In Defense of Spin-offs
There has been a certain trend growing within the gaming community as of late in regards to spin-offs and remakes of classic titles from the good ol’ days. Personally, I didn’t pay much attention to it, but now I notice it practically every day. Wherever I go, I see so-called “fans” of games bashing spin-offs and remakes for not staying true to the source material. Not just a handful of people, but usually an entire crowd of angry, otherwise reasonable people. Please, just stopping doing this…
Silent Hill: Book of Memories was the latest victim of this outcry and I even had a personal debate with a treasured friend who believed this title to be of pure evil. The arguments vary per game, but most of the time it comes down to a game not being similar in enough ways to a previous title that has been popularized as the pinnacle of the series. In the case of Silent Hill, that would be James Sunderland’s memorable adventure through the town in 2001’s Silent Hill 2. I won’t argue that there are no differences, because even a complete outsider can immediately see how Book of Memories deviates from this unofficial template. For starters, it’s a complete genre-swap, exchanging classic survival horror for a more action-oriented dungeon crawler. The game also features co-op, which is a feature that is very loathed within the horror genre and it also minimizes the focus on story. I am a big fan of Diablo, Torchlight and other similar titles, so for me this is an absolute system-seller, but for people who don’t like these kind of games there might be a problem.
So the series you liked completely changed things up and even took on a genre that you don’t like, if this were a permanent change, then you would be in your right to be a little angry at that. But in most cases it isn’t. Silent Hill: Book of Memories is merely a quick title to support the otherwise starving PlayStation Vita, it was also produced by a third-party studio, so no resources were taken away from whatever main installment comes next in the franchise. There is nothing to worry about, the next Silent Hill game will not be worse because of this game and everybody wins. People also express concerns about how this game messes up the canon, but it can’t, because Book of Memories plays in an alternate, non-canon universe. This allowed the producers to shamelessly use enemies from the various games, which means easy fan-service and they don’t even have to explain it.
I am not saying that the fans aren’t allowed to criticize the game, if you play it and genuinely don’t like it, then I won’t ever denounce you for that conclusion. However, simply disliking a game because it’s not the same as whatever you consider to be the proven standard of the franchise is a destructive thought. Spin-offs are a great way for developers to keep the creativity flowing or introduce new concepts in a more subtle way. Another example which is a bit more in my territory would be the Zelda handheld games. Handheld games are cheaper and easier to develop, so developers can take more risks and try new things. Even if the game fails, nothing much has been lost, but if it proves to be a success, then the main installments can take successful elements from the spin-off and introduce them to the main franchise. Link’s Awakening introduced the concept of a guiding character, an owl that followed the player around and provided information and hints. This character later reappeared in both Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, both of which were main installments. Introducing a guiding character in a game about puzzles and adventure was a difficult choice, as players might have hated it because it could potentially have broken the exploration and puzzles. It however went over well, so the main franchises were safe to copy the concept over and work it out further.
Now look at this situation from the eyes of a publisher. Your job is to run a company and guarantee maximum income and minimum losses, so you want to make sure that your products reach a large audience. The last big installment in the Silent Hill franchise, aside from Downpour, was in 2009. That is three years in which the fan-base has been playing games that might not have been from your company. Downpour probably got their attention back, but you want to make sure that interest is also sustained until the next big release comes out, so once again, a spin-off is a brilliant idea. While I personally would have waited until the first quarter of 2013, Book of Memories keeps up the momentum of game releases and thus makes sure the fans don’t just wander off to a different franchise. Heck, some of the RPG fans might be intrigued by the game and start exploring the rest of the series, thus creating a bunch of new dedicated supporters that buy games at launch. That makes a publisher smile. The developers, too, by the way, because now they have their name on a beloved franchise and might finally start seeing some more quality IP’s been handed to them.
There are, of course, cases where this goes entirely wrong, such as Dead Space 3 and Resident Evil 6 both seeking to best the popular first-person shooters of today, by becoming the first-person shooters of today. This is an attitude that annoys me quite a lot as well, seeing interesting games like Dead Space feature half-baked multiplayer modes and other features from the tons of generic shooters that are being released today, not because it could be a genuinely interesting mechanic, but because everybody working on the game is horrified that it won’t sell enough copies if people can’t draw enough comparisons between their game and Call of Duty. Once you lose faith in your own work, it becomes time to take a few steps back and try something smaller. Amnesia: The Dark Descent is still making news and sees new Let’s Plays every week, simply because it’s so open for modders and the game does some interesting things with what is essentially just the core of horror.
Whenever I bring this up, people instantly react by asking how I would like it if my beloved Zelda franchise was turned into a 2-dimensional fighting game or how I feel about the upcoming Battle Quest. My reaction would be: “Bring it on!”. I will not only play a game like that, but I’ll be hyped up like crazy for that. As for Battle Quest, it’s the same scenario as Book of Memories and while I am not entirely sure what the game will be like, I won’t mind skipping out on it if it doesn’t seem like fun to me. That’s because I know the game will be non-canon, so what harm can it do?
Those were my thoughts. Let us enjoy our games and stop posting angry comments about them on articles and forums, for those practices are more harmful to your beloved franchise than the piece of software you accuse of heresy. If this article seemed too much like a rant to you, then here is a little gift from me. The image included below is an entire screen full of idiocy, personally captured by me for your enjoyment. If you enjoy this kind of stuff, then I’ll go into more detail on remakes in particular later on. Be sure to let me know and feel free to comment!