Sunday Thoughts: Experimenting

Remember 5th Cell? These are the guys and gals who made Scribblenauts. As we’re talking about experimentation it makes sense to kick things off with Scribblenauts, it’s one of the most original and experimental games I think the industry’s seen in quite some time. I mean puzzle solving by dropping basically any object you can think of into the play area? Not only was the nature of the game experimental, it lets players themselves experiment with the limits of the game.

Anyway, that’s not why I really want to talk about 5th Cell for a bit today. What I want to talk about is their new game Hybrid; essentially a third person shooter but with the all crucial aspect of some experimentation thrown into the mix. This isn’t just another Gears of War style shooter, or even just your bog standard cover based shooter.

From what I understand of it you can’t just run through the level, circle strafing enemies as you go. Instead your paths are limited to only travelling between two points of cover. On top of that, you aren’t just limited to the floor, being able to snap to walls and the ceiling. Sound unusual? Well that’s sort of the point isn’t it?

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See, it would have been easy, although a bit out of character, for 5th Cell to go for just another third person shooter. They seem relatively common at the moment, both as full retail titles and in the digitally distributed environment that Hybrid will be competing in. Going for the slight tweak on traditional mechanics as Hybrid has may be slightly tougher in terms of selling it to the public, but it’s certainly more interesting than simply rehashing the same concepts over and over. At the very least, it gave me a reason to notice the game.

Of course, like I noted with Scribblenauts, there are those games that let the players experiment. These are probably more interesting than games that are trying something new in gameplay. No developer can ever predict how their players are going to put things together or what little twist they’ll find. I mean, when MediaMolecule built LittleBigPlanet they clearly had no idea the extent to which the community would experiment with the game. In fact some of the things the people fiddling achieved were simply incredible.

The same can certainly be said of Minecraft, a game that contains nothing but user experimentation. Even so, seeing projects like the USS Enterprise being built in the game, or other players attempting to build a working CPU inside the game, really shows just how far you can push the boundaries of what’s possible.

Perhaps I sound a bit like a broken record talking about this sort of thing, saying that developers need to try something new if they want to stay relevant. I mean there’s almost no experimentation from the developers or users in franchises like Call of Duty or Halo, but millions (myself included) enjoy games in these series. It’d just be nice to see more experiments making their way into our hearts.

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11 Comments

  1. I think experimentation has to balanced by user-friendliness. Scribblenauts was an awesome concept weighed down by an often-awkward interface. I enjoyed the game after some perseverance, but my wife (whom I thought would love it) could not take to it at all. Saying that, I applaud the likes of 5th Cell for thinking outside the box, and will certainly keep Hybrid on my radar.

  2. Great topic.

    I’d rather play one Scribblenaughts a year than a dozen shitty me-too FPSs, but guess which sells the most? Videogaming is still finding its feet with regards to experimentation, most such titles bomb at retail.

    • and that’s the problem right there…money, I suppose the good thing though is that we have PSN, Marketplace service which does allow for low key/experimental games. In fact some of my favorite games from this generation have come from this form of distribution, for example – Flower, Noby Noby Boy, Everyday Shooter, Limbo etc

      Roll on The Journey :)

      • The PS, XBLA and the virtual console are just brillant I get to relive classics and download Grandia because it was on a OPM demo that had a video of Ghoul Panic. After 10 years of inserting the legendary “demo disc 56” into the PS3.. WOW… Ghoul Panic still looks amazing, I really want to play this just as the excitement of playing Point Blank in the Arcade but on a Playstation.

  3. I like games that are not afraid to stand out of the crowd by expermenting. For Example Mirrior’s edge was a FPS without the shooter bit and it was good. The problem with today’s games is that most companies rathe not take a risk with expermenting with a genre and would rather sell the same old crap. Heavy rain was a game without a genre as it was entirelly new. I think the FPS is full of Genric shooters and games like Bulletstorm tend to go past unoticed. I rather play a good game with a new twist on the genre then Genric Shoot of extreme awseome with genric bald space marine.
    I hope EA do decide to make Mirror’s edge two and not change that it so it ends up looking like a FPS.

    • I love how your spelling mistakes got into double figures on that comment!

      I agree with your points mostly. For me and a lot of people, story is one of the most important parts of a game and a lot of FPS games dont have a good story these days.

      More experimenting with games would be a great thing to see but I can see why they dont do it as In for one am not willing to risk £40 on a game that I might not like or enjoy. I guess that is where TSA comes in though, to tell me if it is good or not!

  4. It woud be great to see more experimentation in gaming, but with the econamoy the way it is publishers don’t won’t the risk.
    However even when a there is a good new concept for a game e.g. MindJack it often fails to do it well e.g. Mindjack

    • MindJack failed to be a good game according to many though.
      Probably not the best example.
      A metacritic of 43 and user score of 41 says exactly why it didn’t sell.

  5. Sadly, I think we’re going to see less and less inovative and experimental games in the future, simply becasue of, as both Steven and 8Bit mentioned, developers not taking any risks. But is it their fault? No. Obviously they’re not going to prioritize making new creative IP when they’ve got popular franchises that they know will sell way better.
    I’d imagine socalled “hardcore-gamers”..(thats us!) to be a minority when it comes to the gaming consumer-base, the main buying-force is the mainstream Call of Duty fan, GTA, Gran Turismo, Mario, you know the drill. Developers aren’t to be blamed, it’s the gamers.

    Only thing we can do as I see it, is to applaud developers like 5th cell for their work and start supporting new IP more actively, by buying it!

    • I don’t know, I don’t think we will see less. If anything I think we will see more, as the popularity of download only games increases. Games like Limbo, Braid, Flower etc have all done very well. I think we will continue to see experimental games, just under a different format.

      • Well yes, what I meant is that we’ll see less new IPs and innovative projects from bigger developers, they’re going to play safe I think. The indie-market though is still growing it seems…

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