A short essay on how Remediation can ruin Your gameplay
Being disappointed by certain facts of various remakes of games is an extremely common feeling for a nowadays gamer. Especially while living in times where technological evolution outruns the concepts of game-makers. As smaller companies struggle to come up with new ideas and innovative game designs, corporation giants are constantly remaking old games:
“(…) a lot of these old games indirectly belong to big companies… [When contacted for copyright permission] some if the companies have taken a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy… [but] there are certain companies whose games you don’t bother trying to remake because their stance is well known.” (Caroll 2004:28 in Williams, Smith 2007: 253)
In this essay I am going to shortly describe the processes of failed remediation of certain games, focusing on examples of board and computer games such as Carcassonne and Worms 3D. I will also point out why specific games shouldn’t be remade or transferred onto other formats, and how to determine if a game is not worth remediating.
As to defining Remediation it is best to focus on Bolter and Grusin’s (1999) critique of McLuhan, where they claim a new Media evolution theory. The authors state that not only older media are being absorbed by newer ones, but also that there are certain forces involved in the process. Following their notion, the historical approach to a particular media and the intermedia relationships between them is the key points accompanying the process remediation.
In this essay I will focus on the Hypermediacy force as described more simply www.filmreference.com, where they give a more adjusted definition for the term used by Bolter and Grusin:
“The immediate thrill produced by direct engagement in the interactive experience is often based on a sense of hypermediacy, of awareness that the world occupied virtually is akin to that of other forms of representation. (…) [This is] is a substantial component of the specific experience offered by the game as a game, and not merely something imported externally.” (“Remediation and Synergy” on www.filmreference.com)
Nowadays examples of particular media being remediated and reshaped by other is a common case in the creative industry. We can find them while focusing on any medium: remakes of movies, movies based on books, digital documents and e-readers, multiple websites, remakes of games, classic games such as cards or dice being digitalized into phone applications, music being sampled and reshaped; multiple example of print industry incorporating other forms of art, but also various forms of art and communication borrowing styles, schemes and motives from other media.
Carcassonne is one of the world’s most famous and best selling board games created by Klaus Jurgen Wrede. In 2001 the game received a game of the year award. It is very unique as for a board game as the playing-board itself is never the same for two different games. Its idea is based on square tiles, which players use to create the terrain for a match. It can be classified as a strategy game, quite similar to another famous game called RISK. Most importantly it can be played by up to six players at a time, and one game can take up to ten hours of play. It is also important to state that Carcassonne is not a stand-alone game. Each year there are new expansions released, adding new forms and rules of play.
The board game itself is a straightforward relation to the French city of Carcassonne, where each player is a landowner and tries to outscore other players by dominating over the land. He does that with the use of his followers – small wooden pawns colored in the favor of the player. Each of those meeple’s can be ascribed a role, from a peasant and priest to a knight or raubritter. Each of the pawns scores points for the player, either by trying to follow the gamers plan, or by trying to distract the opponents projects.
But why is this game so attractive? I believe that it is due to the two mentioned facts: the availability of multiple expansions that from time to time changes the gameplay by adding new content. The second reason is rooted in the multiplayer based scheme, where players can either cooperate or work against each other. This enables them to create coalitions against certain more powerful players or work alone to achieve their goals.
Recently I bought an IPhone application, same as the original game, called Carcassonne. Even though It had an amazing amount of downloads and positive comments, I felt like something is missing here. As soon as I started playing my favorite board game on my IPhone I realized there is no sense in playing solitaire-like single player mode, as the main notion of the board game was to compete against human opponents. My first digital multiplayer Carcassonne game was with in-built bots, but unfortunately I didn’t find this one that much attractive: the bots were far too advanced for me, with their calculated precision of point counting and ever knowing attitude to what kind of tiles are left made me feel like a real noob. Even though I did not get that much biased by the bots tactics, but still I managed to convince one of my friends who also had the board game and an IPhone to download this app and have a go with me. This game was a bit more engaging, but It still did lack this specific feeling of competition, maybe because we had the game only between the two of us, but since the game offers an ‘up to five players online’ mode, we quickly connected to the Internet and called another friend to jump in the game. We had the advantage of being together in one spot, so we easily managed to defeat the last player that joined. Nevertheless the lack of this specific feeling of socialization via gameplay was missing.
In the second case, similarly one of the most important factors was gone. Some gamers describe it as ‘honey’ as it makes one stick to a particular game for a long time. The board game itself is extremely engaging because it’s ‘honey’ is hidden deeply in the idea of an evolving multiplayer board-game. The IPhone application was not engaging at all, not only because the lack of its sticky sweetness, but also because there were no expansions at all. Other factors that made me feel distant from the digital version of Carcassonne were the lack of senses during gameplay. I believe there is nothing better than the smell of fresh cardboard tiles and wooden pawns, which makes one fully engaged in challenging friends. As Bolter and Grusin believe that “the process of remediation makes us aware that all media are at one level a ‘play of signs’ ” (1999: 19), maybe those factors missing in the digital version of the game can be perceived as the signs the authors are talking about. Signs that directly affect our minds and make us fully enjoy the medium.
The second case I would like to present as an example of a remediation failure is a strictly digital remake of the Worms series created by Team 17. Here I will focus on the example of the game titled Worms 3D, which will be related to much more successful Worms: Armageddon. The series as a whole are based on a strategic battle between various teams of human-like maggots wielding weapons and tools. As for a strategy game it is divided in turns, where each player is supposed to eliminate the opponent’s worm team.
This particular case exposes various mistakes, mainly on the hypermediacy level. In this example, the creators of the game tried to alter it by applying dimensionality to a series of platform-based games. All this resulted in changes in navigation, battle tactics, even the whole game concept, all because of a too drastic shift. The model of the game concept got reshaped too fast in relation to gamer expectations, which can be seen by looking at the game statistics at IGN (7.5/10) and Gamespot (7.8/10). Both reviews are ‘good’ but when it comes to such a famous series as Worms, I believe it is not enough.
We have a case here where contrary to the Carcassonne example; the simplicity is the key concept to success. We can have a proof of this by looking at some recent remakes, or rather remediations to other platforms such as Worms for PlayStation 3, where the dimensionality shifted back to 2D environments and simple textures, which is more than unusual for a console which is meant to display high definition images.
While thinking about the process of remediation it is important to take under consideration the two models of failed remapping. Simplifying the above examples of failed games we come up to the point where either ‘strange complexity’ or ‘very basic simplicity’ factors were the ones determining the success or fail of a game release. In Carcassonne, the IPhone version was way too basic to carry the games notion onto other platforms. The Worms 3D exposed the reversal of this mechanism where complicated graphics and an additional dimension changed the game’s physics and the game itself too drastically to be a successful remake of an already classic game. Even though both of the examined models presented that remediation is not always successful, especially while taking game reception and review as a measure it is hard to determine the boundaries of the process. Finding the key idea and developing it throughout other media formats can always go in two directions: either too far from the main concept, or not far enough to fulfill the requirements of the new medium.
Williams J. P., Smith J. H. (2007); “The players’ realm: studies on the culture of video games and gaming”; McFarland;
BOLTER J D and GRUSIN R. (1999); “Remediation: Understanding New Media; MIT Press;
Carcassonne on ITunes Store
Worms 3D Review at IGN
Worms 3D Review at Gamespot