The PS3/Xbox 360 generation that is now partly in the past gave birth to the trend of HD remakes, ports and remasters, with many titles and bundles like the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, the God of War Collection, the Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection or the upcoming Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD Remaster.
That’s not too surprising, as this kind of product is a low cost, high yield operation that allows publishers to make some bank in a difficult market situation without the investment required by a fully new production.
The generation of the PS4 and Xbox One probably won’t be too different. The first example has already been announced with Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition, coming to PS4 and Xbox One with renewed graphics and 1080p support. The fact that we’re seeing the first port so early into the generation is probably a sign of things to come. The business of HD remasters is good and profitable, and publishers love good and profitable business.
The fact that the PS4 and Xbox One aren’t backwards compatible will most probably fuel the trend even further, given that many sold or shelved their old consoles and companies will strive to provide chances to play older classics with a shiny coat of 1080p paint even before cloud services like Gaikai come into the picture.
Another driving factor is that the PS3 and Xbox 360 failed rather dramatically on the promise of native 1080p resolution, leaving plenty of room for improvement for future re-releases and paving the way for a generation of “Full HD Remakes”
Of course we shouldn’t forget the fact that republishing old titles also contributes to raising the hype and awareness for new games in same franchise.
What can we expect for this new generation of Full HD Remakes? Let’s start by giving a look at some of the the titles that have a good chance to get refreshed for the Xbox 360 and Xbox One.
Of course I may have forgotten quite a few great games that deserve an HD port, remake or collection, so feel free to add your own guesses in the comments below this article.
That said, what can we expect from those games from a technical point of view? How can developers make them look different enough from their old-gen counterparts in order entice gamers to purchase them? Here’s a list of possible improvements:
1080p resolution: obvious and very safe to assume. The games published during the PS4/Xbox One era aren’t very demanding, hardware-wise, compared to PS4 and Xbox One games, so there’s plenty of room to kick the resolution up a notch.
60 frames per second: this is also very possible, even if the challenges to push a higher frame rate in a game not initially built for it are sizable compared to just increasing resolution. Full HD Remakes will probably be the category of games hitting the 1080p/60 FPS sweet spot more often compared to new titles.
Longer draw distance: most probable and quite easy to achieve through a combination of the removal (or mitigation) of distance fog and loading of farther textures and models that can easily fit in the 8 GB of RAM on both the Xbox One and PS4. After all the new generation seems to be all about big worlds, and this kind of improvement can definitely make a game’s world look bigger.
Higher resolution textures: let’s not hide behind a finger here: most games on PS3 and Xbox 360 had horrible, muddy low resolution textures in order to fit the very limited memory of both consoles. There’s a whole lot of room for improvement here, and it’s a relatively easy enhancement, so it’s almost a must have. Lower compression will also help making textures look more realistic and less like stirred mud.
Higher resolution Normal Maps: normal mapping is a technique that fakes light and shadows on a flat polygon in order to add details that appear sculpted in 3D. It’s based on a texture called normal map, and increasing the resolution (or decreasing the compression) of said texture immediately raises the visual quality of an object. It’s very easy to do and we’ll probably see a lot of this.
DirectX 11 Effects: considering that both PS4 and Xbox One support DirectX 11 one way or another, the addition of effects like Tassellation is basically obvious.
Better Shadows: this is another very easy and as such most probable enhancement. Higher resolution shadows mean crisper and more defined visual. It’s a subtle change, but it does make a difference.
Better antialiasing: antialiasing on PS3 and Xbox 360 was really bad in most cases, and this is something that can be improved quite easily, so it’s one of the most probable enhancements we’re going to see.
New/PC-Only Effects: effects can be added to an engine with relative ease, giving a much needed refresher to lighting, explosions and similar elements. The probability of seeing the addition of effects that were previously exclusive to the PC version of a game is also very high.
New Voice Overs: possible mostly for older games and those that aren’t fully voice acted (like many Japanese games).
Social/Cloud Features: almost a must for this generation. Given the current trends, we can expect to see additional leaderboards, online features, dedicated servers and cloud-based gimmicks.
Enhanced physics: it requires more development resources than simple graphical improvements, but it’s possible that some developers will take advantage of the higher hardware specs (and of GPU/cloud computing down the line) to improve this area.
New gameplay features and content: this is the improvement that requires the most resources, so it’s also the least likely to be implemented, as it reduces the advantageous cost/yield ratio of an enhanced port. I wouldn’t exclude it, though, as it’s not unprecedented.
Will it be worth your money? Of course your mileage may vary here. HD remakes and ports on PS3 and Xbox 360 shown a very wide variation in quality. Some were great and some were abysmal, normally depending on whether they were a full fledged project with actual funding and decent development resources spent on them, or a simple and quick cash grab.
We’ll probably see the same difference in results on PS4 and Xbox One, meaning that there will be some gems, some turds and quite a lot of shades of grey.
If you already sold your old consoles and you didn’t play some of the games I listen above, their Full HD remakes will definitely be a welcome addition to your collection. Otherwise you’ll have to proceed with the usual buyer’s discretion.
Ultimately remakes and enhanced ports aren’t such a negative thing as many describe them. The income generated by this kind of operation normally doesn’t get stashed in some tropical fiscal paradise, but gets re-invested into new games and IPs, that often provide a much lower return of investment on their own.
It’s a synergy that works well for the industry, so we can expect to see it in the future just as much or even more than we did in the past generation.