Jimquisition: Innovation - Gaming's Snake Oil

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Gratz Jim on another perfect episode. Here I thought you were going to chastise developers for not being innovative enough and i was thinking on posting something along the lines of what you actually said...

Zhukov:
Yeah, innovation isn't guaranteed to produce something good, but without the failed experiments along the way we don't end up with the good things that innovation can produce.

I have to wholly agree with this.

Innovation is not a "tool", it's a means to experiment. You never know how an experiment is going to turn out, and that's why you do them; Because it can uncover new things that never would've entered your mind otherwise. You take the risk of failing, but stand the change to discover something brilliant.

Even the failed experiments still contibute to the progression of the industry, because they present things in a different light. It might be a really bad light, but it'll still cause us to think about things differently.

Jim, you say that only when it's necessary should there be innovation, but how will we know if it's necessary unless we've tried it?

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.

Aaaawweeee((( I am probably the only person who loved the shit out of FF12 and thought that it was one of the better JRPGs to come out on PS2

And this is why we will never get another fantastic Metroidvania game on a console or a handheld.

Or another Zelda that ranks at the top of the series for that matter. I always see people complain that the Zelda series is stagnant and the same game over and over again. It's funny because all the bad qualities of the recent Zelda games are the new qualities. Twilight Princess was one of my favorites, and do you know why? Because it was the most traditional. Any failing it has is related to the new additions to the game play, not how much it was like OoT or Majoras Mask. No, the latter is why it was ******* fantastic! I won't even get into Skyward sword... Nintendo is one of those companies in the middle ground. They stick to their true formulas enough to give you some quality, but they always feel they need to mess with things; give them a "spin" each iteration instead of just focusing on making them great. Waggle, 3D, waggle everywhere. I feel that somewhere after the N64 era Nintendo just went off rails, and in this gen most other developers followed.
The game industry has becoming a pissing contest to see who can paint their pictures with the most elaborate colors, rather then who can paint a coherent image. And yes, Jim is right. This is an obvious sign they aren't confident in their skills enough to think their game will be great on that merit alone.

SlaveNumber23:

debigcheez:
It feels like Jim is bashing innovation itself in this one.

Maybe he's sick of all the art-sy fart-sy games but i do believe that innovation is a good thing when combined with brilliant gameplay mechanics, that's what innovation is for after all.

His point isn't that innovation is a bad thing, he isn't criticizing it at all. He is criticizing people who fall back on the concept of innovation as something that is inherently good and give it higher value than the actual quality of a game. Innovation is not automatically a good thing in a game and games should not be criticized purely for not innovating.

I know that it's just that the way he words it sounds overly aggressive towards innovation hence giving someone the impression that he has some sort of beef with innovation.

Perhaps i have the same wording problem too, heh.

For once, you're wrong. Innovation is always great. Innovation is always a good thing. Innovation in itself, is one of the greatest things we're capable of.

However, innovation can NOT act as a replacement for quality; if a game has a shit story, shit gameplay, shit craftsmanship and shit design, that innovative... innovation that they put into it will help, but it probably (likely; almost always) won't make up for all the flaws a game has, especially if the innovation itself is executed poorly.

In every single case out there, innovation is good. It adds to the game. Likewise, the steps the developers have taken to incorporate that innovation took much, much more out from the game. Especially when that new idea the developers just incorporated doesn't mesh well with the game at all.

In conclusion, innovation is always good, great even, but it's just one facet of design, and it most certainly is not everything, especially when executed so poorly.

I like Jim's outfit at the end.

He should wear it more often.

It's like something out of Cthulhu. Psycho Cthulhu. Plus a wig that really brings out the best of his lovingly furious anger.

Hey, Jim. How 'bout getting us some autographed cards? I really dig your innovative outfit. Beats sunglasses.

Jim, saying that people didn't like Darksiders because it wasn't "innovative enough" is rather disingenuous. The criticism was that while the game borrowed heavily from God of War and Zelda, the problem is that the copied elements weren't executed nearly as well. Plus the story sucked like the vacuum of space, but that's more my personal opinion I suppose.

We do NEED innovation "for it's own sake". Otherwise what we end up with is clones of clones of clones. A game innovating "for it's own sake" might not be good, it might even be bad because of it, but we need MORE games to do it, not less. Even when the game is bad for it's innovation, it provides the stepping stone for another game to take whatever good ideas it might have had and make them better. Rarely is a new idea done well the first time, but someone has to risk that failure or we never have the idea at all.

Been a while since I last fundamentally disagreed with Jim. All of my favourite games over the last years (Mount&Blade, Magicka, Braid, Portal, Hammerfight, ...) have one thing in common: their gameplay was unlike any other game that that I knew of, and they felt new and fresh to me. I can enjoy a good traditional shooter or RPG, but I never find them excellent. I can get great enjoyment out of exploring the mechanics of a game, which is something these games simply do not offer. I'm not saying that a not-innovative game is inherently bad, but for me it's inherently... not excellent.

I think maybe there is confusion between innovation and invention. This is partly how hard it can be at times to draw a distinction between the two. Take the humble light bulb, we all consider this to be an invention and we generally consider Mr Edison as the inventor, but in reality the idea of indoor lighting was already established (candles, oil and gas lamps) and the fact that other people had already produced incandescent lights.

What Edison did do however was create a commercially viable bulb, he innovated invention by applying mass production and large scale teamwork to his research. Ever since then the light bulb has been innovated further I now use LED bulbs that use a fraction of the energy and have orders of magnitude greater lifetime but still provide the same amount of light.

Saying that though, the incandescent light bulb was improved, the improvement isn't innovation nor is it invention. See with just the humble light bulb I having difficulty seeing what is improvement, invention and innovation. Take the LED light bulb again.

The invention was the Light Emitting Diode, these where improved to be more powerful and the innovation was to use the LED for domestic lighting. LED help innovate displays, making our TV and monitor thinner and lighter and better lit.

Now lets just simply apply this to games, Errr? How? This quite frankly difficult to do and I'm going to take a quick and ill thought shot at it.

Here is an example of improvement COD n to COD n+1, (where n > 3 :P) the core gameplay is polished with each iteration. There might be some variation on weapons and items, but you get the same slick mp action with familiar concepts of perks, and kill bonuses.

How about an example of innovation? Maybe Quake? Not for its 3D environment but for its networking capabilities, it innovated FPS multiplayer to what we expect today it made the MP experience smooth over a modem (ok you want a 56k for best) It also allowed for community modding and in the early days of the internet it helped build gaming communities.

How about invention? Well maybe I don't know FPU to allow for fast floating point calculations making all the above achievable in real time.

Well this post took longer than I would have liked, I doubt many will read it but I m happy I asked myself this question as its given me a little more insight into what I do myself. Nothing wrong with improvement a game that polishes and experience is still worth merit. Innovation as a goal is futile, it is inspiration you can't plan for it only build towards it.

To quote the great man himself "Genius: one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration."

Jims' point is kind of diminished at the end. If that outfit represents innovation, then innovation is always awesome. As to the actual point, I do feel we need some innovation, but indie games generally seem to have that covered.

xPixelatedx:
And this is why we will never get another fantastic Metroidvania game on a console or a handheld.

Or another Zelda that ranks at the top of the series for that matter. I always see people complain that the Zelda series is stagnant and the same game over and over again. It's funny because all the bad qualities of the recent Zelda games are the new qualities. Twilight Princess was one of my favorites, and do you know why? Because it was the most traditional. Any failing it has is related to the new additions to the game play, not how much it was like OoT or Majoras Mask. No, the latter is why it was ******* fantastic! I won't even get into Skyward sword... Nintendo is one of those companies in the middle ground. They stick to their true formulas enough to give you some quality, but they always feel they need to mess with things; give them a "spin" each iteration instead of just focusing on making them great. Waggle, 3D, waggle everywhere. I feel that somewhere after the N64 era Nintendo just went off rails, and in this gen most other developers followed.
The game industry has becoming a pissing contest to see who can paint their pictures with the most elaborate colors, rather then who can paint a coherent image. And yes, Jim is right. This is an obvious sign they aren't confident in their skills enough to think their game will be great on that merit alone.

That doesn't really sound like developers trying and failing to innovate, but them simply adding gimmicks to garner attention from the non-gaming crowd.

Aardvaarkman:

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?

Yeah and you can outline the plot to the Shawshank Redemption in five minutes.

I don't quite follow.

If a reviewer found a game to be uninteresting because it was un-innovative, they're complaining about unoriginal, generic and played-out content which makes the experience boring for them. It doesn't mean that they arbitrarily require innovation. It means that without an added gimmick or original concept or unique design, some games can feel like tedious derivatives of better titles.

As much as I'd like to convince myself that a well made but utterly boilerplate title is still a good game, if it is boring the pants off of me, I'm going to complain about it.

That said, I must try out Lost Odyssey and Singularity. They do look kind of neat.

Jimothy Sterling:

Aardvaarkman:

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?

Yeah and you can outline the plot to the Shawshank Redemption in five minutes.

Try one minute:

Hmm I think you are the only critic nowadays that I often agree with but end up writing against because of the extent and zealous attitude of your rants/trolls/comments... I get it you are super outspoken and satyric... But in your criticism, you end up supporting ideas that are just as wrong, or ridiculizing in such way that it's hard to support your point.

I have always pointed out that Innovation is not in itself a good thing. I often say that "New is not always better, but better is always new" so we developers should focus on striving for improvement rather than innovation since improvement will generate better newer ideas. And up to here we agree perfectly.

But thing is you are saying that there is nothing wrong with derivativeness. Which is a lot more questionable... Darksiders is a game that I liked, but i doubt anyone can deny that it is completely forgettable... and to be honest it didn't really do anything very well, it was stretched, nonsensical and by the end actually rather boring, and that is a pretty big problem (also, Darksiders 2 had A LOT of issues).

If you have nothing new to say, no special way to express it and no real drive to say it, that IS a problem. We all understand that a lot of games re-use systems, mechanics, themes and structures, thats a reality, we dont need to reinvent the wheel. But that doesn't mean that they should FEEL the same. The issue happens when you are playing a game and not enjoying it because it is rehashing and padding without any real inspiration. And this is damaging for any ecosystem.
In fact, Ni no kuni, and The last Odyssey both have some quite interesting innovations, particularly in terms of style and story, -because those are also areas in which you can innovate-. And they are backed by perfectly functional, rather well executed, if somewhat unoriginal mechanics that never GET IN THE WAY of the enjoyment.

In any case you sort of undermine your own old assesments... from what I recall, a lot of the games you noted have been considered "ok", sure there are critics of particular aspects of games, but reviews normally state what their strengths and weaknesses are.
I myself am willing to play a lot more games that are bold and try something inspired and new, than games that just do what has been done in a proefficient way. Simply because I see videogames more as a creative medium than just an entertainment medium, and it is often the NEWER ideas that inspire my own production creatively, even if their execution is not perfect.
And quite simply I rarely have enough time to play a game that won't do anything to capture my attention in any way.

Thing is, you obviously talk less about things that are unoriginal... IE, I'm not gonna talk about how great MGS3's aiming system was, it might have been serviceable, but it provoked no thought. If there is no thought provoked at all by a game, that is an issue. Which explains why sometimes paricular "innovative" ideas are highly regarded in spite of other shortcomings.. If we haven't seen it before, it's interesting, and -interesting- is more than I can say for a lot of generic / functional titles. THAT is the issue, there is nothing to say about them, and indifference is arguably worse than hate.

Jimothy Sterling:

Yeah and you can outline the plot to the Shawshank Redemption in five minutes.

Oh god, that would have made the movie so much better.

Fuck yeah lost odyssey!

I do think its something you just have to accept with any artistic medium, good innovation can be the result of either necessity or simply because the artist wanted to be clever.

Well, that was terrifying...

anonymity88:

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. -_-

purifico:

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.

Aaaawweeee((( I am probably the only person who loved the shit out of FF12 and thought that it was one of the better JRPGs to come out on PS2

I enjoyed the combat and it was by far the best looking game on the PS2 but the story was just a badly done Return of the Jedi rip off and that kind of killed it for me.

wulf3n:

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.

True. Most innovative games that are horrible otherwise are often called "disappointments" or "wasted potential". I guess the more common issue is flat out rejecting a game because it is not trying something completely new. I didn't always agree with Jim's game examples, but I do agree that a lack of innovation can be compensated for by taking existing ideas and doing them well, or even better than the original.

Still, it's easy for people to discount games that don't use new ideas, since it leads people to assume that the developer is trying to make money without putting forth any effort. It's hard not to blame them too, since it's often infuriating when that sort of thing does happen.

Gizmo1990:

anonymity88:

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. -_-

purifico:

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.

Aaaawweeee((( I am probably the only person who loved the shit out of FF12 and thought that it was one of the better JRPGs to come out on PS2

I enjoyed the combat and it was by far the best looking game on the PS2 but the story was just a badly done Return of the Jedi rip off and that kind of killed it for me.

Yeah the story isn't great, but then again FF games never have what I'd call stellar stories. It has Balthier and Fran though! A better double act than Tidus and Yuna!

YES!!! Singularity and Darksiders are AWESOME!!!

People overlooking them simply because they were too similar to something else make me want to spill used motor oil on their dress shirts. By all means, let's disregard every crime drama ever because they're too similar to the Godfather.

If you have an entertaining experience to present, please do so. I'm here to be entertained. If you have simply borrowed the best parts of other games, that just means the developers have good taste.

Thank you, sir.

Thank you for saying all this, especially the stuff about JRPGs - the amount of developers, and fans, trashing JRPGs for being turn based, as if that's a bad thing, have infuriated me for quite a long time. The push to make them into action games, or these weird, nearly non-functional, action-turn based hybrids has ruined more JRPGs than I can think of, just look at Final Fantasy XII - so much potential wasted on a semi-not-really-time battle system and executive meddling with the creative decisions of the game.

I still like XII, especially with the Zodiac Job system, I much prefer it on a story and character level to FF entries like X and VIII, but X or VIII, even with VIII's moronic Junction system, were better on a battle system level (though, oddly, they are all overshadowed by X-2's excellent battle system, which evolved X's battle system to its logical, glorious, conclusion). If there were a way I wanted to see Final Fantasy battle systems go, it would be a mix of Final Fantasy Tactics (with heavy influence from Disgaea) and Final Fantasy X-2's (with nods to Parasite Eve and Vagrant Story) battle systems.

Doing something well is more important than doing something new. Yes, if you can do something 'new' and 'well' then great, but at the end of the day put the 'doing something well' before the new any and every time.

As usual Jim misses target by a few hundred miles. More and more he loses any connection to reality.

Inovation without purpouse, i would argue, does not exist. Inovation for sake of inovation is great if you ask me. Maybe person who has great idea can't really create great game. They make flawed game or even god awfull game but that inovation is seen by others. Someone will see it and use it in good game. If there was no public display of that idea, that other would not see it in the first place. Someone else would eventually get the same idea but nobody knows how long that would take. It is exactly why inovation for the sake of inovation is one of the main sources of lifeblood for our medium, and in every medium ever invented. Take Nikola Tesla or Albert Einstein or Isak Newton. None of them actually had knowledge, ideas and drive and went with it. Some of their works they themselves ustilized but most of uses were done by legions of people who followed in their wake. And while this analogy really reaches over distances its most forcefull one I could make.

How media is looking at inovation and how they treat games that do inovate is completely different subject and deserves to be put on the wall for carefull examination and critique. But inovation in itself is a goal in itself.

Not sure why you chose Mirror's Edge to bag on ... it's just a platformer. It copied ideas wholesale from Mario Bros, Sonic, Rayman, 'splosion man or whatever else. The only change it made was to try it first person. Limiting their "innovation" to 1 gimmick (First Person view) allowed them to create a sprawling landscape with a very deep feel to it.

The game's story mode is fairly short, you can easily beat it a few times inside a weekend... but in that short time frame they were able to weave a compelling narrative about a corrupt city, big brother watching, "who can you trust," the lawless couriers who ferret secret packages to and fro.

They were also able to spend a lot of time working out a control scheme that, while jarring at first, becomes very intuitive as you play through it. Just like we shouldn't praise a game for innovation alone, we shouldn't damn a game for innovation, just because it might move us out of our comfort zone.

I dunno I do not see much innovation I see more visual noise with tacted on mechanics..

If I have to choose between a meh game without innovation like Singularity or a game just ok but with some innovation like The Last Story, that will be the second for sure.
Just being honest.

I can't really agree completely with Jim on this one. The industry needs games that attempt to buck the trend to know what can work to begin with. Even if it is just a small thing like changing up the style of visuals or experimenting with a new type of movement. If a game can't even give a bit of an emotional or gut response beyond abject boredom what does it matter if it has the best production values money can buy?

On the other hand, I do agree with Jim that a lot of good titles got overlooked due to the excuse of not being "innovative" enough. This pretty much describes Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey, Singularity, and few others.

Innovation is often a trade off for depth, since if a game requires a player to do something so brand new then teaching the player this replaces challenging the player with further exploring an old concept. So while doing something different can be a good thing, the further away from concepts that have already been explored you go, the simpler and shallower your game becomes.

There are two classic inventions: something that solves an existing problem or the unique combination of existing ideas. When inventing to solve a problem in a game, you are still building on an existing type of game. Mirror's Edge for example is a classic action game, like Mario or Sonic, but it tries to solve the problems with doing action/platforming from a first person perspective, mainly through allowing the player to see their own body from that point of view.

Its also important to consider a game is a piece of art and not a tool. No niche in art is ever completely filled, and it makes no sense to avoid something that was done before if it fits with the game you are trying to make, and if what was done before was a good thing. Imagine if film makers stop making Zombie Horror movies after Night of the Living Dead because it had been done before - I mean sure its great that we have Zombie Hack and Slashes, Zombie FPS, Zombie Adventure Games, Zombie Sandbox Games, Zombie RPG's, Zombie Sport Games ...but you know, we can still make another Zombie Horror Game. Like the films, there is a lot of ways you can handle this concept to give an audience a new perspective.

I think innovation gets a lot of clout because first, technology folk are involved and really like that sort of thing, and second because gamers complain about games seeming too repetitive and similar. However, its important to put that complaint in context that it's often because games remain so simple and safe that the experiences all bleed together, and adding some gimmick is not going to fool most players. Changing things that will effect the player's experience are often very simple, but at the core of what you're planning to deliver to them.

Here's a fun lesson in innovation, the first party RPG came around 1986-87 -how long do you think it was until RPG's have battles where each unit in the ally/enemy parties took individual turns while everyone else waited? I mean that's the game play most people think of when someone mention a JRPG. And it only took, oh, about 10 years to come about. This came after many RPG's that had combat when units did not wait to take turns and could even free move around battle field with no pause. But turn base combat allowed for greater depth in the interaction of timing and turn advantage, and fuel so many ideas that it became the new standard method of play. Of course, no one thinks of turn base combat as an innovative idea, even when it came out. And the best invention to game play, the things that will revolutionize genres, are often just as subtle as that. You feel like it should have been there all along, so you don't get shocked when it appears.

The last bit about invention and creativity is that innovation does not overcome limitations, in fact limitation help people invent new ideas because it gives them something to focus on. Stealth game play was made cause old system couldn't handling too many smart enemies on screen. Horror games came from the uncanny valley of graphics in that generation, not to mention its use of load time and limit field of vision were both inspiration for furthering tension in these games. Tetris even came about because Alexey Pajitnov could only fit in seven shapes into a game. The less a creative person has to work with, the more interesting they use what they got. Audiences do not want innovative art, they want interesting art. Innovation becomes ordinary, interesting is timeless.

Mirror's Edge's main problem is that they stupidly used an FPS layout for a platformer. They forgot that the controls should fit the game they are making. There is a very good reason why games like POP don't use the stick layout of a game like Gears of War. Ironically the game is much easier to control on PC in part because you can just put strafing very,very far away from any of the useful actions for motion and you have more fingers to use so you can react more easily to enemies.

As far as innovation or rather invention for the sake of invention (Invention is what leads to innovation.) guess what alot of things people try just are not going to work the first time even if the idea is otherwise sound.

Singularity is one of the best FPS games of this generation? Are you high?

I mean everyone is entitled to their opinion or whatever, but I got Singularity through Gamefly last year and all it did was rip off a ton other AAA shooters and add a gimmicky time manipulation gadget. It wasn't a bad game by any means, but even after watching all three endings I was left thinking, "meh."

I just don't get how something like that could even begin to hold a candle to something like the first Bioshock, Spec Ops, or even COD4's campaign.

Even if you would consider Mirrors Edge to be a steaming pile of shit (which I don't, for the record), their core concept has since been used to create much smoother movement, climbing, jumping and multi-leveled traversal in numerous FPS games since.

Even if you hate the game, innovation for innovations sake _is inherently valuable_ because even if it doesn't completely deliver in the first product, it opens the possibility for improvement, or someone else to pick up where they left off.

Also, if innovation for innovations sake turns out to be completely crappy and not work, that will probably deter others from attempting to use the idea.

Win, win, win. The only real loss comes from the overhyping you mentioned, and people get burned.

Psh. Don't look at me. I'm still playing Psychonauts.

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