Discussion Forum

The Authenticity Obsession

Why is everyone so obsessed with every game being "authentic" to the original medium when it is re-made, re-released, or otherwise brought back to our attention in a slightly different form, after its initial run?

I briefly talked about this in my Retrospective on the Making of Cruz. Playing Kroz on the original hardware (IBM 5150 or PCjr) is the only "authentic" way to play it. But most people don't want that. They want to have all the modern trappings of computers that they love and have gotten used to, while still "experiencing the retro medium like it was meant to be played."

But seriously...how is any game meant to be played?

With Cruz and ZZT Ultra, I really tried to get the timing right. The controls had to feel right. But the term "right" does not necessarily mean "right in its original rendition." Click-to-move controls have been implemented in both Cruz and ZZT Ultra, which weren't there in their original keyboard-centric glory.

In some people's minds, this is a serious infraction against authenticity.

For every nitpick a person has about how a certain retro-themed game or remake of an older game isn't "spot-on," I could probably identify another smoothed-over detail that the same person completely failed to identify and just accepted at face value.

A good example is the PC EGA-themed game on Steam, known as MURI. It's pretty fun, and if you liked the original Duke Nukem side-scrolling games and Turrican games, you would probably like MURI, too. But there was one detail that just confounded me: the choice of smooth frame rate or "authentic" choppy frame rate.

I tried the "authentic" frame rate at first. After realizing that my coordination was way off as a result, I decided to switch to smooth frame rate, which is where the setting has remained ever since.

Authentic? For a new IP? Why?

Well, the truth in this regard isn't as satisfactory as you might think. It is true that the original EGA Duke Nukem game had a relatively choppy frame rate, because 8086 PCs could only handle so much. The master programmer Todd Replogle dedicated everything to making the EGA hardware work to a T. Getting 60 FPS in Duke Nukem wasn't really a priority, at least, not when you see how the game scores so high in every other quarter.

But later on, Apogee re-released the game with a speed enhancement, which took advantage of faster computers. The only real change was the overall speed of the game itself--it simply ran faster. The original rounded-off, grid-locked positions of all the game sprites...stayed as rounded-off, grid-locked positions.

Hmm. So exactly how "authentic" is "authentic?"

The issue, to me, is something of a non-issue. Multiple-platform releases invariably have produced differences in sound, graphics, and gameplay, with arcade-to-home ports usually resulting in capabilities being stripped down. Mileage may vary based on the target platform.

Most people lament conversions that reduce quality. Practically no one laments improved quality. Capcom was notable in that many of its 1980s arcade titles had graphics and sound reduced, but the overall length, story, and gameplay were actually substantially improved in the Famicom/NES home ports:

  • Gun.Smoke: Powerups, currency system

  • Commando: Hidden rooms

  • Trojan: Hidden rooms, powerups

  • Legendary Wings: Longer levels, remixed horizontal stages, extra boss characters

  • Bionic Commando: Entire game re-imagined (to the point where this is the version most people remember)

The underlying message is this: We will always try to make improvements over previous work. As long as there is something lacking, somebody will try to make it better.

This was the core rationale for the creators of Shovel Knight not hewing to "NES hardware" authenticity. Graphics look better than the NES could have done, and sound has more channels than there would have been available on any variation of the hardware. They just wanted to make something impressive, and they delivered.

Of course, missteps can still happen. The most pronounced backlash against a remake was with King's Quest I, which is a rare instance of nostalgia holding so much sway that Williams and Williams decided to let sleeping dogs lie. Conversions for the rest of the series were shelved.

Now, the King's Quest I remake isn't bad. It's actually great. And with enough time, I imagine that most people, when given a choice of which version to play, will pick the best-looking, best-sounding, and most fair gnome-naming version.

Nostalgia lasts only so long, because details within our memories last only so long. Time erases much of our memory.

If it's a choice between wearing rose-colored glasses and smelling a genuine rose, give me the rose that was picked today. Because I can't find my glasses.


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