The Road Map to Melee HD

starcraft remaster.jpg

About a month ago, Blizzard Entertainment announced a remastered version of their ground-breaking RTS, Starcraft: Brood War. The game will keep all of its mechanics and gameplay identical to the original version, but will update the graphics and optimize the game for modern computers/monitors. This was of course met with excitement from the Brood War community, but left me with a burning question: if Starcraft, why not Melee?

The parallels should be obvious to anyone who knows both games. Each is an old entry in a franchise with modern, popular titles in circulation today. Both have incredibly difficult mechanics that represent a high skill floor. Further, both games are still heavily supported by their competitive communities. At the surface level, both games appear to have equal merit for HD remasters. Heck, Melee is a newer game, so it should be even easier to optimize for a newer console like the Switch. However, when you start to examine the differences beyond the games themselves, the games are worlds apart. I believe that looking into the reasons to make Starcraft Remastered could give us a road map for how to make Melee HD a reality.

Korea

Blizzard has made it clear that they made Starcraft Remastered specifically for South Korea. They even made the announcement at a South Korean Starcraft event. The company was losing control of the biggest esports market, and Starcraft Remastered was their only way back in.

Let me explain quickly for anyone who doesn’t know esports outside of Smash. Essentially, Starcraft was the first major esport. In Korea, Starcraft is essentially what Football is in the rest of the world. Pros are huge stars, matches are regularly shown on mainstream TV, the game is a cultural institution. When Starcraft 2 came out, Koreans tried it. They still come out to international competitions to take other players’ lunch money. However, back home Brood War has remained king. Blizzard was spending all this money on marketing and production to try and sell Starcraft 2, and the biggest fans of the franchise just weren’t biting. However, because Brood War was no longer being supported by Blizzard, and its age was showing, Blizzard was starting to lose control of the esports market in Korea. Players and viewers have been slowly transitioning to more modern and rewarding experiences like League of Legends for the last several years.

Nothing Blizzard did with Starcraft 2 was ever going to recapture the Korean market. The game just didn’t give them the things they loved from the original. The company’s only option was to find a way to make money off of what Korea actually wanted–a remastered version of Brood War. The biggest fans of the Starcraft franchise made it obvious what they wanted, and giving them what they wanted also made the most financial sense to Blizzard. This is a key piece of the puzzle, we’ll talk about it more in a bit.

Remake, not Remaster

This is overwhelmingly important. You do not want Nintendo to announce Melee HD today, because Japanese companies have proven that they would always rather remake a game than remaster it.

Let me explain. In a remaster, nothing is changed except for the performance of the game. Graphics are updated, and the game is optimized for modern computers/consoles and TVs. A remake is completely different. Bugs are patched out, the game is rebalanced, new features and game modes are added, new characters are introduced. The core of the game is there, but in many ways you are playing a brand new game.

Blizzard understood that they had to remaster Starcraft, not remake it. Many people have argued that they should have updated the game–given you access to more hotkeys, update the pathing of dragoons, etc. However, making any of these changes would have fundamentally changed the balance of the game. The difficulty of controlling units is the only thing preventing Zerg from being completely overpowered in that game. If Blizzard had tried to introduce new units, given the game modern control conveniences, or fixed the unit AI, it would have broken the game. Doing so may have made the game more accessible to brand new audiences, but that’s not why they made this remaster. They made it for the existing fanbase–for the passionate esports fans in Korea who already love the game but want it to run better on their modern PC. Those fans did not want a remake, and would not have supported it.

Currently, Nintendo and Japanese developers in general have a preference for remakes over remasters. They viciously patched Ocarina of Time and Majora’s mask to remove the bugs that speed runners utilize. New characters and gameplay were added to the DS port of Super Mario 64. With Nintendo’s current philosophy, even if they were convinced that Melee HD made good business sense, they would remake the game rather than simply remastering it.

For the Community

Starcraft Remastered was ultimately made for its community. Blizzard takes pride in their place in esports history. They recognize how privileged they are to be such an institution in Korea. While they are going to make a profit from Starcraft Remastered, the game was ultimately made as a thank you to this giant community that made them the titans of early esports. It took decades of unwavering loyalty to their game, and Blizzard tried desperately to bring them over to their newer, more profitable titles. However, eventually they recognized that there was something special here. There was an opportunity to reconnect with this fanbase in a way that benefited both sides.

Blizzard will always continue to push Starcraft 2–the game has far more opportunity to make them money. However, they recognized that there was enough opportunity with this loyal fanbase of their old game that they decided to work with both games for the good of everyone.

Where Melee HD Falls Short

So, those are all the reasons that Starcraft Remastered works. Many of you probably already see what is missing for Melee HD, but let me spell it out and see how we can get there.

First, Starcraft Remastered only makes sense because of its success as an esport. Melee is popular, and more popular than Smash 4, but it is still a relatively small esport. In terms of sponsor interest, viewership, and prize money it’s probably not even top 10. For Melee HD to ever make sense, there has to be a massive spike in esports interest. There need to be thousands of people who love watching the game but don’t play it. The game needs to be regularly seeing 50k prize pools for every major. Even if every other hurdle is overcome, the game will not make financial sense for Nintendo without a significant growth in Melee as an esport.

Second, it has to be made clear that the game needs a remaster, not a remake. There are many things that could be improved in Melee. It’d be great to have one more solid competitive stage to replace Pokemon Stadium. Balance patches would be amazing to boost up some of the low tier characters. I don’t trust Nintendo to do that correctly. If we get new stages and balance changes, but they also give the game Smash 4’s ledge grab mechanics, is that worth it?

To me, that fundamentally changes how the game is played, and potentially splits the playerbase between the old and new versions. The versions must be identical for this to ever work. Nintendo needs to understand that we love this game BECAUSE of its flaws. The things they would want to change are exactly what make the game popular. Changing those things would make Melee fans not buy the new version. I think we are already doing a great job communicating this, but it needs to be even clearer. When Nintendo is finally convinced to port Melee, they need to understand that the best business decision is to make an exact port of the current game.

Third, Nintendo has to actually care about esports. This is currently the second biggest hurdle facing Melee HD. Nintendo has shown almost no interest in supporting esports for their current titles, much less older games like Melee. Melee HD only makes sense as an esports play, so Nintendo first has to see the financial benefit of being directly involved with esports. This means that as fans of Melee, we have to be fans of anything Nintendo Japan does that even remotely supports esports. We need to give them massive views for events like Tokaigi. If they ever do a tournament for Splatoon or Arms, we have to support it like crazy. They need to see that they are leaving money on the table by ignoring esports, which will lead us to then convince them why Melee has so much potential in that space.

Finally, Nintendo of America has to want to fight for us. Japan is about a decade behind when it comes to internet culture. You can easily see this in the way Nintendo designs their online functionality, as well as the way Atlus has tried to censor streamers with Persona 5. The nation as a whole is very set on doing things their way, and shows no signs of changing any time soon. As such, Nintendo of America is where we should actively focus. They have already proven that they are aware of Melee. If they didn’t care about it, Hbox would never have been part of any Smash promotions they’ve done. From everything I can see, the guys at Nintendo of America actually like competitive Smash, and Melee in particular. We have to show them that Melee support is a fight worth having with Nintendo Japan. They’ve already supported Smash 4 at a few events, and see the potential in partnering with TOs to promote Arms.  The Melee community needs to support this initiative. Instead of asking “why didn’t Nintendo tweet about Melee” we need to say “it’s so cool that Nintendo is supporting Smash!!!!!!!”

This is an area where Smash 4’s wins are Melee’s wins. Smash 4 is a way easier sell to Nintendo Japan, and it’s a place Nintendo of America can start showing more support first. Since most big events have both games, it’s up to the Melee community to show their support for Nintendo when they make these moves. If you’re at an event with an Arms booth, go try it out. Tweet about it. Tweet at the Melee gods about how cool it would be to see them battle in Arms. If you ever see Hbox or Mang0 or someone involved in a Nintendo promotion, share it like crazy. However, you need to also support that promotion if it has ZeRo or Nairo. Remember, any time Smash wins, Melee wins.

As you can see, there is a long road ahead if Melee HD can ever become a reality. However, Starcraft Remastered shows that huge game companies can see the value in their old esports titles. If we follow this road map, we have a real shot at seeing Melee HD in our lifetime. With any luck, our hands will still be able to hold controllers by then.
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