Innovation Is Dead. Long Live Innovation

I went to see The Life of Pi 3D in the cinema recently. I must say, before then I hadn’t exactly been a fan of 3D movies, however after scouring the film listings of my local theatre and being struck by the lack of 2D screenings available for most new releases, I grudgingly booked tickets for the ‘state of the art’ experience. Don’t get me wrong – I had never argued with the premise of 3D movies; any technological advancements which have the potential to enhance an experience are surely to be viewed as a good thing, I just didn’t feel the technology was quite there yet, and – down to being old fashioned – was of the view that my silver screen outings should be of the two-dimensional variety. Prior to The Life of Pi, my experience of 3D movies had been somewhat lacking- the 3D element something which felt more of a novelty than an innovation; the action on-screen appearing merely embossed, as opposed to jumping off the screen; 2 and-a-half D, for want of a better label. But with Ang Lee’s film adaptation of Yann Martel’s cult novel, it was clear from the outset that this was a movie filmed with three-dimensional presentation in mind.

Simply by adopting a first-person perspective in many scenes, as well as aiming a lot of the action towards the camera shot, the viewer instantly becomes more immersed in the story, as well as vulnerable to the ‘jumping out of the frame’ effect three-dimension film thrusts upon them. Trust me – nothing forces perspective better than a wild animal hurtling towards you, as Bengal tiger Richard Parker so elegantly portrays throughout the movie. Suddenly ‘3D’ had lived up to its billing; The Life of Pi’s 3D iteration actually better than its 2D counterpart. Perhaps not utterly groundbreaking – producing such material for a medium over 130 years old is no easy feat – but certainly innovative in its wake. Appreciating this is important, for acknowledging something when it does something well is how we strive for quality and success in the future. Sure, The Life of Pi’s 3D experience is not exactly fully-realized or fully-immersive – it’s not quite Jaws swallowing Marty McFly in Hill Valley town square in 2015 – but impressive none the less, and certainly a marker for future 3D interpretations, well-deserving of any credit it receives along the way. Which leads me nicely back to our little cliche – sometimes you have to stop and smell the roses.

life of pi

The current generation of gaming is nearing its end and where many (if not most) will recount and rejoice over the achievements the last six or seven years has delivered, many critics appear to have pronounced mainstream gaming dead. Dead, like the eyes of the much-maligned, underage Call of Duty devotee, shuffling their way towards Wal-Mart in search of the latest rendition of their beloved annual FPS update. And it is these games which critics appear to attribute the decline of innovation in mainstream gaming to, citing their over-dependency on online multiplayer content, faceless protagonists and bland solo-campaigns as pitfalls best avoided. Couple this with the perceived financial constraints faced by developers; a scenario where they are too scared to gamble on fresh ideas or new IP for fear of failure – and ultimately, loss of revenue –  and you have the gist of our critics interpretation of the pernicious factors stagnating the industry.

Some of the above may be true; generic military shooters may lack imagination at times, but let the genre-faithful worry about that – sales for these games certainly haven’t diminished or suffered any sort of ‘stagnation’, so one would assume those playing these games certainly don’t mind the directed criticism. Money is an issue across all industries nowadays, and developers are increasingly cautious over their budgets, but to run on the assumption that all developers are scared to try something new is just ignorant. Thatgamecompany’s 2012 PSN masterpiece, Journey is more than testament to this. A wordless, combat-less tale woven with mystique plants our hero in the middle of the desert whereupon they must battle the elements in the quest to reach that mountain far off in the distance. It’s simple, but it’s beautiful. In October last year, Arkane’s Dishonored turned the first-person shooter genre on its head by delivering a game which could be as violent as one desired, but could also be completed without injuring a single soul. All-out bludgeoning is more straightforward without doubt, but leave too many corpses and risk increasing the bloody-thirsty rat population which plagues the city of Dunwall. This sense of empowerment is something truly wonderful, not to mention the beauty of which exploring Dunwall itself beholds the player. The recent success of Level 5’s Ni No Kuni proves that inspired storytelling coupled with stunning visuals and likable protagonists can reinvigorate entire genres – the RPG genre one which has faced considerable criticism recently, most likely down to the successive disappointments offered from other leading series’. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and the status of online critics will always be argued. The slightly worrying thing though is that, above all, these critics are consumers. Yes, not all developers are scared to take risks but ultimately they are out to make money. Those who brand innovation in gaming dead at this stage – whilst we still have so much on offer – may well be already contributing to its eventual demise.

journey psn

This generation has provided us with a host of quintessential gaming moments; ones which will be heralded as pivotal in years to come. David Cage’s Heavy Rain stands out as one of the most innovative video games of the modern age, creating an almost hybrid cinema/video game infused interactive thriller. With over 20 possible endings, virtually no play-through is the same. But Heavy Rain only scratches the surface; Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots took the Metal Gear series to a whole new level in 2008 in terms of intricate, blockbuster storytelling, and was the first game to really show off what this generation’s hardware was capable of; Arkham Asylum and Arkham City proved that superhero games can actually contend as triple A titles; Fallout 3 saw the series adopt a three-dimensional, open-world sandbox adventure, recreating a nuclear-torn Washington DC; Portal 2 unexpectedly became an entire sequel to its somewhat cult puzzler predecessor, creating one of the most intelligent games ever made; Saints Row proved that there was nothing wrong with playing with a tried and tested formula, and was successful in doing so; and Borderlands 2 lead by example as to how a sequel should be delivered – bigger, louder and better.

h.rain choices

These games changed the landscape of gaming; they set new standards and raised the bar for anything which dared follow. These games aren’t perfect. But we wouldn’t want them to be, would we? Where would we go next if they were? The 3D experience conveyed by The Life of Pi isn’t perfect and will be bettered, probably sooner rather than later, but it is still deserving of approbation in the meantime. As the end looms for the current generation of gaming, 2013 still has plenty to offer; from the highly anticipated BioShock Infinite, to David Cage’s latest project – Beyond: Two Souls; from Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes – the first sandbox Metal Gear, to Tomb Raider – a prequel to the entire series which sees a young, vulnerable Lara battling for survival. Not to mention The Last of Us or Grand Theft Auto V 

Sometimes it’s almost too obvious to applaud the occasions where things are going well.

But of course, sometimes you have to stop and smell the roses.