Why Reboot a Classic Series?

Tomb Raider. Deus Ex. Fallout. Mortal Kombat. They’re all amazing game franchises that have one thing in common: at some point in their existence, they’ve gone through a reboot.

Reboots are a somewhat touchy subject with gaming fans. Many diehards don’t want to see any changes happen to their favorite characters and iconic universes, new fans don’t get to experience the franchise in its original and complete glory, and developers are sometimes held to the expectation that the reboot is meant to live up to the standard set by the original.

Next month at GDC Online Conference in Austin, TX, a panel titled “In The Shadow of Greatness-Sequels and Reboots Deconstructed” will discuss this very topic and more with a handful of industry professionals from such studios as Obsidian and Eidos Montreal. And the nature of the panel has suddenly left me asking a few questions; If it’s such a challenge, what’s the point of rebooting a series in the first place? And what must be done in order to make a “good” reboot?

It’s no secret that the gaming industry as a whole evolves very, very quickly. New technology, new advancements, even new ideas move forward every single day, and we’ve seen a marked improvement in game quality even over the past ten years. As such, it’s fairly easy for classic series to age poorly and not hold up in modern times as well as they did when they first came out. Mechanics are different now, hardware is different, and some games just don’t have what we expect to get from a game today.

Because of this, it’s easy to see a lot of beloved franchises fall to the wayside and become nothing more than a darling of nostalgia rather than a legitimate contender in an ongoing discussion.

This is where reboots become the Miracle Grow to old franchise’s dying plants. Through a reboot, you’re able to suddenly take an old franchise, strip it down, and build it back up into a modern and relevant interpretation that holds up according to today’s standards and expectations. Essentially, rebooting a franchise is a way to “breathe life” into it again, restoring its longevity and re-igniting interest in it again.

Such is with the upcoming Tomb Raider reboot. While classic Tomb Raider games like Anniversary or Legend or even the original PSX titles are good games, they tend to feel a little dated after you sit down and play them for an extended amount of time. On top of that, Lara is just not as interesting a character now that we’ve seen improvements in storytelling within video games. But because they’re able to reboot it, they can now add a new layer of modern polish and conventions to the gameplay, all while re-creating Lara as a more grounded and believable character than she was originally.

Reboots also allow for a bit of experimenting and adding new ideas into an old formula. Take Deus Ex: Human Revolution, for example. Thanks to the reboot, we see a whole new take on the original game’s stealth roots, complete with tighter controls and new abilities. The game also features a different and updated art style from its original predecessors that modernizes the franchise and allows it to be a continued part of the discussion with modern games.

In many ways, a reboot is similar to a sequel, and as such, you’ve got to follow the rules of making a good sequel; take what was good about the original and build on it, ending with a more solid product. The only thing that changes with a reboot, however, is that you not only have to build on what made the original so good, you also have to re-introduce the series to the market with a modern approach that will make it hold up to today’s standards. It’s no easy task, but much like the aforementioned Tomb Raider, Deus Ex, Fallout, and Mortal Kombat, there’s more than ample proof to show that it’s sometimes in the game’s best interest to reboot a classic franchise.