Innovation is a double-edged sword in the real-time strategy genre, according to Gas Powered Games boss Chris Taylor, because by trying to stand out too much you may not been seen at all.
The problem for the RTS genre, Taylor explained in an interview published today, has been trying to rethink the core base-building mechanic that made games like Total Annihilation fun in the first place.
"There's been some desperate moves in the industry to find a new place for RTS," Taylor told Eurogamer. "All these kinds of variations, but it's like saying let's add a fifth wheel to a car, or let's take a wheel off. But maybe we can actually make the car more comfortable, maybe we can make the drive less noisy or more fuel-efficient.
"There's other places to go than just pure breaking something off or sticking something on to innovate. I actually wrote an internal essay about this - when games run out of places to go and apply a gimmick instead, it's a turn-off, and not having had the resources or the dare to do it, they would have sold more copies.
"For years we've been beating the drum 'innovation, innovation, innovation'," he added, "but innovation for innovation's sake actually takes you backwards."
Ideas that enhance core RTS mechanics are what Taylor likes. In Supreme Commander 2, he's adding features like strategic zoom and Experimental units "that really make the game more lively but not at the expense of the core RTS experience", as you can read in last week's preview.
Alas, the follies of the genre have left Taylor as one of the last big-name RTS developers in the business, although there is another - and that company is Blizzard.
"We're doing a good job of revitalising RTS but keeping it moving forward in a way that doesn't forget itself, if you love Dune 2 and Command & Conquer and Total Annihilation and StarCraft," he said. "I mean, certainly Blizzard is staying on that track, they're not throwing away the old formula."
But he added: "It's no secret that they have a double-edged sword there, because you need innovation, but if the Koreans up and stop playing the game... What they should do is they should take Warcraft IV and innovate on that, because they don't have the same risk and they do need a free hand."
Supreme Commander 2, announced a couple of months ago, will be out in the spring on PC and Xbox 360.
Head over to our full interview with Chris Taylor to find out more.
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