Sep 21, 2021 - Technology

"Alan Wake Remastered" highlights gaming's preservation challenges

A man in a dark forest with a flashlight, video game screenshot

Screenshot: Remedy Entertainment

Next month’s release of “Alan Wake Remastered” highlights one of the most frustrating things about gaming: new games age quickly, and, before you know it, they become hard to access or play.

Why it matters: Games have such a significant preservation problem that even an acclaimed interactive thriller like “Alan Wake,” released a mere 11 years ago, needs an expensive salvage effort to bring it to a large audience today.

Between the lines: The original “Alan Wake” is technically playable now without a remaster, but only on PC and Xbox platforms (no PlayStation, no Nintendo) and running at a resolution and frame rate that would be off-putting to many modern players.

  • “Games tend to age very differently than movies,” Thomas Puha, communications director for the game’s original studio, Remedy, told Axios.
  • They are usually limited to the performance of the hardware they first ran on, putting “Alan Wake” now two generations behind what console players expect to see from a new release.
  • Because they are software, any significant remastering for new devices can require technical reworks. In the case of the moody “Alan Wake,” that meant a one-year process by Remedy and British studio D3T to polish visuals and rework underlying code for lighting, fog and foliage.

Keeping games around is not just a tech issue: In 2017, “Alan Wake” was removed from digital storefronts after the expiration of the music rights to its many licensed songs.

  • It returned more than a year later after those rights were restored.

The big picture: Games are fleeting, and players simply can’t assume that titles — even popular hits — will remain available to easily play.

  • Mobile games and others that are tied to servers exist only as long as their publishers keep those servers active.
  • Even giant companies like Nintendo, which makes piles of money reselling its older games, can just opt to not spend the time or resources to make certain classics run on its newest hardware.

Consider this: Some of the lead creators behind Activision Blizzard’s expensive remake of “Diablo II” previously made a 2018 expansion for “Destiny 2” called Warmind that was removed from the online-only game in 2020. 

  • One of its creators, Vicarious Visions’ Michael Bukowski, recently told Axios he takes an optimistic view of such things: “I've been making games around a long time, so I'm sure there'll be an opportunity for that to come back.”

What's next: For "Alan Wake Remastered" (Oct. 5, PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series), the game’s content is largely unchanged, without any retcons or changes to gameplay.

  • When asked about whether the game might have been tweaked to connect to other Remedy games, Puha said, “Definitely pay attention by playing the remaster, is what we’re going to say.”
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