A guest column from: Andrew ‘Castomel’ Long
I have been, in times past, accused of harbouring some fairly peculiar tastes. I can say this with some confidence as I sit here eating carrots with spicy mustard (not the little orange pellets that pass as carrots in most supermarkets these days, mind you; real carrots, not that this makes much of a difference) and beholding the acquisition I made today while out and about (no, I do not say it ‘oot and aboot’, however much you might like for me to do so; I was raised with gratuitous exposure to American TV in spite of my mom’s best efforts, and such diphthongs never got a chance to affect my pronunciation, though I also do not say it ‘aboat’ so perhaps I am on some sort of uneasy middle ground).
The acquisition in question is an album, and what a record it is; I found it perched atop a thoroughly awful end table selling for $70(!) that appeared to have had unfortunate run-ins with both a flooded basement and the 70s. The record came nestled in a crate, surrounded by a recording of an utter charlatan covering Johnny Cash’s jailhouse rock sessions and another of a collaborative effort between Bob Dylan and Gene Simmons, which surely qualifies as abortion in musical form if ever anything did. One might expect, then, that everything in this crate was awful, and that does come close, I am afraid; there were reams of disco, scads of terrible folk recordings, and not a few Sonny and Cher records, which raises the question of why anyone, upon inflicting this music upon themselves once, would thereafter return for a second, third, and fourth helping, and then stick it in a crate with the rest of this crap and give it away so that other people might also experience their agony.
Having said that, however, there was one record that caught my eye: it purported to be ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band‘, but this proved not to be the case; the item in my hand was a much grimmer relic of a bygone age than that. What I had come upon was a cover of Sgt. Pepper, done (apparently) for a film by the Bee Gees and a clutch of other people who have no business touching the Beatles’ work, including George Burns(for reference, he would still have been old at the time of this recording), Aerosmith (playing Come Together, for whatever reason), Peter Frampton, Alice Cooper, Billy Preston, and in a crowning tour de force, comedian Steve Martin doing Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, which I find especially egregiously awful since I have seen his musical stylings before and they are nothing I would want near what was my favorite childhood song (I assume, at any rate; my record player is either somewhere in my mom’s basement or else was appropriated by my sister, so in either case I have yet to play the album.)
So I guess there is that. You might be wondering at this point what relevance any of this has to this site; this is a valid question, to be sure, but it got me to thinking about the parallels between music and games, and the trend in recent years of development houses coughing up teams that then go on to form their own companies and start the cycle anew. Rock music and gaming are two different media, obviously, but at this point in time, we are far enough into the existence of gaming as a medium that it is possible to call the 70s through the early 90s the classic era. This being the case, it makes me wonder; do remakes of older games, which have proliferated in recent years, constitute something similar to these godawful cover songs? Does the movement between development houses of these game designers bear similarity to the trend towards the formation of superbands using the castaway members of classic rock outfits? I mean, at first glance there are differences; for instance, in gaming the development teams do not tend to flame out in a spiral of cocaine and licentious carryings-on after their best work is behind them, but surely mindless sequels have a similarly soul-destroying power, and if one is going to brand gaming a creative medium, which is a premise I once firmly believed in but am now slightly less convinced of, then one must grant that there is some merit to this notion!
I would also tend to consider remakes in this light; just as genres change over time in music, so too do gaming genres continually refine themselves and add new elements while discarding the older ones in the name of whatever particular style of interface is popular at a given time. One need look no further than the ubiquity of achievements to see how a seemingly innocuous addition to gaming has suddenly taken on such importance that few games do not contain some sort of system of gathering trophies of accomplishment, questionable or otherwise. These tweaks and evolutions are continuously applied, and while in the late 90s and 2000s a graphical remake was often sufficient to qualify as a total overhaul of a game, here too we have seen some changes as games have returned to the fore in the hands of different development teams, ending up with not only sharper visuals but also cleaned-up translations and new mechanics that (in theory) strengthen the gameplay experience.
So perhaps Frankie Howerd reworking Mean Mr. Mustard does have some relevance to the current state of game design. Granted, I am not entirely familiar with who Frankie Howerd *is*, but if it is this guy then that is surely no different from a DS remake of a SNES game that nobody wanted to play in the first place. I railed against the trend towards endless remakes after its initial wave yielded some truly awful games that were little more than cash grabs, and I remain unconvinced that they are anything more than evidence that serialization and its concomitant sense of financial certainty have resulted in there being much less risk taken in game design now, but when viewed in this light, perhaps there is one more reason why developers choose to go this route.