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So... why make new games?
by Chris Hawke

A few days ago, I was playing Mafia II on my PS3. Cruisin' the streets of Empire Bay in my yellow convertible, swinging round tiled bends at 80 miles-per-hour - the usual. Then my brother walked past, and he said something quite odd.

After watching me drift and slide around in 1950 for a minute, he asked "so, this is basically GTA?" Hah. I rolled my eyes, threw my head back, let out a patronising laugh. How little he knows, I thought to myself, and quickly prepared a list of features separating the two games.

"Well, for starters, it's set in the 50s. It's got old-timey cars and weapons. You're part of the mafia-"

"Yeah, it's 1950s, but - isn't that the only real difference?" said he.

I was taken aback. Could he not see the subtle change in the camera angle, hear the Frank Sinatra bursting from the radio, notice the difference in colour scheme and atmosphere? Rather than turning the situation into a yelling match, I decided to hand him the Dualshock and let him feel the handling of the cars, as an example.

"Okay. But that doesn't matter, does it? So, it slides a bit more - it's still basically GTA".

A quick history lesson: my brother isn't a gamer. And I say 'gamer' with that same tone of voice that we all use to hint that we're part of a higher plain of society, a group of people who don't just play, but who appreciate games. When it boils down to it, the facts are these: he doesn't follow upcoming releases much, he can't tell his Dark Sector from his Resident Evil, and he doesn't clock 12 hours per day. That's not to say he's at a total loss, as he was basically the guy who introduced me to gaming: it was with his tatty PS1 that I got to experience Metal Gear Solid, Lara Croft, Destruction Derby and all those other classics. He knows enough to comment on how Rockstar are always brilliant, but he usually prefers to spend a fleeting hour or so on Modern Warfare 2 than discussing the pros and cons of DLC content.

Point is - he knows what he likes and why he likes it, and mostly he prefers the 'good old days'. And Football Manager. So it got quite infuriating to have my claims about Rockstar's use of the Euphoria engine separating the two titles rebuked. "If GTA already has that open-world stuff covered, and millions of people love it, why would you play another version just because of the timeframe? It still has missions, cars, guns, police, radio - even the radar is in the exact same style and place. Why create a whole new game that's the same?". Then, he walked off. And I began to think.

Now, I know exactly what you're thinking, and I thought of that straight away. Sure, the physics may not be as good, and the world not as lively, but it's still good in its own right - it has a special feel, its own identity. You wouldn't say a ham sandwich tastes the same as a ham and Mayo sandwich - it's mostly the same stuff, but that slight change makes the whole thing better, and different, and unique. Mafia II might have some things worse, but it has some things better, and has it's own flavour. Mafia II has mayonnaise.

If people stopped when an apparent 'best' came along, we'd have stopped long before classics like Modern Warfare, Half Life 2 or Grand Theft Auto came along. You could choose to view each game in a genre as an experiment; a trial-and-error approach to, one day, find the perfect game. Sure, there'll be copycats and misfires, but the more you try, the more likely it is that one game will come up with 'revolutionary' features that eventually become the norm, meaning games get better each release. Games are essentially a big mixing-pot of ideas: if something works, then the industry should use it.

Like mayonnaise.

But then, get this. In GTA IV, you play a young male who used to serve in an army. In the game, there is a main plot, in which players play missions in order to progress and finish. You can drive cars, walk around, eat to restore a health bar, buy new weapons, shoot anybody, get chased by the police in 5 different levels of heat, before saving at a safehouse. Now, describe Mafia II.

The same, right? Yeah, it's in the 50s, it looks different, the AI and missions are altered, but does it really matter whether it's Johnny Ace or Justice on the soundtrack? The similarities are staggering. My brother wasn't suggesting that publishers should avoid making another game in a genre when an outstanding title appears; he was questioning the slew of copycat sandbox, shooter and driver titles that fill websites with sixes and sevens each year. Basically, don't make a poor-man's version with a tiny USP: do something unique.

And that's quite a statement. Could you imagine it? A world in which every new release brings something new to the table, where each game is innovative and different. No more Call-of-Duty-Clones or Half-Life-a-likes, but every single release touting a totally new twist on the formula. Wouldn't it be...


"When 20 million people know where the jump button is, you don't change it." The words of John Carmack. That's exactly it - we love the same stuff. We love feeling safe and comfortable in our recognisable control schemes or looking over the same shoulder each game. Why the hell crave constant innovation and identity when you can jump headfirst into a game like Singularity? You already know the buttons, the enemies, the gun and probably the ending, but that doesn't take away the fact it's fun to play. It may not have the same punch as Modern Warfare, but there's nothing like slo-mo bashing the face off a mutant under the steel eyes of Stalin. Let the innovative innovate, and let the revolutionaries revolutionise; in the mean time, we're pretty much content to play the same basic shooter, all with their slight unique twists and takes on the genre.

New games are made because, as great as GTA IV was, some fella out there might have thought "Hey - wouldn't this be better in the 50s?", so he gets Mafia II. And maybe a few of us playing CoD thought "Hey - would this be better with a few extra Hammer & Sickles?", so we get Singularity. Sure, there are the copycats and failures, but having a totally new blend each title means impossible learning curves, experimental titles everywhere, and if everyone loved Half Life 2 so much, it must be doing something right! So take that base, add a dash of something new and interesting, and you've got a game.

After all, if twenty million people know where the jump button is, they probably like it there - there's no point in changing it for the sake of being different.

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- Chris Hawke

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