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 Prince of Persia  creator Mechner says 'evolution of games' is a misleading idea
Prince of Persia creator Mechner says 'evolution of games' is a misleading idea Exclusive
May 4, 2012 | By Leigh Alexander

May 4, 2012 | By Leigh Alexander
More: Console/PC, Smartphone/Tablet, Programming, Art, Design, Exclusive

Jordan Mechner's The Last Express is coming to iOS in a time that's seen something of a resurgence in popularity for earlier game forms -- particularly the adventure genre, in an environment of positive fundraising for the work of creators like Al Lowe, Jane Jensen and the Two Guys From Andromeda.

But Mechner, also renowned for his Karateka (currently undergoing its own remake) and Prince of Persia, cautions against viewing games on such a fixed continuum: "Older game forms don't go away," he tells Gamasutra. "So when we talk about the 'evolution of games', I think that's misleading, because it implies that the older forms no longer exist."

The emergence of new platforms simply creates new opportunities for older forms: "It actually makes sense to make a game like Asteroids now, in a way it hasn't in the last 20 years," he says for example, "because it makes sense to play Asteroids on your iPhone the way it doesn't make sense to [play it] on your PlayStation 3."

New platforms can bring traditional story and adventure-focused games to new audiences -- but new approaches are also on the rise. Mechner is a big fan of Thatgamecompany's Journey: "You interact [with other players] just through a couple of simple buttons, but within those few buttons there's great subtlety," he reflects.

That simplicity is just one of many signs that games are enjoying a similar growth arc to almost every other art form. "It's easy to take film as an analogy... your early films were adaptations of stage plays or literary works, and then we had films that were remakes of earlier films," Mechner says. Part of any art medium's quest for its voice involves initially being imitative before finding its own strengths, and going through phases of popular appeal versus experimentation.

In film "we had genres that evolved, plateaued and then burnt out, like Westerns, but then the climate changed," Mechner explains. "In the '60s and '70s, Hollywood came back to the Western, but they were revisionist... using an outdated genre to address themes like the end of America, the displacement of Native Americans, the cost of war... things Westerns had traditionally not done."

"When game forms come back, they don't come back the same way; they come back into a new environment where things are possible that were not possible before," he notes. "You can now make a game that's about games; you can comment on your [older] forms, you're not just copying them."

That's part of what makes it an exciting time to enter the field, he adds: "There are teams large and small all over the world exploring pretty much any kind of gaming idea that you can imagine. I think this is a great time to be working in games at any level."

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Kenneth Blaney
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Games don't evolve like species, they evolve more like academic ideas. That is, each game (ideally) does something unique and then others build upon what works or refine aspects that didn't work to try to make them work. Perfect example of this is the point and click adventure. PaCAs clearly owe their roots to text adventures. They take the puzzles and add graphics and more meaningful story. Keep the graphics, story and puzzle structure and add some more engaging real time gameplay and you give birth to the survival horror. That said, PaCAs are still alive and well (just look at Adventure Game Studio... nice community there). They didn't get replaced, they just became a great building point for game makers to work from.

Tawna Evans
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"Keep the graphics, story and puzzle structure," add stat building, and wam, we have RPGs.

Bob Johnson
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OH yeah most video games recycle old ideas in different combinations with new coats of paint. Many of those ideas are from board games or card games or sports or physical games we play as kids as well.

Chuck Bartholomew
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When I read Mechner's comments above, I heard him say "you remember that game you loved on the Sega Genesis? That awesome game that made you fall in love with games? Why not make something like that again?" The game industry goes through phases, popular gameplay ideas come and go, but one should never assume that "old" mechanics, visual styles, stories, etc. are outdated and have no place in the modern game market. I am inclined to agree, but am unsure whether this is because "old" ideas feel "fresh" to a young audience that doesn't remember the good old days, or because of an aging audience that is drawn to nostalgic titles. Maybe its a bit of both?

Victor Arroyo
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So that means this guy is out of ideas.