Whatever Happened To .. Originality

Article - or, "why they don't make them like they used to"

Old fogeys like to ramble on about "the good old days" of the 1980s as if they were some kind of golden age of home computing, when gamers were real gamers, patiently typing out code listings from magazines (and correcting any printing errors along the way), having first patched together their computer with sticky tape and used washing-up liquid bottles. This is, of course, nonsense. Having said that, it's hard to deny that the gaming industry has lost a certain je ne sais quoi in its rise from the realm of bedroom programmers to multi-billion dollar corporations, particularly in the last few years. Sometimes it seems that all we get are sequels, sports games and licensed tat. When was the last time you saw a genuinely innovative game? Whatever happened to originality?

Attack Of The Clones

Tony Hawk - has a lot to answer for

A quick look at our release date list shows a frightening lack of imagination looming on the horizon. Coming up in the next few weeks are several derivative role-playing games, a couple of first person shooters, some real-time strategy titles and a seemingly endless list of sports games, covering both "real" sports and futile attempts to cash in on Tony Hawk syndrome by signing up some dork nobody has ever heard of and slapping his name on the front of the box with the word "Xtreme" spray-painted under the title in neon green. And looking back, the nearest thing to an original game that any of us can remember coming into contact with in the last few months is Power Diggerz, a bizarre Japanese game in which you use a JCB to dig things up and scoop turtles out of swimming pools. It seems that we can at least rely on the Japanese to occasionally come up with something completely off the wall, even if most of the games that actually reach the west are Resident Evil spin-offs or old school beat 'em ups. With billions of dollars flowing through gaming companies (and most of it going down the drain), the pressure is on to keep recycling old ideas and falling back on safe franchises to minimise the risk. On the rare occasion that somebody actually comes up with a new idea which sells, it's promptly milked into oblivion with a flood of add-on packs, sequels, spin-offs and second rate clones. And that's not to mention the devestating effect that the GameBoy Advance has had on the gaming industry, resulting in a tidal wave of poorly produced retro junk being transferred to Nintendo's latest hand-held by witless interns. Hello Pitfall.


Allied Assault - hardly imaginative, but still lots of fun

Of course, it's not all bad news. A game doesn't need to be original to be fun to play - one of our current favourites is Medal Of Honour : Allied Assault, a fairly unimaginative combination of first person shooter and Second World War setting which gets its fun from solid gameplay, great atmosphere and excellent production values rather than novel new concepts. And there is still some innovation out there, even if most of it seems to involve taking two exhausted genres and banging them together in an attempt to come up with something new and exciting. Hence mission-based action-driving games, story-led extreme sports titles and first person role-playing shooters. Other developers continue to push the envelope, even if it is at an evolutionary crawl, taking an existing blueprint and adding a feature here, a tweak there. But it does leave you wondering where the next big new idea will come from. Have we already invented every genre of game imaginable, destined to keep recycling and recombining them for decades to come? When we're all telling our grandchildren about "the good old days", will they be stuck playing FIFA 2045 : Road To Nowhere, Army Men : MMRPG and Quake XVI : Shub's Revenge? Or will the genres just collapse into an amorphous mush of massively-multiplayer-extreme-action-role-playing-adventure-strategy-puzzle games?


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