality and 100% features; it will just take some added effort. The fans deserve it and it is indeed possible!
Standards that may help the game out for the long haul must be abided by, modern APIs are welcome!
It is 2022. Many gamers can target 4K and even 8K devices. We know high FPS and high-resolution gaming is coming and it is great. Make sure the game is 64-bit so that it can actually work correctly with these use cases in mind. 32-bit applications, unless extremely light even with the enhanced graphics, can crash due to out of memory problems with modern systems, not due to some inherent instability, but simply because we are asking too much of programs that cannot use more than 4GB of RAM.
64-bit versions should be the standard. They have been since 2004. An example of a remaster where the developers kinda get away with it – the case of SWINE HD, things are still OK for now due to how light it is, but I’d still consider 32-bit engine as a technical oversight. Thank God Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition didn’t make the same mistake.
The other issue is game APIs. Old DX8 and ancient OpenGL versions or even worse – custom APIs from the vendors of the late 90s or proprietary tech that doesn’t play nice with modern GPUs like TrueForm… cleaning these messes and translating them to the modern OpenGL 4.5+ or DX11/12 or Vulkan standards should be expected. Again, something far easier with source code access (not impossible without), but we need to have this expectation from developers. Putting lipstick on a ‘pig’ won’t make it viable in the here and now!
AI upscaling is awesome but use it wisely!
Getting a dedicated artist to work on remastering game assets is the best way to achieve maximum quality, but a studio may just not have the number of artists or man hours to go through an entire game and do everything manually. This is where AI upscaling comes in and is among the best tools in a studio’s arsenal. Good modern techniques can allow for excellent upgrading of textures or even models in some cases. Sometimes, you don’t even need your artist to fiddle with them – it can be that darn good.
It should be perfumes… but the AI made a mistake.
Until it isn’t. See, the machine is very powerful but it too makes mistakes. A human must oversee what it does at all times else things like GTA: The Definitive Edition happen. In truth many of its initial texture or model mistakes are there just because no human actually spotted them or paid attention to them in the first place.
No matter how powerful technology is, how automated we can make a process – at the end of the day this is an art form and it’s aimed at humans. Never let the machine do 100% of the work as it pleases – contrary to popular belief computers make mistakes too!
Do not cut out features or content – this is the time to have the full game as a singular, complete experience!
This one should be self-evident really. When making a remaster of a game, its optimal to take the full game with all of its patches, all of its DLCs and Expansion packs and then work towards making a full, coherent package. Any changes to content should only be additions (for example – the Lost Missions for DOOM 3 BFG) and not downgrades!
This includes game modes too. And the SDK. So not having a functioning MP, even if it was never popular, is a small mistake, but a mistake nonetheless. Lacking a full SDK is a major downgrade, unless the original works with the new remaster.
Do not start a war against your community.
This one should be self-explanatory, but if the community has legitimate queries or issues with the remaster, it is a good idea to at least listen to them.
Gamer communities aren’t always mature and understanding, but passion itself is a corrupting force. Maybe the remaster has very good reasons to make some changes – communicate them if possible. And if modders want to help – well this depends on the studio culture and legal matters too, but perhaps do try and recruit them to the cause.
If possible, do not remove the original game – buggy or broken, keep it in circulation in some manner!
This one is a true pet peeve of mine. Sometimes, the new version really is overall just a superior version of the older title. Even if that is the case, do not remove the original. This matters for game conservation and maybe for modding if the original had great mods that is.
One good way to assure that the older, inferior version isn’t a new player’s first experience with a given series or title is to just put it as a part of a package – once someone buys the remaster they also get the original too. I’d say that is quite the sweet way do handle these things.
Do not add guck like DRM or software onto the remaster!
Releasing a remaster of a 10-year-old game with modern DRM on top of it that may affect performance will for sure sour many gamer’s feelings towards said remaster. At the very least make sure to remove DRM later on but better yet – don’t put modern mistakes on top of old successes.
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