In defense of recycled assets in video games - editorial

In defense of recycled assets in video games - editorial

The trend that sees any project, announcement or showcase linked to the world of video games ending up in the eye of a metaphorical storm made of complaints has not the slightest intention of slowing down its run: by now, every single production seems destined to cross the pit of lions even before reaching the hands of the public.

Sometimes the viewfinder is centered on the aesthetic representation of a protagonist, from time to time it happens that the object of criticism lies in the shot chosen by the authors, perhaps anger focuses on the graphic layout, and it has even happened that the angry crowds lashed out at a narrative component that they had absolutely not had the opportunity to test firsthand.

Today, however, we are talking about a slightly more delicate topic, one who returned to show up in recent days, when a slice of the community of enthusiasts expressed their dissatisfaction with the attendance and some Horizon Forbidden West animations that would have been "recycled" directly from Horizon Zero Dawn. A discussion that is inextricably linked to the theme of asset recycling - and not just graphic assets - in the context of videogame work.

Users have noticed that in Horizon Forbidden West there are reused animations. So what? An issue that is more complex than ever to analyze due to its multifaceted nature, given that the presence of recycled assets cannot absolutely be framed as solely positive or negative, especially due to the conditional acceptance process that is characterizing the battles of users, leading enthusiasts to attack certain characteristics of a work and then pretend that they do not exist within the confines of a more loved product.

It goes without saying that the practice of reusing development assets is as old as video games themselves. Indeed, in a certain sense it was one of the driving forces of the embryonic phase of the industry, as few passionate programmers shared ideas and code fragments in order to push their technical and artistic ambition beyond the limits.

But Times have changed, and today it is very easy to turn up your nose in front of a pre-existing mechanic integrated in a recent title, and it is even easier when graphic assets and animations end up under the magnifying glass, according to a process that nowadays it is seen as the fruit of pure and simple negligence. Meeting in a sequel the same enemy of a previous chapter intent on showing off the same behavior, we are almost certain, is something that does not please any gamer.

Majora's Mask has been almost entirely developed with reused assets . So why set up a defense of reused assets? Well, because the history of video games is paved with works that have managed to see the light of the sun thanks to the existence of this practice, as well as full of titles that have made technical continuity their workhorse, not to mention the technical peaks reached by titles made within vast ecosystems of shared development. All this, of course, does not preclude the fact that the excessive recycling operation that took place in recent times on the banks of more than noble brands has inevitably led consumers to ask themselves questions.

In 1996, the name of Nintendo was on everyone's lips. This was mainly due to the impact that the Nintendo 64 had in mass culture, even if it then had to succumb to the "overwhelming power" of Sony PlayStation. But much of Nintendo's media prominence was to be associated with the extraordinary works that he churned out at that time, and above all with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, which still sits undisturbed at the top of the Metacritic rankings and is considered by the overwhelming majority of fans as the best video game of all time.

What interests us, however, is that while the development of Ocarina of Time took five intense years, that of the sequel Majora's Mask only put two on its shoulders of Nintendo artists, from the moment of the pitch to the moment of publication. This was only possible due to the fact that in addition to using the same engine, the title would have exploited practically every single asset included in the first chapter for Nintendo 64, considerably streamlining the work. The final result presented itself as an extremely original adventure, not to mention unique in its design, the most distant one could imagine from the widespread idea of ​​"more of the same".

The similarities between Senu from Assassin's Creed Origins and the Ghost Recon drones have made some fans turn up their noses. Although we have taken as a model two of the most quoted works in the history of the medium, this kind of reasoning and approach to development has represented one of the keystones in the sustainability of large projects for several years, just think of the numerous biennial releases. and to all those daughters of now obsolete and easily replicable genres, such as Crash Bandicoot, Banjo-Kazooie, or even the many adventures of Lara Croft published in the golden age of three dimensions, and even the most immense, such as the first Grand Theft Auto.

Inevitably, the evolutionary hyperbole that has characterized the world of technology has upset the formulas that professionals were used to: video game development has quickly become an extremely time-consuming and expensive process. Branches such as modeling, animation and rigging are today much more complex and demanding than in the past, various products have come dangerously close to the technical limit of their era, and all these elements have weighed enormously on both production cycles and the needs of enthusiasts.

Today the desire to attend the release of a new episode of a beloved saga must necessarily come to terms with extremely dilated timing, and an inevitable gap has arisen between the different needs of the fans. Millions of people, for example, are anxiously awaiting news on the next chapter in The Elder Scrolls series and would like to receive them in a reasonable time, but at the same time would immediately criticize a new implementation of the last version of Bethesda's Creation Engine, still anchored today. ancient GameBryo, not to mention a possible exploitation of pre-existing assets.

The implementation of Kanto in Pokémon Gold and Silver is one of the smartest asset reuses ever. It is true that probably the bad reception of the practice of reusing assets derives from the excessive exploitation that has been made of them since the seventh generation of consoles, a moment in which various creative strands appeared on the market with very few and sometimes no changes to the formula. original. In some cases, the mechanics already tested have also been exported to the borders of the proprietary brands of the same publisher, while no one, in modern times, has completed an operation comparable to that of Majora's Mask, exploiting pre-existing development resources in order to to create something that was endowed with a marked identity.

Which, on the other hand, brings us to the difficult question of mechanical continuity, a necessity that touches most of the works that find their success in identity technique. Rather fitting examples are that of Monster Hunter, which for reasonable reasons often re-proposes the same monsters, the same animations and different models already known, but above all that of most fighting games, which would displease an immense slice of users if did not re-insert characters and movesets with which fans have developed a strong bond.

Perhaps the most famous example is that of the Dark Souls series, and more generally of FromSoftware's soulslike ones that are preparing to return to the market with Elden Ring, a work with great premises which, on the other hand, has no intention of masking the continuity of the technical inspiration of the series. It is clear that assets, movesets and animations have been used and reused several times by the Japanese studio, sometimes for the purpose of technical continuity and sometimes for mere savings, yet it is a fact that the controversy about it has emerged very, very rarely.

The Breath of the Wild sequel could be a very similar operation to Majora's Mask. The question arises spontaneously: the public tends to complain about the recycling of assets in contexts such as that of the animations of Horizon Forbidden West, and consequently not to do it towards those of FromSoftware, because it operates a process of technical discernment or because it is simply moved by your passions? Why are some behaviors acceptable when promoted by a market player and not when adopted by someone else?

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Why SIE did well to acquire companies like Sucker Punch, Naughty Dog at the time, Housemarque , Firesprite and Insomniac Games to then make their productions exclusive, while Xbox Game Studios should be ugly and mean when it applies an acquisition strategy and suggests a probable exclusivity of its products? The feeling, unfortunately, is that the reasonable examination of the sector - and not only of this sector - has now irreparably replaced the dialectic of stadium support even when there would be the extremes to start legitimate discussions, just as we tried to do in the case of Horizon Forbidden West incurring the ire of the community.

Going back upstream, probably what the contemporary medium lacks to promote the goodness of asset reuse operations is a creative and sensible exploitation, similar to what it was like to example Pokémon Gold and Silver for GameBoy, which prompted the protagonist to explore the Kanto region already visited in the original works, using the expedient of the time-skip to revive interest and at the same time whet nostalgia, masking properly the considerable increased hours of gameplay achieved through a mere recycling process.

The feeling is that the path adopted by Nintendo for the The very sequel to Breath of the Wild will represent something very similar to Operation Majora's Mask, and it would be very difficult to quantify the amount of work that such a choice would save in the contemporary context. Once the feasibility of projects of this kind has been demonstrated, it would be extremely difficult to complain about the reuse of a walking animation within a sequel, moreover released for the same machine as its predecessor, something that represents an incredible smallness capable of lightening a labor market in critical conditions.

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