Game genres - Is there anything new under the sun?

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Originally posted by dragon_of_celts:
Originally posted by Elyzius:

feartehstickman – Escape the Dungeon: That was over pretty fast. As a hack-and-slash game, it’s hardly a challenge to win as long as you get your weapon upgrades in succession. This game might work better as a stealth action game, where backstabbing will insta-kill enemies, but being found out will require you to hack and slash your way out of your conundrum. And the game needs more levels. When you have those, however, you’ll wind up with a Castle Wolfenstein clone. (Castle Wolfsheim?) You’d need a twist to differentiate it from the old 2D Wolfenstein games.

Uh, no. It might be similar to Castle Wolfenstein (I/II), but it definitely wouldn’t qualify as a clone
(no guns, CW didn’t have sword/axe/rock fighting (just a knife that you could only backstab with), no passes, etc, etc, etc). If those changes would make it a CW clone, then I’d like an example of a game that isn’t a “clone”.

The above quote is from the GitD #30 voting thread, but I felt it would be more appropriate to respond in the Game Design forum.

Any game that starts a whole new genre (or more accurately, a sub-genre) obviously isn’t a clone. In 1989, Populous started an entire sub-genre of strategy games that has come to be called God Games. In 2007, a game called Flash Element Tower Defense created a new sub-genre of strategy games called Tower Defense. And in 2009, the release of Canabalt spawned a new sub-genre of platformers called Endless Running Games or Auto Runners.

Video games have been around for 70 years, although they didn’t become accessible to the general public until over 40 years ago. For nearly 20 years since then, no one made a god game. When the first one came out, many developers created their own god games. For 35 years or thereabouts, no one had heard of tower defense games. Now, they are everywhere. Until only 4 years ago, endless running games were nowhere to be found. But now…

Do you see the pattern? Once an original and successful video game is invented, many developers rush to create their own games that use similar mechanics, and in the process, they create a new genre or sub-genre of video games. What I find amazing is that new sub-genres are still being invented. So it is possible to create a game that isn’t a clone, but that will probably never happen by seeking inspiration from other games.

 
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Originally posted by Elyzius:
So it is possible to create a game that isn’t a clone, but that will probably never happen by seeking inspiration from other games.

From Wikipedia: “A video game clone is either a video game (or series) which is very similar to or heavily inspired by a previous popular game or series. It also applies to a third-party remake of a video game console.”

According to that definition, I suppose you’re right. I always thought a clone was a game that is functionally the same (not similar) to the work it was derived from. The problem is, when you deviate from the stricter definition, virtually everything can be considered a clone.

Do you consider Canabalt not a clone merely because you can’t stop like in other platformers? Because control is restricted to one button? Extreme simplification of an idea doesn’t make it more than the idea it was derived from, does it? Some levels of the Super Mario franchise featured scrolling levels that you had to keep progressing forward in in order to make it through. Is Canabalt a clone of those?

In the less-strict definition, what exactly is the line to cross to go from clone to non-clone?

 
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Hmm, interesting questions. I consider Canabalt to be original and not just a clone because its mechanics are sufficiently different from other games as to create a whole new and enjoyable experience. Anyone can make completely different mechanics from any existing game, but if the result is not enjoyable, no one is going to clone it. It isn’t just a matter of taking some mechanics away and maybe adding others. To describe it that way is like saying that creating an oil painting is done by daubing oil paints on a canvas. That may be true, but simply following that process won’t guarantee that the result will be pleasing.

I believe that anyone who wants to make a game that is significantly different from all others that have been made should seek inspiration from things other than games. The very first role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons, had miniatures wargaming as its base, but it was also inspired by improvisational theater and fantasy literature.

I also believe that as developers, we shouldn’t really be too concerned about creating new game genres. When players enjoy a particular category of games, they usually want more of that kind, but they also want the experience to be different enough to provide a new and enjoyable challenge. There’s nothing wrong with making yet another platformer or first-person shooter as long as we give it some kind of twist. One of the best examples I can cite is Braid. To call it another puzzle platformer is to miss out on the amazing experience it gives players. Jonathan Blow, the creator of Braid, introduced mechanics to manipulate the flow of time. Using these mechanics is necessary to advance from one level to the next. If you’d never heard of Braid prior to playing it, the experience is nothing less than mind-blowing.

 
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To measure art is to measure the human heart. It needs nothing to exist; it is free of understanding. Art is the manipulation of thought and emotion; it is communication.

An artist needn’t anything but a childlike heart, an observant eye, and a pondering mind. Therefore, games aren’t about mechanics, or graphics, or anything at all really! So long as it’s stimulating in some way =]

 
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Or in other words, what I-love-you-lots is trying to say: semantics. :P

I think something that’s important to note is that there’s the need to qualify the difference between a genre and a sub-genre. The purpose is mentioning it is not to debate where the line is (since that’s pretty subjective) but simply to point out that no one really seems to know. Plenty of game design companies and books have attempted to qualify what makes a truly different genre, so to determine whether or not something is a new genre, a new subgenre, or a clone will depend on which criteria and rules one applies. Sort those out and you’ll have your answer. The larger problem is getting everyone to agree on them. One can always either widen or narrow one’s criteria to support their argument. A similar point can be made by asking how many genres of film there are. 1? 2? 7? 32? Or is each film in its own localized genre?

To answer what seems to be your primary point (“it is possible to create a game that isn’t a clone, but that will probably never happen by seeking inspiration from other games.”), I would have to disagree. New features and implementations and genres seem to come about because of inspiration. From wanting to do, as the Hollywood adage goes, “the same, but different.” I don’t know the story behind Canabalt, but running/avoidance games were not technically knew. To counter Elyzius, the first example that comes to mind for me is a handful of levels from the Crash Bandicoot series where Crash is being pursued. The movement is constant and forced in both games. The buttons necessary are pushed. The obstacles are the same: either don’t fall behind (e.g. Dino Run), don’t fall into holes (every endless runner ever,) and don’t touch enemies (only some games.) All it would take is for someone to say, “You know, those levels are by far my favorite, but it sucks they have to end, and that they’re the same everytime.” Boom! The right person with the right talent and eye makes an endless run game that’s procedurally generated. Is that all it takes to make a new genre? Makes the level endless and somewhat procedurally generated? There were no new game mechanics added, so if that’s the recipe for a new sub-genre then each of us should have three good ones by Saturday night. :P

In the “Clone?” Venn diagram of two games, which do you choose to place more importance on: their similarities or their differences? The case can be made either way, for instance, on whether or not Assassin’s Creed is a clone of Thief 3. Game creation is an evolutionary process and, as such, I feel inspiration will always play a part, clone or no.

 
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Originally posted by dragon_of_celts:

Do you consider Canabalt not a clone merely because you can’t stop like in other platformers? Because control is restricted to one button? Extreme simplification of an idea doesn’t make it more than the idea it was derived from, does it? Some levels of the Super Mario franchise featured scrolling levels that you had to keep progressing forward in in order to make it through. Is Canabalt a clone of those?

The key difference is that, in SMB, you can stop moving even if the level continues scrolling. In Canabalt, you don’t get that luxury. You also (that I recall, anyway) don’t jump on things to kill them or punch blocks to make coins and powerups pop out. If you want to see a better example of a clone, look at Canabalt, then look at Robot Unicorn Attack. THAT is an example of a clone game.

Basically, a game can be considered a clone if it plays enough like another game to the point it reminds players of that game.

 
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I’m not offended you didn’t read my post (I know it’s long) but I think it answered these points before they were asked…

Originally posted by Aesica:
Originally posted by dragon_of_celts:

Do you consider Canabalt not a clone merely because you can’t stop like in other platformers? Because control is restricted to one button? Extreme simplification of an idea doesn’t make it more than the idea it was derived from, does it? Some levels of the Super Mario franchise featured scrolling levels that you had to keep progressing forward in in order to make it through. Is Canabalt a clone of those?

The key difference is that, in SMB, you can stop moving even if the level continues scrolling. In Canabalt, you don’t get that luxury. You also (that I recall, anyway) don’t jump on things to kill them or punch blocks to make coins and powerups pop out. If you want to see a better example of a clone, look at Canabalt, then look at Robot Unicorn Attack. THAT is an example of a clone game.

Basically, a game can be considered a clone if it plays enough like another game to the point it reminds players of that game.

The trouble lies with the word “considered.” What you refer to is subjectivity. If every game reminds me of King’s Quest, does that mean they’re all (realisitically) clones? I think most people would say no.

My post also references the Crash Bandicoot levels which, unlike SMB, involve “jump[ing] on things to kill them or punch[ing] blocks to make coins [or what amount to coins] and powerups pop out.” Canabalt came out in 2009; Cash Bandicoot 2 came out in 1997. Is Canabalt a clone?

Again, as I said in my previous post, the issue boils down to how narrow or wide one’s field of view is. I can be asininely narrow and (legitimately) argue that Crash Bandicoot 3 is not a clone of Crash Bandicoot 2 because 3 has a motorcycle in it. (Big whoop.) I can also be overly wide in my field of view and claim (not inaccurately) that Pokemon is essentially a clone of Galaga. It’s certainly much more of a clone than Monopoly is. It’s simply a matter of where one chooses to draw the line when tallying up the number of similarities and differences. The same strictness you apply to SMB/Canabalt can be applied to Canabalt/RUA. Canabalt doesn’t have fairies or a unicorn or rainbows or pretty music or lives or double jumps or dashes (and so on and so on.) Objectively, each of those differences is just as valid as “you can stop moving,” no? Again, it’s just where one chooses to draw the line.

 
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In 2007, a game called Flash Element Tower Defense created a new sub-genre of strategy games called Tower Defense.

TDs date back farther than that, but FETD was the first stand-alone game in that genre. That is, if you don’t count Ramparts as being a part of the genre.

 
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My start with TD’s came with the original Starcraft. Around year 2000? So many good maps on there, one could glean a lot of ‘new’ game design ideas from that period, as well as from Warcraft III’s custom maps (DotA being a prime example of starting the MOBA). For like 5 years thats all I played were custom maps from those two games with friends and strangers alike…a golden age of innovative game design to be sure, with much lost to the ages (never?) to reach its true potential due to its underground nature. :D

 
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We are talking about genre in the mechanical sense only, yes? That is, we are talking about radically different systems of interaction and feedback, irrespective of the emotional, narrative, or aesthetic goals those systems are used to achieve? Because if that is what we are talking about, then my intuition is that while we will likely continue to see new ones pop up from time to time, it will be diminishing returns due to fundamental limitations in human psychology and the way we interact with machines.

Of course, there are some issues when you limit your discussion of genre in video games to that sense. I would recommend watching this episode of Extra Credits to see some interesting insights on why that can be limiting, and why it makes sense to look at other aspects either instead or in addition.

 
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Well apparently Neintendo is working on a “Massively Single Player” game, they’re calling it a whole new genre

 
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At first I thought you were kidding (‘Nein’ means ‘No’ in German and I wondered if the typo was voluntary), but then I found an article about it. It looks like little more than yet another example of the regular patent-everything-you-can-get-away-with paradigm prevalent in the tech sector.

There hasn’t been any further development on it in the last two years that I could find, though, and Nintendo hasn’t done anything on the MSP front in that time. It looks like they tried (succeeded?) to patent the name for something they were going to create and never got around to the actual creating part. Kind of like people in collabs who start a thread with a game idea and a game title and never get any further than that.