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No, no, wait, hear me out.

I too, a while back (like in this 2005 Gamasutra soapbox – why did they change from calling them “soapboxes” to “opinions” anyway?) would often try to rally the cry for innovation in games. Much like Juan Gril does in his article last week.

Looking at this year’s IGF entrants, there’s definitely some innovative stuff there. And I’m really happy that there’s now more of an environment in the industry that those games can get made, find their audience, and be successful in some fashion. Most of them are never gonna get huge sales, but they should hopefully find enough people who like their uniqueness to keep their creators going. And that is a truly wonderful thing.

BUT. Let’s not get carried away jumping and screaming for innovation, yeah? Innovation without a purpose is a gimmick. Gimmicks are fine, they are often the start of or hook to something much more meaningful in a game. But it’s still a gimmick. Let’s call gimmicky duck a gimmicky duck, ya know?

Innovation is a means to an end. If you want to make someone feel something they’ve never felt from a game before, you have to innovate, obviously. But innovation for innovation’s sake doesn’t actually advance any of our understanding of the medium as an art, nor does it, more importantly, show the player some truth – truth about the world, about human nature, or about themselves. It does not necessarily open their perceptions in any way.

Hey, you can make control a character made out of jelly/peanut butter/sandwiches/whatever, but it’s only meaningful if there’s some truth to be found in being those things. (And to clarify, I’m not saying there’s not. In fact, it presents quite an interesting design challenge. How does playing peanut butter and/or jelly give oneself better understanding of one’s own nature? I, seriously, digress.)

The important thing is the end result. The feelings or thoughts you engender in your audience. Whatever those are, if those are not in the forefront of your mind at all times while making a game, however large or small, it will indoubtably fail to engender those thoughts & feelings.

Now for lunch! PB&J, naturally.

6 Responses to Innovation sucks.

  • Nick says:

    Reminds me of something I saw on the profile page for a producer at Konami, currently working on Contra 4

    “The biggest problem with the industry is that when it finds something new and exciting to move on to, it abandons the old ideas that proved to be fun and have staying power. Platformers burned themselves out at the end of 16-bit… but where the hell are they now? We should be making really kickass platformers.”

  • Borut says:

    Thank Sean – I actually spent a bit of time looking for a quote from Jon Blow I had read recently on the topic, in an interview somewhere (not the Stephen Totilo one), but the rant definitely captures that idea too.

    Nick – I don’t just mean that we should be revisiting mechanics, though. Granted, I’m taking the producer fellow’s quote out of context (but given that he’s the producer of Contra 4) – it’s more than we shouldn’t hold ourselves back from considering any mechanics as long as they create the specific feelings we want.

    To be more specific, say if I was going to make a politically themed shooter with the purpose of opening people’s minds about what’s actually going on in Iraq (let’s say you play Blackwater mercenaries in a game called “Market Forces”). Using a lot Contra-style mechanics could easily help make those points, as opposed to just making a very tightly tuned platformer/shooter (what the producer seems to be arguing for).

  • Nick says:

    I see what you’re saying, that the mechanics set in place by a lot of ‘innovation’ doesn’t really have any effect besides being neat; it’s not there to communicate anything but instead is happy just being different.

    I think there’s something to be said about how mechanics tie into that, and you definitely nailed what the guy was trying to say, but I’ll give a more appropriate example of my own.

    I always see ‘neat’ indie games out there that seem to be based around their exciting core mechanics while they negate everything else. Maybe something more innovative would be better, but the recent XBLA game Band of Bugs is a good example: it seems like they managed to mess around with the Tactics genre a bit, but they went with a bug theme. The mechanics are always there, but with a slapped on theme that amounts to window dressing, it doesn’t say anything – because it doesn’t mean anything, even to the developers.