In the entertainment medium, the word "classic" is often interchangeable with "timeless." After all, is the Beatles's Sgt. Pepper any less amazing to listen to or is Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather any less poignant then when originally released? Mediums like cinema, music, and literature tend to be unaffected by the thoughtless constraints of time. Video games, on the other hand, have never been that lucky.
While cinema, music, and literature have the luxury of having their fundamentals well established, videogames are stuck with having to reinvent the wheel every six years or so. Going back to an arcade game from the early 1980s or an early 3-D action/adventure game from the Playstation One era can be jarring for most modern gaming enthusiasts. While the medium has come a long way since the primitive monochromatic glares of the simple sprite based games like Pong and Space Invaders, many still worry about the roots of gaming being crushed by the weight of its own accelerated evolution. So storied companies like Capcom and Sega must ask a difficult question: How do you pay homage to your back catalog of software while making it relevant to the modern gaming public? Surprisingly enough, the answer to this came from a very modern gaming trope.
If you have ever played a game on either the Xbox 360 or the Playstation 3, you know all too well the siren song of the achievement system. These micro tasks (aka achievements) in games run the gambit from the completely mundane (Command & Conquer 3 gives an achievement for hitting the A button 2,047 times) to the absolutely insane (Guitar Hero 3 gives you an achievement for beating Dragon Force's "Through the Fire and the Flames" on expert). While many might see these inventive tasks as mindless acts of attrition, the fact remains that achievements can extend the life of any game. And while many publishers and developers had looked at the achievements system as a tool to add to a modern game's value, this very system also held the key to introducing an older generation of games to a whole new audience.
It was around this time that a light bulb went off for companies like Sega and Capcom. These companies, with their massive back catalogs, could finally breathe new life into their classic franchises. Originally, the problem with rereleasing their older games to the current gaming public came down to the fact that, because video games had made such an evolutionary leap, the question of relevancy became a major issue. However with the introduction of the achievement system, the concern of these games keeping the attention of the modern gaming enthusiast became less of an issue, due to the extended gameplay experience brought by the achievement system. This was first experimented with in various compilations in this generation of consoles.
Two of Capcom's compilations that are currently available on the Sony PSP's downloadable service, Capcom Classics Collection: Reloaded (Capcom, $19.99) and Capcom Classics Collection: Remixed (Capcom, $19.99) include a wide variety of games that span across Capcom's storied library: an eclectic mix of arcade, 8-Bit, and 16-Bit games, with both collections including various favorites like 1942, Ghosts n' Goblins, Gun. Smoke, Mercs, Bionic Commando, Black Tiger, Forgotten Worlds, Strider, and Street Fighter II just to name a few. Even though most of these games are still just as enjoyable today as when they were originally released, each one in their original forms offer very brief gaming experiences when compared to the modern games that are released today. Remixed and Reloaded both try to alleviate this problem by adding an achievement system within the collection itself, creating micro goals within each game (like defeating a certain boss or reaching a certain score) that unlock extras like developer interviews and concept art. This in turn keeps many modern players interested long after they have beaten a game.
Other compilations that followed a similar formula of achievement based system include Data East Arcade Classics (Majesco Entertainment, $19.99) for the Nintendo Wii as well as Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection (Sega, $19.99) for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Data East Arcade Classics (which contains games like Burger Time and Bad Dudes) follows the exact formula as both Reloaded and Remixed by offering game-specific achievements that unlock various extras like interviews and concept art. Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection, however, goes a bit further by not only including many Sega Genesis classics (40 games in all, such as Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Golden Axe and Streets of Rage 2), but also making many of Sega's arcade games part of the unlockable extras that are attained by completing specific tasks. It also goes a bit farther by including both Xbox Live Achievement and Playstation 3 Trophy integration. Many popular old games, with healthy fan followings, have in fact started to take the same approach as Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection by integrating Xbox Live Achievements and Playstation 3 Trophies along with specific in-game achievements and rereleasing these games on online services like Xbox Live and the Playstation Network.
The most recent example of this is the release of Final Fight: Double Impact (Capcom, 800 Microsoft Points or $9.99) for Xbox Live and the Playstation Network. For many videogame fans who have been playing games since the early '90s, the original Final Fight is the seminal arcade beat'em-up. Final Fight: Double Impact includes the original arcade classic Final Fight as well as the cult classic Magic Sword. For games like Final Fight that have a massive following behind them, downloadable services present a new way to introduce these games to a new generation of players without putting them into compilations. These types of titles can sell very well by putting in the right unlockable extras that fans of a certain game would appreciate. In the case of Double Impact, the extras include concept art, a Final Fight comic book, and a Final Fight cartoon along with cult classic Magic Sword. Along with these in-game achievements that access the unlockables when completed, Double Impact also includes integration with Xbox Live Achievements and Playstation 3 Trophies, which gives many modern players who might not be familiar with the game an incentive to go check it out.
While many companies have, in the past, introduced their older catalogs through compilations, with downloadable services becoming more accessible, the ten dollar downloadable game might be the future distribution model that publishers go with. Whether it is through compilations or digital distribution, it is nice to see these older classics reaching a new generation of gaming enthusiasts. While some credit can be given to many modern gaming ideas like digital distribution and unlockable extras, a special recognition has to go to the achievement system. Because of this modern gaming trope, something old has become something new again.
Sumantra Lahiri is a freelance writer for video games. His work has appeared in such sites as Gamasutra and The Escapist magazine.