Jimquisition: Innovation - Gaming's Snake Oil

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jehk:
Also, I think I'm the only person who loved Mirror's Edge.

Nope. In fact, I object to his using Mirror's Edge as an example of innovation that didn't work because aside from the few instances of combat, Mirror's Edge is one of the most purely fun to play games I've played this generation. Up there with the likes of Portal in fact for being satisfying to just reinstall and run through the levels again and mess around with the mechanics every few months.

If anything, far too many people seem to blow its few problem areas way out of proportion, pretending that they colour more of the experience than they actually do.

I disagree with the idea that an RPG's greatest strength is the story. Almost every video game genre these days at least attempts to provide a compelling story. Many have even appropriated RPG elements such levelinuig up. If every other game on the shelf promises to provide a great narrative, RPGs need to stand out with their unique mechanics.

Whether or not certain changes are considered innovative or gimmicky can be very subjective. Some didn't like the motion controls of Skyward Sword while other did.

Using ideas established in other games can be risky. A game can get lost in "me too" syndrome and become forgettable.

Yes, innovation can yield good and bad things, but as an overall force it is good. That is unless, you would love every game to just be pong...

As for the examples, they were poor choices. Singularity was a shooter in a sea of shooter, where you do need to be special to stay afloat. As for mirror's edge, it was fun and not as flawed as you make it seem. Heavy Rain is a better example of a cul-de-sac, especially when you compare it to The Walking Dead.

A better example of measured use of innovation is the Portal series. It started with a brand new mechanic, the use of portals. When it came to a sequel they considered ditching the portals and GLaDOS, but instead kept them and expanded on them. New I.P.s should innovate, sequels should build on what they have.

EDIT: Thinking about it, this sounds like a partial re-hashing of Jim's anti-art games rant...

heh, usually I tend to whole-heartedly agree with Jim but here? Not so much. Of course, innovations for innovation's sake is dumb and no one disputes that. (Personally, though I think it's fair to overlook some faults created by experimentation)

Seriously, though, the thing I disagree with is the implied statement that blatant copying deserves some kind of extra praise only because it's not quite as shit. I felt Singularity was quite boring and nothing I've never seen before. If you're not going to innovate at all then better polish that shit to a mirror shine because it will inevitably have to measure up to every game that it copied from. And that's, in my humble opinion, completely fair criticism.

I mean, technically is Darksiders alright but it's just Legend of Zelda with a bit of "EDGY" spray paint and for that, it's just not alright enough. (also, War was annoying as hell, hur hur)

But yeah, innovation for innovation's sake is shit. Best example (while we're at it): Skyward Sword. The shoehorned waggle controls just diminished a lot of the impact it had on me. Still, for all its faults, I will praise that particular Zelda for some of the most amazing game design the series had so far. Sure, it failed on quite a few levels, but I'd rather see shit crash and burn than stagnate any further.

tl;dr: I agree with you, Jim, but I also disagree.

PS: Ni No Kuni's combat can go suck a flaming cock. >:C

Three points:
I) Every single idea. Effective, popular or stupid, starts somewhere. It's rather rare for a new idea to be executed well on the first try (or first generation even).

II) "Necessity is the mother of invention", isn't always true either.
There were points in human history where invention was considered frivolous, childish or even foolish. (China lost its position as a world superpower for nearly 400 years because of exactly that).

Jim, you wouldn't even be able to preach to us, online, about the pitfalls of innovation were those ideologies not challenged and new necessity established in the first place.

III) Innovation in gameplay in AAA gaming is at an all time low. Stagnation reigns. This enhances the appeal of Independent development.

This isn't to say every new idea leads somewhere good: I remember the horrors of FMV games, or more recently, the illusory usefulness of "waggle-motion controls". I agree that we shouldn't give new ideas a free pass just for being new as there are infinitely more bad ideas than good ideas, but neither should we discard innovation for fear of failure or mediocrity.

To summarize my rambling:
Experimentation is not pretentious; equating it with brilliance is.

Good show. People take this kind of thing for granted. You don't do it just because you do it, you do it to improve an experience. Lots of companies "innovate" by adding adhoc ideas so they can say it's different. I'll user Metalgear Rising: Revengence as an example. It took a combat system that is nothing special and added that really cool slice and dice mechanic. That was awesome. The rest of the game, however, was just boring. Every reviewer gave the fact the levels are flat 2 dimensional unexciting romps through very boring run of the mill material, a pass because of that slice and dice stuff. It was fun and some of the boss battles were epic, but if not for those things it would have been a 3 out of 10. Those things were innovative and fun, but the overall experience was still not very good.

I think the problem I have with your defence of darksiders and singularity is that whether something is comfortable and fun, or is tired and dull, is very much a matter of personal taste. I tried both demo's and was very much underwhelmed by both. by the same token, flaws and all, I loved mirrors edge. it did something fun, different, and interesting. not perfectly, and it caused me to have a few hissy fits at the screen, but I loved the ideas and the gameplay (when it wasn't screwing up).

Its kinda like the guy who's played every halo, and when he got to reach screamed and raged that things like the armour abilities and differences to the other games were ruining it for him, and the others who found the additions added a touch of spice that ultimately needed to be mch much more.

Jimothy Sterling:

alphamalet:
Jim,

I don't think many people are on the other side of this issue.

Innovation for the sake of it is bad. It will usually lead to something frivolous that is not properly implemented within the system it exists.
Doing the same thing over and over is bad.
Finding a good balance between the two to keep something fresh yet familiar is usually good.

If people praised innovation for the sake of it, like you postulate in this video, then gamers everywhere would have praised the Wii for its "innovative" controls. That obviously didn't happen.

This sort of seemed like a non-issue to make a video out of.

Considering the pundits and devs I named in the video, not to mention the notes I've already received from watchers disagreeing with this episode, I don't believe the video's as worthless as implied, m'good chap!

It most certainly is NOT a non-issue. Nothing fries my balls more than people slamming a game because it "failed to innovate", using shitty excuses like, "Every game should bring something new to the table or else it's just showing how stagnant the industry is." and then the second a game DOES do something new being all pissed off because it's not exactly what they wanted the change to be.

This holds particularly true for sequels. If a sequel to a popular game doesn't "innovate" enough from iteration to iteration people will pile heaps of hate on every sequel in the series until it does change and then blow their stacks when the developers finally do implement some new features. There are notable exceptions to this like COD where there are people who whine about how it doesn't change it's formula enough from iteration to iteration but it still sells well. However more than once "failure to innovate" has killed popular franchises because the developers took a tried and true formula and fucked with it until it stopped being fun.

obedai:
What would help publishers learn how to innovate properly is if they were willing to create smaller, cheaper games. Fund a game on the scale of Fez or Braid or even Amnesia. That would allow publishers to test out new and unproven ideas without having to worry too much. I sympathize with them. You can't take too many risks when your game costs dozens of millions of dollars to make. You just can't. Those AAA titles should be the super-polished ones, the ones that take proven ideas and perfect them. Smaller titles have room to innovate.

Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

When Jim started on about The Path, the thought that came to mind was that the best innovators at the moment are the indies. Innovation for innovation's sake is normally actually an okay thing if we're allowed to accept that not all innovations work perfectly at the first attempt; and it's allowing those missteps that gets translated to that "free pass" that Jim hates so much. Unfortunately, lack of innovation results in COD.

Developers should be allowed a certain amount of wiggle room to test out new ideas. Obviously not all those ideas are going to work, and as you implied it's the smaller games that can afford to suck up the losses.

Lost Odyssey was easily the last truly amazing JRPG I've played of the recent generation. I still adore that game, and I'm due for another replay. The story was fantastic, it was easy to get into, and the gameplay was simple but rewarding. The same folks made Blue Dragon, which was another damned fine entry if I do say so.

JIM YOU S.O.B. i love you. but dis mirrors edge again and i will take it out on jonathan holmes. one of my favorite games ever despite the terrible terrible shooting.

DRTJR:
Whilst I agree with Mr. Sterling's thesis, with out frivolous innovation we would have never got the absolutly off the combat system in Chrono Cross, which is awesome.

I also really liked Chrono Cross's combat system. The pretty much took the whole elemental weakness thing used in other games and gave it a really interesting twist.

I loved Mirror's edge, but it really seemed like they ran out of money part-way through and had to finish up really quick. As a result we ended up with a stunted half-finished game.

Oh well, worth a few bucks anyway.

It's kind of hard to agree with this one. Yes, it's dumb to pan a good thing just for treading a well-worn path, but the medium only evolves if people try new things. And a lot of times the reason why things get praise despite being problematic is because they're still really good despite the problems (or they didn't. The path got pretty mixed reviews for having long stretches of nothing, and Mirrors Edge mostly got reviews in the 8's with a few 7's which is positive, but not mind-blowing. I liked both of those games.) Of course, there's little true innovation in games anyway. David Cage twice made adventure games and claimed that they were an entirely new genre (possibly three times, did anyone play Omikron?) When he could have avoided the whole "Does he have a gun? No, does he drive a car?" scenario by saying it's like Dreamfall or Monkey Island. Deadly Premonition was awsome and really unique (and heavily technically flawed) but none of the individual elements were actually new. Even the FFXIII battle system you called failed innovation was just some minor tweaks to the existing ATB system.

Jimothy Sterling:

alphamalet:
Jim,

I don't think many people are on the other side of this issue.

Innovation for the sake of it is bad. It will usually lead to something frivolous that is not properly implemented within the system it exists.
Doing the same thing over and over is bad.
Finding a good balance between the two to keep something fresh yet familiar is usually good.

If people praised innovation for the sake of it, like you postulate in this video, then gamers everywhere would have praised the Wii for its "innovative" controls. That obviously didn't happen.

This sort of seemed like a non-issue to make a video out of.

Considering the pundits and devs I named in the video, not to mention the notes I've already received from watchers disagreeing with this episode, I don't believe the video's as worthless as implied, m'good chap!

I'm not sure about that. Maybe I missed some of the comments you're talking about, but most of the people here who disagree with you seemed to have misunderstood what you were saying in the first place. You acknowledge that innovation is good, just as long as it's not a free pass. Most of the people I've seen so far who tried to disagree with you only ended up saying the exact same thing because they thought you were denouncing innovation as a whole.

Quellist:

canadamus_prime:
I'm reminded of the saying "If it ain't broke don't fix it."

Incidentally you know what JRPG battle system I really liked? The one from the Star Ocean games.

Just curious, which ones? i enjoyed 1 and 2, utterly adored the battle system of Till the end of Time, but hated with a Passion the battle system (and just about everything else) of Last Hope.

Well I've only played 'Till End of Time, Last Hope, and the PSP remake of 1, First Departure I think it was called. The one I remember the most fondly is 'Till End of Time.

The battle system in Final Fantasy 13 and the how linear it was is what killed the game for me. I played it for about 7 or 8 hours and I just ended up hating it. I don't understand why Square-Enix tried to innovate the battle system. In my opinion Final Fantasy 13 would have been great if it used Kingdom Hearts combat system. If it had that I would have stayed with the game more and pry finished it.

Jim missed the point so hard he would barely recgnize it when he mentioned Mirror's Edge

arigomi:
I disagree with the idea that an RPG's greatest strength is the story. Almost every video game genre these days at least attempts to provide a compelling story. Many have even appropriated RPG elements such levelinuig up. If every other game on the shelf promises to provide a great narrative, RPGs need to stand out with their unique mechanics.

Whether or not certain changes are considered innovative or gimmicky can be very subjective. Some didn't like the motion controls of Skyward Sword while other did.

Using ideas established in other games can be risky. A game can get lost in "me too" syndrome and become forgettable.

That really got to me. I mean, the reason JRPGs were story-driven had more to do with the way the Japanese language was structured, meaning that those games could get away with having more text in them than a western game, and the menu-driven combat was mimicking table-top roleplaying conventions.

However, as the technology marched on, the western games could start telling more complicated stories. Meaning that these games would be capable of being as narrative-driven as a JRPG. Couple this with the basic fact that menu-driven combat was never fun in the first place, and now the JRPG genre is having some growing pains.

Especially sense there is a lot of people complaining that if they simply want a story they would read a book or watch a movie, and not want to simply mash the A button ad nauseous and tolerate encounters that pop up a bunch of times to get more of the story (that, frankly, especially in later installments of FF games, were not worth that level of effort).

Because of this problem, JRPG developers had to innovate to save the genre. Now, I would like to know how FFXIII fucked up their combat engine when I remember seeing a similar one in Tales of Symphonia that actually worked. Alas, some of the innovations involved swapping the menu screens with something else (like in Tales of Symphonia using beat-em-up brawler mechanics in place of menu-screens), while others simply dressed up the menus and tweaked them so they were less annoying (like in Chrono Trigger). There is a plethora of ways to do this, and some of them will fail, in which case it was not innovative - it was a failed experiment.

However, it is not innovation for the sake of innovation.

sageoftruth:
just as long as it's not a free pass.

Is that really a thing though? Now I don't really read/watch too many reviews, So take my argument for the ill-informed statement it is, but I've never really seen any reviewer ignore a games flaws just because it was trying something new.

Sure most are more lenient, I am too, but that's because they're trying something that's never been done before, it would a miracle to get it right first go, whereas a game that doesn't try anything new has no excuse for being mediocre.

Taking the Mirrors Edge example, most reviews I read pointed out the clunky controls, issues with platforming from a First-Person perspective, and the oddity of including player usable guns, some rating it higher because of the unique experience it provided.

@OP
With Lost Odyssey that seemed like more of an issue with the subjective nature of narrative, with the complaint of "Lack of innovation" being the reviewers inability to properly explain their argument. If you like the narrative to Lost Odyssey, the turn-based combat, was as it has always been, a means to an end. If you didn't like the narrative, you were stuck "playing" the same dated combat system that has been done many times before, and there's nothing really there for you.

The game I found innovative for it's time: ET for the atari. It was a fully unique experience the likes of which had rarely been seen, and if that doesn't tell you innovation isn't always good, I don't know what will.

I like innovation, don't get me wrong, but, yes, there are those that cry out for it too much for no other reason than they're bored, or worse, they don't like the games being made, and try to bury a temper tantrum about how they aren't being catered to under the guise of saying the industry needs to innovate or perish. Innovation only works when trying to answer "can I do" not "I must do".

i think jim has hit on one of the key components of the most successful game kickstarters. look at them. project eternity, shadowrun returns, wasteland 2, etc old school games with an old school style that arent exactly innovative but they work and thats what people want.

but ill still support the odd game experiments too like the path or dinner date. things that are like the art films you picked up at the back of the video store, sat down, watched and said "i dont know what i just watched but i liked it i think"

Super Mario 64. Super Metroid. Doom. Half-Life. Metal Gear Solid. Chrono Trigger.

All games that are not only talked about to this day, but still played all over the world by devoted fans. Why? Because they innovated.

I think Jim's mis-sold innovation here, or at least misrepresented it. If you look at any game that's regularly held up as the best of its kind, you're going to find a game that innovated in some way or other. Street Fighter II innovated the 2D fighter genre. Goldeneye and Halo innovated the console shooter. Devil May Cry innovated the hack-and-slash genre.

Innovation is the introduction of new ideas into gaming. New ideas is that makes games unique. When I think about what makes Chrono Trigger unique, it's the singular, unheard of way it integrated time travel into the plot, and allowed players to use it as a mechanic to actually change the outcome of the story. That sort of thing was unheard of at the time.

Innovation doesn't solely define whether a game is good or not, but I think all developers should at least strive to offer something unique and fresh. The industry right now is already bloated with the weight of identikit cover shooters and FPS games that all play the same as each other. If I pick up a third-person shooter now, I don't even have to play it to know that A will stick my guy into cover, while also doubling as the sprint button, and Left Trigger will go over the shoulder for aiming. Every single third-person shooter I've played in the last few years has used that template, and it's getting dull as dishwater.

I remember playing the Ninja Gaiden reboot for the first time, and being blown away at how incredibly new the combat felt. I'd never played a game where the combat felt so brutal, so hard and yet so responsive. And that's because up until that time, the industry had never had a game with combat of that caliber. The Devil May Cry series brought their own thing to the genre, but Ninja Gaiden was a technological marvel of split second input response, and a marriage of incredible gymnastics with deep, intricate combat.

Otogi was another game of that era I loved, and part of the reason I loved it so much was the innovations it brought to the genre as well: the floaty combat where you could stay in the air indefinitely, flying around entire levels slicing up demons, as well as the fact that it was one of the first hack-and-slash games to bring extensive destructible scenery into the mix. Otogi has a whole host of things to love about it, but those in mechanics made it particularly stand out.

If we're going to call gaming a creative medium, then we need to encourage creativity, and discourage unoriginal thinking and lazy ideas.

Interesting view point on Singularity, but what is your opinion on Wolfenstain. It borrowed a lot of ideas too but was it good?

you said "on the flip side" when a dude got stabbed and flipped over some dudes head.
That was boss.

alphamalet:
Jim,

I don't think many people are on the other side of this issue.

Innovation for the sake of it is bad. It will usually lead to something frivolous that is not properly implemented within the system it exists.
Doing the same thing over and over is bad.
Finding a good balance between the two to keep something fresh yet familiar is usually good.

If people praised innovation for the sake of it, like you postulate in this video, then gamers everywhere would have praised the Wii for its "innovative" controls. That obviously didn't happen.

This sort of seemed like a non-issue to make a video out of.

Uh...

I've heard this brought up so many times on these forums that its almost become a meme.

But anecdote for anecdote I suppose.

Atmos Duality:
II) "Necessity is the mother of invention", isn't always true either.
There were points in human history where invention was considered frivolous, childish or even foolish. (China lost its position as a world superpower for nearly 400 years because of exactly that).

With the rise of international commerce this kind of technology was anything but frivolous. Much of the parts that aren't directly necessary for global business were made because of a need in the military.

I want to thank you so much, just because I love Singularity. I keep recommending Singularity, but it's everybody's 50th choice or something. Remember the endings? Or the time bubbles and slow-mo gun? Hell yeah! I was already a sucker for time-travel, but this is time-travel plus god-like powers.

Gizmo1990:
Hard to disagree with all that. Also really nice to see some love for Lost Odyssey. I love that game, to me it is the only good Jrpg to come out this gen and as a FF fan it was nice to enjoy a Jrpg for a change as I am of the opinion that each FF after X has been the gaming equivalent of Dog shit.

I still think XII is excellent and prefer it to X. As for this gen, Lost Odyssey is a truly awesome JRPG and I'm sad that I missed it when it first came out, I'm even sadder that I have to start the game from scratch because some bastard stole my old xbox which meant bye bye saves. -_-

alphamalet:
Jim,

I don't think many people are on the other side of this issue.

Does this mean we can start calling Mr. Sterling "Jim, the Needlessly Defiant"?

jehk:
How do you feel about the Persona series? Looking at the evolution of Persona 3 to Persona 4 to Persona 3 Portable to Persona 4 Golden is a great example of the balance alphamalet is talking about.

Also, I think I'm the only person who loved Mirror's Edge.

I came to this thread just to comment on that. I also loved Mirror's Edge. The game went 'indoors' too often, but when it let you outside it was one heck of an experience. Great re-playability, aceing a level feels so damn good.

EDIT: pro's for love for Lost Odyssey, one heck of a game. If FF13 disappointed you, check it out. It's soul is real FF.

I don't think Jim was criticizing Mirror's Edge. He was criticizing the criticism of criticism of Mirror's Edge

and..

I think my brain just exploded.

Mirror's Edge is an interesting sort of a case. I wouldn't say it's a Better game just for being innovative, nor that it makes its flaws excusable. It's more that I can't get the experience anywhere else and so I'm more willing to play through it despite the flaws.

I don't think I'd be so willing to play through a sub-par fps as I would a sub-par 'innovative' or 'unique' game.
Of course, I'd want to know exactly what those innovations are first, and how well they're done...

Anyone else notice the reverse-looping of the music near the end when Jim was talking?

Jimothy Sterling:
Innovation - Gaming's Snake Oil

There's nothing wrong with a game that innovates. There's everything wrong with a game that goes out of its way to innovate without reason.

Jim's entire point could be stated in one minute or less. Hell, the above summary encapsulates 99% of the argument in two sentences. Why did the same thing have to be repeated over and over and over again to pad it out to 7 minutes?

"waggle-based games whose motion gestures are actually less convenient and nowhere near as quick as pressing a goddamn button"

Odd how he was praising Zelda games just a minute before that, I guess he liked Skyward Sword's waggle-waving?

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