251: Videogames: A Modern Folly

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Videogames: A Modern Folly

A folly is the term for a building that is built purely for decoration and is usually ostentatious in style and design in order to attract viewers or tourists. Ryan Lambie believes that the videogames of today are merely modern follies.

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Well gaming is a MUCH broader church than it has ever been. The bedroom coder of yesteryear is busy making "lazer cat" and trying to flog it for a few pence on steam or direct to drive or selling it for the I-Phone. Innovation is still there you just have to look harder for it. Most 'AAA' titles are too unweildy to every accompish anything near the grand experements of yeateryear and i agee that many games are merely foly versions of movies.

This obession with movies is crippling some of the expression in gaming, 'Cinematic' gaming is nice to look at but it can leave a game ineffectual and sometimes with long periods of controler downtime Yes im looking at you Japan! For an interactive medium games like MGS4 and FF13 really don't do that much in the way of interactivity, their high points are basically movies.
I do think there is a distiction between "Only stlye" and being truely effecting and progressive and its a fine line. Lets contrast 2 games. STALKER;SoC and Resident Evil 5. One creats an extensive, effecting world with crippling fear and lonliness. The other has some REALLY well rendered biceps but no real urgent fear. Here is a folly at it's worst, insubstantive and hollow. Both pretain to be "horror action" but there is clearly a difference in pilosophy.

The ultimate expression of the tourist game is CRYSIS. MY GOD it's beautyful, you can just swim in it's oceans and be overwhlmed by it's awesomeness. But at it's heart is a terrible action movie that is thankfully put into some really solid game mechanics. It's a folly but its a dammed good one.

Perhaps we will see a decline in the unweildy mosters of the AAA world? I would like to think
we have seen a happy medium poking it's head out in eastern europe and with Stardock. Games with limited production values but real ambition in areas that count.

Back off,dude! I like how gaming has come over the years! Now I know there's alot of crap games out there,but c'mon ,man! I'm not denying how great the classics were or how cool 8-bit looks, but I like the way games look nowadays. Leave us alone.

There are some shining gems if you look hard enough, I have discovered a few: Mount and Blade Warband is an indie game with AAA makings that should not be overlooked.

Evochron: legends, THE space game, a must buy if you miss starlancer and space sims of the past.

Scrumpmonkey:
Well gaming is a MUCH broader church than it has ever been. The bedroom coder of yesteryear is busy making "lazer cat" and trying to flog it for a few pence on steam or direct to drive or selling it for the I-Phone. Innovation is still there you just have to look harder for it. Most 'AAA' titles are too unweildy to every accompish anything near the grand experements of yeateryear and i agee that many games are merely foly versions of movies.

This obession with movies is crippling some of the expression in gaming, 'Cinematic' gaming is nice to look at but it can leave a game ineffectual and sometimes with long periods of controler downtime Yes im looking at you Japan! For an interactive medium games like MGS4 and FF13 really don't do that much in the way of interactivity, their high points are basically movies.
I do think there is a distiction between "Only stlye" and being truely effecting and progressive and its a fine line. Lets contrast 2 games. STALKER;SoC and Resident Evil 5. One creats an extensive, effecting world with crippling fear and lonliness. The other has some REALLY well rendered biceps but no real urgent fear. Here is a folly at it's worst, insubstantive and hollow. Both pretain to be "horror action" but there is clearly a difference in pilosophy.

The ultimate expression of the tourist game is CRYSIS. MY GOD it's beautyful, you can just swim in it's oceans and be overwhlmed by it's awesomeness. But at it's heart is a terrible action movie that is thankfully put into some really solid game mechanics. It's a folly but its a dammed good one.

Perhaps we will see a decline in the unweildy mosters of the AAA world? I would like to think
we have seen a happy medium poking it's head out in eastern europe and with Stardock. Games with limited production values but real ambition in areas that count.

Indeed I found Stalker CoP lacking that loneliness and open hostility towards the player compared to the previous outings. CoP is far more structured and focused, these are good things if your game has nothing else but just think how truly terrrifying Metro 2033 could have been.

It is a fantastic scripted rollercoaster but it sticks so close to the rails as to make a screetching noise when you as the active participant stop moving forwards. It removes your activity meaning the fright is lessend as control is reliquished to the scripting.

Whats that saying about its not the destination but the journey :D

LimaBravo:

Indeed I found Stalker CoP lacking that loneliness and open hostility towards the player compared to the previous outings. CoP is far more structured and focused, these are good things if your game has nothing else but just think how truly terrrifying Metro 2033 could have been.

It is a fantastic scripted rollercoaster but it sticks so close to the rails as to make a screetching noise when you as the active participant stop moving forwards. It removes your activity meaning the fright is lessend as control is reliquished to the scripting.

Whats that saying about its not the destination but the journey :D

Really? I found that CoP is proabaly the lonliest game on Earth, I thought it did well in many places like finding the jupiter plant to be completely empty. The more mepyness you see the more you expect to have you head bitten off at any moment. I thought CoP was a very welcome and well thoguht out addition to the series that, especially at night, maintained the pant-wetting terror of the original.

But i digress. The main problem with modern folly games is that they are too sanatised, there are none of my favorite historical artifacts the pisspot (yes it WAS called that, that's its name) they lack charater and more basically originality. Modern Warefare 2 is the gaming antichrist. It's a cold hearted bastard made by a corporate focus group filtered through sponsors that then gouges us for 12 maps. It in no way deals with any issues of war in a tastful or gorwnup way. It's thoughtless and souless. It's the ultimate folly in a bad amusement park and shows us just how twsited out of shape gaming can feel to long standing gamers.

But i don't think modern gaming is worse than retro gaming.It's MUCH MUCH better. I own pretty much all of the retro consoles (finally bought another SNES again yesterday after my old one sadly died) and whist they can be refeshing there has been shockingly little lost. The article skims over the fact that this is only a problem with some AAA HD Console games and more than ever there are pleny of alternatives.

Indie Indie Inide. It's a blanket term but it's also a very important place. Indie is where you mythical bedroom programmer is, he sits and makes wonders such as "World of Goo" which was assembled by a Two man team and is possibly one of my favorite games of all time.

Ryan Lambie:
It's safer to offer up a more gorgeous iteration of a past game than try something new. And what's the point in taking creative risks when gems as beautifully made and critically acclaimed as Okami or Scribblenauts are regularly overlooked by consumers in favor of another shooter or EA sports game?

Ah darn, this always 'scares' me. I really liked Okami and dream of a successful sequel to it, but that's never going to happen (at least there's a DS spin-off though). Instead, the studio that made the game is disbanded and sales are poor...

This saying is all but too true - It's kind of sad that creativity can take a down turn thanks to how our audience likes to purchase games. Thankfully we still have a segment to keep innovation up, but they're definitely getting smaller and harder to see nowadays.

I agree completely. Games are no longer about introducing the player to a new world or concept; It has become a big budget contest to see who can cram the most high quality content into a single disc, without regards to new ideas. I hope there is a gaming renaissance soon.

While I agree that improved game graphics, fmv (MGS I'm looking at you, can't believe how bored I was) and physics are being used to gloss over major holes in gameplay in far too many games available today I feel that part of the writer's argument is based on nostalgia for a very different situation to the one we have now.

Back when we only had a few pixels and KBs to keep us happy we were far more impressed and tolerant of the games available. Of course the early years had a dramatic effect on us - it was the first time we'd seen anything like them at home instead of having to pay a fortune in the arcades. Think of it like this - when Star Wars came to the cinemas people were amazed, now effects like this will show up in stuff like the new Doctor Who. Back then we were also amazed when VHS brought the cinema into the house. Now we have things like Blu-ray and VHS has almost disappeared: the technology is far better, but we're still getting inundated with crap films.

My main problem with games these days is that progression is too restricted. We get a few games that do something really well, and instead of building on these successes and creating something even better ... we just get hundreds of rip off imitations. But that's marketing and profit for you, isn't it?

This is not something new. Travel back 10 years in the past and you could write this exact same article, except with some names altered, including Deus Ex among the lines of something "fresh and new" and Turok or Quake II instead of Metro 2033 (wich is by far the most underrated game of the year).

I remember reading some article in the same vein as this one, on an issue of the mexican magazine of Club Nintendo, when Zelda Ocarina of Time, Turok 2 and some other gems of the N64 era were just around the corner. And here we are 10 years later saying the exact same thing.

"They don't make games as before", "there are not enough new ideas". Most of the time this is very true, but gaming as come a long way in 10 years and while I agree that the FPS genre has been the same in more than 15 years, it's still one of my favorite genres. And I have to agree that only the indie scene is the boldest enough to come up with the most unique and fresh ideas around.

I wonder wich names are going to be altered in the next 10 years...

I agree with the idea that gaming has lost it's luster in regards to actually embedding you in a new world, inside someone Else's imagination. They do it today with flashy graphics, a bow to those that prefer the new graphics over story line, but they leave out the true imagination, they have appeared to discard the immersion factors and gone strictly for a shot at possibly being called upon to create a movie that will garner them millions of box office ticket sales, instead of capturing the audience with interactivity.

We are now entering the 3d world. True 3D, not just a 3d hd tv, but he future of total physical immersion into the actual game world. Another decade or so, and we will have true 3d like projectors similar to when Princess Leia was projected from R2D2 via an email message. With the technology that Nintendo WII introduced, we are coming much closer to true involvement with the games. Once true 3D projection hits the scene, without requiring those ridiculous red/green glasses, we may finally have something worthwhile.

My only true hope is that the folks developing this stuff, regain the idea that the PLAYER is the important part, the video cinematics only distract from the actual game. When I have to patiently sit through 3-5 minutes (or even 60-90 seconds) of someone ELSE telling the story, while cleaning my fingernails, waiting for the chance to actually DO SOMETHING with the game, well, lets just say that those titles have been played exactly once, and tossed into a box. Sometimes, they were never even finished when they found themselves in a stack of useless stuff in a closet somewhere.

Admittedly, I saw the original Star Wars movie, 17 times in the theater, most of that within the first week of release, Return of the Jedi got two chances with me, everything since has been lucky if I bothered going to the theater at all. Lets see... 17 X $4.50 == $76 that I invested into Star Wars the original... ticket prices went up, number of views went down after that by a considerable amount. Bioware's Neverwinter Nights, well, I have purchased every single expansion, every Premium module, and multiple copies or the entire game... Bioware ended up with well over $300 from me. Sure, the graphics levels have greatly increased with later technology, but I was not impressed with the other developer's interpretations as much as the original from Bioware. Bioware, at the time of Neverwinter Nights, was intelligent in regards to also giving the PLAYER, the ability to create their own worlds. True control over most of the environment they may have wished to create. Their successors have sadly dropped the ball.

Having loved Neverwinter nights as much as I did, I followed Bioware into other titles as well, but those other titles fell into the cinematic genre, where you sit through pre-scripted scenes waiting for control to be given back to the player. If I wish to view a movie, I can rent one or purchase one on DVD or Blue-ray disk... lose 2 hours, and then go do something else... for a game, I want something that is going to invite me back to play again and again.

With the Nintendo WII, we are getting close to that total immersion feeling, and at the end of play, I am physically tired as well as emotionally drained. This is a good thing... now, if they would only come up with games that actually interest my intellect as well, and then immerse me into a real 3d world... well, THAT I would pay handsomely for!

I agree with you for a large part. If you're just pointing at developers when saying this I think the comment is fine. Innovation has been lost, as the saying goes, They are no longer hungry (like the expression, "stay hungry" if that was lost on you). But in all honesty I think major game publishers/developers are going to see the saturation and make change, with time probably, but like all things, when interest drops in video games because they are nothing but a rehash with a makeover, and everyone is tired of it...they'll change. Right now it's still profitable.

There is another side to this coin however. There were a good number of games that were unplayable because of technical limitations and glitches. Pixelated graphics on many occasions included objects crucial to the plot/narrative of the story that couldn't be identified because of how poorly pixelated graphics rendered these objects. And also, I think on some level, Some of the ideas to come through are indeed good ones. Repetition can be boring, and indeed many AAA games are that, but in all seriousness, some of those ideas needed to be explored and good content comes out for many of those games. Left 4 Dead leaps to mind as a good use of the fps motif. While still a shooter, simple in it's assail, it's a good condensation of the genre in that way. It inundates you with tasks demanding your well honed skills, and focuses on humor. It's a time waster and fun for it. (If only they hadn't changed the pathing...ah well)

Neither side is a good situation really. The technical hindrances of the past are gone, but we seem to have used up our ideas at the same time. People are coming up with stuff, and yes it's rare, but not all of the rehashed stuff is bad, and not all indie games are stellar in their concept. Somewhere in between seems to be where we want to be, and maybe where we're headed. Look at Steam's indie game list.

I find this article really ironic, since I essentially wrote the same thing in a post in another thread just yesterday:

In any case, I think the author is too harsh towards mainstream game developers. I seriously doubt all of them lack creativity. Afterall, I would not be suprised if many of them came from the same "bedroom programmer" demographic that created many of the titles from the 80's/early 90's.

Creativy entails experimentation, which in turn entails potential failure. But the problem nowadays is that companies can ill-afford for their titles to fail commercially. Most of the titles already cause financial loss for the company and they are lucky if they sell enough copies to break even, let alone make a profit. Infact, the success or failure of a single title could very well make or break a gaming company. If the game does not manage to sell, it could very well result in the company going bankrupt and dozens of people losing their jobs. And that is never a good thing, even in a growing industry where educated manpower is always in high demand.

This is not to say that mainstream game developers never take risks with games (infact, considering the potential consenquences mentioned above, it is even more impressive when they are bold enough to try new concepts). I am also not saying that any of this justifies the fact that some of the more successful companies prefer to stick to the tried-and-true rather then invest in new, interesting IPs out of a desire to maximise profit. But considering how risky producing even a single title can be, it is really not that suprising that mainstream game developers will generally perfer to stick to already existing concepts. Afterall, there is a reason why such concepts are used time and time again...history has proven them to be successful and something that people are willing to pay for.

Also, while I agree that it is the indie developers that usually come up with exciting new concepts, I think the author perhaps gives them a bit too much credit. Infact, the problem with indie developer is that they tend to be too creative. Consequently, their games end up relying on gimmicks which lack any sort of lasting appeal. A lot of the indie games can be compared to a good joke. It is incredibly funny and witty the first time you say it. But after you have heard it several times, it gets really old really fast. It is the same with indie games. They are cool to play with the first time around and stay good for a few more tries. But once the novelty wears off, it is unlikely you will be playing it much in the future, if at all.

Simply put, creativity is a great, yet fickle thing. It is certainly necessary in order to push the boundaries of gaming and explore new and potentially exciting concepts. But for game developers, being creative is not enough. They also need to be able to provide an overall solid experience that will convince gamers that their investment is worthwhile. So while I do agree that mainstream game developers (particularly the more successful ones) should be more bold when exploring new concepts, I think indie developers need to learn to curtail their creativity so that it does not get in the way of making a solid game. Afterall, new does not equal better.

All most people want these days are games where they get to torture and kill people in increasingly sadistic ways while having "dialogue heavy" RPG elements where NPCs tell them how intelligent, witty and all round awesome they are. Popular indie games are all jokes about how stupid we are for expecting games to play how they normally play or boring arty statements about how games are rubbish but lo-fi computer graphics are pretty neat. Nobody wants to create or play something like Lords of Midnight. *grumble grumble*

I actually do believe that there are plenty of good new games out there but remembering how great and unique some of the old spectrum games were can put today's scene to shame in some ways.

Not exactly sure where how the folly thing works. Some of those old games mentioned were very much working systems or simulations compared to a lot of recent games that have a lot more static designed, maybe even over designed, elements. Like a an FPS has a complicated corridor like levels designed so that they look good and unique from plenty of angles but the enemies are created only when you step into their room. Lords of Midnight has a big square map with many views that look very similar but all of the enemies and allies are there on the map doing their thing even if you don't cross their paths.

Biased beyond all belief I felt like the writer had a grudge to pick with modern gaming and used this article as a vent for his grief..... That said he really failed to mention any new-age games that he thinks were good(sidescrollers don't count), I find it hard to believe every single new-genre game he has played has sucked. If you want to talk about innovation look at something like "Toy Soldiers" its a smaller made game but brings to mind those tower defense games all over the internet. They gave it a cool twist with being able to take manual control of the various "towers" you can put down in addition to vehicles such as tanks and planes. It doesn't use flashy graphics or intense detail, just a fun game building upon older forms of gameplay. How does that not count in this guy's opinion? The biggest folly I can see is this author's article.

Dude, you seriously need to chill about this "innovation" in gaming. Yes the soaring cost of game production has left little chance for taking BIG experiments in mainstream gaming. The reason we see so few risk-takers is because the market has been saturated by generic games; in the 80s the gaming industry was still in infancy and had much too learn, new developers were coming with the "crazy" ideas that are now the Bibles of today. I will give you an example, DotA is a relatively unknown custom map of Blizzard's Warcraft III: being the largest community supported game, it has now invited a bigger firm, S2 to take up the torch and develop it into its own game. Innovation has always been there, it is still there, and always will be. You just have to look for it, that's all.

More innovation? That's the goal here right? This is an absurd argument from someone who call out big game studios for always doing more. All they do is better technical aspects? All you want is bigger innovations. There is no different between the two. Gaming is only getting better and more acessable, so if you want to be a loner find a new hobby.

I agree with alot of what this article says, but at the same time I agree with the comments made by people about the nostalgia element. I am a gamer of twenty plus years and find it very easy to get dewey eyed over games such as Treasure Island Dizzy, Manic Miner, Bubble Bobble etc, but I believe that the golden era of games is the era you start playing games, as the longer you play them the more jaded you get.

Lets not forget as well, that todays programmers have it much harder as most of the ground breaking in those days was done in coding, these days it is done in technology development.

"Innovation" is a word that seems to be feared or routinely squelched once you get a major publisher involved, and it boils down to three simple words "Not Profitable Enough".

The FPS never really evolved beyond Quake? I'd buy that, though Starsiege Tribes and SWAT 4 is actually where I personally draw the line when the shooter stopped trying to innovate completely.

Gears of War and Halo were nothing original when they came out; they simply took existing concepts within the genre (melee attacks, cover, regenerating health) and refined them. The results might have been excellent, but the games were not revolutionary in my eyes; simply better built versions of pre-existing concepts.

To elaborate...
-Tribes plays extremely differently from any other first person shooter I know, due to the insane mobility and strict archetypes of the weaponry. In Tribes 2, there are exactly 2 Hit-scan weapons in the game, meaning aiming is more about movement strategy than simply "aim for the head. always". The concept of active base defense and team positioning didn't really come into its own until Tribes, yet no game to date takes it to such levels; it's all watered down now.

So why did the game die? Well, the genre of "High Mobility Shooters" has a surprisingly limited or niche fanbase. If you want to see what I mean, play ANY title from the following series:

Modern Warfare, Halo, MAG, Battlefield, Quake, Resistance, Killzone

The common denominator for all of those titles is the multiplayer learning curve. It's fairly low on average compared to Tribes, where you have to learn how to move in three dimensions in addition to learning how to aim.
Players move slow enough that precision aiming is relatively easy. Anticipating a target would be a total joke if you weren't forced to use a console* controller in over half of those.
That learning curve is the sole reason we will NEVER see another Tribes-esque game.
(*Perhaps there is a point to be made about consoles completely taking over the genre, but that's a different topic, and this response will be too long as it is.)

-SWAT 4 took concept of personal restraint and built the game around it.
You have to be able to make a decision on the fly if you want to do well. "Let God sort them out later" isn't going to please your superiors down at the precinct office, even if that's what you think. SWAT 4 requires you to check your fire first in all circumstances, and that statement alone is reason enough to scare away investors.

This game is about the polar opposite from Tribes, where the action is brought out in bursts.
Whereas a game like Halo is persistent, SWAT4 is resolved room by room, with your mistakes increasing the likelihood of failure tenfold over the course of a mission.

It was Vivendi Universal that shitcanned both of those series by the way, for the very same reasons I provided ("Not Profitable Enough"), but I can think of a dozen other concepts that weren't explored properly simply because they weren't a slam-dunk-pile-of-money, no matter how stagnant or trite they are under their shiny graphic shells.

Expect remakes and rehashes-dressed-as-sequels to dominate gaming for years to come.

What's worse, is that the game companies must continue this process ad-nauseum, or be bought out by whoever doesn't. That's the dark truth of the matter; EA would gladly swallow up and spit out Ubisoft or Activision if they could, and vice-versa.
They MUST continue to produce these 'follies' because they have already established the status quo; to deviate from it now would spell failure.

That was a very well-written article; great job. It's very true that nowadays all mainstream titles are the same thing. Once the big publishers discover what people like, it's all they want to put out. And you're very true in pointing out that from Wolfenstein to present, shooters really haven't changed at all.

Thank God we still have indie developers.

Also, I'm gonna look into Lords of Midnight now. Thanks for the heads-up.

Eh, personally I feel that innovation is a bit overrated. Yes, it is wonderful to see something that is new and refreshing - games which push the boundaries of what was previously thought possible. Then again, another side of me couldn't really care less whether or not a game was revolutionary. Sure, a game like Uncharted 2 is simply a conglomeration of various gameplay elements taken from older games, but does that somehow make it less enjoyable? No, it doesn't - at all. Yeah, the cover-based shooting system came from Gears of War, and the platforming came from Tomb Raider, and yet I enjoyed Uncharted 2 a lot more than both of those games.

I agree that innovation is something which should be encouraged, and I'm glad that it is still a strong force in the Indie game scene, but one must remember that with every brilliant or revolutionary title that is born out of this spirit, there are probably going to be 7 or 8 crap titles which simply lost their way due to the over-ambition of their creators. I suppose what I'm trying to say is don't knock the big-name developers - yes, many of the games they churn out have already been seen before, but don't be so quick to judge. When I look at my current gaming library for my PS3, although it's true I see a lot of re-used concepts, I also see hours upon hours of fun and memorable gaming experiences, and when push comes to shove, it is those games which are going to be remembered by the gamers of today. I think people need to put the elitism aside, and remember why exactly people play video games in the first place - to have fun.

I think unoriginality is underrated.

If it weren't for The Sims and Madden, where would EA find the money to publish experimental games like Mirror's Edge? If it weren't for Rock Band, would we have Dead Space? I say thee nay.

There are a lot more games out there than there were in 1984, and most indie games are flocking to the iPhone and the downloadable market due to the lower cost of entry, such as Shadow Complex and Splosion Man. Ironically, they're being away from the PC, once their haven, as PC piracy remains rampant. Games like Portal and Team Fortress 2 started out as indie games, and are currently some of the biggest titles in gaming. And there's something to be said for taking the best ideas of other games and polishing them to a fine sheen.

This is the same mentality that sneers at Michael Bay's continued popularity as a filmmaker, as if they have some stake in how many people want to turn their minds off and enjoy a summer blockbuster. It's almost like the critics in question believe that Bay is somehow encroaching on their precious "indie" territory, and they stand over it growling like a mastiff.

Uhm. Lots of long and interesting posts here about the state of games and how well/not well they're designed these days. I'd like to point out something on a slightly different tact though.

Whether games are ripping off other pieces of popculture or are made up of of interesting original content doesn't really matter, at least when you're trying to compare them to "follies". Is a folly just a luxury that is grande in appearance and takes many inspirations from other pop culture influences? I don't think that selling several million copies of a product that people use every day could be considered "folly", despite how unoriginal MW 2 is. Folly carries connotations of useless and wasteful to me. Which would fit some rich guy building himself a castle. Providing entertainment for hundreds of thousands of people every day isn't folly....

And uh. I guess OT with you guys: Alan wake looks to be a good example of a game that yesss is inspired by many other books and movies and even games, but does some genuinely original things with the videogames medium and story telling in general. Not as original as some indie games I'll grant, but I think it looks a cut above the usual cntrl C cntrl V FPSs that have been coming out all over the place.

It is the same cycle as any other media, start with dedicated independent creators, suits smell a market like rats smell cheese then move in creating an "industry". Suits promise creators capital to "achieve their vision" in exchange for their souls, creators with stars in their eyes agree. Suits become more and more conservative about which projects they think will generate a high return on investment. Most projects become cookie cutter rehashes of what sold well last year. Only "big names" can get the investment into "interesting" projects. Independent creators continue to fill the innovation vacuum left by the corps and the suits.

See books, music, movies, tv, books, magazines, websites, etc etc etc.

The beauty of the internet is now there is a ready market for independent creators and unlike the past methods of democratizing financing. World of Goo is the prime example an independent creator generating big name quality.

And even in the big industry sometimes "lovechilds" will appear like STALKER SoC. The power of PC gaming is the industry can release something that is half done and if it has potential fans will finish it, whether or not a dev kit is available.

While the article makes only a passing mention of Heavy Rain, I'm curious as to where exactly that would fit as it was more of an artistic/indie attempt at a genre(I'm not trying to interject a discussion about its success or failure, I'm just stating the basics concept) and yet as of now it's a blockbuster title? Was it a matter of a folly or an attempt at something with more substance which is what is being called for?

My own opinion as a gamer of about 25+ years is that while yes there was innovation in those technological constrained relics of the past, I wouldn't want to give up the games I have today, derivative or not they are fun and I do enjoy them, and in the end that's all that matters to me and only me.

Great article.

See, this provides me with yet another excuse to give Half-Life 2 a reach around.

"Dodo!" You may cry, "but, how is Half-Life 2 an outstanding display of innovation in modern gaming when it's just another shooter?"
And I shall reply "Why, I shall tell you!" in a boisterous, over-the-top manner, maybe even with an explosion behind me (which, I remind you, I shall walk away from without looking at it while maintaining a calm, collected, unspeakably badass facial expression!)

The reason Half-Life 2 is so outstanding is because unlike 99% of other modern shooters, the game isn't ABOUT the shooting, it's ABOUT the story. Sure, the story may only amount to "Aliens have invaded the world, are you a bad enough dude to pwn them?" but it's enough of a vehicle to drive the making of connections between characters and the player such as the relationship between Alyx and Eli, between Barney and the Resistance, etc. Sure, this would all fall through if the voice acting and facial animation was subpar; and sure, this is all down to the pursuit of technological advancement and things basically looking nicer, prettier and more realistic, but the difference is that here it was applied in such a manner that the game wasn't about cheap thrills and feasts for the eyeballs, it was about genuine emotional engagement.

This is why I don't "get" Gears of War or Halo or most modern games. I can't connect. It's all very showy and flashy and expensive looking and impressive, but it's the gaming equivalent of a David Cameron movie rather than a David Lynch film, and like a David Cameron movie, these games manage to impress me for an hour before I get exceedingly bored and turn it off because I'm not being engaged in any other way than being told to look at the pretty colours.
Sure, David Lynch's vastly preferred works (Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, Mulholland Drive..) are just at a glance JUST modern works of noir (like Half-Life 2, at a glance, is JUST a modern shooter,) but that is just a vehicle for making an emotional and intellectual engagement with the viewer/player.

If more games used their showyness as a vehicle to drive the story and the character development, I wouldn't have a problem, but unfortunately this is not the case.

Anyway, sorry for the Half-Life 2 fanboyism, and once again, fantastic article. \o/

I suppose where you stand on the subject matter comes down to whether you want to just entertain yourself for an hour or two or to have a more engaging experience in the artistic sense, basically whether you're in the "Games for fun" or "Games for art" crowd.

Terminator 2 was "fun" when it came out but it's now dated and laughable, Citizen Kane still stands up to this very day as a work of monumental genius.

I look at gaming nowadays and for the most part, see squander everywhere I look. I have no problem with games being just for pure entertainment, but I think the ratio of Jurassic Park:Citizen Kane could and SHOULD be a bit more biased towards the latter than it currently is.

TheXRatedDodo:
it's the gaming equivalent of a David Cameron movie rather than a David Lynch film

Sounds like someone has election fever. I don't think that the Tories are campaigning on a platform of Na'vi rights and cinema screen modernisation. I don't really think that valve are much like David Lynch either.

this is like square of folly. they are follies, but they suck at being proper follies at he same time.

I'm with you in bemoaning the lack of innovation coming from the major studios. I think it's inevitable, because they will always be driven by profits, and as history has shown, you don't have to be innovative to make profits in the games market, you just need the biggest folly. Modern Warfare 2 is definite proof of that and the EA Sports franchise lends a long history to it too.

But I don't think that spells the end of innovation either. Innovation has always been done by the little guy in his basement and the modern indie scene is no different. In fact, it's probably becoming better, because the barrier to entry has been reduced. It used to be that you needed some serious skills in assembly or C to write a game, but modern game developers have entire frameworks to make their lives easier. Flash is now what Visual Basic was in the 90s, but tailored even more to making interactive, graphical applications like games. Programming is no longer the most important skill in making games; artistry and musical ability are now at the foreground. It has allowed the people with good ideas and the talents to see them through to break into the scene, rather than just the programmers. It has lead to a much larger berth of game developers.

Braid and World of Goo are great examples, but there are many more. Captain Forever, And Yet It Moves, almost anything made by Zachtronics Industries -- there are so many enjoyable and innovative games that have been made by a couple of guys in a basement that it's hard to keep track of them all.

The indie scene will continue to innovate and the major players will eventually integrate the ideas that work. That's what brought us Portal, among other games, and it will continue to bring us new ones. The people with the money aren't innovating, and that's a shame, but as long as the indie scene continues, we will always have an influx of new ideas.

Fantastic article, I used to rarely stray from the AAA titles, but when you do I've found gems like 'splosion man or Shank

TheXRatedDodo:
Terminator 2 was "fun" when it came out but it's now dated and laughable.

You wanna' say that to my face, punk? (Not sayin' it's perfect, though)

OT: I disagree with people who say this article is a vehicle for venting, and then bring up exceptions to what Ryan is talking about. He's focusing on what he sees as a problem (which is by far the rule, rather than exception), keeping the article focused and maintaining its impact. If he went off on a tangent to list the exceptions, it would detract from his point, even though it doesn't actually counter what diminish his argument.

Anyway, I'm not going to go all-in with Ryan, but I do agree that I see a lot of stagnated ideas. My perspective is that it comes from a glut of releases. To much flash and flair, crammed into bite-size chunks for convenient digestion and subsequent expulsion. It used to be the "bite-sized chunks" were levels, but now they're entire games, designed to be experience and forgotten by the time the sequel comes out. If they were innovative and lasting, the publisher couldn't profit from the next release they milk from the developers within the next 12 months.

Edit: Yeah, yeah, "Bioware blah, blah..." Let's shoot this down before it comes up. RPGs are diametrically opposed to this design scheme and thus are more resistant to infection and decay, but slowly they are being chipped away at.

You know, it's kind of true. It's not that there aren't innovative games being produced nowadays; it's just that people don't pay a lot of attention to them anymore. Not like in the old days where innovative games got a lot of attention.

Imagine going back in time to the 1980s and describing Katamari Damacy to a gamer. They'd be impressed that the technology will have advanced that much in 15 years, but they probably wouldn't consider the gameplay mechanic odd at all. They'd probably be itching to play it. Now show the same game to someone nowadays who's never heard of it (assuming such a person can even still be found) and they'd be like "That's hella weird, man. What, were the creators on acid or something?" They might still be interested in playing it, and even like it once they do, but they'll still crack wise about it being "trippy".

I think Powerup Comics (a parody of badly written gamer comics) brilliantly satirized this attitude with their early strip where the creator of Super Mario was portrayed as a stoner. It's Super Mario! Hardly anybody thinks twice about the fact that he's a plumber who jumps through green pipes, stomps on weird gremlin things, and eats giant mushrooms in order to rescue a princess from a dragon. It's just how it is. But make a game that's even remotely that odd nowadays and it's all, oh, you must have been on drugs or something. Either that, or you're trying too hard to be offbeat or copying some other offbeat game. Unless you get really lucky, the best you can usually hope for is to become a cult classic.

So besides Katamari (and even that is debatable), what games have been produced in the last decade that featured dramatically original gameplay concepts and also got a lot of mainstream attention? Grand Theft Auto III and Portal are the big ones I can think of.

I dont have much to add to this accept that in 30 or 40 years people will be saying "whats a call of duty" or "who is master chief"

Natural Selection started as a little half-life mod, grew to a huge half-life mod which rivaled Counter-Strike in its heyday, and now a full fledged sequel is in the works. The first game was NOTHING if not innovative, and managed to also be extraordinarily fun to play. The second looks to combine that fun with innovation and today's high-end graphics.

My point? The innovation is certainly happening, its up to us consumers to stop motivating companies to continue to churn out Madden 67, 68, 69 and 70 instead of giving us what we really want. As gaming moves into the mainstream I think we'll have to work harder to find the diamonds in the rough. Consider the movie world. Everyone watches movies, and for every good movie there are 10 archetypal clones beside it.

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