1998 had plenty of fantastic games. From The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time to Metal Gear Solid and Resident Evil 2, the early 3D era was beginning to produce genre-defining classics. The early 3D aesthetic synonymous with this period hasn’t inspired the same level of reverence as its 8-bit and 16-bit relatives, however, where retro has been made cool thanks to extensive number of parodies, homages and modern games using the style. The YouTuber 98DEMAKE is more of a Playstation generation kind of guy, and he's working to change that.
Working under the motto “Turning pretty games ugly again,” 98DEMAKE produces videos showcasing what modern games might look like if they were made in 1998. So far he’s covered titles such as GTA V, Dark Souls, and Minecraft, with plans to tackle even more in the future. His videos are a full-blooded and loving tribute to the period, revelling in the lo-fi style.
Why 1998? After all, many consider the early era of 3D as being aesthetically irredeemable – not that developers had less talent or worse ideas, but the technology was just too rudimentary. 98DEMAKE isn't going for the first possible year here, however, but a point where there had been some evolution.
"1998 was a great year for the PlayStation and gaming in general,” says 98DEMAKE. “The graphics had evolved at a really fast pace for a couple of years, so 1998 gives me a lot more flexibility than say, for example, 1996 would.”
Of course, nostalgia played a huge part in his decision too. For many, the PlayStation was their introduction to gaming and 3D graphics, and that's the case for 98DEMAKE.
“The first game I played was on PS1, and the first full-fledged 3D game I ever played was Crash Bandicoot. So Crash has a special place in my heart. Another important game for myself was Metal Gear Solid. MGS really pushed the limits of storytelling in games and made a lasting impression. Then there were Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Tekken, Spyro, Resident Evil, Silent Hill and so on. All amazing games which really made that generation one of the best, I feel.”
Far Cry demake
98DEMAKE employs a variety of tools to make these demakes. First, he creates the models and animates them in a 3D creation software called Blender. Then he alters textures on Photoshop using a texture sheet similar to the one used on Resident Evil 1, reducing the fidelity and colours to better match the period. After this, the final steps are adding sound effects and post-processing on Adobe Premiere. He estimates the whole process takes roughly 40-50 hours of work from start to finish.
There are several other challenges to making these demakes beyond just the time investment. For instance, a lot of thought goes into the presentation of the game, with animations being a particular headache. Here the problem is that they have to be functional but not too impressive, or you risk ruining the illusion.
For action-oriented games like Assassin’s Creed or Dark Souls, he looks to titles like Tomb Raider and Tenchu for inspiration. This helps nail down the specific 3D look of the period and the fluidity (or lack thereof) of the movements.
“They shouldn't be as smooth as they are nowadays," says 98DEMAKE, "but they also shouldn't look awful. Balancing that has been difficult, but I do think I've come pretty close to nailing it.”
Another issue is attempting to adhere to the limitations of the hardware while translating across complex mechanics. The 'If Portal was made in 1998' video perfectly demonstrates this problem. It required 98DEMAKE to think about how a studio would achieve the portal gun effect with the limitations imposed on them by the hardware of the time. In this particular case, lower quality textures and models presented the solution.
“Mostly I make sure to use low polygon models (300-400 faces) and textures that would've been possible back then (max 256x256 at 256 colours),” he says, talking about his self-imposed restrictions.“I do try to keep the number of assets at a reasonable level too. The same goes for texture size and amount of colours -- not every texture should be the highest quality possible.”
That said he does allow himself to cheat every once in a while, with the idea being more to capture the look and feel of the period than to stick rigidly to a set of rules. You can see this in 'If Rocket League was made in 1998,' where his Rocket League demake uses a higher resolution field texture than could probably have been achieved in 1998. This is to make the markings and action clearer for the audience to read, because after all this is a visual project.
As it stands, 98DEMAKE has only been making these videos on YouTube for several months, but already he’s starting to develop a loyal following.
“The response for my videos has been overwhelmingly positive. Naturally with growing exposure, I do get negative feedback as well -- mostly when people feel like the video isn't an accurate representation of the time. And that's fine as long as the critique stays constructive.”
On top of fan support he’s also received positive reactions from studios, like Ubisoft and Red Barrels, whose work he’s covered. They’ve reached out to him and shared his videos with their fans.
The plan for the moment is to keep making videos, and at some point perhaps even move away from 1998. “I intend to do an extensive catalogue of demakes. I also intend to widen the time period at some point, kinda turning my channel into a one stop shop for all your demake needs. Of course, keeping the main focus on the PS1 aesthetic.”
GTA V demake
If you’ve ever wondered what Altair from Assassin’s Creed or Joel from The Last of Us might have looked like nigh-on 20 years ago, then 98DEMAKE's work is as good an answer as you're ever likely to get. His videos are creative, ingenious, and as much as anything else reminds us how far the industry has come.