Friday, January 28, 2011

If you can't beat em...

Over the years, I've learned to be okay with mimicking features in other games. As a designer, I have a powerful urge to bring something new to the table, but the end user doesn't value originality nearly as much as I do. If something new doesn't feel quite as good as that thing that other game did, the only thing going on in the user's mind is why isn't this as good as that other game?

I love doing something original if I believe I have something special to bring to the table, but I don't believe in originality for originality's sake. And when the thing I try is close but not there, I apply the simple rule of thumb: if you can't beat em, join 'em. The audience is best served when my minimum bar is set at the best there is out there, and there's often a lot to be learned by implementing it.


  1. I used to be a big believer in this philosophy (probably was you that sold me on it), but I think working with Todd messed me up so I can't accept merely imitating something anymore, no matter how successful. It's his idea of the novelty:familiarity ratio, where any visual design needs both novel and familiar elements in order to be widely appealing. So it's not that I have a problem with imitation, but I'm not content to just leave it at that. Wrapping an old mechanic with new visuals can help, but it often doesn't feel like enough to me.

  2. I don't disagree with Todd, actually. I see what Todd describes as both a baseline and a "sweet spot" and "If you can't beat 'em" as handy tool for helping you make the best game you can with the time you have. I don't think making something that is already out there is worthwhile -- you should always bring something to the table -- but almost to Todd's rule, not everything you build need be original, and I find in development that parts of the team will have abnormal fears of being unoriginal, for the small part they touch. The whole of a game is a lot bigger than just concept, just design, or just level-building -- the balance of the whole is best served from what you describe, but it's really okay to duplicate the best in parts. And if you plum run out of time and find yourself in a bind, I really think putting out a solid "been there" is better than a half-assed new.


  3. I totally agree with what you're saying, and I think a bit problem with people who try to attempt "original" in design is they don't include enough of the familiar for the mechanic to pull them in. There are exceptions to this of course, but design is also filled with familiars (the standardized controller being one) these days that provide an easy path into the experience.
    In art the ratio changes depending on the audience, also. For example, young kids and college-aged audiences tend to find very strange things more appealing than people do in the 8-17 range. I think this is part of the reason why there are so many unapproachable student films.