Copycat Games: Is stealing gameplay ideas from others evolution?

Copycat Games

Is stealing gameplay ideas from others evolution?

by Daniel Geikowski

©2012 Daniel Geikowski

A little from Column A, and a little from Column B.

Originality in games has always been an important factor.

Originality allows a game to stand out from the crowd. Over time, games have tended to borrow elements or settings from other games, seemingly gaining inspiration from other titles.

This isn’t to say that games are blatantly copying elements or features from alternate titles, instead it can be argued that it is simply video games evolving. Elements and features are being reworked and refined over time, to suit the specific game’s style.

Is this game truly original?

Originality is far from dead.

New narratives and settings are being created all the time. However, almost anywhere you look nowadays, new games on the horizon contain some familiar features.

E3 this year demonstrated a lot of common elements , with few additions. Here are some strong examples of games ‘borrowing’ from others.

‘Healthy’ Copying?

One thing we’ve seen is the mass shift from using Health Kits in games, to a rechargeable life gauge.

Most First Person Shooter (FPS) games use this method now, as it’s been approved by gamers. It can be argued that this rechargeable gauge has led to a generation of “camping” in games, with players waiting in cover for their health to charge before re-entering the fray.

It’s good to see that games such as The Last of Us are utilising Health Kits again, as I think it adds into the whole survival element the game is striving for.  Mind you this was also done in I Am Alive, the Ubisoft XBLA/PSN post-apocalyptic game that also saw a man escorting a girl around dilapidated ruins of modern America.

Have we been here before?

Staying with The Last of Us, settings and environments are commonly repeated in games.

While the setting of TLoU looks somewhat original, Post-Apocalyptic America, seemingly taken over by nature, has been seen in another game.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West released in 2010, had players traversing through a similar setting. Post-apocalyptic America, destroyed buildings, with nature slowly reclaiming the modern cities.

This isn’t a blight on TLoU, as I believe it stands out from all the brown, dull environments of the past few years (I’m looking at you, Gears of War).

Only in America!

America is a popular setting for games.

Watch Dogs, the game that had everyone talking at E3, is set in Chicago. Crysis 3, is set in New York, the most overused setting in a game (look here). Although it has been taken over by nature, it’s still New York.

Assassin’s Creed 3 is set in New York, Boston and Philadelphia, even though part of the game is set during the Seven Year’s War (French Indian War) and could have featured the siege of the fortified walled Quebec City in Ubisoft Montreal’s home province.

Mine is better!

Fresh off the heels of E3, it’s plain to see that multiple games have adopted this year’s apparent “hot” weapon, the Bow and Arrow.

The Bow will be used in games such as Crysis 3, Assassin’s Creed 3, Tomb Raider and Far Cry 3.

While they are different types of bows and arrows, they all play integral parts to each respective game, instead of being slapped in for the sake of things. They all belong and suit the style of each game, utilising them for covert takedowns, with the ability to cause environmental damage as well.  But they all happen to coincide with each other.

Do you mind if I borrow that?

While a sequel can be argued to lack originality somewhat, it’s always pleasing to see a spin on an old mechanic or a change in environment.

Take Assassin’s Creed 3 for example.

I think it’s safe to say many are happy to get away from running through the Renaissance urban locales of the past three entries.

Being set in the wilderness of the Frontier of the United States, the player can encounter wildlife which they can kill and skin in exchange for money. This is similar to Red Dead Redemption wherethe player could do the same thing.

Assassin’s Creed 3 will also see the return of Eagle Vision, which allows the player to pinpoint important characters.

This mechanic can also be seen in another new game, Hitman: Absolution.

In the demo featured at E3, Agent 47 was able to highlight important targets, with the option to take them out with ease.

This feature seems to also take inspiration from the Mark and Execute ability in the Splinter Cell series. While I get that this is meant to represent that Agent 47 is an efficient badass killing machine, I feel that it makes things a bit too easy for players nowadays.

I find it more empowering and badass if I’ve put in the work to wipe out an area full of enemy meat-bags.

Into Chartered territory

While we are on the subject of Splinter Cell, the new title Blacklist, has seen ass-kicking machine Sam Fisher undergo some changes since we last saw him in Conviction.

Even though Blacklist aims to represent the roots of the original Splinter Cell games, Sam still retains the ability to Mark and Execute, and is more nimble and efficient this time around.

In the demo, Sam was seen scaling walls and objects akin to Assassin’s Creed and Uncharted.

Blacklist isn’t the only game from E3 that people have been comparing to Uncharted.

The Last of Us has been compared to Uncharted in terms of mechanics such as movement, camera styles, button prompts, etc. This makes sense as the developer, Naughty Dog, are responsible for both games.

It’s not a case of simply reusing old styles and features, instead incorporating what has been successful into a new title.

Tomb Raider has also been compared to Uncharted, in terms of the reboot’s up close and personal style, melee takedowns, platforming elements, and the fact that both are treasure hunters.

Although one could argue that Uncharted was inspired by Tomb Raider in the first place….

Stop. Bullet Time.

The arrival of Max Payne 3 this year has seen the pioneers of Bullet Time return.

Ever since the original Max Payne, numerous titles have incorporated shooting unlucky people in the face in slow motion.

Today’s titles are no different. Sleeping Dogs, a sandbox game in the same vein of Saints Row or Grand Theft Auto, features slow motion bullet time.

Watch Dogs, which also has similar sandbox elements like GTA, features slow motion shooting as seen in the demo.

Even the survival horror games have started incorporating elements from action games.

While Resident Evil 6 has been a little more focused on action since the previous title, Dead Space seems to be following suit.

The original was more focused on the survival horror aspect, with the second leaning to a more action orientated focus.

Dead Space 3 seems to be embracing action this time around, with the incorporating of dodging, rolling, and the introduction of an organic cover system seen in games such as Gears of War.

Into the melting pot…

New IPs also contain traces of features from games gone before.

Dishonoured, the new stealth action game published by Bethesda, contains references from previous games.

First Person Stealth games will always be linked back to the Thief series.

However, the abilities available to the player, and alternate methods these abilities can be used to overcome a situation, reminds me of the Plasmids available from the BioShock games.

The ability to wield weapons and powers simultaneously was featured in Bethesda’s 2011 epic, Skyrim.

In conjunction with the Neo-Victorian theme, the futuristic styling of elements such as the Tallboys reminds me of Half-Life 2‘s City 17. The ability to approach situations in a multitude of ways is reminiscent of the ability to do so in Deus Ex.

The Evolution of Gaming

zombies are everywhere in games

Pretty much anywhere you look today, games have gained inspiration from another title.

Is originality dead? I don’t think so.

Games need to walk the fine line of utilising a previously used element, feature or concept, and incorporating it into their own original ideas.

Successful games are able to incorporate these features seamlessly as long as it suits their style, instead of simply slapping in something because it’s the in thing right now.

©2012 Daniel Geikowski

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2 thoughts on “Copycat Games: Is stealing gameplay ideas from others evolution?”

  1. Most of the points you are trying to make are worthless.

    Do you look at paintings and say “Hey! he used same color as she did!” ?.

    There is only a number of ways you can do some things, everything you just mentioned was “this have done it before”, well I bet THEY “stole” it of a movie, book or real life.

    Its all in the details and combining it good, no media can EVER be 100% original.

    Of course there are some obvious coping going on, but this is a XX million dollar industry.

    art IS stealing.
    If it looks like a duck just call it a duck, don’t say it looks like a swan.

    / ^^


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