Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

16 December, 2006

Weekend Design Challenge: Innovative games
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 10:37 PM

A short but deep challenge this week:

What is one of the most innovative console games from the last 2 years? What is one of the least innovative console games during the last 2 years? Focus on console games, if you will. But, if you’re not a console gamer a PC game is fine. Give your rationale for your choices. Pick at least one, but you can go up to 5.

My choices are after the break.

One of the most innovative games, in my opinion, is probably Brain Age. This type of game isn’t 100% original, but the marketing toward older players was brilliant. This spawned a lot of other games that followed in the same mold. I also think Guitar Hero was pretty cool. One could argue that this type of game has been done, either as other rhythm games (DDR or Samba de Amigo) or even as Guitar Freaks (although it was mostly available in Japan). But, the combination of the this type of gameplay with American (and U.K.) rock songs was a brilliant stroke. Konami obviously missed the boat by not bringing over something similar given the popularity of DDR.

For least innovative, I’ll have to bag on poor old Madden. It’s the classic example of just improving a few things while updating stats. To be fair, they have tried to do some new things such as the first-person camera, but there’s a reason why the game can come out once a year when the normal development cycle for a game is about 2 years.

So, what’s your thoughts? What’s innovative and what is just too derivative?


  1. I’m with Stropp on all counts. I’m not an avid console gamer, though I have a feeling that’s changing after xmas :) I’ve had the pleasure of spending a few evenings with Guitar Hero, yet somewhat hesitant to call it a pure innovation. If you’ve stepped into a video arcade in the last two years, you would’ve seen an array of different controllers and input systems (DDR, drums, guitars, etc.). I suppose it’s an innovation by bringing that level of gaming into the home and wrapping it up as beautifully as they’ve done.

    On the Nintendo side of things, they’ve always been synonymous with the ‘party game’ genre. With the Wii, they’ve codified it. I’ve never seen controllers like those, and they’re generic enough to adapt to a huge array of games. No one has done this before, so in other words they’ve innovated.

    Least innovative? shrug. Ars Technica examined the Xenon/Cell architectures in-depth, and noted an interesting conclusion about them : both emphasize their write-streaming capability in totality, to the detriment of code that is highly dynamic (ie. branch heavy) and dependant on cache real estate. That stuff is left up to the compiler (for the VLIWness of the instruction set) and the deftness of the programmer themselves. If cinematic gaming gets this kind of boost from the platform itself, it seems clear that innovative eye-candy is where we’ll see Xbox and Cell games in the next era. Although very sexy and appealing, I wonder if developers will be a little hard-pressed to innovate away from the cinematics and into A.I., dynamic environments and so forth.

    Case in point. I heard someone call the 360′s ‘Dead Rising’ an innovative game due to the sheer amount of zombies on the screen. But I’m troubled by that for two reasons : one, zombies are easy to do programmatically because, well, they’re zombies! And two, if you replaced all of the game elements with ASCII symbols (taking away their cinematic effectiveness), how much gameplay innovation are you left with?

    Don’t even get me started on the console shooters that we’ve seen in the past few years.

    Comment by covert.c. — 17 December, 2006 @ 6:51 PM

  2. covert.c wrote:
    I’ve had the pleasure of spending a few evenings with Guitar Hero, yet somewhat hesitant to call it a pure innovation.

    “Innovation” is definitely one of those “I know it when I see it” types of things. No, Guitar Hero isn’t pure innovation, but almost nothing is. As I said, other games have done the general type, even the specific type of game before. But, putting it together with more traditional rock songs and being able to make a decent controller for home use was amazing. They did a good thing, even if they didn’t create the universe from scratch in order to be 100% original. ;)

    Your other comments are also very interesting. We’ll see how that turns out in the long run, I guess.

    Comment by Psychochild — 17 December, 2006 @ 9:05 PM

  3. Part of me is screaming to mention Beyond Good and Evil, but that game was more of an amazing hybrid of genres then innovation, and might just be older then two year besides. Still be PS2 game to date imo

    Now that I’ve got that plug out of the way, I’m going to have to go with Shadow of the Colossus. The game whilst somewhat repetitive, down a titan, horse travel to temple, find and down another titan, return to temple, rinse, repeat. That being said, the living puzzles that were the titans gave me a rush I’ve never had in any “here’s a room, get to the exit” type puzzle/platform games, downing a single titan instantly addicted me and I had to just keep on playing. A level and a boss all rolled into one. Between the titan killing, the horse riding in and of itself made the game worthwhile as well, not simple push forward to go forward, it felt somehow real ,organic.

    For a second game, I’ll stick with the same people of Shadow of the Colossus, Ico. An other wise normal puzzle/get to the other side of the room game made brilliant by having to lead a helpless girl by the hand. Again, like the horse riding in Shadow of the Colossus, it felt organic, natural, an extension of the character I controlled.

    Both games also had a very zen, relaxing quality. Whilst there was combat, and whilst one needed to be fast on the controls, it was always relaxing for some reason. I was always completely laid back. This in stark contrast to my normal slightly stressed button smashing in other platform/room puzzle games ala Prince of Persia or Tomb Raider. I can’t really put my finger on it, but yeah, I’ll go with zen, both those games came out of nowhere (I picked them up on a lark without reading any prior reviews) and completely blew me away with the gameplay.

    As for the least innovative, I can’t really say, limited budget sees me rent games before purchase, weeds out a lot of rubbish. Killzone really peeved me story wise, a lot of the cinematic/story were taken from some of the more dramatic events of our history, and as opposed to immersing me into the story, it had the exact opposite effect, laying it on to thick. Not sure if that’s lack of innovation or innovation gone wrong but hey.

    Oh yeah, what Stropp said on psyconautes.

    Comment by unbeliever — 18 December, 2006 @ 4:56 AM

  4. On my innovative list: Okami (Ps2) for art and game mechanics, Viva Pinata for breathing life into the sandbox-farm formula.

    Sort of innovative: Gears of War in terms of movement in gunfights, Prey with it’s use of non-linear geometry, Kameo with it’s elemental character design (mostly wasted by simplicity of it’s puzzles)

    Good Karma: BFME2 for trying to be a console RTS. (Though goblin commander a few years back was a great xbox title to play through)

    Everything else console, i either didn’t play this year or it’s just the same old stuff, or i forgot it was innovative

    Comment by Jpoku — 18 December, 2006 @ 7:08 AM

  5. Marble Blast.

    Comment by Cael — 19 December, 2006 @ 9:40 AM

  6. Homework on Innovative Games

    [...] Psychochild’s homework assignment this week concerned innovative games: What is one of the most innovative console games from the last 2 years? What is one of the least innovative console games during the last 2 years? Focus on console games, if you will. But, if you’re not a console gamer a PC game is fine. Give your rationale for your choices. Pick at least one, but you can go up to 5. [...]

    Pingback by MMOG Nation — 19 December, 2006 @ 12:52 PM

  7. Least innovative console games of the last couple of years? Well, I hate to play oneasy-mode, but EA’s Madden 06 for the 360 was amazing in that respect: it actually managed to contain *less* features than the other formats, and than the revious version (challenging plays, for instance, was gone).

    Project Gotham 3 was another franchise that just cut back on what had been there before. Admittedly it added track design, but that’s pretty old news now. The photo stuff was all very nice, but nobody used it after the “heh” bit. Basically, they got rid of interesting tracks and fun, party-suitable low-end cars.

    Almost all of the launch titles for the PSP (Lumines aside) were low quality retreads. Unbelievably poor stuff, even allowing for the difficulty of innovating with launch titles.

    And for a bit of controversy: Halo 2. The Emperor has no clothes. It was an FPS. A good FPS, but nothing amazing. Halo got there first. Meh.

    On the innovative side, I’ll intentionally try and make it a little harder by not mentioning a list of DS games. Or Wii Sports, which are cracking fun. Sadly, I have to agree with unbeliever: Shadow of the Colossus, while not terribly good fun after a while, was at least trying something different. I’m another who thinks that Katamari Damacy looked different and fun, but I never tried it, so can’t really comment.

    Comment by Endie — 21 December, 2006 @ 9:19 AM

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