Friday, January 12, 2007

Something New in Games

The other day I walked across the street to take a look at the new space all my old cohorts at just moved into. It's very nice -- cube farm, but nice and new. A bit corporate for my tastes, but hey, where I work there's a Santa Claus chained to a pole with candy canes shoved through his eyes, so perhaps my view is a bit skewed. While I was there I ran into my friend Matt, who's the head writer on the upcoming Cartoon MMO project. We talked about video games for a bit and he made the comment that while all these next-gen games like Gears of War are really well done, he's waiting for something new.

I bring this up because it's something I hear all the time. On nearly every game site I visit there's some journalist there bemoaning the lack of innovation in gaming -- why the hell doesn't someone come out with anything innovative, damn it! So when Matt brought up the fact that he was tired of playing the same old thing over and over, it got me thinking about that again. What is this need for something new?

The novel was invented somewhere around a thousand years ago, and has yet to see any significant improvements beyond the printing press ("just a gimmick!" I imagine some Renaissance scrivener sneering. "A delivery system does not good content make!"). Basketball, Football and Baseball have been around for decades and people are still playing it. Think about that. The exact same game being played for decades without getting old. With very small variances, the same game passed down from father to son. The feature film shares a similar pedigree of non-innovation yet enjoys healthy attendance. Why?

Because, in my opinion, it's not about the method of play, it's about the experience. No new game genres have been invented for the last ten years. Honestly, I think that's a good thing. I think it's unnecessarily dismissive to say that, for instance, the First Person Shooter has been done to perfection when it's only been fifteen years or so since it arrived on the scene. Every FPS may just be a variation on a theme, but that doesn't stop each one from being a unique chance to do something actually new with the content inside. Just as Seven Samurai is Magnificent Seven is A Bug's Life, there can be wildly different, and equally viable, takes on the same theme.

But why would the lack of innovation be good? Because now people can actually start working on doing new and original things in previously established genres without the rug being pulled out from under them. Imagine trying to write a book where the rules keep changing ("Write right to left, no, left to right --no, everyone's writing in spirals these days!"). You'd end up with a muddled mess that had to copy anything that achieved any kind of success in the new format, which is why there are so many space marines and humanoid mutant aliens with machine guns in FPS games. I think Assassin's Creed is a great example of how games can still be innovative while not breaking the platformer genre wide open. Introduce more freedom, add realistic quirks that make you feel like more of a badass (cutting down platforms to cover your tracks) and develop complex AI behaviors like social stealthing and you've got what looks like an amazing experience to play -- that isn't anything actually "new."

I just think the continuous call for innovation stems from growing up in a time of lightning-fast growth in the gaming indstry. So much changed so fast that we're like ravenous rabbits with ADD. Give us more, more, more! When, in fact, we're not really even done with what we've been given already. Many gamers bemoan their 8- and 16-bit glory days, but for me, games have never been as good, or had as much potential, as they do right now.

No comments: