Evolutionary vs. Revolutionary Game Design - comradekoch Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Evolutionary vs. Revolutionary Game Design

While watching the latest Halo 4 ViDoc, my roommate and I were caught off guard by one of the developer's statements, a statement that really made me stop and think.

Towards the end of the video 343 Industries team member and Halo 4 narrative director Armando Troisi discussed the design philosophy behind Halo 4:

"We're incrementally evolving different aspects of the game design, but there is nothing really revolutionary, and I think that's important because I think really good game design is evolutionary, not revolutionary."

"There is nothing really revolutionary," in particular struck me as incredibly odd. How many times have we heard game developers or publishers spout on and on about innovation and revolutionary game mechanics that will be featured in their next big game? In actuality, there usually is absolutely nothing revolutionary about them. Innovation has become a public relations buzz word and for somebody to flat out say that their game isn't at all revolutionary was quite a shock.

Is evolutionary game design really better than revolutionary though? Financially it seems to be. One only has to look at Call of Duty or even the Halo franchise itself to see the benefits of evolutionary game design. Every new Call of Duty game over the past three or four years has been a slight improvement of the previous entry in the series, and each in turn receives lavish reviews from the gaming press. While one of the franchise's biggest criticisms is the lack of innovation from one game to the next, nothing seems to change, in terms of the game themselves or their huge financial success. As the old saying goes, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Without a doubt evolutionary design is the safe route to go for game developers and publishers. But can revolutionary design be successful as well and is it really needed at all? I would argue yes to both, especially the latter. 

Revolutions are part of human nature. We see them on the news every day, people tired of the same old same old who want something fresh or just simply think they can do things better. Governments are toppled, assumptions are destroyed, and something new takes the place of the old. This isn't always a good thing. Revolution, by its very nature, is a dangerous and difficult business. Coming up with a radical new idea, whether it is a new way to play video games or a new way to govern an entire nation, is hard in and of itself. It's even more difficult to put all the pieces together and make that idea become a reality. Even then success isn't guaranteed. The risk of failure is high. Countless government regimes have been toppled in the name of something new and better, only for the new government to be more of the same or even worse than the previous incarnation. However, every once in a while something truly extraordinary happens. A new idea takes hold and it changes the status quo forever.

Nintendo knows this perhaps more than any other video game company. They have a history of revolutionary design, and their track record displays the risks and rewards of such thinking. The Virtual Boy, released in 1995, was a huge failure for Nintendo, despite the system's innovations. The Gameboy on the other hand was a huge success, and set the standard of an entirely new market of the game industry. All these successes and failures led up to the latest revolution in gaming -- the Wii.

The Wii was, and still is, a revolution in game design. Its codename was "Revolution" after all. Many gamers instantly were intrigued by the idea of motion control gaming. Many others felt it was simply a cheap gimmick. No matter what your opinion on the Wii, it cannot be debated that the Wii revolutionized the game industry. It can only be argued to what extent.

Nintendo took a huge financial risk with the Wii. It was not a sure thing, and many expected it to fail. In reality, the exact opposite happened. The Wii went on to massive financial success. Motion control, for whatever reason, struck a chord with gamers and non-gamers alike. The ultimate proof of the success of Nintendo's motion revolution is that their top competitors, Microsoft and Sony, not only copied from Nintendo's playbook but evolved motion controls a step further than the Wii with the Microsoft Kinect and PlayStation Move.

Halo 4 narrative director Armando Troisi

Getting back to Troisi's statement, good game design can be revolutionary and not just evolutionary. Is revolutionary the safe way to go? Not at all, but the fact of the matter is this -- the video game industry as a whole needs both revolutionary and evolutionary game design to keep moving forward. One game can't be both, and one method of thinking can't live without the other.

For evolutionary game design to work there must first be a revolution in game design. If evolution is the goal, revolution is the starting point. While successful revolutions are rare, they are incredibly important. Without innovation the video game industry would stagnate and could possibly collapse, much as it did in the late 1970's, in part because of the lack of game innovation. The industry can't forget that every once in a while the status quo needs to be upset, that brand new ideas and ways to play are just as important as including one new weapon or game mode in Halo 5 that didn't appear in Halo 4.

What do you guys think?

 

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