Cosmetically Advanced Prequel

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The 23rd century tech (top) compared to 22nd century tech (bottom)


A game, movie or TV show will come out, and run its course. Sometime later, the same developers, or a new team will decide to create a prequel to the original. Compared to when the original came out, technology has advanced, allowing better graphics, better features, better special effects, etc. However, even though the setting of the prequel is stated to be less "advanced" than the setting of the original, you wouldn't know that from just observing it.

See, this can be a bit of a dilemma when it comes to visual and interactive media, concerning not only prequels, but Spin-Offs as well. Designers often try to evolve and make their works look better than their previous ones, even when the story they're working on occurs way before their earlier designs. The end result is that their designs for the prequel/spinoff looks or feels better than what they had in the current storyline. That's what this trope is all about.

This is common in prequels to sci-fi works created in the mid 20th century, but whose prequels were done in the late 20th and this century. While the original is rife with outdated technology, the more "primitive" prequel will have tech that looks like it came straight out of an Apple Store (iPod look optional).

The Literary Agent Hypothesis helps suspend one's disbelief when this trope comes into play; that is, the progression of technological sophistication is not arbitrary or backwards, but merely subject to the special effects and budgetary constraints of the modern-day reproduction.

If technology has regressed in the time between the prequel and the original (for instance, if the original is set After the End and the prequel is set Before The End), this trope does not apply.

Compare and contrast with The Aesthetics of Technology and Zeerust. May be a specific instance of Older Is Better.

Examples of Cosmetically Advanced Prequel include:


Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Some of the individual Gundam series may also fall into this, depending if they have spinoffs of their own. For example, take the reputed F91 Gundam in comparison to the Unicorn. The F91 takes place decades in the future whereas the unicorn is only a few years after Char's Counterattack. Guess which one looks more advanced?
    • This is actually kinda explained in the case of the Universal Century. It's stated that the time after Operation: Stardust, technology kept leapfrogging itself, but once the Zeon Wars came to an end, they went from flashy and Newtype-centered to being economical.


Live-Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Star Trek: The Original Series compared to Enterprise. Where the Original Series Enterprise NCC-1701 computers look like shinier 1960s computers, Enterprise's NX-01 computers would look cutting edge to the 2000s' computers. Though if you compare the TOS movies (with their higher budget and better designed sets) then it actually does look somewhere between Enterprise and the 24th century shows.
    • Despite this, there were attempts at making the ship seem antiquated at the least compared to the Next Generation era shows (TNG, DS9 and VOY), where the set design and special FX aren't quite as dated. The NX-01 deliberately has a submarine feel (there is a risk hitting your head on a crossbeam in the captains ready-room), you can actually see the bolts holding the set together as if they were the design structure of the actual ship, there is an actual sealed-off decontamination chamber (largely utilized for Fan Service) and the doctor is ready to use alien squids to help with healing injuries. The computers and consoles also have physical buttons and other controls versus a touch-screen interface.
    • Played With in one episode of Enterprise, where Mirror Universe Evil Archer finds the missing ship from TOS's Tholian Web. One of the first things he mentions is how incredibly futuristic it looks.
    • In-universe, there has been at least one attempt to explain that at least some of the design is due to the prevailing sense of aesthetics of the 23rd century rather than any technological change (DS9's "Trials and Tribble-ations"). Also, the Enterprise at the beginning of Star Trek: The Motion Picture is stated to have undergone a refit, which would explain why the movie version of the ship looks so much more "modern" than the TV series version.
    • Since the divergence point of the 2009 film's Alternate Universe is after Enterprise, the USS Enterprise does, in fact, look more high tech than its predecessor. It's often compared to an Apple Store. More in "Film", below.
  • Might apply to Doctor Who, depending on how you use the word "prequel" in conjunction with a show about time travel. Apparently human technology is going to go back and forth on the "looking really cool" vs "looking like something a few BBC techs made with chicken wire and aluminum foil" scale multiple times throughout our future history. Lampshaded when K-9 reappears in School Reunion and Rose points out how "Disco" he looks. The Doctor claims that in the year 5000 such technology is cutting edge.

Film[edit | hide]

  • The technology in the Star Wars prequels looks much shinier than it will two or three decades later. In-universe, this is because ships and architecture of the Old Republic were designed for comfort and luxury, while Imperial vessels are mass-produced warships that prioritize function over aesthetics. Although it must be said that the prequel technology is not significantly more primitive than the original trilogy technology (except for a few superweapons like the Death Star), but is mostly the same, only with more styling. The effect is actually pretty obvious over the course of the prequel trilogy, with things well on their way to how they will look in A New Hope by the end of it.
    • Much of the "more advanced prequel" dissonance is that the special effects and set designs have evolved significantly because of the Star Wars films and changing audience expectations. In a "making-of" feature for Revenge of the Sith they described how they made a modern headpiece for a Mon Calimari (Admiral Ackbar's species) and said that the original mouthpiece just kind of flapped up and down and audiences accepted it because that was the best they could do. The modern headpiece had all sorts of mechanized expressions because audiences have higher standards.
  • The 2009 Star Trek movie had put itself in a strange position of being part Continuity Reboot and part Prequel. Unlike the Enterprise example there was almost no attempt at a "retro-future" look and the technology looks like it would rival anything from the next generation shows (24th Century). The bridge looking like an Apple Store was stated by the production team itself. The engine room, on the other hand, looks like it would pass muster on a modern-day military warship.
  • The titular ship of Prometheus certainly looks more advanced than the Nostromo from Alien. It could be justified, however, by the fact that the Prometheus a brand new expedition ship while the Nostromo is the equivalent of an old space truck.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • In The Flintstones Kids, technology is shown to be more advanced than in the original show. Well, it's BC; maybe time is going backward?
  • The Muppet Show is clearly set at the same time it was made, The Seventies, but in Muppet Babies, Baby Scooter has a personal computer.
  • Baby Looney Tunes seems to take place in the present, while the original shorts obviously took place in the 1930s to the 1960s.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • The Sims 3 is set 25 years before the original, when many of the iconic characters such as Mortimer, Bella and Bob Newbie were much younger, yet the game is packaged with 2009 fashion, 2009 furniture, 2009 tech, and 2009 houses, compared to the early 2000s sensibilities of the original game.
    • And it took most of those 25 years for Mortimer to use the toilet.
  • Deus Ex, compared to its prequel, Human Revolution. The original is set in 2052, where nano augmentation is replacing mechanical augmentation, but the trailers and artwork released for Human Revolution, set in 2027, make Deus Ex look far more primitive. Word of God for Human Revolution has handwaved this by saying that the game is set during a "golden age" of technology which was immediately followed by the economic and socio-political collapse that created the Crapsack World of the original and caused technology to become more cost effective. Interestingly, Word of God for the original noted the preponderance of slum levels, suggesting the more advanced tech was "off screen", so to speak.
  • The Nitrome Flash game Final Ninja and its prequel, Final Ninja Zero. The latter is set decades before the original, yet the enemies and traps are tougher and deadlier than those in the original, and many mooks in the game have no equivalents in the original at all.
  • Devil May Cry 3 is set before Devil May Cry, yet the controls are significantly more elaborate in DMC 3, leaving Dante — by comparison — positively arthritic in the original.
  • The F-Zero series does this, partly because of technical limitations. Maximum Velocity is supposedly set a quarter of a century after the SNES and N64 entries in a future where the sport has advanced, but by comparison to the later-released GX (which features characters claimed to have retired in the Maximum Velocity manual), the tracks are basic and the vehicles almost laughably slow. This is particularly obvious with one of the unlockable craft, which is supposedly an improved version of one of the old craft. Of course, the series doesn't seem to have an official canon, so it could be excused.
  • Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker (a game set in 1974) has Big Boss facing against numerous A.I.-controlled weapons (including the titular Peace Walker and Metal Gear Zeke) decades long before such weapons were introduced during Solid Snake's time in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (set in 2009). In fact, Metal Gear Zeke in particular makes the Metal Gear Rex from the original MGS obsolete (to say nothing of the TX-55 and D from the MSX installments).
  • In the Ace Attorney franchise, Investigations has a camera phone (that may be a "smart" phone with its design and the fact that its owner was obsessively playing with it), while the chronologically years afterwards Apollo Justice uses (already slightly dated at the time of release) flip phones.
    • It also features a color video with sound in case 4, which is set before anything else in the series (which uses black and white during the original trilogy). The bizarre part is that it is on a tape while the same case features a wide screen flat panel TV.
    • It seems that technology of the AA universe is quite different. There doesn't seem to be DVDs or any similar substitute, and most of the videos seen in the original trilogy could be explained as being cheap security cameras and the like, color cameras being more of a rarity. It's also possible the phone design is more primitive, and camera phones are very expensive, the characters with ones are an Interpol agent and an international prosecutor. Other characters are probably just using more affordable versions. It seems that living in such a murder filled universe has its advantages though, as a fingerprint set that includes a machine that can analyze prints in under a minute is PORTABLE.
    • Japanese flip phones are insanely advanced and extremely common in Japan compared to smartphones, anyways.
  • Hard Corps: Uprising (2011) is set twenty years before the original Contra (1987), but the weapons and technology shown in the game are way more advanced than anything featured in the original arcade and NES games.
  • Wipeout avoids this by setting each new installment of the anti-gravity racing franchise a few decennia farther in the future and sticking to a stylised clean and immaculate future (with the exception of two highly dystopic editions). However the scope of the racing league seems to follow a backwards trend: the first game features a track on Mars and a polar track made out of 'artificial crystal'. Recent games are set in a generic future city. Even the track design itself grows more realistic, going from vertical drops and multiple track splits to mostly flat undulating tracks with few jumps and magnetic strips liberally applied to any place where the ship could leave the ground. This is because technology marches on, in particular game physics engines.
  • According to Hyrule Historia, the events of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time diverge into three timelines. One of these leads into the first four games of the franchise (as well as the The Legend of Zelda Oracle Games, released three years after). The book calls this the "era of decline".
  • Halo: Reach has a certain degree of justification for why you have certain weapons and abilities that the original Halo: Combat Evolved did not, largely that the original game was about the crew of a single ship being trapped with limited supplies. Reach takes place on the largest Human colony and the headquarters of military research and development. That said the Spartan Laser is a bit anachronistic to its first appearance in Halo 3, and the armor abilities are nowhere to be found despite much of the action in later games have you with nearly unlimited resources. The Covenant itself has weapons and even more enemy types that were never seen in any previous game (the needle rifle is far superior to the needler and Carbine, although the focus rifle is inferior to the beam rifle. The Skirmisher is the major new enemy, a fast and improved Jackal). Some of this is handwaved as that the battle of Reach really did hurt the Covenant pretty bad and some of the tech and even enemy types were depleted in the aftermath, resulting in the differences between games.
    • Some of this can be further Hand Waved because Reach was a primary research center for the human military and much of that R&D hadn't been put into wider use yet.
      • The Cole Protocol tends to be a double edged sword when it comes to preventing human technology from falling into Covenant hands. It says that any human ships "jumping" from an encounter with the Covenant have to make the jump at random. If they're in danger of capture, they have to scrub their astral navigation databases and computers, and self-destruct if they are at risk of capture. Considering that the entire planet Reach was an encounter, and Halo started immediately afterward, it makes sense that there would be no time for the human tech to be mass-produced and distributed in the three-months and change between the start of Reach and the end of 3, especially since they were still in testing.
    • Halo Wars also shows this trope, where the UNSC has a ton of better vehicles and technology, including aircraft like Vultures, Humongous Mecha like the Cyclops, advanced bases, tanks with reverse-engineered plasma cannons, and even more protective armor for the infantry! The later Halo series has none of this, even though Halo Wars takes place two decades before the first-person games. Some canon has handwaved this by saying the advanced tech became too expensive later in the timeline, especially as the war began to take a toll on humanity.
  • Averted with Perfect Dark Zero, which is a mere three years before the original, but technology is a lot less advanced.