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Posted on Sunday, September 11 2011 @ 06:53:04 Eastern
Or how innovation in games is like playing Oblivion.
One of the most irritating whines to come out of the mouths of gamers is that there isn’t any innovation happening in games. But wait, you say, what has that got to do with The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion? Well that’s why I’m blogging, that and I’m really bored. The answer my friend has two parts, one part history, one part exploring an open world. Still confused? Sit back relax and read on.
First a little history lesson. Circa 3100 B.C.E Senet, a game from ancient Egypt, is thought to be the first board game. Mankind has played games in one form or another for a very long time, at the least 5000 years and probably way longer. So, you say, what does that have to do with VIDEO games? Much more than some might think. Board games, cards, sports, puzzles, kids games, and all the other types of games are the precursors, the ancestors if you will of modern video games. Video games are not special or unique compared to other games, but only a new and innovative way of playing games. As man has progressed in technologic know how, he has applied his knowledge to games. Before cardboard (pasteboard) no one played cards. As man learned carving he could carve game pieces, craft boards to play on, and manufacture games of greater complexity. Every time an invention or innovation in manufacturing happen it could and would be applied to games. No wonder students at MIT in 1947 created the “Missile simulator game” which some claim is the first video game. (Yes, you read that right 1947!) Gee, isn’t history fun.
Chess was one of the first games brought to the computer, as well as being one of the oldest games man still plays, yet video games have now passed it by. Chess’s popularity as a game hasn’t gone away since video games began their rise in popularity, just as other games haven’t died out either. Magic The Gathering started back when I still had my SNES, and today is still going strong with professional level play. New non-video games are hitting the market all the time, casual and hard core.
Ok, that was the history, now for the exploration of an open world. If you have never played The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, you have my condolences, but there are many other open world or sandbox games out there maybe you’ve played one of them. I chose Oblivion because it is one of my personal favorites, and boy did I sink a lot of hours into it. Anyway, how can innovation in games be like playing Oblivion? Good question, you’ve been following along. In Oblivion you are unceremoniously dropped into the land of Cyrodiil with little or no direction, go where you want, do what you want. The best part of Oblivion is that it is so stuffed with content, that it might feel overwhelming at times. The land of Cyrodiil is full of caves, mines, cities, villages, ruins of forts and underground haunted cities all just begging to be explored. The land of Cyrodiil is also full of NPC’s who want you to do something for them. There are quests that have you do nothing more than slaughter some goblins, all the way to being the investigator of a art theft. Yet given enough time and effort everything can be found, explored, and done.
My analogy is this, the world of video games was like the land of Cyrodiil as you stepped from the sewers under the Imperial prisons. The sewers and caves under the Imperial prisons, is the game’s tutorial just like the first video games were to the games we have now. As you stumbled around finding new things and maybe doing some quests you were exploring the world finding new things. These few first hours playing are like the first few years when video game first took off, do you follow the main story arch or go off on your own. Following the main story arch would be like making games similar to those out there already. Forging off on your own is akin to innovating and introducing the world to something new. Yet in those early days of game design and system creation a small thing could be thought of as innovative. When DOOM came along boy was it something new, an entire new genre of games was created the First Person Shooter. To my mind this is like being recruited into the Dark Brotherhood, an entire new set of quests and things to discover.
As technology improved so did our game systems, a leveling up to keep my analogy going, which is a form of innovation that many gamers pay no attention to, focusing only on games. Over the years there have also been many generations of game engines, the software core that games are built around, again ignored by many as innovations. Today I can tell you of at the very least of five new or fairly new game engines, out there. 1) The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings uses an in house designed, with some second party components, game engine. 2) Frostbite 2 DICE’s newest game engine will be used in a little game called Battlefield 3. 3) The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim will be running on a brand new in house designed game engine. 4) Konami’s Fox engine. 5) RAGE will also be running a brand new engine.
G4 TV’s Adam Sessler raved about L.A. Noire being new and “…an experience like no other game before it…”(http://www.g4tv.com/thefeed/blog/tag/301/sesslers-soapbox/#ixzz1X25vWkYW) then turned around and whined that there was nothing innovative at E3 this year. 3 of the 5 game engines I listed above were shown off or announced at E3 this year. Yes, they weren’t the star, the games were, but the games looked as good as they did because of the new game engines. Also at E3 was an innovative little handheld gaming system called the PSVita, Bastion, Journey, and Catherine all called new, fresh, or innovative games.
The farther you get into the game of Oblivion the less new things you find, just as video games become more firmly rooted in our culture we will also see less innovation in games. After putting more than a hundred hours into Oblivion one can still find, and be thrilled at finding, a new quest. Just like when you find that odd, quirky, fun, imaginative, little Indy game. Innovation is still happening just maybe not where you want it to be happing. So to all the little whiners out there who say that there isn’t any innovation happening in video games, I say your wrong.