Demakes, you know, like Gang Garrison 2, a direct reinvention of Valve’s Team Fortress 2. Games heavily inspired, influenced and dependent on a predecessor, often created on an older platform (or at least made to look that way) by completely different studios, these demakes have sort of popped up out of the woodwork recently. There’s Codename Gordon, The Border Lands, and Halo Zero, to name a few.
And while all these games take a certain level of skill (hello, you’re making a game, it takes some talent), everyone can agree that they are . . . essentially ripoffs. Demakes are meant to be a different take on a preexisting game, a lighthearted, retro-styled homage of sorts. But the word “homage” is just a nice way of saying the game is relying on the success of its inspiration.
And after all, why should the players be interested? Surely, they would rather go play the original games?
We’ll dig into all this throughout the course of this article, but for now, rest assured, there is a certain appeal to the trend, one that even Gearbox jumped on with their own demake of their own game (Borderlands). If AAA itself is jumping on the bandwagon, and indie is following suit as well, should you be making one?
Is this a trend destined to increase in popularity, or is it going to go out of style before it even begins? Let’s consider all angles.
What Noteworthy Demakes Have Been Created?
Japanese publisher Atlus released a retro demake of Vanillaware’s 2D action platformer, Odin Sphere, to publicize the recent release of a remake—Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir—in Japan.
World of Warcraft: The Molten Core is another fine example, taking what used to be one of Blizzard’s April Fool’s jokes, and making it into a multiplayer title that follows a Warrior and Priest as they fight their way through enemies to collect loot and tackle bosses.
But WoW demakes weren’t the only ones being created circa 2008. Super 3D Portals 6 is a demake of Portal, specifically designed for the Atari 2600. It’s a dated game with simple graphics and mechanics, but it is a great selection for anyone looking for an excuse to pull out the old system.
What Are the Players Saying?
There’s a demake of Breath of the Wild out that certainly sparked a conversation on Destructoid a while back. The general consensus was that demakes “capitalize on both nostalgia and modern in-game physics design.”
Noteworthy complaints include . . .
- “Asking for money for this is stupid, this is why it’ll be shut down even faster.” – ph00p
- “Making it ‘free’ but including a donations window is a sure way to get smacked down.” – fillerbunny9
- “It looks neat but there is a right and a wrong way to make a fan game. Using other companies trademarks and IP is the wrong way. For an example of the right way to make a fan-game, see Retro City Rampage and Axiom Verge among many others.” – Captjc
But not everything was negative. Commentor rxy3 kept it simple:
“Sounds interesting, I’ll have to give it a try when I get the chance.”
As Developers, Are Demakes “On Brand”?
This begs the question, if there is a right and wrong way of going about making demakes, does it reflect on your brand when you create one?
The short answer is yes. For instance, using someone else’s game to draw in some publicity for your work and make money is generally frowned upon. When nothing is changed, and the characters and stories remain seemingly the same, it’s frowned upon.
Only the studios behind the original games can get away with that, because, well, otherwise players tend to call this stuff out harshly.
On the other hand, let’s take one of these complaints and analyze their take on Axiom Verge. This demake is based on Super Metroid, something evident in the game’s design and atmosphere. However the story and main character is entirely different.
In Axiom Verge, a failed scientist dies then reawakens in an alien world. In Super Metroid, Samus travels to Zebes to retrieve the infant Metroid that Ridley, the Space Pirate leader, stole.
Although strikingly similar in its style and mechanics, Axiom Verge does a great job in separating itself enough from Super Metroid by implementing some new design, mechanic, and narrative elements.
What About Homage vs. Originality?
Now comes the common sense part: creating a demake requires less originality than outright creating a new game from your own concept. It’s less brainstorming, and more reworking of established parts and concepts.
Does it still require talent and work? Absolutely.
Will people play it? Surely: people love nostalgic games, movies, clothing, etc.. Things were just better back in the day. Cars were more durable. Music required good vocals, there wasn’t any auto-tune to make it more bearable, for lack of a better word. You could turn on the radio and most songs played would be good, but these days, we all just plug in our phones and listen to our own curated playlists just to avoid all those song skips.
The fact is, someone out there will play it, but it won’t exactly be smooth sailing. At the end of the day, it would have to be a really well done remake, with just enough originality that it doesn’t come off as using another studio’s trademark. And even then, people will draw parallels, and call you out when they think you’re doing something unethical.
The best way to summarize this is you need to provide your own spin to something recognizable, so that there is an incentive to play and keep playing your demake, better known as providing value. Otherwise, if it is too similar to something previous, players will just turn away, badmouth, and play the originals.
How Sustainable Is the Market?
Demakes have been around for a long time, at least the last decade. But notice, even since 2008, demakes are still not outright well-known and popular. You could ask an established, hardcore gamer about demakes, and get a blank look.
“What’s a demake?”
They may know about particularly famous demakes, like Axiom Verge, but they might not know about the Portal, Team Fortress 2, or World of Warcraft ones. They might know when something resembles something else, but not be familiar with the term “demake.”
That is due to one solid reason, and perhaps the most important of this entire article: although demakes can certainly be a grand time, an homage, and a good nostalgic moment, they are not games that most players dedicate hours upon hours to playing. It takes a special kind of demake to do that, and chances are you can only name maybe one or two, tops.
In other words, if a studio were to only create demakes, they’d go downhill very, very fast. It’s just not sustainable. You can’t command a high price, can’t expect players to linger for too long, and certainly can’t market it as 100% original work.
If you’ve been considering creating a demake, go for it. The popularity is there, and players are all for it. However, that being said, make sure you keep your expectations realistic. You won’t get rich off of this project, and you certainly cannot make demakes a regular thing. Just make sure you add your own spin, and enough originality so you don’t pick up a bad rep among players. It’s worth mentioning that demakes can be a good option for portfolio-building, as it showcases a wide variety of skills and industry knowledge.
Now as for falling out of style, demakes will be around for a long time to come. They already have been, pretty consistently, for at least the last decade. That means for the foreseeable future, demakes will keep being created.
But as for increasing in popularity, we can say they will to an extent. They’re not outright original games, so there’s no exhilaration of potentially discovering the next big franchise or notable characters. Demakes are fun to play, fun to discover, but to players, they’re not 100% established games. They’re not the originals. They’re just a nice way to pass a rainy, boring afternoon.
We now live in an era that desperately yearns for times long gone. Teenagers are walking around with ’90s choker necklaces and “discovering” fanny packs. Bands like Depeche Mode are making a reappearance, while stores like Forever 21 are choosing to sell Slayer and Nirvana shirts. Mini retro consoles are being sold like hot cakes.
Demakes, your time is now. Just don’t let it get to your head.
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