Gaming: Fresh Ideas Don’t Have to be Wild

Genres, that is, categories of media that contain things with similar elements, are a mixed blessing. On the one hand, they provide an easy way for fans to find new games, movies, and books with the elements that they enjoy but, on the other, genres have a way of stifling ideas. By appealing to a single audience with a select list of requirements, creators may be forced to shelve fresh takes and brand-new approaches. 

Call of Duty

It’s easy to stifle entire franchises this way. Worse, it sometimes forces overcorrection, where developers make bizarre jumps in tone and setting as a means of making something – anything – seem new. A good example involves Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, which took the military shooter into space. The reaction to the game was fairly positive in the end but the leap beyond the surly bonds of the earth didn’t earn much praise.

It’s worth noting that Call of Duty’s long-time rival Battlefield did something similar when EA made the odd decision to go from 2015 to 1914 and then from 1942 to 2042 over the space of four games. This kind of whiplash change has a way of making the franchise look lost and desperate for an identity. It’ll come as no surprise that reviews for the four titles got progressively worse with each release.

So, how do budding developers get it right?

Dungeons & Dragons

Making changes to established genre rules is all about finding complementary systems. Back in the early 2010s, then-Bioware producer Fernando Melo implied that action games like Fallout, Assassin’s Creed, and Call of Duty were all actually RPGs, perhaps due to the slow creep of RPG features into their makeup. Things like experience levels, classes, and even player choice are classic Dungeons & Dragons tropes, after all. 

This idea of gentle adjustment applies in all areas of gaming. In mobile gaming, a trend for melding traditional card games like blackjack with RPG features helped create Battlejack. Similarly, the licensed New Jersey casino Playstar has a casino game called Slingo, which combines the number-calling of bingo with classic slots gameplay, yet it keeps the core experience familiar to both groups of players.

Final Fantasy

One of the hardest lessons to learn for new creators is that there are no truly unique ideas out there anymore. Want to mix a zombie shooter with a spelling test? Sega got there first with The Typing of the Dead. What about a game made in claymation or one about an egg chasing fast food around a maze? Unfortunately, both of these exist too (Neverhood from DreamWorks and the Oliver Twins’ Fast Food Dizzy). 

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it’s often much better to hone an existing idea than to take a chance on something untested. In fact, this is the entire point of a franchise. Square Enix’s Final Fantasy series might be on its 16th mainline outing but many of the elements common to the franchise can be traced all the way back to the 1980s, especially when it comes to its monsters.

Overall, while it is possible to catch lightning in a bottle with something truly bizarre, the gaming industry is a product of incremental change, not madness.

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