Can Video Games Still Be Innovative?
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Is there really anything new left under the gaming sun?

It would seem that game development today is a bit like archeology. Much like Indiana Jones, we find ourselves looking to the past for inspiration more often. I recently covered the rumors  surrounding a possible return of the hit mobile title Flappy Bird (a game whose level of simplicity is matched only by its huge success). Even gaming icon Nolan Bushnell of Atari chimed in recently, stating that it proves once again that simpler games are always the most enjoyable.

But is he right? Has our never ending quest to innovate done more to over-complicate things (and water down the fun in the process)? Have we truly mined every bit of gaming gold there is left to unearth?

I certainly hope not. In fact, you always want to feel that your best days are ahead of you, which applies to gaming as well as life in general. Each year we get our next big thing, whether it’s from Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo or one of the myriad of other third-party developers. In 2013, it was games like The Last of Us and Beyond Two Souls. 2014’s next big break-out hit is yet unknown, but all eyes are fixed on Destiny. I suppose it’s the anticipation of the unknown that really keeps people excited. Who knows what’s just around the corner? Take those behind the sleeper digital hit Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons for example. Director Josef Fares (one of the driving creative forces behind the title) recently announced his plans for something truly innovative. Of course, we don’t know exactly what said concept is, he promised it’s unlike anything gamers are used to. While attempting to keep things under wraps, Fares does reveal, “…I have my next idea ready, it's super cool. It's very different. I can tell you this--if I tell you the idea now, you'd say, 'I haven't played something like this before'. I can't tell you more. But definitely something that hasn't been done before."

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A lofty claim for sure;, but can he deliver? Is promising a game that “…hasn’t been done before” akin to the mythical unicorn?

Without knowing the details for sure, it’s hard to say. I can tell you my first impression upon reading this statement was a resounding “Yeah right…I’ll believe it when I see it.” My attitude stems from my cynical personality and the decades spent following the gaming industry. While I do feel technology has afforded us wonderful new frontiers to explore in HOW we play our games, the games themselves aren’t all that different. If you’re truly honest with yourself, answer this question: how are games like Call of Duty or Battlefield really all that different from Doom or even GoldenEye for the N64? While photo-realism is impressive, Forza Motorsport 5 is just a glorified version of Ridge Racer. Games, by their nature, are just art imitating life in a continuously recycled…well…cycle. It happens with movies, music and literature alike. In fact, this is the position of many in the classic arcade gaming arena that feel the Golden Age was the last true innovative period of our industry. While I’d love to see what Mr. Fares comes up with, promising the impossible is just silly. I can almost promise you that, without knowing a single detail regarding his upcoming project, I’ll be able to point to 10 or more examples of games just like his.

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As I have stated many times in the past, true innovations will come when we’ve broken out of our boxed systems that tether you ten feet away on your sofa. You’ll never truly be able to bring new concepts to the gaming world from a storytelling stand point, without first focusing on HOW you tell the story. Batman: Arkham City wasn’t a good game just because it let you play as Batman; we’ve seen that in the past. It’s awesome because it makes you feel like you ARE Batman. Madden is still a huge franchise in 2014, but not because it lets you control a football player. Rather, it actually puts you on the field (or at least as close as you can get). Continuing to develop truly immersive environments is the one and only key, as we’ve seen with technologies like Sony’s 3D goggles and the Oculus Rift.

Gaming innovation lies not in the storytelling or the technology alone, but a perfect melding of both. Literally get me off the couch and put me in the game; then I’ll be impressed with these “next-gen” claims. 

Jason Messer
Jason Messer
@J8sonMesser

Contributing Writer
Date: 03/17/2014

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