Why Derivative Game Design Doesn't Matter

sXeth

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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.

I mean, thats partially a position of bias too. Sure the top two shooter games tend to be and have been CoD/Battlefield for some period of time.

There are still Dooms, Destinys, Warframes, Shadow Warriors, Remnant, Apex, Titanfall, Deus Ex, Killing Floor, Serious Sams, Borderlands, Deep Rock Galactic, Waframe, etc... (this was just a brief skim of my Playsation Library).


Wolf3d and Doom are the ones people usually go to for the times, but Catacomb Abyss and Heretic/Hexen were out at the same time (Catacomb actually predates Wolf3d IIRC).


There will always be clones of course (particularly amongst licensed games), but I'd actually struggle to think of a current game that is copying CoD's homework, and most of the ones that did didn't last.


Its like "Souls Like":

The first Souls Like was Lords of the Fallen. It basically was a carbon clone of Souls. And it got ravaged critically and commerically. To the point probably no one remembers it.


The Surge - Moved to Sci-fi, added dismemberment mechanics (ironically, invoking Fromsofts "Shadow Tower" lol)
Remnant - Sci+Shooter (also ironically, could be a remake of Shadow Tower. I doubt that many people ever played Shadow Tower though lol)
Salt and Sanctuary - Took a whole nother route and made the best Castlevania game in years.
Hollow Knight - Took Salt and Sanctuary's notes, but kind of upped the pace a bit to make a faster more platformy version
Tunic - Souls+Zelda (this ones kind of new, but there you go)


All of these are derivative, but they're the frontunners of deriviative. And they're the ones that added things, even if I can and did point out where those things derived from). And they're the ones you hear about. The other Souls deriviatives are usually cycling the bargain bin on Steam
 
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BrawlMan

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I mean, thats partially a position of bias too. Sure the top two shooter games tend to be and have been CoD/Battlefield for some period of time.

There are still Dooms, Destinys, Warframes, Shadow Warriors, Remnant, Apex, Titanfall, Deus Ex, Killing Floor, Serious Sams, Borderlands, Deep Rock Galactic, Waframe, etc... (this was just a brief skim of my Playsation Library).
I think @immortalfrieza was referring to strictly generation 7 and some of early generation 8. You had all these titles, sure, but that still did not stop the over dozens of COD or Gears clones. Nor games that weren't shooters, turned in to shooters, or companies saying "We want the COD/Gears crowd" by turning everything dark and edgy (usually making everything dog shit brown/gunmetal grey too) for no reason other than to look "mature". Thus alienating the actual fans, and the casuals who prefer COD or Gears stuck to those ignoring the clones catered to them. It's crazy how a majority of these clones have not been ported or are stuck in the generation they came out on to be forgotten by the masses for a reason.

Speaking of Serious Sam, SS3 is considered love it or hate it territory. Sure, it's more old school compared to the military shooters of yester year, but the game still has problems and has the "modern military shooter" look. At one point, SS3 was either going to be a Doom game, and then later an MMS at one point, before all deals were canceled or scrapped. Showing a lot of production trouble that only got worse with the release of Serious Sam 4.

Don't forget either that Doom 4/Reboot was going to be a COD clone at one point, but thankfully got scrapped because it did not look nor feel right. iD wanted the game to stand out and be Doom, and not COD Title number 4,563!
 

CriticalGaming

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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.
Couldn't this argument be applied to sporting events? Why get excited for the Super Bowl when it is just a football game like 50 million other football games before it?

Different stories, different settings, different guns, are all usually enough to make a game a different enough experience.
 

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Couldn't this argument be applied to sporting events? Why get excited for the Super Bowl when it is just a football game like 50 million other football games before it?
Because you at least have different athletes with different playstyles. I don't watch much sports anymore, aside from some college games, but at least its something. Also, aging is a thing and there will always be new players.
 

sXeth

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I think @immortalfrieza was referring to strictly generation 7 and some of early generation 8. You had all these titles, sure, but that still did not stop the over dozens of COD or Gears clones. Nor games that weren't shooters, turned in to shooters, or companies saying "We want the COD/Gears crowd" by turning everything dark and edgy (usually making everything dog shit brown/gunmetal grey too) for no reason other than to look "mature". Thus alienating the actual fans, and the casuals who prefer COD or Gears stuck to those ignoring the clones catered to them. It's crazy how a majority of these clones have not been ported or are stuck in the generation they came out on to be forgotten by the masses for a reason.

Speaking of Serious Sam, SS3 is considered love it or hate it territory. Sure, it's more old school compared to the military shooters of yester year, but the game still has problems and has the "modern military shooter" look. At one point, SS3 was either going to be a Doom game, and then later an MMS at one point, before all deals were canceled or scrapped. Showing a lot of production trouble that only got worse with the release of Serious Sam 4.

Don't forget either that Doom 4/Reboot was going to be a COD clone at one point, but thankfully got scrapped because it did not look nor feel right. iD wanted the game to stand out and be Doom, and not COD Title number 4,563!
SO uh yeah... CoD, Battlefield, Gears I guess though thats already changing genres and gameplay.


And the clones were.... Medal of Honor, the one in Korea and.... ??? Like thats kind of a case in point. Largely they pass unremarked and unremembered and left in the dust. Had the alleged Call of Doom shown up, it'd probably fall in forgotten forgotten bin like the N64 not-really-Quake 2 game.


I actually forget why I have the Serious Sam, it was probably heavily on sale or one of the free games one month. They've always been kind of, for lack of a better term, hyper indy and never felt especially polished. Even in the heyday they came from.


I mean, if I really wanted to go off on a tangent I'd be listing off Xcom clones. Something that has far more prevalently dulled my interest in otherwise appealing games.
 
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And the clones were.... Medal of Honor, the one in Korea and.... ???
COD Clones:
  • Both Modern Medal of Honor games.
  • The later Battlefield games starting at 3 & Bad Company.
  • Homefront and Homefront: Revolution
  • Bodycount - A spiritual "successor" to Black, but there are elements that scream COD clone.
  • FEAR 2 and FEAR 3. Especially the latter. Both are "cinematic" shooters with simplified mechanics and less interesting details and environments. FEAR 3 has the standard get behind cover to regenerate health and two weapon limit.
  • Singularity is COD combined with Bioshock. Raven Software's last good, non-COD game. You do get an actual health meter though.
  • Bulletstorm in terms of the regenerating health only.
  • Resistance 2 - Two weapon limit and bloody screen regenerating health.
  • Turok (reboot) - That one is more so a Halo clone, but still applies.
  • Killzone 2 & 3. In terms of rengen health and two weapon limit.
  • Syndicate Reboot
  • Bioshock Infinite - Super linear design, regenerating health with a shield, and two weapon limit.
  • Call of Juarez - The two weapon limit and regenerating health, but in the wild west. The Cartel being in modern times is the most blatant and is all the worse for it. Not to mention the unfortunate implications. Gunslinger is the best of the franchise. The most arcade style and super fun.
  • Crysis 2 & 3. In terms of the cinematic shooter approach. Both games still do enough to do their own unique thing and have branching or expansive level paths. 3 even brings back secondary objectives from the first game.
Gears Clones:
  • Inversion - Anyone remember that game?!
  • Dead to Rights Reboot
  • dark Sector - Gears and RE4 clone.
  • Eat Lead: Matt Hazard - A "parody" game.
  • Spec Ops - I know it's a deconstruction, but it still counts.
  • Quantum Break - Discount Vanquish.
  • Vanquish - The best cover shooter ever made, because it punishes you for using too much cover. Giving you the most flexible and athletic protagonist in a shooter ever.
  • Army of Two
  • Uncharted's shooting sections.
  • Every Sandbox game that borrows from Gears shooting mechanics.
  • RE5 and RE6. RE5 for Gears, and RE6 in the "we want the COD audience".
  • Binary Domain
  • Wanted: Weapons of Fate - Actually has some cool, unique, bullet time mixed with sliding and cover mechanics. The game looks like crap though and had that Unreal 3 Engine piss and crap filter.
Borrows from COD/Gears visual elements or appeal more to Westerners:
  • DmC (2013) - Whenever it's the real world and not Limbo.
  • Bionic Commando Reboot
  • Dark Void
  • RE5
  • Ninja Gaiden 3
I can go on all day.

Had the alleged Call of Doom shown up, it'd probably fall in forgotten forgotten bin like the N64 not-really-Quake 2 game.
Exactly!
 
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Another form of derivative game design I actually like or don't mind is something action games have been doing since Stranglehold and Mad World. This usually applies to stylish 3rd person brawlers, but it has cropped up in 3rd and 1st person shooters. Having names of the moves, finishers, attacks, or traps used during game play or combat on the UI. Or listing what you did at the end of level result screens. Stranglehold labels all the death, fancy shooting/moves, and environmental destruction you caused with its star ratings. WET did a similar thing, but not as interesting, but you can see words on UI of what you did. Mad World has little picture icons of traps and hazards you use with a score multiplier where stacking nets the biggest rating you could get: Ultra Violence. Vanquish has a list at the end of each act and sub-act of whether how much cover you used (get tons of points for using the least amount of cover), if you died, etc.

Bulletstorm does a combination of the two with an achievement system within the game that keeps track of the way you kill your enemies with certain guns. Nicknaming the moves and giving you points. Big points for either doing them the first time, or stacking them by combining certain moves or shooting tactics.

DmC (2013) has names and combos names with points show up on the top left corner of the screen, underneath the style meter. Either naming the moves and showing the score they're worth for successfully pulling them off without taking a hit, or perfect frame dodging. The earlier games technically do have this, but you have to go in to the games' code or look up an FAQ guide/wiki. DMC5 does have this same system too, but does not show up, until after the mission is over. You won't know what you did, or how you do them consistently until multiple playthroughs. Doing these nets you bonus orbs or finding hidden path and secrets. It's actually a pretty cool feature, and all characters have their own unique achievements only they can pull off. Nero has a "Just Buster" bonus for example. Dante has a use "All Styles Bonus" or "Sin Devil Trigger Finish". While there are universal ones such as parrying and guard breaking. Etc., etc. This system rewards even more experimentation.

Even Oneechanbara Origin does too at the end of each level now. How many limbs you cut off zombies, no damage bonus/no death bonus, how many parries and dodges successfully preformed. Talk about making sure arcade style shiningly stays standing.
 
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sXeth

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Another form of derivative game design I actually like or don't mind is something action games have been doing since Stranglehold and Mad World. This usually applies to stylish 3rd person brawlers, but it has cropped up in 3rd and 1st person shooters. Having names of the moves, finishers, attacks, or traps used during game play or combatant on the UI. Or listing what you did at the end of level result screens. Stranglehold labels all the death, fancy shooting/moves, and environmental destruction you caused with its star ratings. WET did a similar thing, but not as interesting, but you can see words on UI of what you did. Mad World has little picture icons of traps and hazards you use with a score multiplier where stacking nets the biggest rating you could get: Ultra Violence. Vanquish has a list at the end of each act and sub-act of whether how much cover you used (get tons of points for using the least amount of cover), if you died, etc.

Bulletstorm does a combination of the two with an achievement system within the game that keeps track of the way you kill your enemies with certain guns. Nicknaming the moves and giving you points. Big points for either doing them the first time, or stacking them by combining certain moves or shooting tactics.

DmC (2013) has names and combos names with points show up on the top left corner of the screen, underneath the style meter. Either naming the moves and showing the score they're worth for successfully pulling them off without taking a hit, or perfect frame dodging. The earlier games technically do have this, but you have to go in to the games' code or look up an FAQ guide/wiki. DMC5 does have this same system too, but does not show up, until after the mission is over. You want know what you did, or how you do them consistently until multiple playthroughs. Doing these nets you bonus orbs or finding hidden path and secrets. It's actually a pretty cool feature, and all characters have their own unique achievements only they can pull off. Nero has a "Just Buster" bonus for example. Dante has a use "All styles Bonus" or "Sin Devil Trigger Finish". While there are universal ones such as parrying and guard breaking. Etc., etc. This system rewards even more experimentation.

Even Oneechanbara Origin does too at the end of each level now. How many limbs you cut off zombies, no damage bonus/no death bonus, how many parries and dodges successfully preformed. Talk about making sure arcade style shiningly stays standing.

One of the funniest instances of that, is, while not present anywhere else in the game. It does pop up when you do the FF14 or DMC crossover quests in Monster Hunter World lol
 
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Oi, you forgot the glory that is Binary Domain and Quantum Theory, the most blatant one of all, but also least meme-able

Thank you for reminding me. That game almost always slips out of my mind for some reason. Probably because you're just fighting robots most of the time that look really generic. It has this cool set up with the story and lore as a cross between Blade Runner and Snatcher, but more could have been done than another cover shooter. The only other stand out is the moral choice system and trying to get everybody to live ending. Team Yakuza could have done so much better. Your game is already arcade style, you might as well embrace it in give your character a health meter and allow him to shoot dodge and stuff.
 

Agema

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Wolf3d and Doom are the ones people usually go to for the times, but Catacomb Abyss and Heretic/Hexen were out at the same time (Catacomb actually predates Wolf3d IIRC).
I'll raise you with how early 3D shooters go in the form of "Embassy Assault" (1982).

* * *

Lack of originality is not a problem - what really matters is that a game is done well. The problem often comes that being derivative is part of the same problem that creates mediocrity: lack of vision and talent.

Derivative games are made by dev teams who are just not particularly good. What great creators and talents want to plonk themselves down and unambitiously churn out the next iteration of a boring if well-selling franchise? Okay, they might get their starter experience there in early career then move on, but they'll be low rank and shackled to the mediocrity of the wider project. At AAA level these are often huge franchises with established player bases who want nice, safe, incremental improvements and which don't need great things in order to guarantee sales. And that's what the players get: stuff that's decent-good, and just like everything else already out there. Then there are the second-tier wannabes, who will simply look at what sells well and churn out the same, usually to a slightly lower standard because they lack the stupendous development funds.

And then there are some genuinely great creators out there, whether at AAA or below, who work magic. Just don't expect them to be working on Call of Battlefield Honour 8: 1942 Recon Assault.
 

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Quantum Theory, the most blatant one of all, but also least meme-able
I don't even remember this game. I can't flash back to anything. This came out around 2010 a day before my brother's birthday. Jesus, it looks like a bad fan mod for Unreal Tournament 3.

 

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Couldn't this argument be applied to sporting events? Why get excited for the Super Bowl when it is just a football game like 50 million other football games before it?

Different stories, different settings, different guns, are all usually enough to make a game a different enough experience.
Because every football game plays out differently; in baseball you still see stuff that has never happened and it's been played for 100+ years. It's like whatever game you like playing a lot whether Spades, Poker, Darts, Pool, a board game, a sport like football, a video game multiplayer that you keep coming back to, etc. The proper analog would be if every major sport was basically a slightly different flavor of football. Like instead of having football, baseball, basketball, soccer, golf, etc; we just had NFL, XFL, Arena football, the AAF, etc. That's sorta what the AAA landscape feels like. Much the same reason I don't get really get excited at all for AAA releases is because I already played whatever new game is coming out and I most likely played a better version of it at this point. It's like why am I going to get excited for the XFL when the NFL is a better game of football?
 
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hanselthecaretaker

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Because every football game plays out differently; in baseball you still see stuff that has never happened and it's been played for 100+ years. It's like whatever game you like playing a lot whether Spades, Poker, Darts, Pool, a board game, a sport like football, a video game multiplayer that you keep coming back to, etc. The proper analog would be if every major sport was basically a slightly different flavor of football. Like instead of having football, baseball, basketball, soccer, golf, etc; we just had NFL, XFL, Arena football, the AAF, etc. That's sorta what the AAA landscape feels like. Much the same reason I don't get really get excited at all for AAA releases is because I already played whatever new game is coming out and I most likely played a better version of it at this point. It's like why am I going to get excited for the XFL when the NFL is a better game of football?
Well TBF, AAA still does have a bunch of different genres. All the different sports games, shooters, linear action/adventure, open world action/adventure, RPG, a plethora of different types of fighting games, etc. The problem is the viable mold has been cast and set to where even all of those have been done for generations now.

However, we could even apply the same logic to a lot of Indie stuff which mostly boils down to either side scrollers with some form of combat and platforming, or some variant of isometric strategy games. The point is there’s literally more than enough variety to pique someone’s interest in something, but also that people’s tolerance for fatigue will vary.
 
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However, we could even apply the same logic to a lot of Indie stuff which mostly boils down to either side scrollers with some for of combat and platforming, or some variant of isometric strategy games. The point is there’s literally more than enough variety to pique someone’s interest in something, but also that people’s tolerance for fatigue will vary.
Even then, indie games still have more than enough different variety and genres of games. You got old style point and click adventure games, puzzle games, gallery/Kabal style shooters, metroidvanias, Hotline Miami clones, 2D/2.5D brawlers, and Star Fox/Panzer Dragoon style games. Do you even remember the last time there was a SF/PD style game in the AAA sector? Not counting SF: 0, there was Crimson Dragon (average) and the rail sections in Asura's Wrath (surprisingly good and fun).
 
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Even then, indie games still have more than enough different variety and genres of games. You got old style point and click adventure games, puzzle games, gallery/Kabal style shooters, metroidvanias, Hotline Miami clones, 2D/2.5D brawlers, and Star Fox/Panzer Dragoon style games. Do you even remember the last time there was a SF/PD style game in the AAA sector? Not counting SF: 0, there was Crimson Dragon (average) and the rail sections in Asura's Wrath (surprisingly good and fun).
Well the nice thing is AAA isn’t even needed for those since Indie has them covered already! I’m actually at a loss thinking of how a bigger budget would even make these games better.
 
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Well the nice thing is AAA isn’t even needed for those since Indie has them covered already!
Precisely part of my point.

I’m actually at a loss thinking of how a bigger budget would even make these games better.
Make them actually good or fun. Have a neat presentation and atmosphere. Free of the DLC/Lootbox/Season Pass/Time Save buuuuullllllsssssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhiiiiiiiiiitttttttttttt!
 

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However, we could even apply the same logic to a lot of Indie stuff which mostly boils down to either side scrollers with some form of combat and platforming, or some variant of isometric strategy games. The point is there’s literally more than enough variety to pique someone’s interest in something, but also that people’s tolerance for fatigue will vary.
Talk about coincidence, Yahtzee has a mini rant about the indie genre's derivative design in his review, one minute in.

 
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Talk about coincidence, Yahtzee has mini rant about the indie genre's derivative design in his review, one minute in.


He does have a tendency to go off on tangents, and like a box of chocolates you never know what you’re gonna get.
 
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Talk about coincidence, Yahtzee has mini rant about the indie genre's derivative design in his review, one minute in.
He's not wrong. You could almost mark the passage of time by the trends going through the Steam charts. Remember the strategy Tower Defence era? Or the MOBA era? Or the card battler era? And so on. There's always a host of indie unheard-ofs to have their pitch at greatness, who will remain as unheard-of after their magnum opus hits release as they were before.