Making the difference… or not

There’s a tendency in videogames, but also in pretty much everything, to copy whatever is successful at the moment. Makes sense, of course. Someone might shout at plagiarism or at least lack of innovation, but there’s a feeling of safety in treading a proven path. At times, however, developers will copy a formula while also trying to shake it up a bit. The problem with this approach is that it might be actually more risky than attempting to build something from scratch, as you might take apart something that was the knot to keep all the elements together.

Taking a red Elite head-on with a battle rifle? I hope he's playing on Normal difficulty.
Almost every shooter nowadays – and many other genres as well – owes to Halo’s regenerating shields system, but they forget one thing: enemies had regenerating shields as well, so you had to take a few more risks than in today’s shooters.

In the end, there’s usually a reason if something works so well. Changing stuff around might make things even worse. Of course, that’s not saying you shouldn’t try and shuffle something, since nobody wants to play the same game over and over. But it can be a little hard to discern what should be changed and what shouldn’t.

The importance of Ocarina of Time can't be overstated, especially the introduction of Z-targeting to the world. But it's being used less and less lately.
The importance of Ocarina of Time cannot be overstated, especially the introduction of Z-targeting to the world. It would be the standard in third-person games for many years… but not forever.

Sometimes, changes will happen naturally as technology gets different, more specifically the controls. The Z-targeting system introduced in OoT was a real game-changer, but nowadays, it’s fallen somewhat in disuse. The reason for this can probably be found in the common acceptance of dual stick controls as the default, which gives players more freedom than even the Z system. But perhaps even more so, the success of Batman Arkham Asylum has effectively changed combat in third person games, shifting the combat focus from a single enemy to the player’s entire area.

The combat system in Arkham is the result of, apparently, a very carefully balanced approach. When other games copy it, but change it around, they almost always end up worse. Which brings me to the reason why I’m writing this post at all: the combat in Assassin’s Creed 4 is pretty bad. You can see they tried to copy Arkham, but the lack of smoothness ruins everything and makes it a chore. See, changing just one element – the speed of the combat – has taken all the fun out of the entire combat system.

So, change is a good thing. Imagine if Rocksteady used the Z-targeting in Arkham Asylum. But if you only change a few things, it’s probably better to test it thoroughly, because chances are it won’t work as well as the original.

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