Game publishers frequently do things that seem to make very little sense. The most currently fashionable thing that makes very little sense seems to be the FPS reboot. Take an old, much-loved video game franchise, whip up fanboy hysteria by announcing a new entry, then reveal an only-partially-related-at-best FPS, containing a couple of elements which vaguely relate to the core conceits of the original game, albeit in a rather abstract way. Wayhay! FPS reboot! New players might like it but will never have heard of the franchise! Old fans of the franchise will be incensed and immediately hate what might have been a perfectly acceptable game if given a different name! Absolutely no-one benefits!
It’s already happening with old favourite strategy shooters X-COM and Syndicate, and I reckon it’s going to continue. So I’ve come up with a few concepts of my own, mainly so that I can at least take revenge with a stolen-design lawsuit when publishers inevitably start bastardising these particular parts of my childhood.
The original was: A refreshingly original urban planning simulator, which tasked the player with designing and maintaining a metropolis while carefully balancing running costs, the revenue of buildings, industry and commerce, and the happiness of its population. You could also defend against natural disasters. Sounds incredibly dull, was actually dangerously engrossing.
How and why the suits would ‘update’ it: “Huge, open, urban environments are cool since GTA III. User-generated content is cool since consoles went online. Combining the two is a no-brainer! But now that we invest most of our money in the game engine arms race, why waste a huge tech investment on a distant overhead viewpoint? Let’s get inside that city! In first-person! And let’s really show off the quality of our tech via gritty, realistic, urban detail and believable, physics-driven destruction! Sim City Shooter! YEAH!”
How the spirit of the original would be ‘reimagined’: In a grim, dystopian future, cities are run by corporations, and corporations rule the world. Cities are now huge, urban war machines. Build the industry and defences of your own, then infiltrate those of your enemies, taking them down from within. Your overall mission is to find and murder the ruling council, but along the way you can also press a button to drop skyscrapers on dudes. You know, to screw up the city redevelopment budget and cause all kinds of financial headaches just like in the original game.
The original was: An RPG with grandiose vision. An epic, sweeping narrative of personal growth, enlightenment and revenge. Possibly the first truly successful open-world game, and certainly one of the most detailed RPG worlds of all time. Realism, emotion and believable storytelling were key. Sadly the planned decades-long story was cut short when the second sequel failed to appear.
How and why the suits would ‘update’ it: “Shenmue is a huge name. Its fanbase is utterly rabid for more. And now that we’ve invested so much money in the game engine arms race, we can really do its real-world realism justice. The only problem with the original (which we’re contractually obliged to state that we have the greatest respect for) is that it had very little in the way of guns. A tale of revenge and the criminal underworld in which everyone uses martial arts instead of firearms? For a realistic game, that’s not very realistic. And those long combat training sequences really slowed the pace of the game anyway. So we’re putting guns in. And a first-person perspective so that you can really see how much detail we have in the world this time. And so we can sell a few game engine licenses.”
How the spirit of the original would be ‘reimagined’: The initial, heart-wrenching scene in which hero Ryo witnesses his father’s murder at the hands of never-caught villain Lan Di would be resolved in seconds, as our man pulls out a beretta and plugs the hell out of the fool (just think of how many engine leases would be sold off the back of the wood splintering effects in the dojo!). The resolution that Shenmue fans have long craved would be served, and we wouldn’t have to worry about another unfortunate never-ending cliffhanger if the sequel didn’t happen. Lan Di would be dead. Ryo could spend the rest of the game tracking down the rest of the gang and shooting them up, or something. In co-op with his now-alive dad. Who would be there all the frigging time, even if only one person was playing. It would be just as brilliant as F.E.A.R. 3!
The Secret of Monkey Island
The original was: One of the highlights of Lucasarts’ classic period as an Adventure game developer. Sharp, witty, and slyly clever in its treatment of both pirate lore and the conventions of its game genre (the swashbuckling insult duels remain one of the smartest ideas in creative game design to this very day), it spawned several sequels and a decent 2009 episodic mini-series by Telltale Games.
How and why the suits would ‘update’ it: “People like Pirates of the Caribbean.”
How the spirit of the original would be ‘reimagined’: All of the supernatural pirate comedy would remain (because that sort of thing has only become more popular since the POTC franchise basically lifted it wholesale from Monkey Island and inserted an eye-linered Johnny Depp for the ladies), but Guybrush Threepwood would be reinvented as a hip, edgy hero for a new decade.
He’d be no nonsense, all action. He wouldn’t take any crap from people demanding fetch-quests or riddle solving. He’d shoot his way to the answers. But to keep things 100% authentic to the original game’s legendary literal verbal sparring, he’d have a Duke Nukem-humbling number of pithy one-liners to trot out each and every time he killed a goon. He would also be able to carry an infeasible number of weapons in tribute to the infinitely large pockets of the traditional Adventure game hero, and would ultimately have the choice of killing LeChuck with either a firearm or a blade, both of which would have different, hilarious consequences. Because that would be a bit like a puzzle. Just like in the original games.