Prince of Persia creator Mechner says 'evolution of games' is a misleading idea
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 using an outdated genre to address themes like the end of America, the displacement of Native Americans, the cost of war...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."