It seems like now more than ever, companies are giving the reins of huge franchises over to new developers. Some of the more well-known recent examples would be Halo heading from Bungie to 343 Industries, Saints Row no longer being developed by the now non-existent THQ, and Arkham Origins being developed by Warner Bros. rather than Rocksteady. With a change in developers, franchises will oftentimes see a shift in art style, gameplay, or other aspects of a new title. How does a developer given control of a household franchise tread these dangerous waters? On one hand, they must find a way to please long-time fans of the series, but they also have to find a way to slightly re-invent it to make it fresh, new, and similar to other games they develop. There are a few things, in my opinion, that must be done to make this shift successful.
1: Familiarity Through Tropes
This is something that you’ll probably understand easily. How disconcerting would it be if Assassin’s Creed were no longer developed by Ubisoft, and the assassinating were taken out of future titles? What if Halo no longer had Warthogs? What if Uncharted abandoned exploration and climbing? These are game-specific tropes that must be included in every title. To pull from my personal recent experience with Halo 4, combat felt familiar in the sense that I could usually hide behind a structure and wait for health to regenerate, both in Bungie developed titles and in 343’s incarnation. This is a trope that Halo includes in every game, and the game might feel drastically different-almost naked-without it.
2: New Gameplay Features
On the other hand, familiarity must be blended with new ideas, as every company will have at least slightly differing views. In Halo 4, this familiar combat style is paired with new enemies and weapons that offer unique strategies while still fitting in with other Halo games. Usually, a company hands over control of a franchise after multiple entries. At a point like this, a breath of fresh air is needed to revive a series and make it “new” again. The injection of new gameplay features and other ideas from the new developer can fight franchise fatigue as they head into the future. At this point, with new hardware and fewer boundaries and limitations, there’s never been a better time to spice up a series, and I hope companies take this chance moving forward.
3: New Art Styles
A game can’t just feel new, but it has to look new. Maybe a new company can use a broader or narrower color palate than the old one. Maybe a change in scenery or environment can do the job. Again, the problem a new developer faces is that this new art style must be masterfully blended with the old one to create a beautiful backdrop. Sorry for using Halo 4 as the reference yet again, but I love the way 343 has done this. Halo 4 is much darker than other entries both in emotion and in looks; the purples of Covenant armor and vehicles are deeper, almost black. Items are sharper and more drips; they’ve lost their playful colorfulness and smoothness and have adopted a certain harshness in return. Lighting is a bit dimmer as well, so it seems. All of these aspects come together in just the right amounts to make Halo 4 familiar, yet fresh and new in the graphics department.
4: The Right Set of Emotions
This isn’t as set in stone as the other topics. The right set of emotions can either be identical between new and old developers, or they can be drastically different. This all depends on the other three points, and just the general appropriateness given the series. For example, if Tt games stopped making Lego titles, I could never see a new developer making them less comical and more serious; it just wouldn’t work. Lego’s charm stems from the silliness of the games, and seriousness would break the series. In Halo 4, when blended with a darker art style, a more emotional script becomes acceptable, because it all combines and meshes well. The right set of emotions is a tough one to nail, as you can see, because sometimes familiar emotions are appropriate, but sometimes new emotions are more in line with a re-imagined franchise.
What are your thoughts? Did I miss any key points that you like to see in a re-imagined franchise? Let me know in the comments section! Hit the like or follow buttons if you enjoyed, and take a look at the LP channels in the “Links” tab.