Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Virtues of Using the Original Format In a Remake and Digital World

I prefer vinyl, movies on film and playing games on the original console. Some call it being a snob but I think that there's something to be said about getting as close as possible to the original experience. Computers let us have everything now. I dislike emulation, yet I've got several ROMs on every computer in the house if I feel like running through a few levels of Castlevania really quickly. I've got an iPod loaded with hundreds of albums. Most of my consoles are modded so that I can play any game I want whenever I want. But for the most part, I don't.

"WHY THE FUCK NOT?" you bellow, as your monocle falls out and you spill your tea. Well, let's talk about that. Everything that goes into a game is a part of a presentation. From the console that you're putting the disc into to the controller you're playing it on, this is part of the experience. The case artwork, the disc artwork, all of this sets a precedent for what you're about to experience.

I've been playing God of War, so let's talk about that real quickly.

Here's the box artwork for the PlayStation 2 version. This isn't necessarily excellent box art but it tells you what you're in for. This is a game of furious violence and grandeur. Kratos looks up to the challenge, but hesitant or burdened.  The disc art carries a close up of the same image and the pages of the manual look like they're printed on old paper, with chaotic sketches showing the enemies.

Here's the cover to the remastered version:

5 FULL GAMES of sad lion hands in 3D. This takes away from all of the games. I get it, it's supposed to be a budget way to play the older games in the series in an enhanced quality. You've lost part of the presentation.. part of the experience. Picking the game from a menu is much different than being thrown directly to the flaming title screen with Kratos staring back at you. You lose the intensity, you lose the knowledge of what you're about to experience each time. You lose the anticipation and the excitement. It cheapens the game knowing that it's now just stuffed on a disc with four others in the series.

I'm honestly not fond of the HD remaster trend, either. It's running at a higher resolution yes, but typically the textures are untouched and there are other unfortunate changes. By far the worst remaster I've seen is for Resident Evil: Code VERONICA X HD. It's less of a remaster and more of an aborted remake. The game no longer runs on its original engine and instead runs in Capcom's MT Framework. They attempted to add in dynamic lighting where the original game's was mostly static. It's horrible.

In the original version of the game, you could see quite well to the end of the hall and the lighting had more of a blue tint. That creepy doll way in the back was much more prominent, constantly looming. The lighting changes make the game look absolutely atrocious, with colors constantly appearing over saturated. In addition, they attempted to add some sort of depth of field effect and a grainy film filter. The depth of field effect is completely broken because as you know... Resident Evil has static cameras. Though this game was in full 3D and did feature occasional camera movement, it isn't dynamic. The result is just that your character sort of goes out of focus once they move too far away from the camera. It's lazy and sloppy. The cutscenes weren't re-rendered either, resulting in a macroblocked fuckery. The only textures that were re-done were the character's faces; if you look beyond their faces in the in-engine cutscenes, you'll see a blurry compressed mess. No one should have any faith in the Resident Evil Gamecube remake's....remake.

Granted, most HD remakes don't fuck up like this but in this case, you're better off with the Dreamcast version. The console's VGA output is beautiful and scales very well on HDTVs. Too often, said remakes make slight tweaks to the game. Altering difficulty, removing framerate issues.. but even those are part of the experience. Hell, I don't always stick to the original format but that was a pretty extreme case. In its original state Castlevania: The Adventure is borderline unplayable. Using an emulator significantly altered my experience.

Since I mentioned remakes, let's talk about remakes. Since we're already talking about Resident Evil, let's talk about Resident Evil. The original Resident Evil, in my opinion, is a masterpiece. It's one of the finest games ever made. I'm talking about this version:

That's right motherfucker, the Jill sandwich version. With the really bad voice acting. The game is brilliantly paced and everything just works incredibly well. Even the tank controls. You see, that's called atmosphere. You didn't used to be able to do anything you wanted in games. Games weren't always Grand Theft Auto. They had rules; the very nature of a game. That bad voice acting? Wonderful. It was clearly intended to be a pretty serious game but I love b-movie type things and I can't help but have a soft spot for the game. They had good intentions but they reached beyond their means. It's charm; it's character. Sure, the REmake for Gamecube fixed that. It made the graphics better. But it lost its character in the process. It became a grim horror movie taking itself way too seriously. It lost its soul. It wasn't the creators' original intent anymore. It was made bigger and louder, just because it could be. Not necessarily because it should be.

Let's talk about emulators as well. They're terrible. Accuracy has become more of a priority for recent developments, but it'll never be enough. bsnes does a good job at getting closer to how the console actually runs, but I don't think I've ever heard a Super Nintendo emulator that did a good job of recreating the sound. The Super Nintendo's sound chip has a very smooth sound. It's easy on the ears. I'm not quite sure how to adequately describe the particulars of what I mean, but we'll go with the coin sound in the Mario games. It sounds jagged and sharp on emulators, where it sounds smooth on the console. 

This is true of emulated games on consoles as well. I've encountered quite a few strange glitches in Sonic 3 on the Xbox 360 version that I know don't happen on the console version. How? Because I've beat that game hundreds of fucking times, that's how. Just because it has some sort of endorsement or approval of the original developer means nothing for performance. The only real way to ensure a similar performance would be by porting the game with the original source code. Unfortunately, the original source code is frequently unavailable and even then it wouldn't guarantee a 100% perfect experience. 

Using the console itself is even an experience. Picking up a Banjo-Kazooie cartridge and pushing it into the N64 then sliding the power button up and picking up the three pronged controller creates a vastly different mindset and mood than holding down the guide button on a 360 controller and going into your game library and pressing A. The difference in the analog sticks makes movement feel different. The difference in the shape of the buttons makes the timing feel different. Don't take this as an excuse for people who say they just can't play a game that's on PlayStation on an Xbox though. They're just mad they lost.

But what of movies and music, since I mentioned it? Film is a better format than digital. No question about it. Hollywood wants you to think otherwise so they can save a buck. When the Wizard of Oz was remastered for Blu-Ray the original negative was scanned at an 8k resolution. This is a movie that came out in 1939. Avatar came out in 2009 and was filmed in digital at a 2k resolution. In a few years when 4k becomes the standard, Avatar is going to have a lot of evidence of macroblocking and compression artifacts (read: it's going to look as shitty as the movie is). When The Wizard of Oz is released in 4k, it's going to look even better than the Blu-Ray. An entire generation of movies is going to look like shit because Hollywood wanted to save a dime.

Want to know the advantages of film? Watch this:

It's simplistic, but it gives a good overview of the advantages along with some side by side comparisons. The Level 1.1 and 1.2 Dragon Ball Z Blu-Rays were incredible... and then they got cancelled because fans didn't like the film grain and the fact that it was 4:3. So, instead we got another cropped atrocity that had digital noise reduction applied like it was nobody's business.

Vinyl is more subjective. From a technical standpoint, CD has advantages. I believe vinyl is a more accurate reproduction of sound though. I won't go into all that, but if you're buying your music in MP3 format from online stores, you're robbing yourself.

Too often we're just okay with things. By doing that, we're robbing ourselves of something. Next time you want to play a game, why not pass on the ROM and emulator? Why not look into getting the actual console? Next time you want to see a movie, why not go see it at a theater that shows it on film? Oh, wait, you can't. Bad example.

My point is, just because you can get it easier and run it in a higher resolution with an emulator it doesn't make it better. Just because you can download a song on iTunes for a dollar doesn't make it the best bang for your buck. Just because you can make your movie in HD doesn't mean you should. Embrace the experience. Spend the money and treat yourself. Look for the best way to watch a movie, listen to a song, play a game. Enjoy the art as it was meant to be enjoyed.

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