Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Free Games, Part Two

On to my disagreements, which are less to do with the thesis than with the way the argument for it is presented...

The history of software into the mid-80s is a demonstration of the ineffectiveness of proprietary software development.

As described in this article, proprietary software development seems pretty effective to me, provided you understand that its goal is to be profitable. Granted, if you define the goal to be "creating innovative software", it's been ineffective, but the people doing it don't particularly have that goal, except as it contributes to their actual goal (profits).

I challenge anyone else who defends the status quo to show me some innovative new titles from the major developers.

Not that I'm interested in defending the status quo, but (and I haven't even played all of these myself):
Katamari Damacy (totally unique). World of Warcraft (innovative gameplay within existing genre). Missing (integrated internet research within adventure game). If I'm allowed to go back more than 12 months, I'd name pretty much any game designed by Sid Meier, Will Wright, or Peter Molyneux.

The vast majority of titles will be the near-identical members of narrowly defined "genres."

But the same statement can be made about movies, music, books, television, Broadway musicals, or any other entertainment medium. I don't see any reason to believe this is related in any way to the use of a closed-source development model. Furthermore, if you're defining "innovation" as creating a game that can't be classified into an existing "genre", you're defining innovation far too narrowly. Is it not possible to innovate within an existing genre? Weren't 2001 and Star Wars both "innovative" films, even though both are squarely in the SF genre?

And furthermore, just as a side note: "Innovative" != "Good". "Innovative" != "Fun". For example, Trespasser: Jurassic Park was highly innovative in its use of physics modeling (down to supposedly using physics modeling to generate sound effects) and behavior modeling (of the dinosaurs). It was also pretty much universally reviled as a horrible, horrible game. From pre-release interviews with the designers, it seems they were more focused on making it innovative than on making it fun, and it suffered. As did the people who played it.

If there were truly paradigms broken in Half-Life 2, Halo 2, and Doom 3, I'd love to hear about them.

If there were truly paradigms broken in Casablanca, The Godfather, and Gone With the Wind, I'd love to hear about them.

I picked those films just because they're numbers 2, 3, and 4 on the AFI "100 Years...100 Movies" list (skipping Citizen Kane for rhetorical purpose, since it arguably did break some paradigms).

Heck, if part of the point of the article is that these are all sequels, then what paradigms were broken in The Godfather, Part II, The Empire Strikes Back, or Dawn of the Dead, all sequels which are regarded as equal to or better than the originals? Sequels are not inherently inferior. They're often inferior in practice, but it isn't a reliable predictor of quality in games any more than it is in movies. The Grand Theft Auto series, for example, wasn't particularly interesting until GTA III, and each of the sequels since that one (GTA: Vice City and GTA: San Andreas) have gone even further with the innovative open-ended gameplay they introduced in III.

So, what does the author give as the lone example of an open-source game, to demonstrate how open-source fosters innovation? Vega Strike: "Daniel says he got his inspiration for Vega Strike from the DOS game Privateer, a game which those of with a bit more historical background will recognize as a descendent of Elite, the classic Firebird space trading and combat simulation." An "innovative" remake of a remake. The computer-gaming equivalent of Last Man Standing. The primary innovation cited by the author: The very fact that the game is open source ("But what's really innovative is that, unlike the previous games in the genre, Vega Strike allows fans to not only play the game, but get to help out with its ongoing development!") Sorry, but if your goal is to show how open source development fosters more innovation that closed development, you can't claim the open source model itself as an innovation. That's cheating.

And then, of course, there's this: "Doom is clearly one of those games we might describe as "innovative," or, at the very least, "influential."" And developed under a closed source model. It was only opened to the public later. And the long-term success of games like Doom, and Quake, and Half-Life, and Civilization II, and others, is at least partly due to the thriving "mod" communities that sprung up around them. Modding is only possible where the game is open to at least some degree, at least allowing new art/text assets (what Stallman called the "art/fiction", separable from the engine). The publishers have seen the value (to both themselves and their customers) in allowing this, and lately, there are many, many games with this level of modifiability build in, even when the code isn't open in a FSF sense.

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