Has Gaming Innovation Stopped Completely? [Opinion]

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gaming innovationsThe last major innovation to be seen in the world of gaming was the WiiMote motion controller, first available in 2006. It set the scene for the current generation, but has since been overshadowed by the technically superior Xbox Kinect. But 6 years on I have to ask – is that it? Are we done with innovation now? Were motion controllers really the last word, and now we can just go back to meanless iterations of increasingly more powerful GPUs and cell shaders? That makes me sad, and the most recent Playstation 4 reveal has done nothing to abate my fears.

After much fanfare and announcements of announcements of announcements, Sony finally gave the world a glimpse at their vision for the Playstation 4 (or rather – we glimpsed the idea of the Playstation 4, because they didn’t have an actual device to show). Like the rest of the the gaming world I had waited on the edge of my sofa, but after the full nauseating 2 hours had elapsed, I was at a complete loss for words (not that you would think that, reading this). Ideas cherry picked from existing devices, plus some silly gimmicks – is this what’s to come for the next generation?

gaming innovations The above screen is NOT the PS4. But it is a pretty render of what one might be, from here.

Second Screen Play

Second screen gaming is being pushed heavily in PS4, and is certainly original – if you discount the derisible Wii U touch screen controller, and the rather poorly implemented SmartGlass app for the Xbox 360 – that is. It hasn’t worked for them, so what is Sony thinking? It’s not like the PSVita has a huge install base to integrate with. They’re planning tablet apps too, but how are you supposed to switch from using that elaborate multi-button controller to the touchscreen?

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Why has second screen play been so unsuccessful so far? That seems kind of obvious to me. It only works at home, partially because that’s the only place you’ll have a decent WiFi connection; and if you’re at home, you’d want to play on the big screen. The only possible time you’d want to play on a second screen is during a lengthy session sitting on the loo, and I just don’t think that’s an awfully good marketing strategy.

game innovation

A Radically Innovative New Controller

A mini-touchscreen on the controller? Really? That sounds suspiciously like an amalgamation of the monstrous Wii U and the old Dreamcast VMU. Neither of which proved to be particularly useful. Do gamers really want the annoyance of having to look down at their controller whilst transfixed to the 50″ HDTV screen in front of them? I bet that really helps the feeling of immersion. Controllers shouldn’t be the focus of anything; they should be invisible to the gamer. 

game innovation

And let’s not forget the colored LED that “helps to identify the player”, similar to their existing Move controller – I just hope they’re not proposing we start waggling the main controller around too. Alas, the Move controller is not dead yet it seems, as Media Molecule took to the stage to demonstrate its use in helping you “realize your dreams”. Sadly, it came across as a kind of Rock Band for kids with muscular dystrophy (video link; skip halfway through and prepare to either LOL or cringe).

gaming innovations

Perhaps I’m just a cynical old man, but this trend of increasingly complex combinations of screens, different shaped plastic controllers, and color changing LEDs just doesn’t equate to innovation for me.

So, we’re officially done with innovation then?

So far we’ve only seen the next generation offerings from Japan; both Sony and Nintendo hail from the land of the rising sun. As a generalization, I think it’s fair to say that Japanese companies are fantastic at taking something and improving on it; but don’t ask for anything creative or original. Please don’t take that as a racist slur – I truly love Japan, and having spent 6 years teaching in a variety of school levels, I can tell you that the lack of creativity is almost institutionalized from a young age – I was constantly told that even the shortest of creative writing would be impossible for my students.

Microsoft on the other hand – listen carefully, because this is one of the rare moments I’ll actually compliment Microsoft – has managed to pique my interest with their fully immersive room environment, IllumiRoom.

Now, whether or not this is an actual feature of the next generation console or just another tech demo that amounts to nothing, there’s no denying it is exciting. It does give me hope that innovation hasn’t vanished entirely from gaming. It doesn’t mess with the controller – which isn’t really broken - but it does concentrate on the gamer’s experience. How can we make the gamer truly feel like a part of the game? Do something with their peripheral vision!

But this discussion wouldn’t be complete without talking about the immersive possibilities brought to the gaming table by the Oculus Rift. The virtual reality headset is an affordable way to bring true immersion in a gaming environment, and it’s clear to me that greater immersion is the future now. My developer kit is arriving soon, and  really can’t stop myself from squealing like a little girl. It’s going to be that awesome.

Games of the future will not be played on a tiny second screen or even a big HDTV screen; there won’t be any screen at all. Just the world, laid out in front of you. This is innovation, this is what excites me. If I see another touchscreen pointlessly integrated into another device, I’m going to explode in a fit of WiiMote waggle madness.

What do you think? Do you see any other gaming innovations? Am I being too harsh on the Playstation 4?

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11 Comments - Write a Comment

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Alex Downs

“Has Gaming Innovation Stopped Completely?” For Call of Duty and Madden it has :D

Muo TechGuy

Heh, I don’t know about Madden, but the new “Pick 10″ system in COD hardly seemed to warrant a new game be made. I still bought it, of course…

Lisa Santika Onggrid

And for a lot of other franchises. Original titles are rare nowadays.

Alex Downs

New IPs and Original titles are rare yes. I’d say franchises like Tome Raider are pretty innovative now. The new game looks really innovative, while not technologically, still innovative, so I’d say that’s innovation in itself. Also, I’d be pretty hypocritical not to mention the Super Mario franchise for a very minimalist look at innovation.

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Hekutoru

I have to disagree with the “technically superior” Kinect and all the hype about the “exciting” “experience” of IllumiRoom which i personally consider pointless.
“Do something with their peripheral vision!” Remember the Virtual Boy?

The Wii U Gamepad is also a camera, a microphone, a tablet and a remote.
But you consider it “monstrous” and “unsuccessful” already? After only 3 months?
Even being an advanced controller with so many INNOVATING possibilities??

Just another opinion ;)

Muo TechGuy

I don’t think bringing Virtual Boy to any argument is fair. It’s like saying that current 3D technology sucks because the 3d effect of red/blue glasses were not very good. Technology advances, becomes more viable, and gets good in the process. You don’t dismiss mobile computing because you would have had to carry a literal ton of computing around 20 years ago.

I consider the Wii U gamepad to be a cheap plastic imitation of the iPad, but one which is entirely un-compelling in a gaming context. The first 3 months have shown abysmal sales, but only time will truly tell. It’s all very well talking about innovating possibilities, but none are yet to be realised. There are uses for a second screen certainly; I use my iPad to queue up songs for Karaoke Channel and Dance Central on the 360 without interrupting the party – but again, I use my ipad for that (or phone, or computer, or laptop) – devices which are multipurpose and not limited to just the Wii.

I truly believe the future is in greater immersion, though it may take until direct brain interfaces to convince you, and thats fine too. The Oculus Rift and Illumiroom are but the first baby steps to true immersion, but they are at least progress, and not simple regurgitation of devices already made.

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Lisa Santika Onggrid

When you said Japan lack creativity, I wanted to disagree because they create a lot of things, some of them great and some others so bizarre words aren’t enough to describe them, but on the second thought you’re right. They’re mostly innovations, not exactly original.
That aside, I’m waiting for the day NerveGear exists. For our mind to be completely in the game world, able to move our body in virtual environment without moving a finger in real life, that sounds interesting indeed.

Muo TechGuy

Speaking of which, my own Nerve Gear / Oculus Rift developer kit will be arriving very soon!

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Yannis Vatis

I have to say that when Sony said we would get a “glimpse of the future” I was really excited. But their idea of future, so far, is not in alignment with my own. Like yourself, I expected a machine that will immerse me into the game in the VR or similar sense. All I could hear was “social, sharing, etc. etc.” I think it’s cool to be able to share your gaming shenanigans and experiences with people as easily as possible but this far into the game it’s actually a standard, not something new.

The Gaikai system was the only thing that caught my attention but honestly it’s like saying “we went from DVD to Blu Ray to digital downloads”. Also, this system may or may not work great in countries where broadband is quite solid, e.g US, UK and Japan. Even in the US there are areas that have bad access and slow speeds.

It’s also great that they finally decided that memory matters and gave it a decent amount of that. But then they said that Killzone will run at 30 fps. :-?

There are two core differences that consoles always had in their favour over PCs. One is the fact that you could just buy a game and play it. No settings tuning, no need to upgrade, no nothing. For people who lead busy lives or just don’t want hassles in their entertainment this is a big deal. Secondly, cost. A solid gaming rig that will give u the same “insert and play” experience will cost more than a console. If I wanted to play Skyrim, I could get it on PS3. Sure it might be inferior to the PC version but that is mostly graphics-wise.

The only real way for consoles to survive is to bring about something truly groundbreaking. People bought the Wii because it was different. It may have ended up as a novelty because it did not translate precise movements on screen but it was something new. Nobody made any solid attempts to keep making it better and better until we achieve the end goal of a more immersive way of interacting with our games.

Or maybe the innovation can be elsewhere, such as creative use of mobile devices. I think it would be great if I could do interesting things on a tablet/handheld/smartphone that will expand my experience with the games I’m playing. Off-the-top-of-my-head application: In DMC I have a version on my smartphone that’s a 2D side-scrolling slash-em-up where I can just mash a couple of buttons and defeat waves of enemies. This could unlock some cosmetic goodies in the main game on my home console, like costumes, weapon skins, etc. So I don’t need to do the less significant things during my main game time. It doesn’t even need to be the most sophisticated side game ever. Look at how much games like Temple Run and Angry Birds keep you coming back for more and they are perfect for even a short commute.

For what it might be worth, as a gamer who used to buy a new console within the first 3-4 months of release, I’m going to hold out for a year or two before I make a decision. I have a very big backlog of games that I want to play on PS3 and I recently acquired a 3DS so I’ve got games to keep me occupied for quite awhile. I’m not ripping on Sony out of immature internet hate or what have you. I’m genuinely concerned about the current market state.

On a side note, I would like to hear about your experience with the Oculus Rift. This project has drawn my attention quite a bit but I can’t justify buying a developer kit since I can’t develop myself. But if you tell me I could use it to make my WoW that much more addictive, who knows what I might do… *wink* “nudge* *receives divorce papers through in-game mail*

Muo TechGuy

Gya, you should have had a registered account so I could throw some points your way!

The only point I would disagree on is that “consoles need to offer something groundbreaking in order to survive”. I would argue that the success of the Xbox 360 has been in bringing a lot of non-game features to living room and basically becoming a super-powered media center, and this is probably going to be a basic requirement of all consoles moving forward. I think there was some stats that said more time is actually spent on Netflix for 360 than in actual games. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I do wish they’d concentrate on the gaming side a little more instead of just iterating the same things.

I will most certainly be posting about the Oculus when it comes later this month (hopefully). And can almost guarantee we’ll do a full review and giveaway of the consumer device when that arrives next year/later this year. I’m a little confused about compatibility myself – I think it’ll only work with custom games and Doom, but I’m not sure why it would be so difficult to tap into the Direct 3D output like say NVidia 3D systems do, for compatibility with any games. That may be a feature of the consumer unit, but perhaps unlike for the developer kit. Still, once it’s in the hands of hackers, anything is up for grabs!

Yannis Vatis

You do have a point there regarding the non-gaming functionalities of consoles. That part did indeed sound appealing to me about the PS3 when I first bought it. Like you said, though, the gaming side is what is suppose to appeal to me as a consumer primarily. Why should I get a console for $300+ just because it has the media capabilities when I can get an AppleTV for $99 (or any of the other cheaper options out there)? That’s where the argument turns around to the gaming subject and it is the console’s main purpose.

I know I’m a bit (okay, very) harsh with my judgment but at this point I’m expecting something out of consoles that will a) have a solid catalog of games from various genres and b) make me say “I can’t get this experience anywhere else”.

The Kinect sounds like that kind of idea. I’m musing about picking up an Xbox but I don’t know if it’s worth it at this point. Regardless, though, I want to see that idea expanded upon and developers putting actual thought into making truly amazing games for it.

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