Today I would like to start a discussion on the artistic integrity of games with 3 topics in particular in mind: revised endings, HD upconverts, and extended editions. When I say revised endings, I’m talking about the Bioware idea of trying to revise the ending after having already released the game. HD upconverts and reboots refers things such as Age of Empires II’s new HD edition that was recently released on steam. Extended Editions I find to be something of a misnomer because in this case my example is the extended edition of Anna which I would argue is not so much an extended edition as the developer releasing an entirely new version of their game and saying “Wait! Wait! Give us a second chance!” I have very mixed feelings on each of these. They have merits, but there is a question of whether the change is too much and thus irrevocably and sometimes even negatively affects the game. Let’s go through each of these and then see what kind of discussion we can generate.
First, revised endings: would you really revise an ending? Is that really how creative works should be treated? Ok so in some ways Mass Effect is a bad example because Bioware was really clarifying an existing ending more than they were creating a new ending from scratch, but still let’s examine the idea. Is it really ok for a developer to decide they want to change their ending? James Portnow and Daniel Floyd of Extra Credits argued at their magfest panel back in January that Bioware should really only have changed their ending if they felt they could do better. I don’t like the idea of changing a game’s ending particularly based on fan reaction. Fans don’t get to change movie or book endings. Why should games be different? There is a very defined difference between something being interactive and giving the person interacting with it complete control. At the most, players have the right to mod a new ending in if they want. They do not have the right to outrageously demand a new ending from the developer no matter how much they feel the current ending betrays what the game stood for. The player controls the direction of the player character not the artistic vision of the game.
Next, we have HD upconverts. HD upconverts have a lot more merit to be argued. They allow a new generation of gamers to experience games from previous generations of gaming. However, there is something to be said for the experience of this new generation to not be quite the same as the experience of those who played it at the time. This is one of the major arguments against emulators. Emulators are great for continuing the tradition of gaming and preserving its history, but at the same time playing on an emulator does not allow the same controller or interface experience or even body of knowledge of the players who played at the time it released. You cannot go back to that age of games the way you can with classic movies or books. For that matter there is still no consensus on what the “classics” of gaming would be. That said I think I’m ok with PC upconverts to HD because the PC has not changed much from a keyboard/mouse control standpoint or at least not in a way that a current PC could not be adjusted for. As for HD upconverts of other games from console generations, I don’t think there is enough data to really judge yet so I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.
Finally, I’d like to bring up the subject of extended editions. I’m not opposed to the idea of a developer saying we can make our game better so let us try it again. I would worry about developers making it worse or completely changing the nature of a game in such an extended edition. Anna did an ok job with this. They kept the tone and managed to improve a little on the story and lack of explanation, but they also introduced a host of new bugs as well as new and again unexplained mechanics. This too probably requires far more case studies before we can really judge, but I remain cautiously optimistic about the idea.
Artistic integrity is an important conversation to have about games. It is a medium built on interactivity and the idea that each work is created by the developer for the player. It is important to ask though how much input the player should have in that process. It is important to ask if the developer should be allowed to change the work after it has been released and in what ways. It is important to discuss how we should preserve games and to what lengths we can go to do that and what changes we are allowed to make in the name of preservation.