Tobold's Blog
Friday, March 08, 2013
 
Selective memory kills innovation

It is scientifically proven that the human memory is selective: In order to cope with life our brain retains positive memories better than negative memories. Thus nostalgia is rather universal, and even in ancient Egyptian tombs inscriptions have been found mourning the passing of the good old days. Now while people have always been playing games, the history of modern roleplaying and computer games is not so old. D&D was first published in 1974. the home computer came on the market in 1977, and it was more in the 80's and 90's that roleplaying and computer games really took off and sold in millions.

That means that right now there are a whole lot of people who grew up with this sort of games. And because of selective memory, many of them believe that the games of their teenage years were "better". And more and more people are trying to bring the good old days back, instead of trying to innovate.

As others have already remarked, nowhere is this trend more visible than on Kickstarter. At first Kickstarter was lauded for enabling independent developers to make innovative games, delivering something new instead of sequels from big publishers. But what did we get instead? Remakes of games from the 80's and 90's: Elite, Wing Commander, Planescape: Torment, Sierra Adventures, Populous, Shadowgate, Carmaggedon. Kickstarter is trading heavily on nostalgia.

But big game companies are also exploiting nostalgia. This week's big game? SimCity, a remake of a game from 1989. My favorite game from last year was XCOM, originally from 1994. And it isn't just computer games: Wizards of the Coast are currently working on D&D Next, which isn't as the name would suggest creating innovative new rules for D&D, but is trying to "get back to the roots" by reviving "how D&D used to be".

Meanwhile innovation in game design is becoming increasingly scarce. With all that money flowing towards the nostalgia projects, there isn't much left for really new concepts and ideas. Many genres, MMORPGs among them, are stagnating. And what solution do developers suggest? As Wikipedia says about Everquest Next: "The developers have stated an intention to return to a style of gameplay more like the original EverQuest". Yeah, right.

If we only use the past as a reference point of what is good, we are not going to get innovative good games. No remake of an old game can bring our teenage years back. We'll play those remakes and then grumble that the original was "better". It might be easy to get funds for remakes by playing on the selective memory of people, but that doesn't automatically produce good games. In the end, selective memory and nostalgia are more likely to kill innovation than to produce anything good.

Comments:
Blizzard seems to be discovering the same thing as they try to "go back" only to find players angry at the supposedly "better" game....

BTW I don't find that the videogames market is that different from the rest of the market: if you look at any other products most of the stuff is pure rehash and there's very little "new", so I would say that the video game market is getting in line with the rest.
 
This comment has been removed by the author.
 
Nature like cycles.

There must be some point in future where people will get all this remakes and will see this with their own eyes.

Then there be demand for innovation and cycle continue.
 
Sequals, re-edits and re-imaginations have been with us for years. They aren't all bad. Sometimes an old game will be resurrected with better features/simulation/stylings. Frequently it will act as the inspiration for something new.

Nothing entirely new is ever created. The next new genre will be standing of the shoulders of the games that came before.
 
@dobablo
I'm not sure how you contribute to the converstaion by wavings your hand and say, it is what it is.

Tolbold makes a very valid point. We look back with rose colored glasses. The biggest 'innovation' in modern gaming has been to rehash old games...

I'm not sure there is actually a solution to the issue, but education (people actually thinking critically about those older games) is as close as I can see to one.



 
@dobablo
I'm not sure how you contribute to the converstaion by wavings your hand and say, it is what it is.

Tolbold makes a very valid point. We look back with rose colored glasses. The biggest 'innovation' in modern gaming has been to rehash old games...

I'm not sure there is actually a solution to the issue, but education (people actually thinking critically about those older games) is as close as I can see to one.



 
Innovation doesn't automatically create good games either. Indeed, excessive praise of innovation is IMO a hallmark of third-rate artists and critics in any field.

Personally I don't agree that the current interest in older games is inappropriate, even in terms of the search for innovation. In the early days, game designers tried the oddest things. The innovations
that worked got cloned, those that didn't got forgotten. I believe there are lots of ideas to be found in these old games.

Also, there are near-forgotten genres such as Populous which are surely overdue for a new look.

Rose-tinted glasses are undoubtedly a problem for many. But even recognising that gameplay in old games was often bad enough that it would make modern brains boggle, there is in my opinion a lot of material to be found there. It will lead to interesting games, even if it disappoints the more nostalgia-influenced Kickstarter patrons (who might do better browsing GOG's catalogue, or emulating The CRPG Addict).
 
If we can't use past good games as a reference point for good, I'm not sure what else we could use. Games that haven't been made yet?-)

A lot of any creative work is derivative. Shoulders of giants and all that. Even new ideas spring from the critical evaluation of the old. And if that was lacking, we'd just be getting ports and HD texture packs. Instead, we get new games that do ride on the coattails of old brands, but they also remove many of the old annoyances and develop the core concepts of their predecessors further. Even if it's not as much as we'd like.
 
Instead, we get new games that do ride on the coattails of old brands, but they also remove many of the old annoyances and develop the core concepts of their predecessors further. Even if it's not as much as we'd like.

As much as we'd like? I've been reading a lot of complaints from players about SimCity which were basically complaining that the game had evolved and developed the core concepts of the predecessors further. They wanted the "old" SimCity back, not this newfangled version.
 
There is very little innovation in anything. All the innovative old games can in some ways be traced back to even older games. As an author I can attest to there being no truly original ideas in novels. It's all just reassembled pieces.

Now, that doesn't mean looking back is necessarily the best idea either. Just remaking older games can limit the game. But being inspired by older games can be the direct cause of innovation.

A designer who has a nostalgic love of an old game can, while wanting to reproduce that experience, use that as a stepping stone to a better experience. If done right, you can look at a old game, and then think about how you can do it different, with the better computers and programming of the day. If you follow that, and don't hamstring yourself by going for to solid of a reproduction, you can get great stuff.
 
unless you can prove that EVERYTHING NEW is better than the old, then you are not able to prove and not capable to imply that people talking about good old days is from nostalgia and not from valid facts that explain why it was better.
 
@Giannis: people have been saying "it was better in the past" since ALWAYS. I'm sure that if I took the time to learn to read hieroglyphs, I would stumble on Egyptians writing how much better things were in the past.....
When you look at "real" indicators (e.g. life expectancy) then it's pretty much clear that things have been improving a lot, even if my mother keeps saying that "it was better in the past, now we all eat crap food and die of cancer....".
 
In a game genre based on time investment in your character that produces advantages, innovation is going to be slow, and people will resist it.

Technology and innovation right now is more concerned with how and where we consume content, and somewhat less with the content itself.

And just how many games do you need? How different can they be?
 
They wanted the "old" SimCity back, not this newfangled version.
I said we as in me and you and probably some of the fellow commenters. Or did you want the old XCOM back as well?
 
I prefer the new XCOM over the old one. Not sure I can say the same about SimCity, the cities seem awfully small.
 
@Helistar I don't think that an example of real life and humanity progress is a good comparison for a video game, but even then I can bring you lot of examples about things that in fact was better in the past..also your mother is right even if exxagerate :) now the majority of food is genetic modification food and I know that because my family and I we work in a farm and we have corns. I can tell you for sure that corns was much better before 10-15 years than it is now. Now we are almost forced to have genetic modification corns in order to stay competitive.

But, as I said is not wise to compare real life with games. Quality of life changes are not always good. In the past I had to go and farm and then craft the poisons for my rogue, now is just a buff I can click. You may swear that is better now but for me this and many other "quality of life" kills immersion. Is like you argue with a player that plays Flight simulator and you try to convince him that Hawx is better because it does not have all this crazy micromanagement and you just fly in the skies.

Believe it or not, many people like the old days in gaming..they like the long trave times, all the micromanagement for their characters, to go and buy/craft arrows, craft their poisons, ground mount instead of flying, e.t.c. and this is not just nostalgia, is a preference.
 
While I don't disagree with your basic premise, I've contributed to a couple of the Kickstarters you mention (Elite and Planescape Torment) and feel I should point out that they are not raising funds for "remakes", but rather for sequels.

Elite: Dangerous aspires to add a lot that wasn't in Elite (multiplayer, for a start), and Torment: Tides of Numenera is explicitly a new and different game which "continues the thematic legacy of Planescape: Torment".

I certainly don't deny that they are trading on nostalgia, though. What else but nostalgia enabled Torment to raise a million dollars in less than a day? Currently sitting at $2.1 million and rising. Seven people have already pledged $10,000 to it.
 
Most of my favorite games (GTA iv, Mass Effect series) have been ones that have been published recently. Sure, they have all been an improvement on a formula or a mechanic, but they are all relatively new and I do not yearn for the old days.

I don't know what innovation is supposed to look like, although bullet time was really cool the first time I played Max Payne.

So I wonder if your complaint isn't with the brand of a game and player expectation. I used Splinter Cell's "mark and execute" and saw some coolness in it, but I did not think that I was playing a Splinter Cell game.
 
Hehe, slightly off topic: I quite liked the old wizardry series and my rawulf character, but I must say the Wizardry Online thingy is awesome. Forgot to thank you for posting about it on your blog (it was a generally negative post I think), now I'm sucked in. :P

Over 50 deaths in and I've yet to permadie with any of my characters. ;)
 
That's interesting. Wiz Online looked awful, but maybe there's a pretty princess under that warty witch!
 
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