Innovation in Gaming

Ten years ago it seemed like every year brought major innovations to the field, some easy to define (3D!), some less so (e.g., Master of Orion I). Innovation has continued (RTS, MMORPGs), but it feels as though more and more work goes into the artwork and less and less into the gameplay. Am I just grumpy?

What do you think will be major innovations over the next 5-10 years?

Depends on what you mean by innovation, but “open ended” gaming a la Grand Theft Auto is likely to find it’s ways into more games. I think the new Tony Hawk and some other games are trying to pick up lessons from GTA.

I think you’re also seeing some genres where gameplay has been taken to it’s logical conclusion. I don’t know what left to throw into an RTS anymore, but maybe something will come up. Ditto for fighting games, but they’ll get another gen out of enabling online play.

Supposedly, the physics of the new FPS’s will enhance the strategy and tactics. Dunno, I’m not really into them anymore.

My game, of course, will be utterly revolutionary. I’m hoping to get a review of it on Qt3 because they have a cool policy of keeping the most recent reviews up for several months on the front page.

A lot of the “firsts” and new ideas are already going to have “been done” before because gaming is starting to get some age.

It’s going to be harder and harder for games to be innovative as the years go on simply because a lot of the ideas will have already been implemented.

One entry found for innovation.
Main Entry: in·no·va·tion
Pronunciation: "i-n&-'vA-sh&n
Function: noun
Date: 15th century
1 : the introduction of something new
2 : a new idea, method, or device : NOVELTY

It’s hard to produce something new in an old industry. Gaming certainly has an edge on movies, and books, but I don’t think it’s just a young bud anymore.

Maybe I’m going to idealize this because discovering innovative places to take video games is what I want to do in the future and because I haven’t had enough practical experience to think I’m unable to accomplish that, but I believe there are still a lot of different types of innovations that have yet to take place.

Truly nothing will be as instantly momentous (until VR) as 3D was to 2D, but there are tons of finer gameplay intricacies that have not been explored.

Five years after games had gone 3D would we have been able to picture a game like Ico? For being a recent entry into the game world it sure did do something quite phenomenal and very original. And I’ll fight Tom Chick tooth and nail on this issue, but I can’t wait to see the future of games that successfully fill the Deus Ex mold, ones where the gameplay and character evolves depending on the choices you make, not abstract numbers that you fill out in the beginning of the game or each level.

Even though the industry is “old”, games still have quite a way to go before they’re mature, or at least consistently so. And though genres are truly set because they have been explored in and of themselves to their fullest, there’s no reason that genre rules can’t all be broken or that cross-genre games won’t emerge as the new genres. I’d like to see a third person action game with rpg and puzzle elements… wait that’s Dark Cloud 2, a first person shooting and driving game with rpg stats and a character creator that rivals SWG.

I don’t think that there will ever be a place for games not to go. If we are at a loss, follow philosophy movements or movie trends. Conker’s Bad Fur Day was a stab at Post-Modernism and Killer 7 and XIII are about as Film Noir as you can get.

It probably feels oversaturated because there are far far too many mediocre games coming out now. So there was Devil May Cry and forty clones, that doesn’t mean that the Devil May Cry genre is tapped out. It means we need to stop forking over money to bad games.

Innovation is both difficult and overrated. A game isn’t required to be innovative to be fun, and an innovative game isn’t necessarily fun.

Not to mention it’s the most overused term ever. Another buzzword that annoys the shit out of me on a regular day. It’s not exactly something you can quantify, and often it’s not something you can isolate directly either.

I just want my games fun.

oh no, Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for bad games.

Just like I read bad movies, bad books, and any other trash I can get my hands on.

I enjoyed Devil May Cry, And I’ll probably enjoy every other clone I can get my hands on.

In fact, does anyone remember dynamite cop for the dreamcast? My group of local friends and I were salivating just waiting for it’s arrival a week or two ago. The game is terrible. It offers nothing new to the gameplay genre, and it’s honestly the defenition of mediocrity. Hell, the game can be beaten by two 8 year olds in around an hour and a half of gameplay.

Still, I love and enjoy it. I’m with Charles: “I just want my games fun.”

I just don’t expect every title that comes out now-a-days to be groundbreaking or lunge across boundaries I thought unpassable.

I enjoyed jediknight 2 thoroughly, and I don’t think it had a single innovative feature. It just took the formula and cooked it stupendously.

Watch out for the ‘fun’ police; if you aren’t careful they may threaten to gently touch you. :P

  • Alan

I still think gaming is young enough as a media to support a lot more in innovation, but I do agree that it is (quite necessarily) narrowing. I think a lot of times also, innovation can be focused on too much, just like graphics can be and its really not the key to making a good, unique experience. I’ve seen many people kind of infer that a game without innovation is the same ol’ and they don’t want to play the same game over and over again, and I must say, I quite disagree with this attitude. There are other ways to make a novel experience, one need not always resort to uberinnovative concepts.

Also, the industry is so huge these days, a lot of people have the same ideas at the same time. Despite the success of GTA3, games like Driver and Midnight Club did similar things, just not as successfully. The whole distortion of time in an action game thing has been a succession of games where it would be hard to pin causality on any one game, Max Payne, Dead to Rights, Blinx and Viewtiful Joe were most likely not influenced by each other, but they all had similar ideas and now Prince of Persia carries on that legacy, so you see innovation “shared” between quite a few games.

I also think innovation need not be earthshaking in order to be significant. I’m far less likely to make an ignorant example if I continue to use console games, so forgive me, for continuing to use these examples like this when you were talking about games like Master of Orion. But, back when Super Mario World came out, it really changed the more action-oriented games, and it has little do with its more “big” innovative concepts, i.e. interacting with the background, non-linear platforming exploration, etc. It allowed you to save in a platformer, which was something you could only expect on a Disk System game and even then not often. It also explained the control concepts of the game as you approached them. Previously games always left it to the gamer to find out what those were, it never told you for instance, that you could steal and wear Kuribo’s shoe in that brilliant SMB3 level for instance. Last but not least, the levels were much, much longer than your usual platforming level and allowed midpoint saves if you passed the bar. There was starting from the midpoint in other games, but the little thing you activated to save your place in a level eventually lead to (console) games enacting several in each stage, making longer stages with more tricky control challenges and more variety to accompany it. These three small things ended up eventually having an enormous influence on design in the future. Chances are, development in that area would have much slower if a trailblazing, superhuge and popular game like Super Mario World didn’t innovate them earlier. So it wasn’t so much completely new as relatively novel and not terribly large, and that’s why I think there are levels of innovation and there need not always be a big, fat innovative world-crunching leader game every year and we won’t see that as much anymore.

I also disagree that fighters or RTSes may have come to the end of their logical extension. For instance, a simple more thorough exploration of the Smash Brothers, Tobal 2 or Bushido Blade type of fighter I bet you anything would lead to a world of more innovative fighters, or even try something like Fighter’s Destiny. And you do see it to some point, there was Ergheiz that followed up on the Tobal 2 idea, Powerstone, One Piece and Kung Fu Chaos on the Smash Brothers one and Kengo on Bushido Blade, but there’s still so much more that’s possible. And that’s not even accounting for all the ideas that haven’t been tried. There largely hasn’t been a serious fighting game that integrates both weapon fighting and martial art fighting, a magic-based fighter would be neat, or just plain get rid of stamina bars and use a different system, there’s lots of new avenues you could try. I see the same thing with RTSes, people could try to take the Pikmin-type concept or the Majesty vein of the idea much farther and I’m sure there’s lots of innovative ideas to be found in embracing either approach. Once Upon a Knight looks like an innovative game.

Also, another thing, I think small teams with more reasonable game goals will be able to bring out profitable innovative games more easily, especially if they are backed by huge conglomerate companies that won’t die if they’re given leeway. I think Brownie Brown and Level 5 show this especially.

I mean Shinyaku Seiken Densetsu is a frickin’ REMAKE and its got a surprising array of small, innovative elements in it. For instance, there’s the magic system, which is not entirely something never seen before, but certainly newish and out of the norm. You use magic by summoning an elemental spirit and that’s nothing new, but you hold down the R button to chant in order to do this. Chant before a spirit materializes around your character and the spell will be a one helpful to your party, continue to chant until the spirit materializes and it will be a damaging spell. An extension of the idea in their previous title, Magical Vacation, you get spells by making friends with spirits and getting them lend their essences to you. This is based on the personality and social customs of the spirits, so you can equally piss them off and make them shun you if you do certain things (piss off the earth spirit by cutting down too many trees for example) or gain their trust and alliances by doing well by their ways. The more you have, the more powerful your spells get when your chanting materializes them. You can also meditate to recover your spell-casting power. Chanting or meditating reduces your mobility, makes you slower and gets harder to dodge enemies, but you can command AI companions to defend you while doing this.

Another thing are enemy characteristics. They function much more like animals. That is, they have differing behavioral characteristics depending on the time of day or the day of the week. Some of them get more aggressive at sunset, or sleep at a certain type of day. Some of them can only be found at certain times of day and some of them are known for hiding in the trees or tall grass in the morning, so on and so forth. In addition, they each have a way of perceiving you defined by the five senses. Enemies that rely more on a sense of smell can be attracted to you by certain items you carry, those that mainly rely on sight can be totally nerfed by turning them blind whereas those that use hearing will not be so easily dwelt with. Speaking of hearing, the sound of your fighting may attract those who primarily use hearing, or maybe the buzzing of one enemy may turn their defense mechanism on, so they go nuts, and its in your best interest to keep that buzzing enemy well away from them. You can also eat the meat of fallen enemies in order to become stronger against that type of enemy.

Granted, these are just small things and in some ways, resemble some other things that have been done before. But I think these innovative little quirks really add up and they really improve the game and make it much cooler.


Innovation is overrated, I agree. It’s a neutral quality in a game. Even if a game is innovative and we’re delighted to see something new, that delight tends to be shortlived. Bullet-time was cool in Max Payne, but halfway through that short game it had become little more than a game mechanic to me to help me through any tough spots.

I think we’re going to see graphics get better and better until we’re close to photorealism. I hope we see AI get better in strategy games. We’ve already seen some impressive innovation with BioWare’s NWN editor in RPGs – maybe we’ll see better editors for other game genres as well.

As to open-ended gaming, I’m not all that excited about it. I’d rather have well-designed missions, adventures, etc., and just play through a good game once. I probably have a boring playstyle, but it just doesn’t interest me to too many possible paths through a mission. I want to kill the bad guys, not talk or sneak my way around them.

I don’t think it’s neutral. A lot of games are boring. Innovation tends to make them less boring. Obviously an innovative game can still suck, but on balance innovation is a good thing.

My $0.02.

A lot of it’s execution. Tribal Rage, for example, had a number of RTS innovations, but it was such a poorly put together game it didn’t matter. Or look at the way Blizzard and SSG handled heroes in WC3 and WBC, respectively. In both games heroes can level and become more powerful, but in WC3 it happens during a scenario instead of after, so it’s much more meaningful.

Actually, Blizzard is an expert at this. Diablo 2 is another prime example because they didn’t really innovate much, if at all, with that game. They just refined. The original Warcraft, some would argue, was just a refined version of Dune. But Blizzard does it SO well. The infinity engine games were pretty innovative when BG first came out, but then they milked the hell out of it, and still produced some great games as they refined the engine. IWD2 looked a bit dated, but I played it all the way through and enjoyed every minute of it.

I do like innovation, of course, but I don’t see it as a prerequisite or anything, not that Qenan is suggesting it should be. Personally, I prefer a refined experience over an innovative one on my PC, but tend to enjoy innovation more in my console games. There are exceptions of course, but lately console games seem to be way more innovative overall than PC games. Part of that may be that there are more console games coming out these days.

I’m just curious. Did anyone besides Mark and I play this game? I reviewed it for OGR back in the time period the kids call “the day”. Mark probably played it as some sort of Community Service related to his criminal past.

The best thing about the game was the bobble head Elvis in the beginning rendered cutscene.

I’m just curious. Did anyone besides Mark and I play this game? I reviewed it for OGR back in the time period the kids call “the day”. Mark probably played it as some sort of Community Service related to his criminal past.

The best thing about the game was the bobble head Elvis in the beginning rendered cutscene.[/quote]

There were actually a lot of cool features in the game, and the atmosphere was great too. It’s just that the gameplay wasn’t very good. It felt like a game where they did a good job brainstorming and implementing a feature list, but then rushed every other part of the game to get it finished.

With every step that brings the user closer to a realistic experience, the following step is a little bit smaller. A matter of diminishing returns.

In the long run, the constantly dropping cost of computer parts will make for a bitter battle with the consoles. Those flame wars are only going to get worse, especially with all the high-profile PC games slated to come out in the next few months. I remember when a brand-new PC cost thousands of dollars no matter what, while you could get an NES for $120. Now you can get a PC for $500. Not a great one, but a solid one. And those prices are just going to continue dropping.

Innovation is tied to technology, so it will never become harder to execute as some people have mentioned here until such time as technology stagnates.

For example, as the detail on human faces is able to be differentiated human emotion can be modeled. Do you guys begin to have a clue what sort of gameplay can emerge from that?

Or when a city is able to be modeled, with individual actors behaving realistically (what Republic was supposed to produce).

I frequently mention the kinds of MMOG innovations that can happen.

People who complain that innovation is difficult nowadays can only be talking about business. Artistically its not a problem and won’t be for decades at the least.

We are entering into the Golden Age of computer games.

Some innovations are, but what a weird statement to make in general. I’ve played a number of innovative board games over the past few years–how does your technology theory factor into that?

Some innovations are, but what a weird statement to make in general. I’ve played a number of innovative board games over the past few years–how does your technology theory factor into that?[/quote]

:roll: I guess you’re thinking DrCrypt isn’t enough of a Koontz Troll.

My post only covers computer games (and console games by implication).

Without technological developments, there is a stable base to work from for gameplay. There would still be innovation, but it would be limited. Look to the Movie Industry. With the IMAX development new types of movies are made (ones that the big screen especially helps). The development from silent films to talkies brought new “gameplay”, as did the development from black and white to color.

Without technological development, there is strictly cultural and creative innovation. Tarantino for example didn’t require technological development to innovate.

Another filmmaker might imitate Tarantino or might complain that Tarantino had “taken an idea” that is no longer a part of the “pool of innovation”, and they would be right.

Technological development throws all of that out the window. It FORCES new gameplay models. You couldn’t make the same movie in a talkie as you did in a silent even if you wanted to. Once a broad range of realistic emotion is shown on a face, game developers will take advantage of it. Once a broad range of body positions are available to developers, they will take advantage of it.

Lets say you’re playing a FP game and you see a human in front of you stooped over. You can’t see its hands and that worries you. Does it have a gun? Should you shoot it? Damn… there’s a couple of witnesses down the street. So you call out to it from a distance.

It raises its head, and its an old man. It looks tired and clutches a bundle. Do you ask the man about the bundle? Steal the bundle? Pass him by?

Looks tired. Or looks happy, or looks sad, or looks depressed. All provided to developers in what, a few years?

People talk nowadays about Dynamic Lighting. That sounds cool. Developers can now create realistic shadows. So you can see the shadow of a guard around the corner. You can see whether the guard is a dog or a man or a monster by his shadow.

Destructible environments. Your mission is to kill a guy. Now a gameplay option can be setting a bomb. The building falls, the guy dies. Or you can just take out a floor, or a room, or part of a room. Maybe you collapse the elevator he gets into.

You’re having a conservation with a NPC in a RPG. With facial features you’ll get additional clues to help you pick out the dialogue thread. And with no Reload…

Just a few of the many…

No, you have that role covered quite well all on your own. I admit that, like John, I am sometimes unable to resist replying to some of the nonsensical and inane things that you say, while most of the people on this board just chuckle and move on. I’ll try to do better, though.

I picked it up for $10 and felt I got my money’s worth, crashes and all. I thought it did a good job of melding RTS gameplay with higher-level strategy, but fell apart in the details. It was fun for a week or so but there wasn’t a lot of replay value.