Innovating in video games is a double-edged sword, one capable of killing your enemies, but also likely to swing back and take your own head off. When publishers try something new, sometimes it pays off (Portal, WarioWare, LittleBigPlanet) and other times it bites them on the ass and stems the flow of creativity (Mirror’s Edge, GTA: Chinatown Wars).
But even in these…wait for it…dire economic times, the Big 3 are still trying to innovate and find new ways to entertain and get some of that cash money everybody’s always clamoring about. Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony have all brought great ideas to the forefront this generation and with Move, Natal, 3-D gaming and whatever the hell that Wii Vitality Sensor is, they continue to forge new ground.
Nintendo is the most obvious: motion controls and touch screen. Now before you get your panties in a bunch, let’s be realistic: the Wii has brought tons of new gamers into the fold and while most are content to play Wii Sports and Wii Play as if a nuclear holocaust has occurred and those are the only two games to survive (the horror, the horror!), some of those gamers will branch out and see what the big kerfuffle is with the PS3 and 360.
And when it comes to the DS, which I maintain is one of the best platforms ever, Nintendo has blown them all away. The DS outsells every other platform each and every week and people love them, kids and adults alike. Just this month, a new Pokemon game came out, so just try to imagine the money Nintendo is bringing ing. But more than that, think of the games for the DS, like Professor Layton and Hotel Dusk, games that are vastly enhanced by the innovative features of the DS. Taking those ideas into the future with whatever some genuis in the lab thinks of next will only serve to make games more fun for the rest of us.
Microsoft hasn’t been too shabby in their innovation, either. The most obvious aspect to point at is Xbox Live. The gaming online mecca has transformed the entire industry with its features, my favorite being party chat. There is something lovely about being able to throw up a wall around the mindless masses and just talk to the cool people in the world. Sony needs to get off their ass and add this, stat.
Not only the gaming aspect, but the Marketplace is also something Microsoft needs to be applauded for. I love that every game that can be downloaded has a demo and I think the other members of the Big 3 need to follow suit. It’s not a coincidence that sales of a game go up after a demo is released and some of these downloadable games are a complete mystery upon release, so having a chance to play them really serves to help the consumer. One final note is the Independent Games area: this is a fantastic idea and it really helps foster people who love games to try it for themselves and gives me a possible outlet to get their work out there. Less zombies, though, please, ok?
Finally, Sony, the lumbering giant at times this generation, has managed to innovate in the most traditional way possible: through games. LittleBigPlanet for example, while at first glance is a very solid platformer, is actually the home for one of the most fervent and creative online communities I have ever seen. Don’t believe me? Go check it out sometime. The incredible levels that are still being designed, a year and a half after its release are astounding. My fiancee, who cares not a whit for gaming, played a Christmas themed level back in December and she was blown away by the fact some guy, sitting in his home, made such a fun and beautiful level. It really has to be seen to be believed.
The other game that Sony nurtured and took a giant risk on is Heavy Rain. While the core gameplay is reminiscent of adventure games and Indigo Prophecy set the template for it, nothing quite like this has ever been done. The fact that it was executed so well is truly a staggering achievement (Achievement Unlocked: Peter Molyneux Award for Excessive Hyperbole in an Article). The purpose of the game is to make you feel some sort of emotional response and the game accomplishes that through its unorthodox control scheme and the situations it puts you in. Taking a big risk on something like this and having it pay off is good for all gamers.
Eddy pointed out something else that Sony is doing well: connectivity with their handheld, the PSP. Nintendo tried this with the GameCube and the Game Boy Advance, but it was too cumbersome and expensive. With the PSP, you can download a PS1 classic, like Final Fantasy VII or Metal Gear Solid and play it normally. You then can upload it back to your PS3 and continue playing it there and vice versa, as many times as you like. It’s a feature that many people seem to be unaware of and it’s highly useful for gamers on the go.
So there you have it, my take on how Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony are all striving to make game better and more fun and take us to places we never imagined. What other big innovations have I left out?