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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/bj5bma/gaming-is-better-when-established-developers-try-new-things
I think back to Persona 5 and while the gameplay flow has improved, aspects like the social links and the overwhelming activities that are more time wasting than worth while felt like they were playing it safe. And obviously lack of good queer characters and being queer. Even if their story telling needs the character to be 1 gender they can at least have them be queer and open their relationship to many characters. This is more than just player’s opinion but also open them up to new stories.
I’ve recently become a pretty big fan of Tribute Games’ work. Much like Klei, each of their games is a pretty big departure from the last. I’ve been playing a decent amount of Flinthook (roguelite action-platformer), dipping my toes into Curses n’ Chaos (wave-based beat 'em up), and wanting to revisit the recently updated Mercenary Kings (Metal Slug x Monster Hunter).
ACE Team is another dev that likes to do bizarre new things rather than go back to the well (though they have made a couple sequels). The concept behind Deadly Tower of Monsters is so fun and strange.
And I always get excited when Game Freak gets to work on something other than Pokemon.
Resident Evil 7 showed this to me, I was a fan of the first few titles, but over time they massively dropped in quality. But actually maybe RE7 isnt the best example as they done what they seen had been successful elsewhere.
I have put a good few hours into Into The Breach now and can see in what way it remains similar to FTL but how it massively swerves and becomes a whole different experience (one that I am absolutely suckered into I should say).
Does Breath of the Wild fit here? I think in hindsight is might seem like that game was destined to be what it ended up being, but making a Zelda game open-world (and not just open-world, but a kind of systems-driven open-world that borrows from immersive sims and 3D platformers and everything else) was a huge divergence from almost everything that series has ever done. Though the argument could be made that they took Zelda 1 and translated its design philosophy into a 3D space and modern mechanics, I think the differences are still substantial enough to qualify as doing something appreciably new.
Also, at this point it’s over ten years old so it’s basically ancient in game years, but Portal was very much an established developer giving a small team the ability to make something weird and creative and different, and it turned into the game that quite literally got me into non-Nintendo gaming. I know the puzzles by heart but I still love replaying it because they even got things like portal jumping and momentum to be satisfying.
The backlash against Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts was depressing because it was Rare choosing to use that IP as a springboard to make something wildly different. For those that haven’t played it, instead of being a traditional N64-era collectathon platformer, Nuts & Bolts focuses on having the player create custom vehicles to complete challenges in each world.
Its vehicle creation suite was fun by itself since you could make really goofy laser-boats or car-plane hybrids, but where it really shined was in the mission design, where the game heavily encouraged player creativity in making vehicles tailored for that particular objective. It was like a puzzle game in that respect, and it was coupled with a great visual style as well as one of Grant Kirkhope’s best soundtracks.
I really hope that after what a disappointment Yooka-Laylee ended up being–and how one of N&B’s most fervent critics ended up being a disgusting white supremacist fucker–people will better appreciate what a fantastically innovative game it was.
I wonder if drastic franchise reboots really fit here, first thing coming to mind being Metroid Prime. It’s maybe not accurate to say they were “following” massive success since there was a full console generation between Super and Prime. The change in technology between Super and Prime almost made a completely different approach feel like a requirement rather than a brave choice – would anyone really have been hype about another 2D side scroller on their fancy new console? But even if their hand was forced by circumstances, it was still a new thing that worked out great.
The Binding of Isaac! The BINDING of ISAAC!
It’s a massive pivot for Edmund McMillen from his work on Super Meat Boy, and while I can point to their shared DNA - the debt they owe to well-established genres and NES classics, the aesthetic, the difficulty - there’s very little they share mechanically, and it’s refreshing and impressive to watch a developer effectively revolutionize a whole other genre after having done it once.
I think The Witness fits here too; I know some of the Waypoint crew took exception to some of that games thematic underpinnings, which is maybe the piece it shares with Jonathan Blow’s first tile, but it’s a wonderful puzzler and wonderful in a wholly different way from Braid.
I haven’t played it yet, but Heat Signature is another pretty big departure from Tom Francis’s first title, Gunpoint.
I have serious problems with the idea of the “auteur”, but maybe there’s something to the fact that a lot of these pivots come from small studios, and that I can associate the three in this post (and a few of the titles Austin mentioned) with single creators whose personalities seem to permeate their games. Obviously having less publisher pressure means more freedom to try new things, but maybe it also has to do with the agility of small teams, or the inertia of big ones.
I think this and the “fresh take on series” work hand in hand.
For rebooting a series it feels like the developer maps key themes and maybe gameplay ideas onto a whole new structure. Mix that established franchise up a bit.
For a developer switching things up, it is changing up everything but taking key learnings with you. Feels like where we live in an age where indies can make not just these “little, fun experiences” but full-fledged THINGS! We are getting to the point where it feels like when you follow a not-entirely-mainstream movie director. You see them develop a skillset. Even when they work within a genre they can play in that sandbox. Obviously, a movie isn’t one person’s work but it is the director’s vision for the most part. With smaller devs, you get to have a unique vision still. Maybe it is a handful of people making choices but that’s still relatively personal compared to a massive AAA dev that needs to appease a vast audience and corporate bigwigs. I don’t know where I’m going with this. I also like when developers mix it up while showing that their last game taught them something?
I mean, different is fine … but the game also has to be fun? I tried to get into Nuts and Bolts over and over again, only to repeatedly bounce off of its sluggish controls and difficult objectives. The only parts of the game I actually liked was when I could just screw around with planes and not care about getting to the next goal.
So OK, I wouldn’t mind a version of Nuts and Bolts that wasn’t a soul sucking drag. But I’m sure as hell not going to bang my head against that thing a fourth or fifth time.
Oh: my actual answer for the thread is Drill Dozer. That reminds me I need to get back into Joylancer at some point.
I’m not going to disagree with you about the controls, but I will say that difficult objectives often means that you’re not using an efficient design for the task at hand. I was initially frustrated with the game myself, but once I realized that the way to succeed was lateral thinking in the garage, the game really gelled for me. I’m not sure if they’re still up, but I believe that there were leaderboard videos that can act as inspiration and blueprints you could download.
I hope this didn’t come off as “you’re playing it wrong”, because I really don’t mean that. I just wanted to share why I love B-K: Nuts & Bolts despite its surface level jankiness.
At this point I would be SHOCKED if the next Supergiant game was anything like Bastion, Transistor, or Pyre from anything other than an art direction standpoint…
Surprised that no-one’s brought up Horizon Zero Dawn. For a studio like Guerilla Games, so steeped as it was in linear first-person shooters for years, to pull out a great open-world action-RPG that becomes a major calling card of the system it’s on? Nothing short of amazing IMO.
This is such a good question! It’s part of why I’m let down by this console generation as well. If you think back to the previous two console generations, you saw many established developers trying to make vastly different games. Think like Sucker punch, Naughty Dog, and Insomniac from PS1 > PS2 > PS3. Yes, their games all kept aspects of their signature designs, but they were trying different things too. That hasn’t really been the case for this recent generation, and the new ip’s introduced by third party publishers have all been pretty safe, and I’m kind of bummed about that.
What’s your favorite example of this sort of surprising release from a developer, indie or otherwise?
Pyre was maybe my favorite recent example of this. But I think HEAT SIGNATURE is also an excellent example of this!