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The Need For Innovation

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We’ve all heard it before. “Oh, this game is just more of the same” or “They didn’t change anything from the last installment.” People in the gaming world always want to see major changes in between titles of major franchises. It is understandable that people want new and exciting gameplay mechanics, modes, or features. The question though is if we are pressuring developers to innovative just to say they innovated.

Let me explain what I mean. In 2009, the top two games of the year were Modern Warfare 2 and Uncharted 2. Uncharted 2 was criticized for being more of the same by sites like Gametrailers and even by fans. While the game didn’t push boundaries when it came to new weapons and gameplay styles the game was still a classic. It refined everything in the series to a point of being one of the best games this generation. It added multiplayer, refined the combat, and graphically made it one of the most astonishing looking games ever.

Then we have Modern Warfare 2 which also has it’s core group of fans, but also burned a lot of fans. While many would blame the glitches in the multiplayer as a point of aggravation, I would also like to point at what they changed from the original Modern Warfare. In MW2, they took everything that was good about Modern Warfare 1 and took it to the extreme. You have killstreaks, deathstreaks, nukes, points for dying, points for god knows what, etc. The game became more about getting killstreaks than working as a team. Even if you play free-for-all it is ridiculous in some matches where all you see are air strikes and harriers one after another. Other issues include the style of the maps, but thats another story for another day.

I don’t get why Infinity Ward felt the need to change something that worked so well in Modern Warfare 1, but it was because they needed to tell people all the stuff they changed. Shouldn’t we put more pressure on refinement before we demand change? Many games aren’t perfect when they are released, but instead of asking them to perfect everything in the sequel we want them to overhaul the entire game.

Some of you may be disagreeing strongly with me, and saying that you need something new and fresh in each game. My example is Mass Effect 2. That game has fresh ideas in it, and they took advice from the original, but they didn’t overhaul the formula that made the first one great. They made it fresh without having to change much.

Games like Assassin’s Creed 2 needed mass-change because of the issues of the original. The sequel incorporated a lot of RPG elements into the game, and changed the mission structure and the game became a smash hit. In games that don’t fare too well the first time, it is ok to overhaul the system and strive for innovative ideas, but why do it in games that still have room to improve on previous mechanics.

My perfect example is Metal Gear Solid 2. I had no problem with Raiden, but why was there the need to change from the series hero to a brand new rookie? MGS1 has a lot of things that needed to be improved on and instead of making a game that improves on what made MGS1 great, they tossed all that out the window and gave you Raiden to show us how fresh the game was. The bunker level, where you play as Snake, is still one of the best levels in gaming history to me. If maybe there wasnt the need to keep the series fresh we could have gotten an entire game like that.

I’m not asking game developers to stop being creative, but do not feel the need to change with every iteration. Look at God of War 3, the game looks to be the best in the series, and it isn’t changing what made the series great. It is refining, improving, and implementing new ideas into the game. Game developers should be allowed to perfect what they started before they move on to some new “mindblowing idea”.

Innovation is important, but it should not be the only thing we use to judge a game. Sites dock points off games if they do not innovate, but then give average games high praise if all they do is think out of the box but make an average game. Why do you think Dante’s Inferno received such low scores from sites? The game was nothing mindblowing, but it was not a 6. It did get a 6 though because people couldn’t enjoy it for what it was and instead judged it for not being this brand new invigorating expierence.

Look at Avatar, in the movie field. The movie is Pocahontas in 3D with blue aliens. The story has been told over and over again. Aliens vs humans has been told hundreds of times. 3D in movies has been happening since our parents were kids. It does nothing that is radically new, and gets nominated for an Academy Award. It gets an Academy Award nomination because it took all these elements and refined them to as close to perfection as we can get at the moment.

Also, why do so many in the gaming industry think that games are lacking innovation nowadays? To me I think that gaming has tons of outlets for innovation. Mirror’s Edge, Flower, Braid, Portal, Shadow of the Colossus, Dead Space, MAG, Warhawk, Super Mario Galaxy, Metroid: Other M, Madworld, Bioshock, Okami, Boom Blox, Heavy Rain, Borderlands, etc either have new fresh elements in them or are new franchises that have created new ways to game on their own. Veterans are taking risks, and newcomers are putting their touch on the gaming world.

I’m not saying for developers to be less innovative or to not take risks. All I’m asking is that developers not take risks just to say, “Hey look what we changed!” I trust that the industry leaders know what is good and fun. What I am worried about is if they know when it is time to do it. Nowadays a problem what I see with gaming is that we say “I saw what they were going with this, but it didn’t work out quite as well.”

Many gaming franchises have been ruined because of trying too hard to push boundaries when they weren’t ready to. Look at our beloved Sonic. Sega made Sonic a knight, a werewolf, etc and the franchise went to hell. Now they are going back to the 2D Sonic we all know and love, and people are excited. Innovate when the franchise is ready to move on, and when the team and publisher have great ideas to push the series forward.

To wrap it up, I want to close my thoughts with Uncharted 2. People complain that it was more of the same. Let me ask this, “What should they have added?” Should Nathan Drake have gone into space to fight World War II zombies? Should we overhaul the gameplay so it plays and feels different? Maybe we could add RPG elements, but remember that this is a action adventure game. Not every game needs a branch of dialogue to open up the world. There are small and minor tweaks that every developer should make when making a sequel, but they should add ideas because they are fun and effective. Not because every game needs to be innovative.

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