The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild became the best video game of the decade by doing new things. Sure, it pulled from familiar sources, such as Assassin’s Creed, Dark Souls, and the original sense of adventure in the first NES Zelda game, but Nintendo synthesized those concepts, while adding plenty of new ones. It was a revolutionary and transformative open-world experience that we had never played before.
I don’t need Breath of the Wild’s upcoming sequel to blow my mind all over again. I want it to contain fresh ideas, but if all the game does is take advantage of the hard work and superb foundation left behind by its predecessor, that’ll be good enough for me. An improved and tweaked version of a masterful old game may not be innovative, but it still sounds pretty fantastic.
Not every game developer can make a game as awe-inspiring as Breath of the Wild, but they can all benefit from intelligently recycling old ideas and tech when making new games. It’s not being lazy. From transformative song covers to famous homages in film to literature that might as well be Bible fan fiction, all great art can’t help but lift from what came before, and games are no different. There’s absolutely no shame in enhancing something that already works.
Fresh Coat of Paint
Video games don’t need my permission to repeat proven formulas. From identical Mega Man titles to annual Call of Duty sequels, games love to stick with what works, while simultaneously ignoring their own histories. We should criticize mediocre games that are mediocre precisely because they play it safe instead of trying something more creative.
However, we shouldn’t discount the ways in which iteration makes games better, too. If creating games is like an exercise, developers get stronger with each new “rep.” They become more familiar with their tools and workflows. They understand what you as a player want, and can meet, surpass, or subvert those expectations.
Through countless Yakuza games, Sega created a decades-long crime epic with an incredible shared sense of place thanks in part to the reused Kamurocho setting. Half the fun of fighting games comes from reacquainting yourself with a classic character’s familiar moves, as well as new tricks. Koei Tecmo can make Dynasty Warriors’ action combat in its sleep, so what happens when the team marinades that combat with thick Zelda or Persona flavor?
Returning to Nintendo, the company followed up Ocarina of Time in only two years by basically making a quick and dirty asset flip, and the end result was Majora’s Mask, an offbeat fan favorite. More recently, the Super Mario 3D World Nintendo Switch port uses those old Wii U assets to create the awesome, experimental side game Bowser’s Fury, the game that should be the future of Mario. Old ideas can be a springboard, not a crutch.
Under the Hood
It’s pretty obvious when games recycle old gameplay ideas, especially games in the same franchise. More interesting, though, is when the old underlying technology that powers games gets shared and recycled, too.
It can be hard to spot, but games running on the same engine can sometimes have similar properties—and problems. When you play as many Nintendo Switch ports as I do, you recognize when the Unreal Engine 4 struggles to hit the target resolution. Still, by using an existing engine, developers don’t have to build vital tools from scratch, an expensive and time-consuming process. They can focus their energies on other aspects of the game, on their broader visions.
Besides, one engine can still allow for vastly different games. It’ll shock you to learn which games use the same engines. GameMaker Studio 2 earned our Editors’ Choice pick for consumer game development software partly because indie games as diverse as Blazing Chrome, Hotline Miami, and Undertale all use the engine. While playing Halo: The Master Chief Collection, I took a break and played through the Stubbs the Zombie remaster on Switch. Not only is this a fun and funny take on raising your own zombie army, it also runs on Halo’s engine.
Konami built the beautiful Fox Engine for Metal Gear Solid V, and now uses it for soccer games. Would Grand Theft Auto III be the same breakthrough for open-world sandbox carnage if it didn’t use Criterion’s RenderWare engine from the chaotic Burnout racers? How many first-person shooter developers got their start making Doom levels and mods? Titanfall and Death Stranding were the debut games from new teams composed of AAA talent after a breakup with their old publishers. So it made sense when those teams opted for existing engines, Source and Decima, respectively, to make up for lost time. Forget games. Source users can also make weird short films.
Recommended by Our Editors
When looking to draw from past sources for future projects, developers even turn toward their own failures. Despite Blizzard’s best efforts, the unreleased Titan never became the new MMO to take the torch from WoW. However, many of Titan’s concepts eventually found their way into Overwatch, Blizzard’s beloved breakout shooter franchise. Curt Schilling never turned Rhode Island into the next game development hot spot, but the world and lore developed for that team’s failed MMO also informed Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, a nifty fantasy action-RPG that just got a Switch re-release.
Nintendo has an entire philosophy about cunningly using old tech called “lateral thinking of withered technology.” It’s how the company took cheap 1970s calculator chips to revolutionize handheld gaming with the Game Boy. It’s how they turned a failed, Wii U giant robot tech demo into the cardboard delight that is Nintendo Labo Robot Kit.
Past Is Prologue
As with everything else in game development, creators need to make smart choices that are right for their projects. Recycling old ideas and tech has plenty of drawbacks. Old ideas can make games feel less original and exciting. Old tech can cause more efficiency problems than it solves. EA’s Frostbite engine may work great for Battlefield and inexplicable Plants vs. Zombies shooters, but forcing it on BioWare RPGs proved catastrophic. The same goes for the Crystal Tools engine Square Enix used for a decade of tortured Final Fantasy XIII games. Sometimes, it’s better to wipe the slate clean and start over. Don’t let the last generation hold you back.
But developers should learn from the past; it has many benefits. When they aren’t worried about staying on tech’s futuristic, bleeding edge or concocting radical, new game design templates, they free up their energies for other kinds of creativity. Give retro games gorgeous, modern visuals. Make an unstable engine rock-solid. Develop the sequel that renders the original obsolete. Everything is a remix, everything takes inspiration and influence from other sources. So, developers, make the best remix you can.
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This news is republished from another source. You can check the original article here