One of the areas of gaming culture that has progressed in leaps and bounds during this current console generation is the digital download. This development is occurring irrespective of platform, with all three major consoles, and even the handhelds, featuring varied libraries of downloadable games and content.
Without the potentially stifling expectations and overheads that come with full-fledged retail releases, developers working on these platforms are able to do so with elements of daring and idiosyncrasy -- with some of the more talked-about and successful games, such as Braid, PixelJunk Eden and World of Goo being as much mini-supernovae of creativity and inspiration as they are out-of-sync with mainstream gaming conventions.
Parallel to this, the download platforms also provide a new avenue for publishers to re-release selections from their back-catalogues for the pleasure of nostalgics, canon-hungry gaming historians and new audiences alike.
Nintendo's Virtual Console service, as well as early games to appear on Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade platform, would often be direct ports or emulations of titles from a variety of older consoles, from Super Mario Bros. to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
However, with the success of these downloadable platforms, and the progression towards more original content, it has become increasingly common for classic franchises to receive radical updates, or even full sequels (such as Capcom's multi-platform Mega Man 9) that offer more than mere nostalgia.
Indeed, in a case of cross-pollination, established publishers have tasked small, up-and-coming studios with the development of these games -- creating the phenomenon of European or North American developers being trusted with respected Japanese franchises.
Developers such as California's Backbone Entertainment (Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix), Washington's Tozai Games, and Sweden-based Southend Interactive (R-Type Dimensions) and GRIN (Bionic Commando Rearmed) have recently collaborated with companies like Capcom and Irem to bring some of their properties to the current gaming audience. These releases act as confluences of the issues surrounding the downloadable gaming platforms, and concerning re-introducing older games to newer gamers.
Regarding the beginnings of these projects, there is no blueprint. Backbone Entertainment used its relationship with Capcom, gained from porting a large amount of the company's classic franchises to the Xbox Live Arcade platform, to discuss the opportunities offered by XBLA and PSN for more interesting remakes and relaunches; this initiative resulted in original, fully-realised installments in the 1942, Commando and Street Fighter II series.
Southend/Tozai's R-Type: Dimensions
Tozai and Southend's R-Type Dimensions game, a remake of the first two entries in the arcade-based space shooter series, was more of a labour of love, born out of equal parts connections and passion.
Key members of the Tozai staff, such as President Sheila Boughten and Chief Advisor Scott Tsumura, had backgrounds in various localization-savvy developers, such as BulletProof Software and Microprose, which came in handy once they set up Tozai as a developer. Boughten explains:
"Scott worked with Irem many years ago and was involved with the development and marketing of R-Type when it was first released in 1987. Plus, Brett Ballow, who is responsible for product management and design at Tozai, is a huge fan of R-Type and R-Type II -- in fact, he owns the stand-up arcades! So we started development on [similar Xbox Live Arcade remake] Lode Runner and parallel to that we were looking at some other options, and R-Type came up rather naturally."
In contrast, Simon Viklund, creative director behind GRIN's Bionic Commando Rearmed, admits that his new version of Capcom's 1988 NES title is "primarily a marketing release" for the studio's full retail 3D reboot of the series.
Capcom were initially interested in merely porting the original in anticipation of GRIN's new game, but Viklund asserts that "the more we discussed it between the companies... Capcom saw the potential in the game and eventually decided to put more effort into it."
Each case presents the interesting situation where projects are given over to small, enthusiastic teams with much investment in the game -- not only in a career sense, but as consumers of the original properties. Those involved profess to being fans of the franchises, and admit to an ambition to communicate this to the current gaming community.