View From The Road: Seen It All Before

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View From The Road: Seen It All Before

Some game elements just don't need innovation.

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It's true, and I thought of this exact thing a few days ago when I heard that Blizzard might not be looking for innovation in Starcraft II

Great article. I applaud innovation when it actually moves things forward and/or provides a new quality experience but innovation or change just for the sake of saying you did something different is pointless. Many people are quick to call most post-WoW MMOs WoW Clones because they have hotbars, highlighted quest givers, etc. but in reality these systems were around long before WoW. They are there because they work and because they make sense to both people familiar with the genre as well as those who are new to it.

This topic brings to mind the current debate over motion controlled games. Sorry motion control fans, but motion controls just aren't better in any way for playing 90%+ of the types of games that people like to play. Just because motion controls are the new shiny doesn't mean they are better than the established method.

Glad to see this article. Innovation does not mean reinventing the wheel over and over again -- it should mean introducing something new, not done before.
Most games that depend on some weird new gimmick fail precisely because of that gimmick -- one good example is FPSs which seem to feel the need to introduce 10 more guns than their predecessor or direct competitor, as if that is what is needed, whereas a truly innovative FPS introduces some new mechanic (like Half Life 2's gravity gun was when it came out).

TVTropes addiction is a hard thing to fight. You brave, brave man.

Three weeks dry, and still having trouble not looking up every anime and tv show I think about.

Ugh... that was hard to read. "Lack of imagination is good! Hooray for genericness in all aspects of gaming!!"

People demand innovation and such because established systems get old. Fast. Once any amount of tension is removed from a shooter because it uses a cover system, and you know exactly where you're going to have a firefight by the placement of chest high walls, and you know as long as you're in cover mode behind a chest high wall, you're all but invulnerable, its time for something new.

But that doesn't mean people want change for the sake of change. They want developers to spend time and effort on something other than graphics. Back in the golden age, the wheel was reinvented with every new IP, and in some cases, with every sequel. Sometimes the new wheel only had 3 unequal sides, but who gives a fuck? It was new and figuring out how it rolled used to be most of the fun.

But then halo gained extensive popularity for being a functional console shooter (thanks to auto-aim systems and dumbed down controls), and established a braindead majority who view gaming as vicarious masturbation with no cleanup. So, hooray for accessibility through familiarity! Hooray for lazy game design! Hooray for unreal 3 engine! Hooray for mediocrity!

I also wasn't aware that before halo, there were no caps on ammunition and shooters had an infinite variety of weapons to pick up. Must be my failing memory.

I agree with this article. I'd rather play a generic game that's good over an innovative game that's crap any day.

[Ed note: John Funk has a TV Tropes problem.]

Don't we all?

Hopeless Bastard:
Ugh... that was hard to read. "Lack of imagination is good! Hooray for genericness in all aspects of gaming!!"

People demand innovation and such because established systems get old. Fast. Once any amount of tension is removed from a shooter because it uses a cover system, and you know exactly where you're going to have a firefight by the placement of chest high walls, and you know as long as you're in cover mode behind a chest high wall, you're all but invulnerable, its time for something new.

But that doesn't mean people want change for the sake of change. They want developers to spend time and effort on something other than graphics. Back in the golden age, the wheel was reinvented with every new IP, and in some cases, with every sequel. Sometimes the new wheel only had 3 unequal sides, but who gives a fuck? It was new and figuring out how it rolled used to be most of the fun.

But then halo gained extensive popularity for being a functional console shooter (thanks to auto-aim systems and dumbed down controls), and established a braindead majority who view gaming as vicarious masturbation with no cleanup. So, hooray for accessibility through familiarity! Hooray for lazy game design! Hooray for unreal 3 engine! Hooray for mediocrity!

I also wasn't aware that before halo, there were no caps on ammunition and shooters had an infinite variety of weapons to pick up. Must be my failing memory.

So you want to change things not because they need changing, but for the sake of changing them. See, I can generalize too :)

My point wasn't that everything needs to be generic. It's that by using what's common, what's accepted, and what works for a lot of things, designers can focus on changing things that MATTER.

Man, the rules for chess haven't changed in, like, a thousand years! Where's my innovation?

I love your Article.

I dont understand peoples need for everything to be "Innovative' these days.

i have friends who hate many games just because of how similar it is to another.

A good example is Fire Emblem and Yggdra Union, both games are very Similar, and that's a good thing.
Both have many different elements that set them apart from each other.
But they both have many things extremely similar.
The combat system is one of those thing.
Both are Unit/Class based Strategy games.
Playing YU i felt like i was playing a Darker Fire Emblem..and i loved it.

It took a system that i was familiar with, did just a little bit of tweaking and made a game that i regret selling to this day.

So i don't care if a game has elements just like another, as long as it is a good game that lets me use something familiar to have a fun experience then its a good game in its own right.
And just like you said, some things don't need to change.

And don't worry, we all have TV Tropes issues.
And that's not a bad thing either.
:3

Why fix what isnt broken. As long as it does what it is meant to do then you have no problem! Its all about the user!

Xandus117:
I agree with this article. I'd rather play a generic game that's good over an innovative game that's crap any day.

[Ed note: John Funk has a TV Tropes problem.]

Don't we all?

Stop preemptively stealing my jokes! Are you happy? Are you?!?!

Nice article. The point needs to be brought up every now and then when people criticize things simply because they share elements with other things that are similar.

Hopeless Bastard:
Once any amount of tension is removed from a shooter because it uses a cover system, and you know exactly where you're going to have a firefight by the placement of chest high walls, and you know as long as you're in cover mode behind a chest high wall, you're all but invulnerable, its time for something new.

Yeah, so you vary the types of cover being provided to make sure that it fits with the environment in a naturalistic way, you create tension in novel ways other than "oh I'm being shot right now," and you stay true to the materials i.e. wood won't stop bullets for long, stone can be chipped away, and metal can eventually be blown away. If the cover system in a game is cheap and it sucks, it's not because it's a cover system, it's because the designers didn't do it right.

It really shouldn't even be called a "cover system" because it's just "what you do when you're getting shot at." We might as well call pulling the trigger a "firing system."

[Readers Note: John Funk has my sympathies.]

They might work, its all well and good, but its no reason to be lazy/unoriginal just because they do.
There is always a way to improve things in a way or another. Or maybe make up for it by making the content around the -thing that work- better since you can focus more on them.

3 hours of my life just went down the drain for that link at the end...

...again.

While I agree with the article for the most part, I think we can all agree that there are some cliches that games could really do without. Doors that will only be opened with one key and can't be blasted open by a rocket launcher, anybody?

John Funk:
So you want to change things not because they need changing, but for the sake of changing them. See, I can generalize too :)

My point wasn't that everything needs to be generic. It's that by using what's common, what's accepted, and what works for a lot of things, designers can focus on changing things that MATTER.

Man, the rules for chess haven't changed in, like, a thousand years! Where's my innovation?

... Something that may not be apparent to you is the trappings you're praising exist primarily due to the limitations of their respective formats.

Extremely limited weapon inventory exists due to the lack of "free" buttons on the average console controller. The average console controller having so few buttons because of the lack of fingers the average person has and the lack of area they can cover when gripping a piece of formed plastic.

Cover systems and auto-aim exist to offset the inherent shittiness of console controls. The inherent shittyness of thumb stick controls due to the lack of flexiblity of the average thumb... while it grips a piece of molded plastic.

Everything that WoW is known for (hotkey abilities, global cooldowns, charging cast bars, a specific feel to WASD movement) exists because of latency and the dance wow was the first to do with that otherwise crippling limitation.

The fact that everyone alive is not exclusively playing Chess speaks to the fact we need new shit every so often. Console shooters have been nearly identical since halo was squeezed through the tiny hole formed by console limitations. The fact we have to wait for a whole new console generation before anyone will attempt different control schemes is sad. The problem there being, changing shit up too much in the next generation would actually be viewed as a risk. The fact is, when you're making a console shooter, 70% of the work has already been done for you by halo and the unreal3 engine. This should promote creativity in that remaining 30%... but that doesn't seem to have happened. Nor does it seem like it will happen.

This type of talk is basically praising a rotting corpse for transitioning to a sun-bleached skeleton.

GRoXERs:
TVTropes addiction is a hard thing to fight. You brave, brave man.

Three weeks dry, and still having trouble not looking up every anime and tv show I think about.

you managed to quit!?!? How!? im still looking at the Borderlands page right now! (its hilarious)

TV Tropes is not an addiction or affliction! It is ENLIGHTENMENT! Those who tell you otherwise are trying to horde its precious information. Read TV Tropes, it's for your own good.

TV tropes is something that cruel people inflict on others to suck several hours out of their day.

It usually takes a few hours to close the final link, although, afterwards, I'm well entertained.

TvTropes will enhance your article?

I just want to say that I hated HATED how PS2 games would switch Confirm/Cancel between the circle and X buttons. It made it frustrating to switch between games. I totally agree with the article: There are some "Traditions" that should stay exactly that: established standards.

The problem is the balance between finding out where innovations is due and where it's stifling. With the cover system you mentioned, for instance, why wouldn't you allow cover in your game? Because without cover the game plays completely differently. Think of how Duke Nukem 3D or Serious Sam would be like with a cover system - they wouldn't be the same game. So, taking this as an example, a belief that there's no need to 'innovate' the cover system begets several games that don't understand why it exists (to create a slower experience in which precise rather than frantic combat takes place) and we end up with games like GTAIV, in which you spend hours ducking behind a dumpster waiting for a bunch of guys to peek out of a column. It's realistic, sure, that's probably how real life thug firefights go down, but it's not fun at all. Meanwhile, Saint's Row 2 knows what it's doing and presents no cover system, instead opting to let you prevail over your enemies by giving you weapons that in the real world are only found attached to airplanes. I'm not saying frantic is better than precise, but I'm saying SR2 is better at being frantic than GTAIV is at being precise. There are many shooting games that fell into this trap and are too precise to be fun.

A good designer must examine all gameplay clichés and figure out what they exist for and where he can change, come up with something new or even bring back something old. That Rifts game looks like it's headed well, but since I don't care about MMORPGs I have no opinion about it.

Can has stoppy-talky from stupid peeplez nao?
Because really, I don't need to hear any more about your innovation. I want a game that does what it does well. Maybe I just want a good platformer game. "Hey, what if we add a grappling hook and a swing mechanic?" Dude, if you make it work, go right ahead. "What if we add RPG elements, quests and stories and stats and cool stuff like that?" Again, make it work with the game, make sure it's still the platformer I wanted, it's cool. "What if these elements are old, used by tons of other games?" Who care if the elements are old? You're combining a platformer with a grappling hook and an RPG. That, in and of itself, is pretty impressive. You're reusing elements, but in a way we haven't seen before. Why need brand new ways to play a game when we haven't gotten what we can from what's already around?

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to rant on a somewhat related topic, Funk.

Also, the game I was talking about exists, and it's awesome. Check out Remnants of Skystone if that tickles your fancy.

Nobody has ever said that every game ever needs to reinvent the genre, but some do need to try.
Not all of them can be the same, but the ones that are should be good, to show respect to the games it is inspired by.

Innovation is in implementation.

Cover has always been in games. In Doom, I ducked behind corners to avoid impish fireballs.

COVER!

In Duke Nukem 3d, I once DUCKED behind a counter top to avoid lasers. The lasers blew up sprite bottles. At the time, I was totally blown away by how cool that was.

In Half-Life 1 and 2, I used cover.

But then Gears of War comes along...and it implements cover in a new and exciting way! Rather than just ducking, you have various simple maneuvers you can use to flow through combat. It changes the way the combat works, the way the game plays, and makes for quite an entertaining little bit of brainless sci-fi action shooting.

And then Mass Effect 1 and 2 took that cover mechanic and added a story and RPG elements to it. It was no longer innovative, but the story sure was awesome and I'd argue that putting several physics textbooks worth of accurate or semi-accurate science into your /sarcasm/ dumbed down, consolified, Gears of War clone RPG wanna be /sarcasm/ is pretty innovative.

But maybe that's just me.

(note: Mass Effect 2 was not a dumbed down, consolified, Gears of War clone RPG wanna be, and anyone who says so is someone with a differing opinion from me. Also stupid.)

Having a story in a game is not innovative, but telling them in a new way is. Boss fights are not innovative, but having your entire game be made up out of boss fights sure is! Companions that follow you around in FPSes aren't innovative, but having them be not annoying, actually helpful, and...ya know, have personality deeper than a small, tepid pond...that's pretty innovative.

Ya see what I'm going for?

Xandus117:
I agree with this article. I'd rather play a generic game that's good over an innovative game that's crap any day.

[Ed note: John Funk has a TV Tropes problem.]

Don't we all?

I hate you so much, I've got like 12 tabs open and that's just from one page.

Interesting article Funk, agreement and all that, I gotta go tv tropes is calling

John Funk:
Man, the rules for chess haven't changed in, like, a thousand years! Where's my innovation?

Flawed comparison: you aren't re-buying chess every few months.

New games should somehow differentiate themselves from previous games to be worth purchase and play, yes? If want to play chess again I still have it. Sure, I could spend more to buy the Royal Diamond Chess set for the aesthetic upgrade - there's no denying that's one high-class board - but why would I when it's the same game at a higher price tag? Some people might buy luxuries like that because, well, some people buy luxuries, but I doubt they'd be buying it for the enhanced gameplay it brings to the table...since there isn't any.

For the record, the rules of chess HAVE changed in the past 1000 years. Infact, the original version looks almost nothing like the current one-except the number of squares.

Consumers are fickle people. They jerk off over innovation in one sentence (OMG MORE GENERIC HALOZ!? MODERN WARFARE 2!?) but then they'll pay through the nose for the latest God of War or Shooty McHappyPants because it's good, and they won't see the hypocrisy in their standpoints.

Then they'll go a step further and when a game decides to innovate a series (Command and Conquer 4) they'll decry it as being "not enough like the previous games" and "not a true successor". The actual mechanics that were implimented in the game (which I still haven't played) seem to get less criticism from most consumers than the fact that it's not like C&C3 was.

Innovation has its place. Some of the games the DS brought about (Trauma Centre, TWEWY) were truly golden titles enhanced by their use of the touch scree and stylus. Continuing trends has its place as well.

Taco of flames:
Maybe I just want a good platformer game. "Hey, what if we add a grappling hook and a swing mechanic?"

Best innovative side-scrolling platformer(s) I played were Rocket Knight Adventures 1+2 for the Genesis. The rocket boost feature was ace.

John Funk:

Hopeless Bastard:

So you want to change things not because they need changing, but for the sake of changing them. See, I can generalize too :)

My point wasn't that everything needs to be generic. It's that by using what's common, what's accepted, and what works for a lot of things, designers can focus on changing things that MATTER.

Man, the rules for chess haven't changed in, like, a thousand years! Where's my innovation?

WoT

What I took away from Hopeless Bastard's post was that while you're correct in saying that certain things are born and maintained through necessity and that having such things presented in a format that's intuitive if not familiar is practically mandatory, there are aspects outside of those "staple structures" that can (and should) be addressed with all of the flare and creativity that the developers are able to provide.

Using a recent (albeit very small) example in my own gaming experiences:
I was playing Borderlands, had just completed a quest for a new piece of gear, a weapon specifically. So we have the quest giver who won't get off their ass to do their chores, pawning said chore onto the PC using the motivation of a new piece of gear (shotgun), a weapon that shares common attributes with ever other weapon. There's the staples you make reference to, things indicative of the RPG and FPS genres(although if someone comes up with a more interesting way of getting quests than clicking glowing exclamation points above lazy ass townspeople I will kiss their feet). So far, so done before.

When I first fired that gun, it literally blew my mind when instead of a tight cluster of projectiles in fired several projectiles in a outward arch while also having a bobbing path of travel (not as eloquently stated as I would like but work with me). Another gun fired rounds in a spiral path that then ricocheted and hit other targets.

They had taken what worked, what was established, and had added a new mechanic. It still fundamentally worked the same as any other gun, but that extra variable was what intrigued me (and made me pass up an upgrade to keep the funky shoty).

So, take what's established and add some identity to it. If you want to make chess, then you better make it like every other chess game out there or you're probably going to get "called out" on it (or disemboweled by your fan base. Fandisemboweled?). But if you want to make your chess, and in your chess it's actually a round board, and you do so while still having the supporting staples of chess (we still know what the hell is going on and how to move our pieces), then that's innovation. Innovation isn't making something different, it's taking the established structure that we can identify and then showing us what you can do with it.

It's the personal touches that make a game stand out, but if you're just inconsequentially tweaking them with every new iteration or title, then aren't you just copying or reinterpreting?

"My point wasn't that everything needs to be generic. It's that by using what's common, what's accepted, and what works for a lot of things, designers can focus on changing things that MATTER."
Very few developers actually DO, they just texture and model swap, or change who gets what skill tree or how their cover system will look different from every other one and call that innovation. It may be creative, but it's not innovative.

/WoT

Noooo, not the tropes...

John Funk:
Man, the rules for chess haven't changed in, like, a thousand years! Where's my innovation?

Bobby Fisher tried, and failed, to add more pieces. As well, you should see the ridiculous number of variants that have popped up in the last few decades.

I kind've, sort of agree. The problem is that when we get mired in cliches- even cliches that work pretty well- it reduces the likelihood of finding something better. We need designers to try new things, and even to fail occasionally, although the increasing consolidation of studios and publishers seems to be making the ability to create noble and interesting failures diminish with every passing day. So we take baby steps, and we make some very minor improvements in existing systems- "evolution, not revolution", as that cliche goes. But it's a pity, sometimes- I can't help but imagine that in at least some cases, a much better way of doing things is over a hill we don't dare climb.

In the meantime, though, yes, the exclamation-point heads and the green health bars and the quarter-circle hadoken all work pretty well.

Gotta say one thing about "cover systems", though. Yes, people have been using "cover" forever. But it's also true that people were using "cover" in shooters long before there were so-called "cover systems", and the enormous number of games using this set of tricks seems to be generating at least as many complaints as lauds. Finding yourself stuck to a wall for a moment too long as someone chucks a grenade just over it or flanks with a melee weapon is no fun. It's okay to have games where people just duck, jump, and maybe lean as well, y'know.

Gigaguy64:
I love your Article.

I dont understand peoples need for everything to be "Innovative' these days.

I have an answer for you, we're in the 21th century, they expect things to be new, shiny and futuristic...
Let me tell you something, BACK IN THE DAY, when I was young(er) we just had 2D pixels, game mechanics involving jumping, shooting or both, and guess what? WE WERE HAPPY!

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