Opinion-In Defense of Ports

Port. Remaster. Definitive Edition. The gaming community has been hearing a lot of these phrases over the past two console generations. It seems that since the PlayStation 3/ Xbox 360 era, developers and publishers have been more eager to port or remaster older titles for the current platform, either with new content or a graphical update. However, is this a bad thing?

From Quarters to Consoles

To understand ports today, we must first examine where they began: The arcade to home console journey. Arcades have all but been extinct, due in large parts to rising costs of keeping and maintaining machines, as well as the rise of the home console with its large library of original titles and superior technology. However, early consoles often saw themselves porting over various arcade games, such as Pong and Ms. Pacman, with varying degrees of success. The port of Pong to the Atari made it a hallmark game for the console, found in any plug and play version. As console power grew, the amount of arcade games ported increased. Games like Battletoads, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, King of Fighters and more saw their arcade gameplay ported to consoles like the NES, SNES, PlayStation and Dreamcast. Often times if you saw a new fighting game or beat em’ up in your local arcade, chances were that it wasn’t long until said game could be a part of your home library.

Ports were rarely “arcade perfect”, meaning there was something different about them that often made them inferior to their cabinet brethren. Whether it was worse graphics, sound, or not being able to play with four people simultaneously, home consoles often traded overall quality for convenience utility. While players didn’t necessarily have the best gameplay experience, they could play in the comfort of their home at any time, without needing to insert quarters after each loss. As home consoles began to innovate their technology, games were being ported with similar arcade gameplay (specifically around the PlayStation 2/Xbox, and Dreamcast generation), though it wouldn’t matter soon. As arcades started to die out, many arcade series began releasing their latest entries into home consoles primarily, that at this point already had better technology and were more cost efficient than the cabinets of old. As such, the nature of ports changed dramatically.

Now With More Pixels

While ports of Arcade games to modern consoles still exist (see Neo Geo’s Arcade Library on any console’s EShop), modern ports are being made with an emphasis on “remastering” the experience you already had. Since the games being ported no longer require a quarter each play, developers needed a new focus to justify buying a game a second time. Enter HD collections. HD collections take games previously enjoyed, and update their looks for modern consoles, often repackaging multiple games in a series and charging roughly $30-$60. Some series that have seen this practice are Saints Row, Shadows of the Colossus, Splinter Cell, Devil May Cry, Hitman, Doom, Grand Theft Auto, and the Batman Arkham games.

The convenience utility has shifted from “now you no longer to go to an arcade” to “now you no longer need to keep your last generation, or two generations old console”. The touting of graphical improvements entices players eager to reexperience their favorite moments at their most stunning appearance. Sometimes new content or previously released DLC is packaged together with the base game, now marketed as “The Definitive Experience”. While I do find problems with this practice, I feel it’s on a game by game basis and ultimately falls on the practices at play. In most cases it’s safe to assume that player’s will now get the most out of their money by waiting for the almost inevitable Game of the Year editions, packaged with all of the content previously released, at the same or lowered price of the base game. Ports and remasters do not only allow economic decision making and graphical improvements however, they can also allow for more convenient gaming practices.

Since the original Gameboy, ports added convenience utility through portability: the ability to take your favorite games on the go. This is, in part, a large reason why the Switch is such a successful product at the moment and why so many 3rd party developers are jumping on board with Nintendo’s wildfire of a console. So far this year we’re not only seeing ports of Nintendo games like Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze and Bayonetta, but also first time third party games coming to Switch like Outlast and Dark Souls coming to the system. Persona 4 Golden is an example of how new content and portability came together to create one of the most profitable Vita games of the system’s lifespan. Having a game in your back pocket at any time allows for quick pick up and play sessions, whether it be a few rounds on the bus or grinding out a level or two while waiting for an appointment. Another example of a successful port to a handheld is the phenomenon Tetris, which was ported to the original Gameboy following its release on the Commodore 64 and in arcades. The pick up and play puzzle game was a smashing hit, making it one of the most recognizable games of all time, and a monument of videogame history, thanks in large part to the steam it gained through Nintendo’s portable.

Conclusion

The word “port” or “remaster” seems to be thought of as a dirty word in today’s gaming space. A cheap way for companies to extort loyal fans out of more money, without adding anything extra. While I understand these ideas, I also understand the importance of the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. I feel that oftentimes we see too many attempts to modernize franchises, to reinvent them for a contemporary audience, often times losing something special in the process. While I’m not one to disagree with the necessity of needing to change, adapt, and innovate (especially in a competitive market), it should be noted that if something works its okay to leave it as is. As gaming technology improves, we’re once again going to see our favorite games repackaged and distributed with slightly better graphics and different features. In the coming months we’re already seeing a port of the Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm trilogy and the Street Fighter: 30th Anniversary Collection coming to the current generation. It’s important to remember however that at the end of the day we all vote with our wallets. For some, this means passing up on collections and special editions. For others, it means pre-orders. For me? It depends on the game. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to playing Devil May Cry 3, for the fourth time.

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