Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Babies & Bathwater: Tradition and Innovation in Game Design

I'm a traditional game designer. That means I'm skeptical of new things - it's my job to prevent the baby being tossed out with the bathwater, and I take it seriously. This doesn't mean I reject new things - not at all! It means I insist that new things be proved before using them. When I have to step oustside of the tried and true, I do - I created the air combat system of the In Harm's Way games ex-nihilo, because there was nothing out there that would work nearly as well.

I think innovation is often confused with novelty. Innovation, true innovation, fundamentally changes the way people do things. It requires follow-up - imitation and extension - to be correctly judged. By the imitation and extension we discover that yes, this different and novel thing has fundamentally changed the approach to design. It is no longer a novelty, but is an innovation.

My air combat system is a novelty. No one has ever copied it. No one has taken the idea and extended it. Until someone does, and it takes hold, it remains a novelty and not an innovation. I hope one day that someone will do this, but until then, it's no more innovative than using a roulette wheel or a jenga tower as a randomizer.

Creativity is another thing entirely. One can be very creative in assembling and extending bits and pieces used elsewhere. Forward to Adventure! is very creative, though there's not an ounce of innovation or novelty in it. I hope my designs are a quarter as creative. I'm not in a position to judge. I can judge FtA! because I only illustrated and published it. I had no hand in the design.