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It’s tough being a student. The limited supply of loan money, the frequent spending sprees, the pressure to go out every night to prevent people associating you as some sort of weirdo recluse – sometimes it’s just too much to handle. Eventually, there comes a time when you need to sacrifice your most valued possessions in order to make ends meet; it’s a painstaking process that always seems to end up in tears.

Alas, I had to prepare for the inevitable. I sat down and reluctantly dusted off my collection, checking the value of each item on eBay, dabbing my eyes with my custom-made Super Mario Bros. handkerchief. And then it hit me. After close inspection, it became increasingly apparent that games aren’t as exciting as they used to be.

Before 3D technology was utilised, third party companies were given the freedom to develop obscure games for niche markets, creating a plethora of fresh, new products in the process. Indeed, while there were a large number of cynical cash-ins (namely due to the success of Mario and Sonic), the games industry became a powerhouse for spark and creativity; this has been widely established as ‘the golden years’, an era which has been deemed the pinnacle of gaming in terms of both quality and quantity.

It could be argued that gaming as a form of entertainment has somewhat faltered over the years, failing to match the standards that their predecessors achieved so effortlessly. For example, the beleaguered Sonic franchise’s foray into 3D has not only destroyed the once lovable mascot’s reputation, but is now a notorious joke in the gaming community.

It’s hugely disheartening to watch a figurehead deteriorate into a paradox of obscurity, but it clearly shows that Sonic Team are directionless in their approach, attempting to conform to what is deemed popular. Many series have followed a similar trend, such as PlayStation forerunners Crash Bandicoot and Spyro – this is due to the original developers moving onto greener pastures.

However, the biggest problem is a lack of new products from first party developers; ideas tend to derive from previous iterations of other projects, using the brand’s name for monetary reasons, not for the sake of artistic integrity. Case in point: Nintendo. Once praised for thinking outside of the box and taking risks with the Gamecube, it seems they have succumbed to realms of sequels and shovelware, releasing a wide number of rehashes, and remakes galore.

Nintendo have barely taken a step forward with the Wii, playing it safe by ensuring that each game has a strong fan base and high demand. For example: Mario (in all its forms), Zelda, Super Smash Bros, Metroid Prime, Punch Out!!, Animal Crossing… the list goes on. Whatever happened to the likes of Luigi’s Mansion and Pikmin? Even The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker revamped the series with its cel-shaded design; Twilight Princess is more of the same.

The reason? Well, especially considering today’s economic climate, games are extremely expensive to develop with the technology used today. The 16-bit era featured a inane amount of convoluted trash from developers that had little to no cash. These days, gaming is a big business, swamped with copyright laws and technological enhancements galore. Developers simply cannot afford to make a game that would be deemed unprofitable. In business terms, it only makes sense to create derivative, generic titles that offer nothing new.

That’s not to say these are bad games – far from it. However, it’s frustrating to see Nintendo barely utilise the strengths of the Wii to its full potential. In fairness, Wii Sports set the benchmark of what to expect from the hardware (also noting that it is a new IP), but these are too few and far between. In fact, if you look at this year’s release list, there are barely any new products. You want proof? Monster Hunter Tri, Sin and Punishment 2, No More Heroes 2, Mario, Metroid, Golden Sun DS, Dragon Quest IX… it’s hard to ignore this ongoing trend, not to mention it’s a little monotonous.

Nintendo aren’t the only culprits here. Sony and Microsoft also follow a particular pattern that caters solely to the ‘hardcore’ market, making games devoid of any true originality. Ever since the success of Halo, every developer under the sun has tried to emulate the template it set. Gears of War and its self proclaimed ‘cover system’ also changed the way third-person shooters were approached; mindless IP’s such as Dark Sector and Wanted have desperately tried to use its gameplay mechanics without being accused of being a Gears of War clone, despite failing rather miserably.

Other products such as Prototype or Crackdown, while both perfectly functional, all share similarities with GTA. Forza Motorsport = Gran Turismo. Project Gotham Racing = Metropolis Street Racing. Wash, rinse, repeat.

O Father, where hath all the originality gone? If you look at the Sega Dreamcast, it was perfectly clear what Sega’s intentions were. The console may have suffered initially, but in hindsight has created a legacy of terrific IPs that gamers still rant and rave about, even until this day. They were not only influential, but helped shape the industry into what it is today. Online gaming is a major factor here, with games like Quake III Arena and Phantasy Star Online setting the benchmark for future projects.

The Dreamcast offered a baffling array of ground-breaking titles, most notably Shenmue, Jet Set Radio, Crazy Taxi, Chu Chu Rocket and Samba De Amigo. Indeed, that was when Sonic Team was actually a credible developer. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

However, not all hope is lost. There are still a fair share of success stories that are a strong reflection of what consumers want in today’s saturated market. Heavy Rain offered a truly unique experience, unrivaled by its competitors and boasting deliciously high production values that justify the PS3′s hefty price tag. The Last Guardian, the next project from Team ICO, is an ethereal action adventure which focuses on the relationship between you and a winged dog-like companion.

The Wii has also been fortunate enough to have a few niche experiments of its own. Spielberg’s Boom Blox makes clever use of the Wii-mote, featuring real-life physics in an LSD-infused world filled with jenga blocks. Zack and Wiki also boasts an interesting premise, transforming the controller into a saw, a turret, a hand – it’s pretty zany, but a worthwhile purchase nonetheless.

So, can it be said that originality is dead in gaming? Well, considering we have PlayStation Move, Project Natal and the 3DS to look forward to, I don’t think the industry has ”jumped the shark” just yet. However, especially when compared to the days of old, it’s a little disheartening to see so few developers making an effort both artistically and conceptually. Maybe in the future the new hardware will help push companies to break the mould. As Capcom’s Kenji Inafune infamously stated, “Our games industry is finished”.

Let’s hope not.

  1. If you want to argue that sequels mean originality is dead, you’re going to have to account for Mega Mans 2-6, Super Mario Bros. 2 and 3, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and 3, Golden Axe 2 and 3, and so on. Sequel fever has been around long before this generation.

    Also, if you want to claim that Crackdown is similar to GTA, that’s like saying virtually every platformer released for the SNES was similar to Super Mario World. In theory you could break every game that exists down to its most basic elements and reach the conclusion that they’re all similar.

    Your argument seems to be that first party developers aren’t original, but it seems to hinge entirely on Nintendo. What about Microsoft, with Halo? Or Sony, with God of War? Both franchises spawned two sequels in a manner identical to Super Mario Bros. forming two sequels. First party developers also aren’t entirely representative of the video game industry. What about Valve or BioWare? Calling the 16-bit era the golden age of games is a misnomer because quality and potential have only gotten better.

    • avatar Agusnak

      Good choice man, the PS2 is aomwsee. Some of the classic games for the PS2:James Bond: NightfireRatchet and Clank (series)Jak and Daxter (series, the latest excluded daxter from the title)Grand Theft Auto (GTA III, GTA Vice CIty, and GTA San Andreas)Need For Speed (any)Gran Turismo 4DDR (if you’re into that)Guitar Hero (2 just came out)Hope I Helped!

  2. avatar Agent75

    I’d definetly say that the 16-bit era was the golden age of gaming. 8-bit was a bit bland, 16-bit moved up a few gears. It’s hard to ignore the Mega Drive/Genesis and the SNES, as them consoles did it for me. But the Saturn and PlayStation era blew open 3D gaming and it’s continued (Xbox 360 and PS3). So I’m now in two minds, but I think 16-bit just wins it.

  3. I honestly don’t understand what you’re trying to argue here. From my perspective, the only way to think everything is the same is to look at it for less than a few seconds. It seems you’re looking at all the Guitar Hero, God of War, and Halo permutations and saying, “This is gaming today.”

    I hope you’re not saying that, or anything close to that, because I can’t believe it in any fashion. Developers might not be throwing out the wackiest ideas like they used to, I wouldn’t know. But they’re certainly tampering with old formulae and experimenting with new ones.

    Look at Supreme Commander 2, released last month. It has a number in the title, therefore would it have nothing new in it? Tell that to the fanbase, who alternately praise it and defame it for completely changing the system used. It may not be a brand new IP that changes the industry, but it’s a definite shake-up.

    Personally, I don’t know if the golden age you talk about ever existed. When I can download the Unreal Development Kit right now and create games of my own that themselves could change the industry, that seems more like a golden age to me.

  4. avatar valleyshrew

    This is because you can’t make a good game without a huge budget anymore so you can’t take much creative risk. Also the early days are always going to seem more original because there was nothing before. It’s unfair to keep expecting originality against a rapidly increasing history of creative products to compare with. Games have taken huge leaps forward in some areas, but in other areas companies are utterly failing because they just don’t have the skills. Square enix made some of the greatest games ever until the current generation where they have released nothing but trash that makes you embarassed to play it.

  5. avatar Sohnus

    Hire me ill come up with some new game ideas for ya thats all i have to say. I enjoy community games and family games. The lack of low scope games is the problem in the industry now.

    There are many short and inbetween of common games racers,shooters,rpgs and very few action,adventure,coop,party games released. I miss games like Crash Bash , good cart racers from ps1, rollcage, Dragon seeds (a game that could be epicly revamped in current gen. ATV offroad Fury,zone of the enders the list goes on

  6. avatar Arthur

    Xbox arcade and indie games still allow the small developer to make games and succeed in originality. Peggle, Winterbottom, etc.

    Furthermore, the iphone/ipod is emerging as the indie developer’s platform of the future.

    Cool article, though.

  7. avatar name

    the problem is not sequels the problem is almost every game is the same as the other.
    dantes inferno, god of war, darksiders are all almost exactly the same.
    bayonetta, ninja gaiden, devil may cry are almost exactly the same.
    you have a few different genres and every single genre in that game has to be the same as the other games in that genre.

    this industry is so freaking saturated in shooters its not funny, and to make thing worse there almost exactly the same as each other.
    a perfect example of this is COD MW2 and BFBC2.
    both games are almost exactly the same, they have the same level design, same gameplay, same tactics. in fact if it was not for the different characters, and destructible environments i would not be able to tell the 2 apart.

    sadly originality in games is long gone, now everything is follow the sheep and sadly the sheep is MW2 so now every shooter has to copy that.
    this is the problem in the industry, developers and publishers just follow the sheep.
    MW2 is the worlds best selling game, so now our game has to be the same so we have a chance of taking a piece of that pie.
    were not going to earn that piece of pie by being original and trying to show people no this is how its suppose to be done, were just going to follow the Sheppard off the cliff like blind sheep!

    this is why ps1 games will ALWAYS! be better than ps3 games.
    back then games were made because of a passion, because developers had a love for games and that love lead to some brilliant ideas.
    now days games are made for nothing but a cash cow, and because of that developers could not care less if their game is great or crap, as long as it sells through the roof thats all that matters!

    this is why i enjoyed heavy rain so much because it is honestly the first game i have played in like a decade where i can say “ive never played this before.”
    is that so much to ask? a change, a refresh, something different to revolutionize the genre every once in a while, and maybe even create a new genre like what heavy rain did.
    you dont need to create a new genre, but at least break away from the sheep and do your game differently like what DICE did with mirrors edge.
    for years people have been saying you can not do a platforming game in first person, it just will not work.
    well DICE sure did shut them up! not only did they create a platforming game in first person, they also made one of the best platforming games i have ever played!

    i can honestly say i have more fun playing crash bandicoot 1,2,3 CTR, bash than i have had playing any ps3 game to date!
    even GOW3 pales in comparison to some ps1 games.
    besides heavy rain obviously, now that is the best game i have ever played, period!

    one thing i really want to see more of is 2D platformers and puzzle games, like the portal puzzles from darksiders.
    or the experimental weapons mode from shadow complex that is so much fun, in fact its the best thing i have on my 360.
    im playing a game on my Iphone now cant remember what its called but it has you driving a little toy car and its a platforming games, has you do jumps, control your car in mid flight, do barrel rolls through hoops and such.
    now this is the type of game that should be on PSN, not those crappy shooters and zombie shooters.
    this and joe danger, cant wait till that releases!

    so please developers for the love of god make something different about your game.
    you dont have to create a new genre, recreate the wheel so to speak, just make a few changes to revolutionize the genre.
    you will be surprised how much a small change can improve your game………………

    • avatar Anderson

      Jesus. This sound system, all the ianzamg games coming for PS3 next year, that damn 3DS and it’s games, games I need to get for my PSP now is not a good time to be a broke mother *beep*er.

  8. avatar Lanie

    a really well constructed article :) keep it up x

  9. At a point, everything is borrowing from something else – what I’d like to see from developers is a more concentrated effort in terms of narrative and visual style.

    Take a model that works, and tailor it in such a way that it feels fresh and new without actually having to mess with what are arguably flawless core mechanics. There’s nothing wrong with being a GTA ripoff if you have an amazing story and good artists to back it up, I think. Likewise, you can take two existing models and blend them together to create something that feels unique, but in actual fact has been done before (Mass Effect 2).

    Don’t get me wrong, I like new things, but considering how often ideas are borrowed from one game to the next, I’m more interested in seeing in what ways can the current model be changed, rather than throw it all out in a haphazard search for something totally different. While Indie games seem to be pushing new ideas left and right, their success in my mind is very hit or miss – for every Audiosurf, you have several “The Path”-’s.

  10. avatar Deej_mango

    I hold two issues with the article and ensuing comments.

    1) Quake III Arena is an example for the dreamcast? You do realize it was a PC game too, right? And that it has been revived into an online game since?

    2) Why is it that GRAPHICAL QUALITY suddenly means GOOD GAME anymore? I’m tired of pretty games being short and people raving about how “awesome” they are. Why can’t we have games like the 8-bit and 16-bit era, where story was what made the game? Give us a game that takes more than a day to complete. Challenge us like what has been done with Fallout 3 and Oblivion. Give us a ton to do so we’ll keep playing the game. Don’t just rely on multiplayer … make a full game!

  11. avatar I think Josh is a genius.

    Steve Tuffin

    • avatar Anderson

      in a small room the echo off the back of the wall can sound lik surround plus its siamtuled surround its fairly close to the ral thing unless ur in a big room

  12. avatar Steve Tuffin

    What do I know, I just put my name where the comment should be and the comment where the name should be! Marvellous.
    Pro Evo is good tho.

    • avatar Ravind

      yeah you were right from the beginning that’s the only way you can get atnyhing on facebook is to purchase it with your actual money which i think is really stupid because if you do buy things on facebook what’s the point its just an online game when you could really go and spend your money on something else.

  13. avatar Uncle Karl

    Good article Josh.

    I too share you pain at having to flog off my precious console/8 bit computer collection as a student, as well as frustration at the current (IMHO) state of the gaming world.

    Since the era of the 16 bit consoles, I’ve been primarily a PC gamer with a passion for deep RPGs and good old Sci-Fi FPS romps. What’s worrying me now is the seeming preference of developers to develop for the console market and perhaps then port to the console. Often games don’t make the PC gaming community at all.

    Someone has already made a comment about indie game development, I suspect this is how gaming will survive on my beloved PC platform (sob).

    This is of course quite ironic since microcomputer / early console game dev was, initially, a bedroom-based business with folks like Matt Smith developing highly original, if slightly surreal, gems like Manic Miner (prob too early for you to remember Josh) as well as gems like the Zork series (initially developed by some bods from MIT).

    Now of course a castof hundreds is involved and gaming, to an old fart like me at least, has kind of lost its heart if not soul… dramatic? Perhaps but hey, I still remember Horace Goes Skiing on my Vic 20 ;-)

    K.

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