A Call Against Innovation

Pixel Junk Eden, from Q Games, PSN, 2008
There. I bet that got your attention. In truth, I’m not saying that there should never be innovation in gaming, and that developers should never innovate. I’m saying that I think it’s unfair for gamers to expect every game to be innovative and fresh, when that’s just simply not a realistic expectation.

Allow me to explain:

I was watching a video today on 1up.com, where they were playing Killzone 2 and taking questions from the readers.

The very first question was “What does Killzone 2 bring to the FPS table? What’s the innovation?”

While, on it’s surface, it seems like a genuinely legit question, when you really read into it, you realize that it’s really just an excuse used by haters or jaded gamers to take a pot shot at a title (not just Killzone 2, by the way).

Why do I feel this way?

Well, how much innovation can any developer bring to the table on a regular basis? In fact, how many innovative games get released in a generation, let alone during the span of a gaming year?

The point I’m trying to get at is that not every game can be innovative, or revolutionary, or redefine the genre for all time, so I believe it’s a rather unrealistic expectation to assume that every game that releases is going to be dripping with things never before seen in gaming. The gaming industry is over 25 years old. Most concepts and ideas have been done to death over the span of that 25+ years, and so novel concepts are few and far between. As a result, it’s a little unfair to developers to expect innovation from every single title they release.

Also, most games that are genuinely and truly innovative, do not boast about that innovation during the PR run of the game. They may highlight a feature that may be unique to their game (ie, the Aftertouch feature in Heavenly Sword, or the building vehicles feature in Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts), but truly innovative and revolutionary games are very rarely boasted as such by the developers.

The way the gaming media handles it is vastly different, but most developers that are genuinely onto someting unique keep it close to the vest.
Ocarina of Time, Nintendo, 1998
Games like Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is widely considered to be one of the best games of all time. In truth, it is not a very innovative game. In fact, it has the exact same gameplay mechanics as previous Zeldas (the hookshot, the boomerrang, hearts as health, levers, dungeons, etc), with the only difference being that the perspective changed from 2D to 3D.

So why do games like Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, get hailed as being an amazing, fantastic game, but it’s clear lack of innovation is overlooked, while a game like Killzone 2 is suddenly being dinged for lack of innovation?

Why is Halo praised to no end, even though it’s protagonist doesn’t have much character, dialogue, or real personality, but Resistance 2 gets called for a “lack of identity and character in Nathan Hale?”

In my opinion, games like Braid, Pixel Junk Eden, Shadow of the Colossus, Ico, etc, are truly innovative games.

Games like Super Mario, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil (sequels; the original was rather fresh and innovative for it’s time), Legend of Zelda, are not innovative. And you know what? They don’t have to be, and I consider the above games some of the best gaming experiences I’ve had of all time.

Why do some games get a free pass for lack of innovation (ie, Zelda, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear, etc), but others, like Killzone 2, Resistance 2, etc, get constantly hated on for being “the same old same old?”

Why do the gaming media constantly cry about a lack of a fresh approach to gaming, and then completely turn around and hate on a game that actually tries something different (ie, Mirror’s Edge).

Why does a game like Left4Dead, which is a whole bag of awesome, get a pass for being, honestly, quite shallow and having absolutely no depth, but a game like Resistance 2, which features a slew of unique and fun to use weapons, an actual story campaign (Left4Dead’s story consists of, “Get to this place without dying. Now repeat this over and over again”), a never before in gaming 8 player co-op mode, and never before in a console FPS 60 player simultaneous online matches with zero to little lag, and the game gets called “repetitive,” “generic,” and “scripted?” Or “lacking identity?” I don’t understand.

Bringing it back to Killzone 2 to highlight my thoughts better; 1up.com is constantly bringing up Call of Duty 4 when discussing Killzone 2. This is fine, and expected. COD4 is now the standard by which nearly all other FPS titles are judged.

With that said, 1up spends the majority of their Killzone 2 coverage complaining that the game doesn’t feel or control like Call of Duty 4, and yet they call it out for lack of innovation?

Isn’t the fact that Killzone 2 doesn’t feel like every other FPS on the market a sign that it’s forging it’s own path, and not simply walking in the footsteps of it’s predecessors? Isn’t the fact that your character, weapons, and even the world itself is so vastly different from titles like Halo 3, Call of Duty 4, and other FPS titles a sign that the game is, well, fresh and unique?

Shouldn’t we be glad that Killzone 2 is not like any other shooter on the market in terms of feel and tone? I guess I’m a little confused by the mixed messages various media outlets like 1up are sending out.

I mean, do you want a game with unique feeling controls, a unique atmosphere, and fantastic visuals? Or do you want a game that looks and feels like Call of Duty 4?

Do you want a fresh take on the FPS genre, or the same old same old?

Or even more importantly, if the game doesn’t innovate or reshape the industry as we know it, are you able to simply acknowledge that the game is FUN? Isn’t that what it all boils down to: fun?

I’ve played just about every FPS title released this generation, from the good (COD4, Resistance, etc), to the bad (Legendary, Turok, etc). I was in the Killzone 2 beta for a good three weeks. I can say that the game doesn’t feel like any other FPS on the market. I can say that it doesn’t look like any other FPS on the market. I can say that although the game is still an FPS, it doesn’t redefine the shooter genre for consoles, but it most certainly raises the bar for other shooters out there. It’s the level of immersion that really stands out, and gives it it’s edge over other FPS titles out there. I don’t think I’ve ever played an FPS where I’ve felt so much like the character I was playing.

I didn’t feel like I was this disembodied gun floating across the screen and taking out enemies. It’s ironic to feel that way, considering that KZ2 doesn’t do the whole “You can see my body when I look down!” craze that is the rage in most FPS titles these days. But it’s what Guerrilla Games have done with controls and atmosphere that makes you feel that way.

And yet the media is complaining because it’s so different, and doesn’t feel like every other FPS on the market. They seem to be lobbing every complaint they can at the game (and others), without taking notice of the contradictions inherent in those complaints.

“The game isn’t unique, but it also doesn’t look and feel like any other game on the market.” “The Helghast lack identity, but seeing their glowing red eyes glimmering in the dark is truly an intimidating sight.”
“The game has repetitive enemies, but the Helghast are broken up into different classes with different armor (ie, the Snipers have a cloak, the Sabatours wear a wicked looking Gestapo trench coat, etc).”

So which is it, gaming media? Is Killzone 2 a generic, by the books, just like every other FPS title out there, or is it a unique feeling, atmospheric, tense experience? You’re mixed messages are truly something to behold. Especially when so many other games are getting passes when it comes to the “Innovation factor.”

I’m not calling for the death of innovation. I’m calling for gamers and media alike to accept that not every game can be innovative. But a lack of innovation doesn’t instantly mean, “lack of fun.” Some of the best games of all time are not wildly innovative (look at the original God of War; it wasn’t innovative; it simply polished what was established by games like Devil May Cry).

Truly innovative games don’t come around often. Why can’t we just enjoy a fun gaming experience when it’s presented to us? Why be so jaded and nitpicky when a promising title is announced? And why hate on Killzone 2 so much, because of the mistakes of the original, and overzealousness of Sony’s PR machine at an E3 damn near 4 years ago (when was that infamous target render? 2005? I was at that E3; I saw the presentation. I think it’s time we just let. it. go.).

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7 Responses to “A Call Against Innovation”

  1. WOW! That was definitely one awesome article. I totally agree 100%.

  2. namelessshe Says:

    I think a lot of people have a skewed idea of what “innovation” really is.

  3. Thanks a lot! I really appreciate it!

    I’m just sick of the double standards and hypocrisy running rampant in games these days.

  4. I wish i knew how to respond. DO I want to be negative? Not really…. i want to be suggestive. But how does one successfully suggest anything to such a segregated community like the gaming industry? I for one am at a loss. I can only hope that things change, and soon.

  5. I know what you mean. I guess it’s why I created this site. I want to do my part to try and present gaming news fairly and objectively.

    I don’t want to become so analytical and wrapped up in things that don’t concern gameplay that I can’t see the forest despite the trees.

    In short, I don’t want to be a jaded gamer. But it’s hard. Everytime truly creative titles get the short end of the stick (Folklore, Little Big Planet, Braid, Pixel Junk Eden, etc) while the masses gobble up the latest Madden and Activision licensed drivel, I get a bit more disheartened. I want more games like Folklore, Braid, Pixel Junk Eden, etc. But it seems like the gaming media, and the mainstream consumers themselves, don’t.

  6. I agree with you figboy, I hate all this “lack of innovation” crap i hear all the time. For example, i recently purchased Call of Duty: World at War and while lots of people praise the game, there is quite a few people that keep saying “they are trying to be like CoD4” or “This is just like every other WWII shooter”. I love CoD5, i think its great! i might be biased since im a huge military history buff and every CoD game has been pretty darn close to accurate from a historical standpoint. Its kinda sad that nowadays so called “gamers” want something revolutionary for every new game that comes out. True gamers, in my honest opinion, are the ones that don’t go out of their way to look for an “innovative” game or don’t completely write off a game because it isn’t innovative.

  7. I look at this the same way I see the movie industry, which is also suffering. Not only has there been a lack of innovation, I might be said there is an actual regression of creativity. It seems every headlining movie is either a remake, a re-imagining, or a rip-off (BTW did you know they are making a Fast and the Furious 3? WTF) I think the last “fresh take” movie is saw was Shawn of the Dead, which is 4 years old, but I guess it isn’t as big a deal in a century old art, maybe he have come to expect it.

    Just like the game industry, there are movie that are in no way innovative, yet if you take them for face value, they are the most entertaining. Dawn of the Dead (2004, a re-make AND a zombie movie), while by no means ground-breaking, is in my top 5 of all time, because all the smaller parts add up to one whole. Innovation is just one idea.

    I bought Fable 2, (all $60 of it, which for my cheap ass means something) I took it home, and I played it though it multiple times. I played the first Fable, and liked it, but not much has changed, no innovation. But they did something small, like add a trusting dog, and by the time the credits rolled, I loved that fucking dog. I someone kick my dog, I didn’t care if I was on the good side, that person had there head removed with my blunderbuss. If you take that dog away, I still probably would have spent the same amount of hours saving Albion. The point is, innovation is not what makes a game enjoyable, it is what helps drive people to make new and better games.

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