SEEN IT ALL, DONE IT ALL

Regular CRASH reader ANDREW CHAPMAN could hold his thoughts no longer. The cyclic gush of unoriginal games did more than just arouse Andrew from his sleep. He decided to put pen to paper and try and work out why we are still putting up with the same old concepts, over and over again?

‘Variety is the spice of life’ they say, yet where is the variety among the new games that are released each month? It is easy to glance at the latest releases and make some glib statement about the many different games on offer. But however varied each month’s batch of software may be, how many of the titles can legitimately boast a new concept in computer gaming? Well out of say, thirty new titles gracing the shelves every moon, perhaps one or two, though more often than not none at all.

While it is true that almost all games must inevitably fall into one category or another, too many software houses seem to be taking the easy option and just rehashing an old concept, perhaps just changing the graphics to make a game look different to its predecessors, but which is effectively identical in gameplay. It appears to the interested observer that the market is becoming saturated. The Spectrum is in a particular dilemma, having been on our desks for around six years in one of its various guises, almost every possible angle must have been tried in this period.

Commodore Crisis

The Commodore 64 is entering a similar situation, although it is perhaps saved by better quality sound and graphics. The Amstrad CPC range has had the benefit of youth, and so old favourites from the Spectrum and Commodore could be converted, and respectable sales achieved. However, even the Amstrad market is now entering the doldrums, as in general the same titles are being produced across the board. Fair enough, but the sad fact remains that the larger majority of these titles have been seen in all but name and presentation.

The shop shelves reveal a great number of similar games, for instance games like Enduro Racer, Super Hang-On, Out Run, Crazy Cars, Roadblasters etc, are all variations on a theme that has been with us since the advent of the home computer. Most software houses seem content to stay with tried and tested ideas; imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but what is the point of flogging a dead horse? Almost no one seems to be willing to go beyond the realm of the straightforward shoot-’em-up, collect-’em-up, or beat-’em-up types of game with some minor twist.

‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but what is the point of flogging a dead horse?’

The only truly new concept I can think of is the Freescape technique employed by Incentive for Driller (Issue 47, 97%), and AGAIN used in the sequel Dark Side (Issue 54, 95%), but no doubt the secret will eventually be discovered, and the games copied until we have solid 3-D landscapes up to our eyeballs.

Name Without A Game

Many games over the last few years have been licensed from the arcades — Out Run, Ikari Warriors, Bionic Commando, Alien Syndrome, Commando and Gauntlet. Film tie-ins include Back To The Future, Aliens, Blade Runner, The Living Daylights and the soon-to-be- released Live And Let Die from Domark. Comic characters have frequently starred in their own games: Nemesis The Warlock, The Hulk, Spiderman, Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper and Batman. What a great earner, buy a licence, knock up an unoriginal game and make a killing. Killing the good name of software certainly, why pay for a name without a game?

‘Some companies do actually strive to be original’

There isn’t much point in producing an inevitably poor conversion from a stunning arcade machine; comparisons are odious and the Spectrum version is bound to look pathetic in comparison to its arcade counterpart. Of course gameplay should be considered above graphics and sound, but they still play an important role, despite the Spectrum’s memory limitations.

Game inlays

I don’t object to old ideas being reused if the game is the best of its kind to date, I guess Super Hang-On would come top of my earlier list. Sometimes the older games (the grandparents Many games over the last few so to speak) are the best. I can’t think of an overhead view shoot-em-up game that I prefer to good old Uridium. Most games are just run-of-the-mill copies that not only fail to match the originals, but offer little that is new. Nevertheless, if a game is sufficiently addictive or indeed impressive, then I suppose the question of originality doesn’t matter very much.

To be fair, though, some companies do actually strive to be original, take Pogostick Olympics for example (Issue 55, 20%), nice idea, shame about the actual game. Others claim to have invented a new concept, but whether they actually have or not is a matter of opinion.

Budget Boom

It is forgivable however in budget software, as the budget market is an excellent way of rereleasing old classics (Bomb Jack, Sweevo’s World, Dan Dare, Bruce Lee, Saboteur), although old duds are occasionally prodded awake from their slumber as well, and budget clones of admittedly superior full price games are worth buying, if you like the particular genre. So it isn’t the budget market that is in a state of stagnant saturation.

Nor is it so with the fields of adventure and strategy, as there seems to be more scope for originality in this market. As in this genre realism is probably more important than originality, and perhaps less often achieved. Maybe it is because many adventures and strategy-based games are homegrown that they often have a fresh and original approach.

‘We either follow their lead, or we totter and fall into the murky slime’

Ultimately of course, the responsibility lies in the hands of Joe Public. We as software buyers don’t have to buy clones and rewrites, the trouble is that’s very often all that is available. This is where the responsibilities of the producers lie, as there are only two possible bridges across the stagnant swamp of software as I see it. Either the new original designs from companies such as Incentive, or the excellent execution of products from the likes of Hewson. We either follow their lead, or we totter and fall into the murky slime.