Why I feel innovation might be an unfair category
  • I was responding to Pocketmego's "Homework" thread earlier, and something I said (sorry if that sounds egotistical) got me thinking. Though I should probably mull it over a few more days, I've decided to go ahead and broach the community with my mindless ramblings--in hopes of spurring on a conversation.

    First, if this has already been discussed, I apologize in advance.

    I started by wondering if video games were really new, special, something different--here we go: To my knowledge, the first few video games (though this is a highly debated topic) either simulated extant games (war games, tic-tac-toe, etc.) or intellectual simulation (math games, logic puzzles, etc.). As such, they were really more a 'translation' of a current game (and by that I mean anything which could be considered interactive) and not new game. These grandfathers were followed by new versions of the same, some more similar than others. Take Pong--clearly a derivative of tennis, but the argument could be made that it is also a continuation of such games as "Tennis for Two" or "Spacewar!" The point I'm trying to make here is that games, or interactive content in general, moved from the space it previously inhabited to an electronic medium. My first thought here is: "where is the innovation in the game?" I clearly see an innovation in the media, but what about the game itself? Is Pong (the example I'm running with here) considered an innovation in gaming or in technology? If we strip away the glossy layers of our 'modern' games, have they really changed much in the last forty years (and I do believe they go back that far) or do we just have better looking, more expanded options of the same things? For that matter, is expanding options in a game really and innovation? Take Nintendo for example, they date (reportedly) back to the late 1800's. They started out making games, and they still do. Was their transition one of technology or gaming itself? Let's assume it was gaming for a second, as that leads me to my second thought.

    There are several genres to choose from when playing a game. I take genre from the Latinate, as a genus, a kind. Are the innovations we think of as innovations really as such, or are they a blending of options from extant genres? We have the action game and the rpg--then we have the action-rpg. Is this an innovation? If we change the perspective in a game, is that an innovation? If the game runs on a more archaic format, only with a fresh perspective, is that really something innovative? Please don't think that I am suggesting that it is not, or that these cannot be seen as innovations. I am merely asking if we should judge games on these things, if the core mechanic of and innovative game is really just a translation of another game, then should it be judged in the category of innovation? I wonder.

    Many of the most popular game review site on the net, etc., argue that X game is good, but it doesn't offer anything new. Should it? Perhaps we need the new to feel that we are not being robbed of 50 bucks, taking shiny new graphics for innovative game play, or spurring game creators to continue to push the envelope. But does this have a negative side? Could we lump piles of ass juice under the category of victims of the gamers desire for innovation? The question I want to pose to the community is: "Is innovation an unfair category to use when judging a game?" It seems to me that it just might be, for if we were to really strip our "innovative-modern" games down, we might find Pong running under the hood. Perhaps our trumped up Pong should be considered an innovation, but do we owe that to an innovation in the game or an innovation in technology? Do you see where I'm going with this? Please let me know what you think about this (or the nature of my sanity if you have the time).

  • Excellent post, again, sir.

    While I don't believe that a modern game stripped down to it's core is just pong. I was just playing "Call of CThulhu" a game trying (though not always succeeding) in capturing the storytelling of HP Lovecraft in an interactive form.

    Now, granted it would be more a successor to the old type in adventure games of the past, but it is hardly as archaic as PONG. :D

    When game critics and players talk about "something new" I don't think they mean something completely new.

    Yahtzee once said that back in the old 8-Bit gaming days you could easily have a game about a French Chef riding a grasshoppers and shooting things with a gun that fired raptors. He was right.

    Back in the 8 and 16 bit era, ANYTHING went.

    Look at Centipede, a garden gnome battles the insects of a mushroom patch to stop them from consuming everything in sight, I think.

    Or Joust...

    A lone knight riding on top of a giant mutant, FLYING, Osterich battling evil knights on giant vultures and capturing the eggs of their destroyed pray before they hatch new KNIGHTS, before being attacked by a randomly occuring Pteradactyl.


    But, that was in the era of single or very small groups of programers on relatively inexspensive equipment. When games became more expensive they were quickly pigeon-holed into very specific categories.

    So now, in a world of FPS, 3rd person, retro-arcade, gamers aren't asking for innovation of the game, but for you to do something new with the genre.

    What does this new FPS do that all those others don't...etc...

    Is it fair to judge agame on innovation?

    Nintendo is making a lot of money on so-called innovation. So obviously it works to some degree.

    Is it a good thing?

    I can't answer that.

  • Some games are a (very) simplified representation of reality or a part of reality. The laws of reality are reduced to a state where they are playable and fun as a game.
    Perhaps you could call Pong one of those games. A simplified form of table-tennis. The programmers only used the bare minimum of reality to create that game. Another example could be Call of Duty, which takes infantry warfare as the source of inspiration.
    Pong is often cited as the first computer game and thus in itself provides a form of innovation even if it really is not that innovative. I think that point might not have made sense.
    Other games take it further and introduce concepts that are not present in reality or give a particular twist to what we know about reality. Obviously, that is where imagination comes into the process of making a game.
    (I purposely left out those 'translated' games you mentioned.)

    So what is innovation? Is it something that no one has thought of before; is it something that has been thought of before, but is used in a new way; or can a mere evolutionary advancement in game mechanics be called innovation (as seen in many sequels e.g. Age of Empires 2 -> Age of Empires 3)? I do not know. The definition of the word is broad and could range from that evolutionary process to something revolutionary.
    Thus, considering the rather blurry definition innovation might be an unfair category, if you apply judgement on something - which is not much of an answer to your question. It might or might not be. I think in that matter I have not come further than you, Aaron, or Pocketmego.

    When we look at the games that come out over time, and I want to concentrate on those that are generally regarded as "good" games, then you will find that those newly released games range from offering a lot of innovation to those that offer little to none. Personally, I have no problem with any of them if they are good. The revival of those old-school games we have seen recently is a good example. No innovation, but the adaptation to modern controls and graphics still make it good games.
    However, developers that implement something really innovative successfully should get more praise for what they have created, than developers that provide us with something similar to what we already have.

    I am uncertain about your point on genres. To me, genres are simply a tool to categorise games according to their style and certain features they have in common with other games. Were you suggesting that a game that is truly innovative may not be categorised using the existing genres, as it would be unique enough to differentiate itself from those common features?


    Please let me know what you think about this (or the nature of my sanity if you have the time).

    Do you have doubts about your sanity, I wonder why? :wink:
    I really don't think there is anything wrong with your question. You always bring up interesting points. Your contributions I have read so far are excellent.
    I always feel that I need to take extra care in what I write in response to your posts, which is not really a bad thing, but my english skills, obviously, do not match yours. :x

    Don't get cocky over all my praise. :wink:

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