Saturday, August 11, 2012

Why I Think Imitation Is the Sincerest Form of Flattery (Or Why Some Gamers Need to Chill Out)

Not to be confused with my article entitled Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery, this piece comes fresh off Platinum Games' Hideki Kamiya stating on Twitter that Superbot's upcoming Super Smash Bros.-esque party fighter PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is a "ripoff." It is not so much about the offhand Twitter remark either. No, it is the embarrassing reaction from both sides of platform zealots partaking in console wars and the ensuing bloodbath that followed that was the thing that got me hot and bothered. This article delves into recent games or ideas that were developed that received games or ideas inspired by them, whether in mechanics or premise, and why it is okay to have "copycats."

When PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale was formally announced after dozens of rumors noting the existence of the game, gaming sites went into crazy mode, and not for good reasons. No, instead the battles between console/company zealots over whether Battle Royale was a shameless Super Smash Bros. clone was the hot topic. But the idea of a party fighter is not new. It was never exclusive to Smash Bros. Obviously one can argue that if not for the success of Smash, Sony would have never had Superbot develop Battle Royale. That makes perfect sense. However, the actual mechanics of the games and how they are scored are entirely different. In Smash, the goal is to deal damage to your opponent to weaken them enough/accumulate enough damage for them to be hit out of the stage. Battle Royale's gameplay premise is to attack foes to build up a Super Meter (can grow up to three times). Opponents unleash their supers on their adversaries to score points. The concepts to scoring are miles apart in similarity.

There are some similarities, but these
two titles are quite different.
Then there is Sony's trophy implementation, without a doubt borrowed from Microsoft's achievement system. In my opinion, Sony took an established idea and made it better. That is what great imitations do; they evolve preexisting ideas and do them in such a way that the industry is better for it. Rather than have some arbitrary number attached to every goal a given gamer does in a title, a trophy is awarded: bronze, silver, gold and a platinum; the latter is handed out for receiving all of the trophies. Unlike achievements, a person can look at another's stats and see right away what the toughest and easiest trophies were to nab. That platinum on one's profile means they obviously mastered the game, and they are more intriguing to me to attain than some point value. Your mileage may definitely vary.

With the Wii, few could predict that the platform would sell so astonishingly well. It was inherently fun to swing the Wii remote like a bat, tennis racket, or golf club, and have fun with friends and families. Caught with their pants down, Sony and Microsoft, after deriding the platform in multiple interviews, finally turned the other cheek and decided to develop their own motion-controlled solutions. Sony pulled out an incredibly similar Wii-like product with the Move (ironically looking like a lollipop) while Microsoft pulled out a totally unique product with the Kinect. Kinect skyrocketed Xbox 360 sales while Move hardly moved units. It does show that sometimes pure imitation won't drive sales and that innovation matters. Why settle for an imitation when you can get the original with much better support? That said, Nintendo was immensely flattered, and if new motion control products meant for new ways to play and new people entering our hobby, that is just sensational, then. Why are some of the most vocal gamers so quick to always devolve discussions into console wars? The implementation of new devices and new people in the gaming hobby was something I consider to be splendid.

Nintendo's competition entered the motion control 
market with their own brand of devices.
Even Nintendo, a company whose fans say leads the charge in innovation and that other pubs and devs take ideas from, isn't one to lift some ideas from others. Case in point: the Wii U Pro Controller. It resembles something from a current gen popular console. Spoiler: It is the Xbox 360. However, regardless of what company critics may say, there's nothing wrong with that. Nintendo went with something that worked in a surefire way and modeled their Pro Controller's design after the 360's controller, adding their own specific touches. A big difference is that the analog sticks are parallel to one another on this new controller. This could possibly be one of the better controllers of all time since it fixes a problem with the vanilla 360 controller, the less-than-terrific d-pad. An already superb controller in the 360 getting Nintendo touches? What's bad about that?

It has the shape of the Xbox 360 controller,
but there are some new features to be found.
You may be wondering where I am going with all of this. My point in all of my banter is that if the developers didn't borrow ideas from other games, I believe there would be a serious problem. What if no one bothered imitating the first RPG or the platformer? We wouldn't have as great of a variety of games as we do right now. There would be no established genres. You can't possibly create something that is 100% original. Every game borrows a concept from something else. Instead of being upset that Sony and Superbot "ripped off" Smash Bros. to create their own brand of mascot-laden party fighter, be happy that the genre is getting another representative and chance to shine. The genre can grow and get new fans. Instead of being miffed on message boards that Microsoft and Sony created their own brands of motion controllers after the Wii's runaway success, be like Nintendo and be flattered.
Now PlayStation fans can enjoy the genre Nintendo 
fans have for over a decade! What's wrong with that?
We wouldn't have some of my favorite games of all time without developers borrowing inspiration from other titles. The Nintendo 64 classic, Banjo-Kazooie, would never have been as awesome as it was without its obvious inspiration from Super Mario 64. One of the best kart racers of all time, Diddy Kong Racing, would never have pulled out of the garage without influence from Mario Kart 64. Rare's racer even added a never-before-been-done adventure mode to the formula which would then have Naughty Dog's Crash Team Racing utilize that concept. And where would Final Fantasy be without the game that came out before it, Dragon Warrior (now Dragon Quest)? You see, developers build off preexisting ideas and try to make them better. It's how every industry works. Gaming is no exception.
In no way am I saying that wholly original (or as wholly original as they can realistically be) ideas shouldn't be created. No, they are just as an important part of the industry, no doubt. But even these are influenced by other titles in even the smallest regards. So if you see a game that is similar to one you like and get ill-willed towards it, step back and realize that perhaps the "copycat" game in question is pushing the genre forward or giving it more spotlight. Imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, but it is also quite necessary for genres and the gaming industry itself to grow, evolve and get the attention they so richly deserve.

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Do you agree with the concept of this article? What do you think about games drawing inspiration from other titles? What are some of your favorite games that have a clear influence from other games? While you're thinking about that, don't forget to read other articles by yours truly in the SPC Feature Catalog.

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