Monday, October 11, 2010

Do gamers want Innovation or Reinvention?

Lets's start with some vocabulary words and definitions shall we? 

Pronunciation: \ˌi-nə-ˈvā-shən\
Function: noun
Date: 15th century
: the introduction of something new
: a new idea, method, or device : novelty

Innovation is a change in the thought process for doing something, or the useful application of new inventions or discoveries.[1] It may refer to an incremental emergent or radical and revolutionary changes in thinking, products, processes, or organizations.

Reinventing the wheel

 a phrase that means to duplicate a basic method that has already previously been created or optimized by others.

The inspiration for this idiomatic metaphor lies in the fact that the wheel is the archetype of human ingenuity, both by virtue of the added power and flexibility it affords its users, and also in the ancient origins which allow it to underlie much, if not all, of modern technology. As it has already been invented, and is not considered to have any operational flaws, an attempt to reinvent it would be pointless and add no value to the object, and would be a waste of time, diverting the investigator's resources from possibly more worthy goals which his or her skills could advance more substantially.

The reason why I post these two terms is because I tend to notice that gamers a lot of times seem to confuse the two when they're talking about what they want in new additions to a particular video game series. I've read quite a few articles and reviews that discuss this, but there seems to be some sort of disconnect in this line of thinking. 

Let's start with the strange mentality that surrounded the release and sales phenomenon of New Super Mario Bros. Wii. This was a game that was largely released to "meh" around that year's E3. I was excited, as were many other people who were waiting for a 2D Mario game to resurface after the positive result of the DS version. We were hit with more videos of gameplay footage and as to how the new four player mechanic would work Soon we were flooded with memes of 'laziness' which only intensified after publication of the article "Nintendo is Lazy and you don't care" which was written (surprisingly) by former IGN journalist, Matt Casamassina.

The general argument in the case of NSMBW was that not only the characters were cut-pase-repeat, but so were everything else in the game. This isn't a completely unfounded argument, as there could have been some really interesting improvements to NSMBW, however, what it did bring to the table was not only fun, it provided many people who had difficulty with traditional Mario games a way to be able to play the game to completion with help from friends and family. Basically, this was exactly an innovative step in the history of the series, because as we all know innovation is really bringing new ideas and concepts to greatly improve a specific process.

Look at the original Super Mario Bros. That was a bold step foward in gaming, and provided many innovations to standard games. The use of  paralax scrolling, bright colored environments, and radical changes into the foreground environment due to player interactivity blew minds, and set the tone for future games. I would love to go into the 3D marios, but I actually look at that segment as a separate series entirely, and they would also fit my argument perfectly as the 3D marios follow a structure that lasts up until the changes of Galaxy 2, which did well, but apparently will never surpass the power of 2D Mario. Every 2D Mario game in the series (Even SMB2 USA) has retained the basic structure established by the former, yet has introduced something new to the the world and the player, and yet somehow people seem to think that's not innovation at all. This is not only short sighted, but it's incredibly ignorant thinking, and could be indicative of a larger issue with people throwing around words that they might not truly understand the meaning of.

During the Other M debate, it was pointed out that people wanted this new edition of the Metroid series to be successful, despite the prophesied doom and gloom for the series made by Sean Malstrom and other concerned gamers who were savvy enough to read between the lines. The people who defending the game said that these elements that were thrown into the game were innovative, and fresh to the series which was (to them) considered somewhat stale at this point. Granted, these elements were new and different, but depending on who you talk to they really weren't improving on much, and probably hindered the series more than helped it (Honestly, though the game's critical faults were clearly on the story and character end, but I already talked about this in depth ) but I wanted to point out a conversation I had on GoNintendo where it seemed that fans actually wanted a true successor to Super Metroid in the first place. It's odd that they still held onto Other M in some strange sense of believing that if they had shown love for it, Sakamoto would meet their demands and give them a proper Metroid game done in the style of Super.

Personally, I feel that there is nothing wrong with the Metroid series in terms of it's structure. The structure of  Metroid, Super Mario Bros. and pre OOT Zelda  were solid and without flaws, But as I and others noticed, people tend to think a complete change in the structure is needed for improvement and innovation. Well yes, and no - Proper use of innovation would be to keep the structure and series staples intact while expanding the game through new features. Logically, a series would only face re-invention if met with say a 'dead end' which is basically saying "We've done all we can with this particular formula and could only expand through providing the game be viewed through a different context". I can imagine that this was exactly what may have been going through the minds of Splatterhouse developers after finishing 2, and going forward with development of Splatterhouse 3. Splat-2 was an expansion and conclusion to the cliffhanger-like ending of 1 while delivering a similar, yet different experience for gamers who only played the prequel on arcade or TG16 ( It's commonly believed that not that many people could afford or owned a Turbo Grafx-16 back in the day due to it's hefty $300-$400 pricetag,).

I know what you're thinking; "Spiracy, the Metroid Prime games are basically reinventing the wheel, and they turned out alright". Actually, . The series staples of Metroid are still there, and yet the only major changes are how you progress through the game (in first person perspective) and how the story progresses through the use of scanning objects and creatures AKA: discovering the story through gameplay.

Castlevania borrowed elements from non linear games like Metroid and Zelda 2: The adventure of Link long before Symphony of the Night. Simon's Quest was very non linear and had you going all around to find the pieces of Dracula in order to beat the game and get many different endings. The problem with Simon's Quest, however was that it had too many things working against it (too many confusing elements like the townspeople being cryptic and noone knew you had to summon a tornado to get further in the game ) for gamers, and this caused a lot of gamers to not be able to finish the game without some sort of aid. This is possibly why Castlevania 3 returned to the original formula established from Haunted Castle. Basically, Iga and his team returned to expand on the staples presented from the beginning by adding on more innovative features for the series (as well as one of the best soundtracks ever IMHO) which resulted in Rondo of Blood, a game many say is the high point of the Pre SOTN Castlevanias. I'm only assuming here, but by the time Rondo was finished there really wasn't any more they felt they could do to expand on the original structure (and Igarashi did state that he wanted a Castlevania with replay potential ) So the change was centered around making a Castlevania that could be played literally any way the player wanted. So taking the Simon's Quest structure and placing it in the castle proved to be very fruitful for the series, as Konami has put out a number of games using this very structure.  This also proves that even if you do have to 'reinvent the wheel' you'll still find yourself reusing the structure again and again if it works well enough. Time will tell if this new Castlevania game proves to be a structure that will be reused for future 3D Castlevania games, a series that tends to be at a loss for it's niche.

The point - if there really is any to be made (I felt like this is more rambling than anything) - is that we should really think more about what we claim we want. The wheel idiom works, because you never see people creating new things to replace the wheel. It's a solid mechanic that's tried and tested to work every time. You do see commercials where people try to improve or innovate on the design of the wheel in order to further expand it's uses in the field. Likewise in games not everything needs to be replaced by something when it's just as easy to expand on what's already there for better results. This goes for structure, engines ect. There's nothing wrong with recycling reusing and renewing, in fact Epic Games makes a fortune on this concept (despite being very douchey when it comes to Nintendo systems). If you must reinvent a series, then tread carefully. Remember, for every probable success there's a New Coke fiasco waiting to happen.

Game on.


  1. Nice and detailed points on innovation and reinvention, man. Very level headed and civil.

  2. thanks.

    Ive been sitting on this one for a week so it's a little more solid than my usual ranting fare. I also find that keeping a notepad handy helps as well.