TotalRoundTable: The Cult of Originality

Facebook, motion controls, and modern warfare. Oh my!
Author: Marc N. Kleinhenz
Published: August 30, 2010
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With the banner year of 2007 came a groundswell of original titles telling original stories in original ways, from Portal to Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. But what does the future and the past have to say on the matter of ingenuity in gaming? And will the next generation of interactive experiences emerge from last- or, even, other-gen platforms?

Marc Kleinhenz and Sir Gordon Wheelmeier return to the round table to discuss and ponder and portend, joined by fellow TPSer Ryan Green who sits in for the mysteriously absent Sam Bishop and guest of honor Rus McLaughlin, of IGN fame (and acclaim).

Marc N. Kleinhenz, features editor:

I find myself, for some reason, growing increasingly nostalgic for the late, great year of 2007.

Portal. Mass Effect. Call of Duty 4. Assassin's Creed. Halo 3. Super Mario Galaxy. Rock Band. Uncharted. Even Guitar Hero III, which has been and, it looks like, will always be my favorite in the rhythm genre. What a year.

But, beyond a doubt, the single title that most impressed and immersed and moved me was BioShock. For me, as a console player, it was such a new and narratively dense experience, it immediately shot to the coveted most-enjoyable-original title for this generation, following Eternal Darkness from the 128-bit generation (close second place: Katamari Damacy) and Metal Gear Solid from the generation before that (second place: Resident Evil).

I don't know whether any game on the horizon can topple it although Dead Space, from the distant year of '08, came close in many ways especially with all this motion control nonsense quickly creeping up.

What say you? For your money, what has been the most original title in days and years past? And by how much will Portal 2 kick everyone else's ass?

Sir Gordon Wheelmeier, gaming guru:

This is an incredibly tricky question, one that could be interpreted a number of ways. In terms of pure originality, taken straight from the Webster's meaning of the word, the obvious games of ol' stand out Catacombs 3D, the original John Madden Football, Populous... These were games that followed no rules and set the standard for years, and even decades, to follow.

If we're talking modern-day systems, then it gets much harder, as games have been evolving, but not necessarily revolutionizing, for some time now. The big difference is that completely new titles these days often stay singular in effort that is, a new franchise might begin, and it might have some bits of competition, but you don't often see one breakthrough, original idea completely revamp the industry anymore.

Your Katamari example is a good one, as is WarioWare, Inc. These titles have become solid IPs for their publishers, but they haven't begat new genres.

Perhaps one could argue that the most important title of the modern day is EverQuest, simply because it lead the way for World of Warcraft. It was an obvious extension from MUDs, and it wasn't the first 3D MMO, but it lead to the game that has turned more non-gamers into true, hardcore players (even if just in the singular-game sense) than anything outside of perhaps Pac-Man.

Rus McLaughlin, IGN columnist:

"Original" is, indeed, a pretty loaded word. What BioShock did was seamlessly weld story and theme to fun (but not very original) gameplay, so that each element informed the others. Interacting with those events, making those choices, affected the player directly on a visceral, even emotional level. That made the whole experience feel new. I wouldn't have any problem putting Portal, Shadow of the Colossus, or Limbo in a similar category, but novels, movies, and television have successfully played on peoples' emotions for decades. BioShock simply ported those mediums' tricks to gaming, albeit brilliantly.

In terms of originality of gameplay, there's a special place in my black heart for Robot Alchemic Drive, a nearly-forgotten, totally cheeseball title made by and for serious 70s otaku. R.A.D. (yes...) cast you as a teenage Japanese hero remote-controlling your giant robot against the alien menace. Meaning you had to get your avatar into a position to oversee the fight the robot's shoulder, say, or a nearby rooftop then hit Select to switch your PS2 controller into the avatar's robot controller. Triggers and shoulder buttons worked the legs, analog sticks were used to wind up and throw your rock 'em-sock 'em robot punches. If you lost sight of the battle, you had to hustle to get eyes-on again before the enemy pummeled your 'bot into scrap.

Now that's a control scheme I haven't seen before or since. Possibly because it wouldn't work so well for Halo or Infamous.
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