Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Price of Innovation

Costly, time consuming and risky are just some of the words one could assign to attempts at innovation in the game industry. Unsurprisingly most publisher would rather focus on remakes or sequels instead of rolling the dice on a new IP. and while games these days are far more refined than any other period in video game history stagnation is also at an all time high.

How many titles in the Resident Evil series now? Call of Duty? How about Final Fantasy? Don’t get me wrong I’ve enjoyed all three of these long running franchises, but familiarity breeds contempt eventually and fields no matter how fertile sometimes need to lie fallow.

There’s more to it than that though. Truly innovate games create something that can never be re-experienced. In fact just trying to recreate the key ingredients can prove to be fiendishly difficult. Take for example a video game horse. How many games have successfully captured the essence of the most noble of beasts? I guarantee the number of titles that come to mind are so few that you could count them on one hand. The reason being, as any professional game developer can probably tell you, making a four legged creature move realistically in a 3D environment isn’t easy. It takes a lot of man hours mixed with a humbling dose of trial and error plus that word that makes publishers uneasy – money.

On the plus side games that see the necessary investment in terms of time, talent and energy can boast features not soon to be repeated. I have seen many attempts to capture the thrill of climbing up the massive frame of a boss monster in titles such as Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and God of War 3, but these pale in comparison to the original PS2 game to bring forth this particular gameplay element over half a decade ago.

However not all innovation needs to be big and bold. It can happen in small almost magical ways too. Just as an experiment next time your playing a video game try running your character into a wall at full speed. Only in a small minority of titles does your character throw out a hand to stop his forward momentum. It sounds trivial, I know, but little details like innate reflexes can make a fantasy world seem real to the player. And that special somewhere is a place that few games reach without innovation.

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