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innovate

Yeah, me too. I’m sick to the teeth of the word. So much, in fact, that I almost shudder whenever it leaves my lips: “Innovation”. There, I said it. OK, typed it *hand shudder *. Unfortunately, it’s a word that is increasingly cropping up in the world of gaming, and so I’ve become resigned to the fact that it exists, casting its huge shadow over the realms of creative thinking.

I really respect and am excited by the fact that gaming is being pushed forward more and more, with new ideas and gameplay elements creating both new genres and a broader spectrum, in terms of experience, within already existing ones. It’s just that I wish things felt a little more organic than they are right now. I wish new ideas didn’t have to be labelled so ungraciously, sought out and picked apart in great depth, causing developers to second guess themselves and get stage fright just when they had something good going on.

Of course, “innovation” is not just a buzz word for gaming in the 21st century. Go back to the beginning of videogames and it was everywhere. But this was because it had to be. Things were brand new, ideas were just being dreamt up in the heads of whizzkids and geeks all over the world. Something exciting was clearly happening and the creative juices flowed enough to build the foundations of what we are blessed with today.

But this wasn’t innovation. This was a revolution.

Wolfenstein 3D is a good example of a game that revolutionised gaming. While it admittedly followed in the foundations that Spasim and (more specifically due to the gameplay happening on foot as opposed to in space) Maze War had previously laid, Wolf 3D took their first person template and fired it into orbit. Today’s first person shooters owe hell of a lot to this game, but should be in no rush to stray too far from the solid roots that have grown since its development seventeen years ago. There is plenty of time for that.

This kind of jump in quality and experience will probably never be replicated again. Even so, it has become highly fashionable for gaming press and consumers to demand “new ideas” in titles. This greater pressure on developers to bring something new to the table is, in turn, causing games that have “generic” elements tacked on as a form of safety net. It makes for an uncomfortable amount of mixed messages from games that ought to be able to speak for themselves, while gamers are constantly underestimated.

Mirror's Edge

Mirror’s Edge is a great game. I have no doubt in my mind about that, but what stops it from being a fantastic game are the features that have been the cornerstone of first person gaming since Wolfenstein 3D; ie. the shooting parts. When the first footage of the game was released, the entire gaming community was amazed. This was actually something really new and the buzz around the game was very intense.

But somewhere along the line, long before this video came out, DICE decided that the idea of a game based on first person free running would not be worth our money, that gamers won’t want to buy a first-person experience that doesn’t let you shoot people; the focus on innovation would be so intense that the risk was not worth it. So, similar to Sonic games in recent years, Mirror’s Edge was given a gritty storyline and Faith had some arse-kicking to carry out via some tiresome (you have to love this) bullet time.

Granted, the disarming of guards is a great idea, but once you have to slow yourself down and go through what felt like the chore of taking them out before you could start zooming around again, things started to taste a little sour. The parkour in this game is outstanding, but the gunplay and combat is awkward and annoying, detracting from what could have been a superb experience; one that could have revolutionised gaming.

Before its release, Flower stood out as an experience that was to take gamers out of their ordinarily competitive mindset and transport them to a place that asked of nothing but gave a whole lot back. Like staring into one of Monet’s gorgeous landscape paintings, Flower was a catalyst for a greater sense of relaxation. By the end, however, I found myself yearning for the opening level again. I wanted to float around aimlessly and take my own sweet time without the fear of electrocution, just like I’d first imagined I would be. I wanted That Game Company to have some guts, rather than providing me with a game that relies on the same formula as most others on the market.

killzone 2

One of the reasons for this article was a review for Killzone 2. Calling out the game for “not doing anything new” the reviewer was very critical. This is exactly the kind of attitude that needs to stop. It’s tiresome, boring and not at all constructive. When a game is not afraid to stand on its own two feet, free from forced “innovation” and full of improvements on already sound ideas, it should be taken for what it is rather than what it’s not.

Killzone 2, it turns out, does feel incredibly new. With tweaks and improvements on most of its predecessor’s mechanics – first-person cover system, laboured movement, amazing visuals etc – it has “progressed” the genre in a very natural way. So let’s not panic developers into thinking too far ahead when Guerilla Games have proved that they could do well to push long established boundaries.

The point I am trying to make here is that developers should not feel in any rush to reinvent the wheel. The games industry is still a tiny baby when compared with art, film and music and therefore deserves to be nurtured and eased into a natural growth. Force feeding genres with innovative ideas is holding back the progression of ones that are still undeveloped and incomplete. There is still a long way to go with every genre, so let’s not clog up the system with over-thought, diluted titles.

On the other hand, if new ideas are to be brought forward, developers must be confident that their concepts can hold their own, without the constraints of the past. All I ask is that more developers consider respecting their audience. At the moment it feels as if the majority (there are exceptions in the likes of Noby Noby Boy) of companies assume there needs to be a beginning, middle and end structure with clever pacing, no matter the kind of game.

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  1. It’s sad that because of a little amount gunplay that more people didn’t like Mirror’s Edge.

    In terms of critical reviewers, while it’s important to check if anything “new” comes up in games, you also have to compare it to it’s predecessors and see how it measures up, not just say “it’s not new”. What about “does it do it better?”

  2. avatar poopy monkey

    the lack of innovation in your article made it boring ;)

  3. avatar eborring

    I understand your argument but in the examples you provided you praise the innovation but belabor the inclusion of traditional mechanics.

    For instance, you praise Mirror’s Edge for the innovative way it used the first person perspective but then go on to say, “what stops it from being a fantastic game are the features that have been the cornerstone of first person gaming since Wolfenstein 3D.” You are saying it did not innovate enough, at least that’s how it reads to me.

    Additionally, an innovative idea can be either revolutionary or evolutionary. Thus, I don’t think you problem is with innovation, obviously you want new things in games, “Killzone 2, it turns out, does feel incredibly new.” I think your issue is with reviews complaining about a lack of innovation. When innovation to that reviewer only means a completely new genre with completely new mechanics.

    Evolutionary innovation drives industry and progress. Innovation is not standing in the way of progress people who think only revolutionary ideas are innovative are standing in the way of progress.

  4. Speaking of innovation, the Xbox Live picks for the Most Innovative were just laughable in my opinion. I ended up figuring out what one I would have liked to see, but all that I had seen was nothing new to the gaming table and some of the ones nominated had poor reasons as to why.

  5. avatar Danielle

    Interesting article, I liked it.

  6. @Eborring,

    Thanks for your comment. I was trying to conclude that developers shouldn’t shy away from being bold when it comes to new ideas. It felt as though Mirror’s Edge came equiped with a safety net to keep the “hardcore” happy.

    My complaint is with an industry (reviews included) that seem to discredit a game for a “lack of new ideas”, which I feel is causing developers to force innovation into games when it shouldn’t be necessary and certainly not rushed.

    I just think we need to learn to crawl before we walk, take our time and let these fresh blend into a game better.

    If new ideas are brought in now (I do love them, really), developers should realise that a game like Noby Noby Boy can be loved, without the need for a headshot and a gentle slope of difficulty with a storyline.

    Let’s just not have these patchwork titles, where working on so many different gaming aspects narrows down the chance of getting any of them to play well.

  7. ps. Thanks, Danielle. Glad you liked it. No thanks to you, Poopy Monkey! Grrrrr.

    Chris summed up the reviewing thing well. Cheers, dude!

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  8. I agree that this focus on innovation often results in complete rubbish such as the six axis motion control thing. It’s being better used now, but to me it’s seems like something that was rushed through simply so Sony could say look at how innovative we are being.

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  9. avatar eborring

    On the one hand the, “developers shouldn’t shy away from being bold” and on the other, “we need to learn to crawl before we walk”. I think it is an extremely tough compromise and that is why many times it doesn’t work well.

    I agree when developers try too many new things in a game, they all end up being pretty bland because the developers don’t fully realize each innovation. Further, when they do try something bold, like Mirror’s Edge, it seems they stop half way and fall back on banal game mechanics.

    I bought Mirror’s Edge because it offered something new, something I haven’t seen before, regardless of whether the gun play was perfect or it was long enough or it was too unforgiving. None of which bothered me because it was a helluva lot more interesting than GoW2 or R2.

    It bothers me that a sequel (I would prefer developers made spiritual successors but that is a whole other article) to a game like Mirror’s Edge won’t get made because it didn’t sell well (although in this case EA is making a sequel from what I understand). And it didn’t sell well because it tried to innovate, though I think we both agree it did not innovate enough. This is duo to a whole host of problems from cost of development, reviews and consumer purchase habits. But the sequel is where they could polish the game to the point of perfection because they don’t have to spend half their time getting their new idea to work. Which is why sequels sell so well.

    Innovation has it’s place but the game also has to sell well in order for the publisher (not the developer) to justify a sequel.

  10. @eborring,

    “On the one hand the, “developers shouldn’t shy away from being bold” and on the other, “we need to learn to crawl before we walk”. I think it is an extremely tough compromise and that is why many times it doesn’t work well. ”

    It’s a tough one for my mind to comprehend. I think the underlying theme here is that developers need to stop underestimating the level of intelligence of their customers… Don’t assume that we are so needy. And press shouldn’t egg on the situation by pointing out that it is a bad thing if a game does nothing new. I don’t care if things are new or old. It’s what’s good that counts!

    I think Topher Cantler from Destructoid put it well in an article he wrote about Flower: “I like hummus, just not in my ice cream”.

    I want established ideas to be nurtured towards perfection more, before we move on – free range chickens and all that – and have some kind of backlog in creativity. FPS is a great example of a genre that still has a long way to go, while JRPGs could probably do with a stupendous amount of reinvention and innovation.

    But basically, I never ever EVER want to see 3D gaming in my lifetime! We’d hit a ceiling and that would be it!

    I do fear the same thing as you, too. I really want a Mirror’s Edge sequel, but the DLC packs (much like Prince Of Persia’s “Epilogue”) suggest that the chances may be slim.

  11. I would much rather watch a movie like The Dark Knight which does a lot great and little truly new, than watch a David Lynch movie that is innovative in a way that I don’t care about at all.

    OR. Memento, which is both.

  12. avatar Name (Required)

    I agree with you, especially on the Mirror’s Edge side of things. I made it a point to beat the game without using weapons (who cares about shooting people anymore?), but I didn’t succeed. You know why? Because the developers of the game made it so after you disarm, you shoulder the weapon automatically and it’s incredibly easy to misfire.

    Annoying.

    Hopefully they’ll take the hint that the Time Trials are the most successful part of the game, and commit to their initial intentions next time.

  13. I agree about the gun thing in Mirror’s Edge. I would have loved it if she just threw the gun away automatically.

    It would have been an incredibly bold statement in an FP game. I really mean that; the tease of grabbing and holding the gun, then disregarding it would have really gained a reaction (one way or the other) from gamers.

  14. avatar illin

    i disagree. there is not enough innovation in the gaming industry as of yet. games like flower give me hope, mirrors edge came close. i’m tired of killing shit. okay, it’s still fun, but i don’t want every game i spend my hard-earned money on to be some pseudo-clone of something i played last year but with spiffier graphics. i think it could be said that this issue is like the global warming situation: nobody really takes it that seriously because they haven’t been directly harmed or removed from their comfortable, ordinary routine… and the potential benefits/potential costs of failure are all far enough down the road that it’s easy for people not to care. stop being happy to wallow in tiring trends, people! this medium has so many possibilities of which we’ve barely scratched the surface! as a consumer, you have the power to make your voice heard and the VERY FIRST THING, THE FIRST STRIKE, it’s so simple… all you have to do…….

    is stop buying madden games.

  15. This entire article sums up why I think the Wii is a complete disgrace of a console. It’s entire existence is based on a very simple gimmick disguised as innovation. Most importantly, what have we gained from it as a result?

    A plethora of absolutely dreadful games designed to do nothing but pull the industry into a mudbath of titles involving fast food competitions and minigames.

  16. Well said, Jimmy P! That’s a really good point actually.

  17. avatar ross

    That’s pretty true. Take Bioshock, for example. I think it would be no fun if all you were given was plasmids, and not been given the choice to just shoot your way through…

    The only exception to this rule as far as I’m aware is Spore. But the DRM with that game failed. So too bad.

  18. avatar evilidin

    I have to agree with flower it is a great game but the open levels seemed to be much more interesting to play then the electrocuting levels.

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