But after Galactica closed its launch tubes for the last time, fans hoped for its eventual return to Earth. Richard Hatch, who played the character of Apollo in the original series, put together a trailer in 1999 for a new Galactica project, a revival dubbed The Second Coming.
Four years later, Ronald D. Moore re-imagined Galactica. Now the cylons could look human. There was a post-9/11 vibe of enemies within. And Starbuck was a woman. Fans of the original poured boiling oil upon this upstart series that had no right to take the Galactica name.
Efforts to ease the transition were made; Dirk Benedict, who played Starbuck in the original, handed over a ceremonial cigar to his female replacement in the new series, Katie Sackhoff. Less than a year later, he wrote an article that made it clear he had no love for Galactica the New: “So that a television show based on hope, spiritual faith, and family is unimagined and regurgitated as a show of despair, sexual violence and family dysfunction.”
This is now ancient history. Moore’s Galactica triumphed, carving out its own niche and driving some to make comparisons with shows like The Sopranos. Let’s not talk about that whole jumping the New Caprica shark business, though.
It was its own show and made little effort to follow the lead set down by the 70s original, instead offering a gritty storyline where the good guys could not be trusted to do good things. In some sense, Benedict may have been right. Why didn’t Moore just make a new show, call it something like Refugee North, about a band of ships that escape the fall of their homeworld? It’s not like the “civilisation destroyed by its own mechanical creations” is some super unique plot.
Remakes can have sound reasons for being undertaken. Subtitled foreign works can be remade for an English-speaking audience that goes to a movie to watch not to read. Alternatively, maybe the original needs a remake to shake off the unpalatable cobwebs of the past: women who waited for men to save them can now kick ninja ass, black and white can now be colour.
It’s even possible that the original series or movie is used as an artistic constraint that encourages creativity. This is the central thesis of Racing The Beam by Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost, a book that discusses the story of the Atari 2600. It argues the serious technical constraints of the Atari Video Computer System forced programmers to be inventive and rise above the limitations of the platform.
So that brings me to Star Raiders.
MARGE, GET OUT THE RANT-MUFFS
Star Raiders was a 3D space dogfight simulation for the Atari 400/800 computers released in 1979. There was nothing out there like it at the time on any home platform; it was this title that would convince people to buy the Atari 8-bit computer, like Space Invaders did for the 2600 and Sonic the Hedgehog for the Mega Drive/Genesis. Doug Neubauer, who had designed the Atari computer’s POKEY chip, developed it as a side project.
Star Raiders made such an impression that I had the box art on my bedroom wall for many years.
I fired up Star Raiders yesterday and played a full 20 minute game. Here is that game. Okay, I edited out a chunk from the middle. Here is half of that game.
Star Raiders is still fun… but now it’s being remade. It sure could benefit from a modern coat of paint, but is there any real point remaking it? What made Star Raiders Star Raiders?
There’s nothing particularly unique about the original now as there have been numerous 3D space combat simulations in the 30 years that have since passed (not withstanding Neubauer’s own Solaris on the 2600 which bears significant resemblance to Star Raiders).
If you want to try hard, you might be able to stress the scoring system, which ranks you on how efficient you’ve played. Using the targeting computer, shields and lots of hyperspace jumps all cost energy. But is this really enough to make Star Raiders stand out in a contemporary setting? A scoring system?
There are reasons for game remakes, but are they good ones? Simply reproducing an old game using modern tech feels insubstantial, yet an all-out Galactica-style reimagining is bait-and-switch. Which one Star Raiders will turn out to be remains to be seen, but as I see nothing in Star Raiders which has been lost to the present generation, then it’s more likely to be a reimagining. If Incinerator Studios are making a game that can stand out in its own right, then why bother using the name Star Raiders? It can only count against their work: those who have never heard of the original won’t be taken in by the name; those who do are likely to be nonplussed (hello me).
A similarly afflicted remake is XCOM. The in-development XCOM looks genuinely interesting but, even to someone who has barely played the original X-Com, it’s clear that this is a tenuous successor to the original. The fans are not being won over seeing their much-loved brutal turn-based squad tactics game transformed into a shiny FPS.
Developers, please make new games. We liked the old ones for what they were and when they were. Their names are the names of our memories.
In the end, Dirk Benedict may have been right.