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An Active Lack of Imagination

I shouldn't be embarrassed about fan's belief that the Wii-U will provide "unique opportunities". But when developers do then it's a problem.

Johnathon Swift, Blogger

June 13, 2012

4 Min Read

There is distinctly active lack of imagination in much of today's big publisher games industry, and I'm fairly certain this year's E3 was an exemplar of that. I could mention how man people seemed to give a knowing chuckle when the newest Tomb Raider's gameplay was overlaid by the distinctive Uncharted theme in a mock video. Or the broadly upheld notion of the show being terribly unimpressive even by the usually forgiving and excitable hardcore gaming press. But for now I'm going to tell you why the Wii-U is a failure as anything innovative in any sense of the word that might matter to someone knowledgeable.

Let's examine the possibilities of the Wii-U. What does it have? A controller, its one and only claim to anything new. What does this controller have? A touchscreen, not even a multi-touch capable touchscreen. My phone has a touchscreen, my brother, cousin, mother, all of my good friends, all have touchscreen devices. By now over half the US adult population almost certainly has a device with a touchscreen capable of playing games. So, a touchscreen is not an innovation, and considering touchscreens are quite limited input devices for games then having a touchscreen isn't  a particularly fantastic move for a console either.

What else does the Wii-U have? It's touschscreen controller is also a screen. Nintendo has yelled "now we can do asynchronous multiplayer!" fairly loudly. This embarassing yell shouldn't be too much of a surprise, it's only recently that Nintendo engineers seem to have discovered the internet. But anyone who's known about the internet should be able to pick out the fundamental error here, and that is that any internet connected multiplayer game, or even local network game, has been capable of asynchronus multiplayer forever. The only innovation the extra screen offers is now you can do so locally with one console.

I'm not about to dismiss that. I love local multiplayer, and certainly miss it from many multiplayer console games today. One of the best gaming experiences I've had recently is playing local co-op on the middlingly reviewed LOTR War in the North with my brother. There's something incredibly fun about having the person(s) you're playing with right next to you and present as opposed to a faceless person somewhere that may as well be on Mars.

But the point remains that fundamentally the extra screen of the Wii-U in almost no way offers any new possibility for gameplay (I'm sure SOME incredibly innovative person might find a way to use it uniquely in an experimental game). A great example is Zombie-U, a game in which one player runs around as a human trying to capture flags while another uses a different view to place zombies to try and stop him/her. There's no reason this game needs the Wii-U, these alternate views could easily have been given to two people on two different consoles playing a multiplayer game. But now that the Wii-U is coming out this idea is suddenly acceptable to be in a game.

And that's my point, this "imaginative gameplay" has always been available, but no one's done it yet. In fact every game demonstrated so far that uses the Wii-U's extra screen could have been done using just the technology of online multiplayer we've had for years now (or in the case of the pc, approaching decades)!

This is what I mean by an Active Lack of Imagination, a concious unwillingness to do or try anything that obviously sparks of newness unless specifically invited and almost forced to do so. I don't put any blame on the pc developers of the heady days of PC domination. Those were filled with new types and "genres" of games year after year after year. I wouldn't applaud, but do understand the switch to consoles in the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube era, those sold incredibly well and were great business propositions.

But this console generation, and almost all developers are almost certainly to blame. Instead of innovating mid teir developers scrambled to make the same shooters or mario kart clones or etc. as the more successful and big name studios, and were then shocked to go out of business when they couldn't compete with their bigger rivals. Who themselves stolidly stuck to their winning formulas, taking their less budgeted and organized rivals dissappearance and their own continued success as justification for doing the same exact thing again and again, at least so far as the executives that controlled such were concerned.

The Wii-U and the expectation that its controller provides some kind of innovation is endemic of today's console industry. One that seems obsessed with tiny improvements and stolid control and profit from every little bit it can scrape up; even while the surge, and resurgance, of every other gaming platform sees a fantastical mix of innovation and bringing back once dead game types. The console industry congratulates itself on coming up with things that aren't new and/or could and maybe should have been done years ago. 

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