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Default The Curse of Genre @ bit-tech.net

February 16th, 2008, 21:45
Bi-tech.net has posted a column from indie developer Cliff Harris, called The Curse of Genre, discussing how genre limitations can remove surprise, personal style and innovation from games:
Early games were simplistic, horrid to look at and prone to crash without saving at the most annoying moments. Gamers my age often look back on those glory days with very rose-tinted glasses… BUT!

There is something I miss massively about the early days of gaming, and that's the element of surprise, wonder and innovation. These days we have established genres such as FPS, RPG, MMORPG—even Tactical Shooter and RTS. In some ways, this is great, you can tell a lot about how to play a game, and what you will like about it from the genre…But the problem is we have got so used to slotting games into genres we have all but forgotten how cool it was before they existed…
Back then, there literally were no conventions when it came to how to make a game. You picked your subject (Jet packs! Giant ants! Wizards!) and just designed whatever seemed fun. These days it seems the designers pick their genre before they even pick the theme. Right away, at line one, page one of the design document, they throw away 99 percent of the freedom that game designers had in the old days.
He goes on to cite some examples of the flaws in designing by genre:
Publishers will say "You should make a WW2 FPS with online stats tracking. Our statistics show this to be profitable," and that's the end of it. That's the first 99 pages of the design done already. Game design used to be about freedom and creativity. Now it's a matter of designing how long the build queues should be, or deciding just how many crates to have in a corridor. Game design has become safe, timid and predictable.

But let's not have a go at the poor game designers and pretend the gaming public aren't guilty of 'genre-boxing' too. And that includes me. I said earlier I don't like RPG games, and listed genres I like. How many of us turn the page of a review the minute we find it's not in our list of 'approved genres'?
And some conclusions:
When you forget genres and just sit down and think "Let's make a cool game," without any pre-conceptions, then you stand a chance of making something really good. I remember back in my wannabe-rockstar days, I was a big fan of two bass players (Stuart Hamm and Billy Sheehan) who both had very showy and complicated playing styles. Stuart Hamm once said he'd deliberately avoided seeing how the other guy played because if he saw him it would lock him into doing things the same way, and prevent him working out his own style. I think he has a very good point.

I'm not suggesting game designers shouldn't play games, but we shouldn't be thinking purely in terms of existing approaches and genres when we sketch out ideas either.
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February 16th, 2008, 21:45
If the old days of gaming were like he said they were then I would have hated it but it wasn't since even in the 80s games were defined by genre even if it wasn't said right out. (which it usually was) I have always liked RPG's better then any other genre and in the mid-90s I totally abandoned all other genres because I was bored with them.

It was actually even more strict then today with conforming to a genre and there were very few games that mixed genres but today almost every game is some kind of mix of genres.

The stagnation of games these days have nothing to do with genre and everything to do with large corporations being money hungry and not caring about how good a game is and only caring that it sells.
Last edited by guenthar; February 16th, 2008 at 21:51.
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February 17th, 2008, 00:36
It wasn't that there was a lack of genre, so much as that they didn't let genre constrain their imagination. Look at the old Ultimas. Fantasy RPGs, but you can buy a space shuttle and explore space in it. Space Rogue was a space flight sim, but when you landed at a planet or station it turned into a top-down RPG with primitive conversation trees.

It's still like the "old days" in Eastern Europe. Look at Space Rangers 2. It's an "flight sim" that contains RPG and trade wars elements, an RTS (ground battles), and text adventures (prison break).
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February 17th, 2008, 05:21
Where did innovation go? EA sold 29 million copies of sims with all its expansion included. Big companies learned how to professionally milk genres. Innovation = risk is not needed.
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February 17th, 2008, 05:28
His point is about indies, though, zakhal. At least, part of his point is purely about indies.

I find the point a bit asinine. This "no-genre" stuff works for him, and that's great, more power to him, but why is he projecting his personal experience on other people? "Genre" is just a framework we're working in, and it can be very useful as a safety net of design decisions for indie developers. Y'know, so the game is still playable. Narbacular Drop/Portal is as innovative as it gets, yet it still falls back on the FPS and advanture genres. And there's nothing wrong with that.
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February 17th, 2008, 19:40
Originally Posted by Brother None View Post
His point is about indies, though, zakhal. At least, part of his point is purely about indies.

I find the point a bit asinine. This "no-genre" stuff works for him, and that's great, more power to him, but why is he projecting his personal experience on other people? "Genre" is just a framework we're working in, and it can be very useful as a safety net of design decisions for indie developers. Y'know, so the game is still playable. Narbacular Drop/Portal is as innovative as it gets, yet it still falls back on the FPS and advanture genres. And there's nothing wrong with that.
I agree somewhat about him projecting his personal methods a little too strongly, and that genre definitions provide structure for designers and relevance for players. But he does have a point about the expectations bit. This is just another way of stating the old 'think outside the box' argument, and that has some validity when you're trying to do something original.

Where there's smoke, there's mirrors.
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February 17th, 2008, 20:06
My take from this is that the author wishes publishers weren't so familiar with PC games. He's saying it was better when they understood less. That may seem odd, but he has a point.

Most investment bankers aren't able to always understand and appreciate some of the technical businesses they're evaluating, so they always have team members on board who can. Typically they're young MBAs with engineering undergraduate degrees.

The thing is, not even everyone with an MBA and an engineering degree is capable of doing that. It takes a special breed. So the author may be absolutely right that the publishers he's dealing with are stuck and only thinking in simple terms.

The author might consider hiring a consultant who can help him express his technical and business ideas to publishers.

Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on. But it don't snow here. It stays pretty green. I'm going to make a lot of money, then I'm going to quit this crazy scene. — [Joni Mitchell]
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