I know that I shouldn’t but the little devil on my shoulder always seems to win me over. Game industry rant in 3, 2, 1…
As a programmer, I have a great respect for what an artist does. He/She takes a blank digital canvas and molds it into something that I would not have envisioned in my wildest dreams. I would describe to a concept artist what I had in mind and he would, like some kind of forensics specialist, derive something that was even more vivid than I originally planned. I lay awake wishing I had that talent some days.
That being said, I personally feel that there is a very wide line between art and innovation. All too often it seems that games are given the title of innovation, even if the game itself is simply a solid execution of a specific genre. I suppose that is the question. Is something innovative just because it incrementally improved on a pre-existing mechanic? First-person shooters are probably the easiest target for this argument. In the grand scope of first person games, it is easy to find a handful of people who would argue that a lot has changed and an equally sized group that claim nothing has changed at all. When Halo 3 debuted their innovative man cannon, my first thought was, “they finally caught up to Quake 3′s launch pads”. I had to stop and remind myself that the typical Halo 3 player was probably 6 years-old at the time I was launching across maps.
Maybe it has something to do with me having grown up through the generations of video games, but it definitely feels like innovation has slowed and art is replacing it as the new form of innovation. God of War might be one of the biggest offenders of this. Don’t get me wrong; this is easily in my top 20 game series, but has the series ever really been innovative? It’s the game industry’s version of a Hollywood summer blockbuster; overflowing in the spectacle of amazing animations and over-the-top acrobatics. I played this game until I remembered what gamers thumb felt like because it was fun, not innovative, just plain fun. I think that the art in the game (models, textures, animations) played a huge roll in painting the portrait of this uber bad-ass oozing testosterone, but in the end it just felt like a prettier version of the classic beat ‘em up. The use of quick-time-events was a nice touch, but it was also nice the time we saw it in 1983′s Dragon’s Lair.
I suppose games are cyclical like everything else; generations pass on and what was old is new again. Like fuzzy shoes and oversize sun glasses, we’ll be looking at games 20 years from now and the new generation will love how innovative it is that you can buy a digital pet that follows you wherever you go. The rest of us will be thinking, “Isn’t that just Fable II with more horsepower? I guess it’s different, it’s a hologram now; totally different…”
All of this is not to say that innovation is lost in games. We see incremental improvements each year in games and the bar of quality is getting scary high. I’m simply stressing two main points here. One, art is a beautiful and creative processes that should not be mistaken for something it’s not. And two, it’s important to remember the achievements of games past in hopes to create a new experience for the future.