Like everybody else, it seems, I’ve been playing some Battlefield 2 recently (which, I must say, is a very strange name for a third game in a series – I guess Battlefield:Iraq wouldn’t fly?) At any rate, it’s an excellent game, a big step up from BF:Vietnam.
What I find most interesting about the game is that it is so obviously not a brand new product. The graphics and subject matter are both compelling enough that it’s going to hook plenty of new players, but most of the innovations (the squad system, saved ranks/medals, tank/anti-tank/special forces balance, the simple but effective fatigue model, etc.) are clearly built upon years and years and years spent developing exactly the same game over and over again. Simply put, Battlefield 2 is so much fun because the people at DICE really knows what they are doing.
Which, as a game designer, begs the question: could I possibly make a game that could compete with Battlefield 2? Could they make a game to compete with Civ 4? I am constantly being reminded by the fans about all the details they expect from a Civilization game. Hitting F1-12 should open AND close the Advisor screens. There must be SEPARATE options for quick attacks and/or defends. Sometimes they’d like to watch all rival moves and sometimes only enemy moves. Yes, double-click may select all units in a tile, but what if one just want to select all the workers? I don’t envy the next guy who has to remember all of this.
It’s not the ’80s anymore, when EA seemed to reinvent gaming each Christmas. (Dude.) Nowadays, a game like San Andreas is described as innovative, even though it’s the FIFTH game in a series. However, it’s possible that, in 2005, “innovation” is really beside the point.
The old, hoary games-as-movies analogy always breaks down because – in gaming – the sequel is often better than the original. I’d like to present a better analogy: games-as-cars. In the auto industry, the “genres” are pretty well established (sedans, trucks, cycles, minivans, etc). Much of the significant progress is technical (gas mileage, horse-power), and design improvements are usually of the tweak variety – a volume knob for your steering wheel! Every once in a while, a new hybrid emerges (SUVs), but it’s usually some variation on earlier ideas.
OK, so every analogy has holes, but I think this one is most relevant in terms of developers. Car companies are usually known for one type of car – I’m not going to be buying a Porsche truck anytime soon. Each car class has thousands and thousands of details that prevent creating new models out of whole cloth. Computer games have reached that point of complexity – it is becoming prohibitively difficult to just dip a toe into a new genre or style. Is it that hard to guess what’s coming next from Bioware? from Rainbow? from Rockstar? from Insomniac? from Ensemble?
er, nevermind. Well, let’s check back in three years and see how THAT turns out.