Why Derivative Game Design Doesn't Matter

CriticalGaming

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You've all heard the terms. Souls-like, Rogue-lite, Doom-clone, terms that are used synomously when describing games that heavily feature elements of previously know games. Often times it's used as a mark against a given game, like when the Tomb Raider reboots got flak for "trying to be Uncharted". Other times it's a quick and easy (lazy) way to explain what a new game is to someone. "What's the new XXX-game like?", "Oh it's a Souls-like".

Immediately calling a game a Souls-like generally conveys to people a baseline of what the game is like. And any of these terms can be used in the same fashion. But what is the reason?

I believe it has to do with derivative design. Gaming is a very incestuous industry and developers are constantly stealing other people's ideas and putting it into their own games. This leads to games feeling very similiar for a certain period of time with slight changes, until at some point one of these changes leads to a total shake up of the genre and everything pivots with this change. Sometimes this is a game design change, or a mechanical change like what Dark Souls did by reintroducing difficulty into games in an age where everything was become too easy (arguably). Other times it's a technological change, like when Mario 64 revolutionized platform games. Mario 64 wasn't different conceptually from side scrolling Mario games, but the 3D allowed that platforming to expand in such a way that tons of games followed suit.

The real point I was to make is that this derivative evolution of gaming is not important. Too often people get mad at X-game because it was too much like A-Game. But fundamentally they miss the point of game design. Was it fun? Let's take a look at two games that try to do the same thing, one is a shining example of what it tries to do and the other game tried to copy that but failed and nobody remembers.

God of War and Heavenly Sword. Both of these games on the surface are pretty much the same thing, 3D action brawlers with an emphasis on brutality in the combat. Kratos is a monster in the player's hands, tearing creatures apart right and left and the game is a stunning example of action combat done right. Whereas Heavenly Sword features an angry lady, also with twin weapons, and is also a 3D action brawler. Heavenly Sword featuers everything that God of War does, but why was it seen as bad when it's the same game basically? This comes from trying to take the same ideas and doing them incorrectly.

It's like baking a cake. If you follow the directions you'll make a fantastic cake. You an edit the extras, flavor, sprinkles, icing, etc, but the core of what you bake and how must always be the same. However if you just glance at the ingrediants but don't follow the directions because you think you know better, then you'll end up with a mess. And that's what happens with games. Why is Dark Souls good, but The Surge is a mess? It's all about directions, and following the directions is how you get a good game.

This is why we always get era's for games. The Modern shooter era, The every main character uses a bow era, whatever.

But ultimately the point I'm trying to make is that designing a game to be like another game is fine, so long as you also follow the directions. The Tomb Raider reboots are Uncharted except with a different flavor of icing, however the first Reboot game followed the directions. So either way you still get a tastey cake, just strawberry versus pound cake. In my viewpoint I think this is a fine way to make games. There is talk about how Sony's games are always the same single player 3rd person action type of thing, but to me that's a good thing. When you go to a restuarant for burgers, you expect a good burger everytime you go there, if one day you go there expecting a burger and you get a shrimp pasta even if the shrimp pasta is good, it will never be as good as the burger you wanted. Much the same way we go to different restaurants for different food experiences, do we also look to game devs for specific things.

If Elden Ring came out and it was just a Dark Fantasy open world game with a casual combat system and more Zelda-like mechanics, people would be fucking pissed. Even if the game was really good regardless it wouldn't matter because it isn't what people wanted from Miyazaki. Instead Elden Ring is Dark Souls again but bigger. It's an open world that is very derivative of other open world games, but Miyazaki added his own flavor to it, so even though it's just a cake, it's a good tasting cake.

Flavor is what makes games stand out, not the cake they are built from. i may have rambled a bit here, but I hope ya'll see what I've trying to say.
 

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God of War and Heavenly Sword. Both of these games on the surface are pretty much the same thing, 3D action brawlers with an emphasis on brutality in the combat. Kratos is a monster in the player's hands, tearing creatures apart right and left and the game is a stunning example of action combat done right. Whereas Heavenly Sword features an angry lady, also with twin weapons, and is also a 3D action brawler. Heavenly Sword featuers everything that God of War does, but why was it seen as bad when it's the same game basically? This comes from trying to take the same ideas and doing them incorrectly.
Before God of War, it was Devil May Cry clones or "Stylish Action" games. Then God of War clones, "Spectacle Fighters" (Thanks Yahztee [sarcasm]), "Character Action Games" (uuuuuUUHHHhh....), only to land back in to Stylish Action games. When at the end of the day, these are all glorified terms for beat'em ups/hack n slash to sound fancy. There was a time anything DMC releated on GameSpot or IGN was called "Action-Adventure". As if they were ashamed that these games are spiritual successors to 2D brawlers from then yesteryear.

The thing with Heavenly Sword though, is that the game was average and over hyped on a console that was still $600 at the time. I don't consider the game to be bad, but it has not aged well in certain gameplay mechanics. The Six Axis controls ain't bad, but I think they can be turned off.

Flavor is what makes games stand out, not the cake they are built from. i may have rambled a bit here, but I hope ya'll see what I've trying to say.
Tell that to Darksiders. The only reason that franchise stands out is because each game takes from so many genres of different games, nothing else stands out aside from art design and characters. Darksiders is described as modern Soul Reaver/Legacy of Kain combined with Grim Dark Zelda and God of War, wall running from Prince of Persia, and some mechanics from Portal. Darksiders II is more of the same, but with a Diablo loot system and semi-Bayonetta style dodge. Darksiders III tried to be too much like like Dark Souls. To the point where a big patch update happened a few months later, that gave you the option make it play more like the first two games. Darksiders Genesis is just co-op Diablo II with a jump button, minus the loot.

THQ tried so hard and struggled with this franchise. They went bankrupt partially because of the second game, but they could not keep up with AAA budgets. Thank God, Nordic bought them and saved the franchise. This is why it's important to make a game first, and a franchise second. They got super lucky and fan base that truly cares for the franchise. They both have my respects, even though I cannot get in to any of the games.

I get your point and agree, but you're always gonna have people bring "smart" smack talk or act as some "profound intellectual" because they love pointing out the obvious in a obnoxious voice. The same thing has happened with books, movies, TV, and web shows. Nothing new here. Bitches be bitches. Blind fans be blind fans. Critics acting snobby and pretending to be smarter than what they actually are. Just call out their bullshit, and enjoy the games that are either good, fun, or try to be ambitious in some way.
 
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Phoenixmgs

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The problem isn't copying/borrowing/re-using game mechanics, it's everyone copying/borrowing/re-using the same game mechanics over and over again. The problem is we just have cake instead of having cake, pie, shrimp pasta, etc. Also, the new cake is objectively worse than cake from 10+ years ago. We used to get yummy atomic cake, now we just get generic birthday cake with that fake ass frosting.

Heavenly Sword is actually a good example of the differences back then. Heavenly Sword may have looked like a God of War rip-off but it had it's own somewhat decently unique combat system, it just wasn't a God of War reskin. Now games just copy Arkham combat and call it a day not even understanding why it actually worked in the Arkham games. Focus group likes Arkham combat so game has Arkham combat, focus group likes crafting so game has crafting, etc. Although it does seem like Arkham combat is past its prime now, even games like Uncharted 3 copied Arkham combat. At least the LotR games came up with the Nemesis system to give the game an identity but they still wholesale copied Arkham combat so much that most of the special moves were straight up from Batman. Spiderman evolved / changed-up Arkham combat to where it wasn't literally the same combat system with the same moves. The problem is most games don't even change the flavor.

Of course, this is mainly pertaining to the AAA landscape of gaming. It's hard to get excited for some game when it's literally the same game as everything else, like you can't eat even your favorite food everyday. Also, even if the next new shiny AAA game on the horizon is my favorite food so-to-speak, it's a rather generic version of that like it's not some great burger from a brewpub, it's a McDonald's burger or it's not an Aurelio's pizza (my fav pizza), it's a Little Caesar's pizza. It's hard to get excited for a McDonald's burger or a Little Caesar's pizza, much like it's hard to get excited for the next open world game that allows you to go in guns-blazing or use stealth that has crafting and collectibles.
 
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hanselthecaretaker

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Everything that gets popular enough will lead to derivativeness. It’s just the way it is in pretty much any industry when the goal is ultimately continued revenue/profit which is bound to outpace fresh ideas, technology, investors’ patience, etc. We’re left either dealing with it and adjusting to the common denominator or waiting for the eventual outliers.
 
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Jarrito3002

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I actually remember when Insomniacs Spiderman was announced and the gameplay was similar to the Batman Arkham games in terms of mechanics and people were groaning about that.

In my mind all I thought was so my favorite games mechanics are going to have some Spider Man spice added to it. To me that was a win all around.
 

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I actually remember when Insomniacs Spiderman was announced and the gameplay was similar to the Batman Arkham games in terms of mechanics and people were groaning about that.

In my mind all I thought was so my favorite games mechanics are going to have some Spider Man spice added to it. To me that was a win all around.
The irony is that the Spider-Man games excel the Arkham style combat further, making a new standard. So much that any imitators and the old Arkham combat looks or is archaic by comparison.

I've seen the inversion of the same mentality coming from the game journalist side. Critics were hating on Killer Is Dead's combat for not being like Devil May Cry (most referring to the reboot at the time). Even though most of these critics had to know at this point, that Grasshopper Studios doesn't make their combat like DMC. A similar complaint was raised about Lollipop Chainsaw and No More Heroes prior. I know the combat's not perfect in all these games, but they're still good and functional. LC's I don't like and consider it to have age the worst.
 
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CriticalGaming

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The irony is that the Spider-Man games excell the Arkham style combat further, making a new standard. So much that any imitators and the old Arkham combat looks or is archaic by comparison.
I think that is simply because they had to expand the combat to fit the fact that Spider-man actually has super powers. Batman is just a dude and there is only so much he can do (at least without a billion gadgets which is too much to manage).

I bet the Wolverine game will have dialed back some of Spider-Man's advances for the sake of keeping it true to the character. However I hope they make the combat much more brutal than ever because if the Wolverine game isn't rated-M it's gonna be a huge let down.
 

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I think that is simply because they had to expand the combat to fit the fact that Spider-man actually has super powers. Batman is just a dude and there is only so much he can do (at least without a billion gadgets which is too much to manage).
Exactly! By doing that, they set a new standard. They had no choice but to adapt, and take things further that worked. They went even further with Miles Morales. To the point that Miles almost plays like a Platinum Game character.

I bet the Wolverine game will have dialed back some of Spider-Man's advances for the sake of keeping it true to the character. However I hope they make the combat much more brutal than ever because if the Wolverine game isn't rated-M it's gonna be a huge let down.
Honestly, they can make it play like the Wolverine Uncaged game, and I would be fine. I know there be some Arkham elements, but I hope they take a more old school God of War style approach. It doesn't have to be up 100% copy, but combine the best elements. The game would definitely have a better narrative pacing, since it's not tied to a movie license.
 
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This is why we always get era's for games. The Modern shooter era,
The problem with that era is that it stuck around for far too long, yet did so little.


The Gears of War and the COD clones, but Gears especially. You had so many publishers or developers chasing after the COD (big time) money and Gears money. Trying to copy exactly either in gameplay, visually ("realism" defined by dog shit brown and gunmetal gray with little other colors), or dark and edgy tone for the sake of looking "mature and adult", when often, most games would look all the more silly and less mature then your standard E-Rated game. And most these clones went nowhere and stayed stuck in the era they tried to follow so hard. From overwhelming greed and overly high, narrow, expectations to either sell as much as COD, or to be the next COD killer. Or causing the death of certain franchises, because idotic execs thought "Oh well, it's the gamers fault for not buying are shitty reboot of a game from an old franchise that tried to be like Gears or COD, when said fans nor most gamers asking for it!" Way to go alienating your own fan base for others who care even less or only want to play COD or Gears, you jack asses!!

The every main character uses a bow era, whatever.
2013 was the year of the bow. This era came as quickly as it went! When 2014 rolled around nearly everyone stopped doing it, aside from the next Tomb Raider games in the reboot continuity.
 

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The Gears of War and the COD clones, but Gears especially. You had so many publishers or developers chasing after the COD (big time) money and Gears money.
Which is funny because I think those games were actually copying what Halo did. Halo ruined FPS games for a long long time. Before Halo you could carry more than two guns at once, and had to solve level puzzles on top of killing everything in your way with an incredible variety of weapons.

With Doom 2016 being so successful I'm shocked the industry hasn't tried to pivot back towards that type of gun play. Instead they pivoted towards the Overwatch model, then towards the Battle Royal trash because they saw more money in the loot box potential there.

To it's credit Gears tried to do different shit with their last couple of games though.

2013 was the year of the bow. This era came as quickly as it went! When 2014 rolled around nearly everyone stopped doing it, aside from the next Tomb Raider games in the reboot continuity.
Horizon keeps the trend alive today :D.

But it's hard to really blame games for certain things. A Bow is a pretty common weapon to have in games and just because a game featured a bow doesn't mean that those devs were building off a trend. Having a bow doesn't make your game good so it's not like they saw TR bow and descided to follow suit, bows just made sense for the games of that era and I don't recall any game where the bow felt out of place within that game to have.
 

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Which is funny because I think those games were actually copying what Halo did. Halo ruined FPS games for a long long time. Before Halo you could carry more than two guns at once, and had to solve level puzzles on top of killing everything in your way with an incredible variety of weapons.
Halo didn't ruin anything. I may not be a big fan, but even I thought that was always bull crap during the 2000s and late 2000s. Halo at least have level variety, colors, and sometimes secondary objectives depending on the game. You could still explore, but not as much as say something like Doom 3 or Serious Sam. Even during the height of Halo 2, there were plenty of other first person shooters that had weapon wheels, you could explore and find alternate pass, or it didn't rely on a regenerating health shield. Now by the late 2000s (2007 & 2008) it was a bit more noticeable, but as soon as Call of Duty 4 made its appearance, that already changed the game plan again.


With Doom 2016 being so successful I'm shocked the industry hasn't tried to pivot back towards that type of gun play. Instead they pivoted towards the Overwatch model, then towards the Battle Royal trash because they saw more money in the loot box potential there.
The AA & Indy scene beg to differ of course. You have a couple in AAA as well, but those are smaller studios anyway. Still counts. But yeah, you still got the big guys trying for live services or just being open world in first person.

To it's credit Gears tried to do different shit with their last couple of games though.
Like I mentioned before, while Gears 5 does a couple of new things that are unique to it, it doesn't make those features stand out that much, compared to other gaming franchises in the past. There are plenty of other first person or third person shooters, that allowed for either open level design, secondary objectives, or multiple paths you can take to explore for hidden secrets.
 
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I actually remember when Insomniacs Spiderman was announced and the gameplay was similar to the Batman Arkham games in terms of mechanics and people were groaning about that.

In my mind all I thought was so my favorite games mechanics are going to have some Spider Man spice added to it. To me that was a win all around.
Yeah, I mentioned in my post why Spiderman "copied" properly and the Lord of the Ring games didn't with Arkham combat. Arkham City had good expansion of Arkham Asylum as well incorporating the beatdown and quickuse gadgets.
 

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Another reason why not everyone should constantly follow whatever trend is popular. Especially when a developer or publisher alienate or ditch their core audience. This definitely is why derivative design can and does matter.

A quote from a comment in the Gaming Brit video.
Daniel Fernandez
I really like how he addresses the game's theme of Ryu's self reflection over his actions seriously, as a contained thing in the story and not with a hint of irony about it. Because what probably happened is that the early 2010s were the time for videogames to examine the violent interactions as part of the story (see Far Cry 3, the original NieR, Hotline Miami and Spec Ops The Line) and NINJA GAIDEN, of all things, decided to join in the "I don't have Ludo-narrative dissonance" train.
 
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sXeth

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I actually remember when Insomniacs Spiderman was announced and the gameplay was similar to the Batman Arkham games in terms of mechanics and people were groaning about that.

In my mind all I thought was so my favorite games mechanics are going to have some Spider Man spice added to it. To me that was a win all around.

Everything on a long enough timeline, lol. new Spider Man is Arkham Combat which is a direct derivative of AC combat, which in itself was a straight derivative of Spider Man 2 combat lol.


But all in all, its what can you do to be distinct, and can you bring the same quality as the original (which should be the minimum bar, if you copy someones homework and can't do that right, then you're in real trouble). A good example of the latter is Shadow Warrior 3, which tried to take glory kills from Doom 2016... fine. But they have exactly one animation per enemy, and it gets old so so fast. They also mashed it together with the chainsaw mechanic so its not a reward for skillfully whittling down the enemy so \much as having suffienct tokens available. I will give them some credit that the kills enable offensive attacks with weapons you steal from the enemy in the process, though the value/balance of those is all over the place.
 
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A good example of the latter is Shadow Warrior 3, which tried to take glory kills from Doom 2016... fine. But they have exactly one animation per enemy, and it gets old so so fast. They also mashed it together with the chainsaw mechanic so its not a reward for skillfully whittling down the enemy so \much as having suffienct tokens available. I will give them some credit that the kills enable offensive attacks with weapons you steal from the enemy in the process, though the value/balance of those is all over the place.
Shadow Warrior 2 tried copying Borderlands by making it a looter shooter. That decision was so much worse. I'll take copying Doom 4 and Doom Eternal animation kills over the looter shooter aspects any day. I wait the day when 3 goes on sale, and they add a new game plus mode.
 
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sXeth

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Shadow Warrior 2 tried copying Borderlands by making it a looter shooter. That decision was so much worse. I'll take copying Doom 4 and Doom Eternal animation kills over the looter shooter aspects any day. I wait the day when 3 goes on sale, and they add a new game plus mode.
2 was copying Diablo. Which still didn't work to well, as that goes. I think by now we've learned that having things like miss chance and that level of weird invisible RPG mechanic stats on weapons doesn't work well when its in a game where your player is given the agency to aim weapons properly


3 just feels confused. And is like 3 hours long, like I can't recall a full single player as short as 3 since Force Unleashed 1. I don't think its helped by new game + either, cause the levels were all linear as the first half of final fantasy 13 and repetitive. The sections where it was doing Titanfall parkour were arguably the best bit, and even those felt hypertelegraphed by the glowing vines that only matched in one of the 3 environments.
 
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2 was copying Diablo. Which still didn't work to well, as that goes. I think by now we've learned that having things like miss chance and that level of weird invisible RPG mechanic stats on weapons doesn't work well.
Okay then. Still a bad idea, as we agree.
 

sXeth

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Okay then. Still a bad idea, as we agree.
Nah, best of the 3. 1 was just meh. 3 is a massive short mess.

2 was balanced poorly, and the gem slots were uninspired. The base play outside of that was cool, the problem was just you were subject to havign terrible gems or not (and most of the more interesting guns were just shoddy). Which all in all is pretty common in these looter shooters.


I mean if we're comparing it to Borderlands, at least it didn't feel stiff and clunky and wasn't 7000 hours long of the same joke.
 

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Nah, best of the 3. 1 was just meh. 3 is a massive short mess.
I rather just play 3 when it's on sale. 2 dragged and I hate the loot drops. Funny enough, I got Shadow Warrior 2 for $5 on a PSN sale a few years ago.

2 was balanced poorly, and the gem slots were uninspired. The base play outside of that was cool, the problem was just you were subject to havign terrible gems or not (and most of the more interesting guns were just shoddy). Which all in all is pretty common in these looter shooters.
Exactly why I dropped the game.
I mean if we're comparing it to Borderlands, at least it didn't feel stiff and clunky and wasn't 7000 hours long of the same joke.
That depends on who you're talking to. While better than Borderlands in the humor department, SW2 suffered a similar problem depending on who you ask. I thought the humor was fine, but there were many that feel the developers made Wang too obnoxious. While others feel it's more accurate to his original incarnation.
 

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The problem with derivative game design is that it goes too far much too often. It gets boring when everybody and his mother are all doing the same thing with anything, even if most of them do it well. The reason people tend to hate the modern shooter era isn't because the games are bad, it's because they're all copying from the same source and refusing to branch out in their own way. This creates a bland market where every shooter is the same as every other shooter. So if you like shooters you might as well save your money by buying one and then playing it over and over and over again because you aren't going to find anything really all that different when this happens.
 
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