Why NeoGAF’s PS1 Demakes Are So Interesting

A nice little thing that’s making the rounds is NeoGAF’s imagining of what some modern games would look like if they were made on the original PlayStation. I think it’s interesting think about for multiple reasons beyond the Photoshop skill being displayed.

This all started in GAF’s main thread for the PS4 remaster of The Last of Us. Someone made some joke images of what the game would be like on the PS1 and things spun off from there. I think what this touched on was a sense of lineage attached to the PlayStation consoles and PlayStation games. Sure NES and SNES “demakes” are a thing, but what’s interesting here is you don’t see a total gameplay conversion.

The 2D demakes are usually reinterpreted into side-scrolling or top-down games, with the gameplay usually being drastically different as a result. The PS1-era demakes though are still 3D. They look a lot like their current iterations, just with far less fancy graphics. You could more plausibly ask yourself “What if these games really had been made in that era?”

Part of where that PlayStation lineage comes in is how PlayStation has used basically the same control interface since the original Dual Shock. We haven’t had any truly fundamental evolutions in game interface design since the move to 3D. There have been groundbreaking things sure, but nothing like the addition of an entire dimension. Many of today’s popular games could plausibly have been made 10 or 15 years ago. A lot of them are simply ideas no one thought of until now.

Looking at fake PS1 screenshots of games like Dark Souls or Titanfall raises possibly the most interesting question: “What if developers made PS1 games knowing what they know today?”

A recent episode of the Idle Thumbs podcast touched on a similar topic. On the episode they theorized that an idea like Spelunky could have been done 20 years ago on the SNES or NES and would have had much greater impact on the industry as a whole back then. They also mentioned someone who figured out how to display MPEG video on an early Apple computer.

A lot of PS1 and N64 games don’t hold up that well today. A lot of it is because those consoles were barely powerful enough to display recognizable 3D graphics, but it’s also because back then developers were still figuring out how to design 3D games. The control interfaces of that era are clunky, and many of the games hold fast to 2D design philosophy. But there’s nothing technically stopping a PS1 game from having much more modern controls.

As I wrote that last paragraph the franchise that popped into my head was Metal Gear Solid. Go back and look at the controls for the original MGS on PS1, then play Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes on the PS3 or PS4. Now, realize both games were designed on the same controller layout despite having been made 15 years and two console generations apart. I’m not saying the entirety of Ground Zeroes or Phantom Pain could have been done on the PS1. The main caveat I’ll give to modern hardware is that it makes larger open worlds possible (although Grand Theft Auto III has a spiritual predecessor on the N64 — Body Harvest). But certainly, many of MGSV’s basic mechanics and controls were technically possible back then. The ideas just hadn’t come forth.

This is what makes some retro-styled indie games appealing. I haven’t played Shovel Knight as of this writing, but I’ve heard it resurrects a lot of NES-era gameplay with 2014 refinements. We’re almost at a point where indies start styling games with PS1 and N64 graphics. What would a game with that era’s visuals and today’s refinements look like?

Admittedly, a lot of the games being converted in the GAF thread actually have predecessors from that era. The PS1 conversion of Persona 4 could easily be the first or second Persona game. Dark Souls on the PS1 could simply be King’s Field, and if you look to the PC side, BioShock could be System Shock 2, which I’ve said many times is actually a superior game.

This is far from the first time I’ve pointed out popular console games of today that have PC predecessors displaying deeper gameplay. I’m sure fans of some of the games in the GAF thread probably prefer their earlier predecessors. It all really reminds you that you can’t assume a game or sequel is better simply because it was designed on newer technology. It’s what developers do with that technology that matters.

BULLETS:

  • The only thing I’ll say about Destiny after playing the Beta is that game is basically “Halo Star Online.” If you’re still waiting for Phantasy Star Online 2 to make it outside Asia, just give it up and pre-order Destiny.
  • I might be sold on Mike Tyson Mysteries youtu.be/P58WJ-4PxcU
  • Polygon has a really great overview video of Freedom Planet. http://t.co/B005AXZFE1
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