Opinion: Blurring Genres

A few years back I remember Kieron angrily arguing that genres were stifling development. I’ve decided to muse on that. Simply by applying the label we inhibit both the game’s development, and the audience’s appreciation of the results. So perhaps one of the most frustrating results of such thinking is the notion of labelling something a “genre crossing game”.

It’s convenient to label. If I’m reading about a film, I know that it’s helpful to be told near the top that it’s going to be a horror or a romcom. The problem is, that’s horrible laziness on my part. Why can’t it be a horror romcom? (Other than the inevitable explosion of heads as they tried to market it.) But then, if I’m running a Blockbusters, I still want some sort of rationale for shelving the DVDs.

It was fun to watch the confusion all those years ago when Deus Ex came out, and people tied themselves in knots over what it was. FPS? RPG? (The answer, of course, was “yes”.) As RTS and TBS blurred together, it was similarly entertaining to look at those little boxes in magazines try to pick which field to tick.

But the issue seems to spread farther than just annoying editors. I think it causes damage in two significant ways.

The first is when developing. The idea that a developer either chooses or is forced to pick a label at the beginning of the development process is just terrible. “WE ARE MAKING AN FPS” they declare, and heaven forbid anything get in the way of that. “What if we were to include a way the player could develop their conversation skills, and open different paths?” “I SAID FPS!”

It’s an artificial prison, madly shutting down ideas before they can even be considered. Perhaps your RTS would really benefit from some point and click adventure. You’ll never find out. Maybe what tactical shooters need is some spelling challenges. How will we ever find out?

Okay, so my suggestions there are terrible. But then look what happens when someone thinks something so silly. “Maybe what our match-3 game needs is some RPG”, gives you Puzzle Quest.

The second issue is the customer. That expectation of your horror containing no romantic comedy means you’re very difficult to market to. People like to blame consoles for the simplification of game content, but I’m suspicious it could have a lot more to do with customer expectation.

If the next Modern Warfare introduced dramatically different themes, there would be uproar. Sure, set it on the moon, but make sure I’m a grunt following the NPCs who get to play the game, or I’ll swear at you on the internet. If Creative Assembly released a new Total War that featured first-person combat, RTS fans would be enraged. And I completely sympathise with that. But I still believe it adds enormous restrictions to development.

Even the genre titles themselves are trouble. There’s so few of them! If we hadn’t restricted ourselves to RPG, RTS, FPS, MMO, simulation, sports, adventure, and puzzle, then what else might we have?

So here’s a funny thing. You know where the most innovation of blurring genres is going on? And it’s a place that doesn’t feel the need to say, “it’s a genre crossing game” as if they have to ask permission to not fit in one box. Do you know? It’s casual games.

I mentioned Puzzle Quest. How about Bookworm Adventures? Or what about the constantly evolving nature of hidden object games? While people are so tempted to poo-poo the hunt-the-thing games as trivial, they are constantly reaching to change. Some are embracing point and click, others are broadening their puzzle content, and games like the extraordinary Drawn series are impossible to conveniently label.

There’s huge risk to blurring. It makes the game more difficult to market, it defies customers’ expectations, and it requires educating the public. It’s safe to make yet another COD clone, because we all know them and what they do. And they’re what we want! But like the child who’s never tried a new food, refusing to eat it because it’s different leads to a very limited and dull palate.

Let’s stop calling things “genre crossing” shall we? It’s like finding a unicorn and calling it “a cross between a horse and a drill”. Let’s embrace the lack of genres, because then we switch from a very limited number of possibilities for our games, to an infinite number. Maybe what flight sims need is sword fighting. Maybe racing games will only move forward when… well, you figure it out.


  1. telpscorei says:

    I want to say something like by defining genres in the development cycle, it allows developers to focus upon the nature of the game more so than if it were limitless. I face a similar problem when trying to create something new for the first time; if all things are possible, I don’t know where to take the first step. I need boundaries in order to create.

    But, the thought of adding point & click to an FPS has triggered a painful desire for a first or third person action / detective game. So screw everything I just said above, genre expectation is bad.

    • FalseMyrmidon says:

      The Penumbra series and Amnesia are pretty much first person adventure games with survival horror aspects.

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      mickiscoole says:

      I remember an article in Wired a while back, about how applying constraints boosts creativity. I’ll see if I can track it down, because it was quite interesting.

      EDIT: link to wired.com

    • telpscorei says:

      That wired article is exactly what I was trying to elucidate with my woefully inadequate prose. However, John’s article has a point in that by placing these limitations, we do limit creative possibility.

      I guess this is why “genre-crossing” has become so relevant; it allows one to operate within limits while adding new possibilities to the process. But it still seems too limiting. Finding the balance between these two extremes would be an ideal, but I suspect that having complete freedom will result in games like Minecraft, and having a strict genre specification will result in games like Half-Life. Perhaps each has a role to play in the industry… Though the former seems limited to indie devs at the moment.

    • Xercies says:

      Then don’t place a limit on the genre, place a limit on the idea. Come up with an idea and see what mechanics you need. I.e do I need a first person perspective that does physic puzzles for my game about the french revolution.

    • HilariousCow says:

      Yep. There are plenty of real world constraints to keep you creative, and a billion more interesting self imposed creative constraints than “pick a genre”.
      What about a game which is from a first person perspective, but none of the verbs are antagonistic? How would you design a game where it’s fundamental to the mechanics that save games aren’t allowed. What can a game where there is no concept of death teach us about life? Or “Only develop a game petermolyneux2 has suggested” is my favorite self imposed one.

      Edited to say that this is perfect: “Let’s stop calling things “genre crossing” shall we? It’s like finding a unicorn and calling it “a cross between a horse and a drill” “

  2. MadTinkerer says:

    Actually, quite a few of the “horror” movies I’ve seen practically are romcoms. Sure, they pretend the romantic interests are potentially expendable to keep things nice and tense, but the truth is that it’s everyone else who is expendable, sometimes including the killers/monsters/ghosts.

    If they’d only put a couple of actors in those roles who are able to actually pull off romcom stuff, and have the guts (no pun intended) to involve a writer who both knows how to effectively do romcom and doesn’t mind trying a genre-blender, then you’d have it right there.

    Of course, there are movies that pretend to be horror but are actually comedies in disguise (or the “scary parts are so ham-fisted that it effectively ends up being mostly comedy) that try to do the same thing, but I think the point of Walker’s suggestion is to try to make a movie that’s actually scary as well as a proper romcom.

    On second thought, considering how many “horror” movies fail to get the scary part right, maybe the odds are more stacked against this idea than I thought.

    • RodeoClown says:

      Shaun of the Dead = Horror RomCom

    • President Weasel says:

      Indeed, Sean of the Dead was billed by Pegg and Wright as “the world’s first RomZomCom”.
      My favourite game for ignoring genre boundaries is probably Space Rangers 2: it’s a top down 2D (turn-based-ish) Space-em-up with Elite-style elements, except when it’s being an RTS (in which you can control specific units for third-person-shooteryness), or an arcade space shootery game. This one time, it was a text adventure about running a ski resort.
      And that’s why the “lock 6 Russians in a shed and don’t let them out til there’s a game” genre is the best genre of all.

    • Hellraiserzlo says:

      The Frighteners
      Now unless I am confusing a horror-comedy-with a romance story with a “Horror RomCom”(whatever it means ><), all those movies came before SotD.

    • sinister agent says:

      The difference is that in Sean of the Dead, it was actually a romantic comedy first. There just happened to be zombies in it. They weren’t actually even the real obstacle to the romance – Sean’s hopelessness was. Indeed, the zombies are what actually galvanised him to improve and win his ladyfriend back.

    • Halbyrd says:

      Zombieland managed the horror/romcom mix quite well IMO. You could argue that it was just the American take on Sean of the Dead, but I don’t see that as a negative.

      Anyway, this whole talk about how “genre” is limiting games is a bit of a red herring. What’s limiting games is extreme risk aversion and neophobia on the part of publishers. If your game idea is truly new, it’s also therefore untested, and this frightens the sort of individual who thinks that dropping four figures on a suit is a good idea. Unless we’re talking a nanosuit; that’s an executive of a different color altogether.

    • Headless Monkey Boy says:

      Is Shaun of the dead really a horror though, i mean although it has zombies but the humour disarms them.

      How about American warewolf in London, gues thats a ‘horror black-com rom’?

      I think people just label things for there most prominent feature, Shaun has Zombies = horror, stalker has first person shooting = fps. More out of conveniance than anything else..

      finding out more about something in detail is what reveiws are for (making the internet and meta tags a godsend)

      from a developing point of view i doubt your constrained if you want it to have say a first person mechanic, its more likely to be an argument from the publisher that does that as mentioned above.

  3. stahlwerk says:

    No Oceans, No Genres, …


  4. brog says:

    This is something I’m grappling with at the moment, as a developer trying to figure out how the hell to market an abstract strategy puzzle action game where you build and solve and destroy as part of the same activity.
    And don’t worry, I’m not going to say it’s “genre crossing”, but I really don’t know what I will say.

    • icupnimpn2 says:

      “BUILD. SOLVE. DESTROY.” sounds a fantastic enough tagline to me.

    • FalseMyrmidon says:

      Makes me think of when I would build things out of legos as a child so I could then destroy them.

    • Koozer says:

      LEGO. It’s LEGO you fiend!

    • PleasingFungus says:

      Or “LEGO (r) brand building blocks” for short. Now isn’t that a bit easier to remember?

    • squidlarkin says:

      With the game I’m making, I’ve just taken the cross-genre premise and run with it. “It’s a bullet-hell roguelike”, I say, and if they’re not already intrigued then they’re probably not the target market.

    • Ralphomon says:

      Bullet hell roguelike?! I am there!

  5. Some_Guy says:

    This line deserves immortalisation “Let’s stop calling things “genre crossing” shall we? It’s like finding a unicorn and calling it “a cross between a horse and a drill”.”

    • Gothnak says:

      How about a cross between a horse and a narwhal?

    • Chris D says:

      But a narwhal is obviously just a cross between a dolphin and a drill.

    • RodeoClown says:

      A goat is a sheep crossed with two drills.

      And an anenome is a golf ball crossed with a hardware store’s worth of drills.

    • stahlwerk says:

      I’m more a fan of subtractive genre definitions: Amnesia is an Horror-FPS without the shooting, a drill is a unicorn without the horse.

    • Keith Nemitz says:

      Thus the genre of drill porn was born.

    • sinister agent says:

      Agreed. I’m definitely going to steal the line, use it wherever I can shoehorn it in, and then bitterly claim that RPS originally got it from me.

  6. thepaleking says:

    I’ve always thought of genres as ball gags on creativity. The idea that you can’t veer off in any given direction when hit by some sudden wave of inspiration, simply because it would mean you can no longer label your game as an FPS, is ridiculous. It should be encouraged to fill a game up with as many creative concepts as possible. And if some don’t work, just white them out or smear them into something else, like you would with a painting.

    There’s the idea that maybe it simplifies the development process, by giving yourself some rail to follow, but why? Why impose a limitation like that.

    It also encourages people to leave entire groups of games (and anything else) unexplored. People who will not play an RTS when they hear it is an RTS, or FPS, or RPG. Or, you know, people who won’t watch anime just because it is anime*cough*, same thing.

    • Hellraiserzlo says:

      What you are suggesting means that people will waste time on experimenting with random ideas that might be useless to the overall production process, therefore, a waste of time and resources.
      Do and then get rid of it if you don’t like it is a liberty unfit for the process of product making.

  7. deejayem says:

    Wasn’t it Shaun of the Dead that marketed itself as a ZomRomCom?

    I guess we’re back to the old content/mechanic question that’s unique to games. A film’s genre is defined by its content, where a game is primarily defined by how you play it – do you sit behind the gun and click to fire, or sit over the battlefield and give orders, etc.etc.?

    Perhaps this means that, where our experience of watching a film is defined by content (we think of films as similar when they have similar settings / evoke similar responses) our experience of playing a game is defined by mechanic (an FPS is an FPS regardless of whether it’s set in World War 2 or Mutant Martian Space Hell Dimension). Certainly the impression I get from most developer diaries is that content is subordinate to mechanics in most game development cycles – here’s a cool thing for our player to do, now how do we tweak the story/setting to allow it to happen?

    Perhaps the answer is to let content lead mechanics a little more. After all, the best games are those where the mechanics are best fitted to the content – something like Stalker, where the gameplay and setting are perfectly integrated. In which case genre becomes less rigidly mechanism based, and more a question of how playing the game makes you feel.

    • RagingLion says:

      I very much agree with this point and want to emphasise it: let the mechanics grow around the content or a core idea (after all the core idea could be to explore certain mechanics if they’re powerful enough). Fashion everything around this idea and try to think afresh with each new design decision as to emphasise the aspects you want rather than just making the normal design decisions up until this point.

      It can be pretty hard to think outside the box, I know, and for bigger developers there’s such an inertia of size that it can be pretty hard to steer in new directions or their publisher simply won’t give them the time to explore new avenues. And yeah, marketing is an issue, for trying to describe the unfamliar and even if you manage the truth is that many players like to stick to what they know.

    • Berzee says:

      Yep…currently I’m making an RTS for practice and basically subconsciously (sometimes consciously) ripping off Age of Kings in every possible way. But that’s because I quite simply don’t yet know how to do things like fog of war and lockstep networking :) After I know that I *can* do it, I think I will feel a bit more free to think up an original setting and see what is the most natural way to command armies in that setting, instead of just thinking “I am making an RTS”.

      On the other hand, I would be an idiot to ignore all of the great discoveries that have been made by wise and talented people over many years … things like queuing units, setting waypoints, making control groups … these are RTS genre conventions that even the anti-genrists ignore at their own peril =)

    • Richard Beer says:

      It’s true that game genres are organised around the mechanic. That’s a good insight into what makes them different from films.

      However, it’s complicated by the fact that “First Person Shooter” is simultaneously a mechanic (First Person) and a gameplay type (shooter).

      STALKER is in first person, but to describe it as a shooter is quite inaccurate because it’s so much more than an FPS. It is closer to an RPG but then any game in which you take on the part of a different character to achieve something is technically a Role-Playing Game.

      Perhaps the problem isn’t genres themselves, but that the labels are so poor and restrictive.

    • Berzee says:

      To be picky because that’s what genre discussions are FOR ;) I will take what was said further down and say that I think we should tweak it to:

      “First Person” is perspective, but not quite a mechanic (controls would be the same if you could see your man)
      “Shooter” may actually be a mechanic (if by shooter you know it means “run around, click to shoot”)
      “Action” or something like that I think would be the broad gameplay type

      So HL2 would be an Action FPS, whereas Stalker would be…some…other…kind?
      words is hard…

    • bob_d says:

      @ deejayem: Personally, I think that in the better games, content and mechanics go hand in hand rather than one leading the other. (This is, of course, Very Tricky to pull off.) This is why I think writers need to be designers, too (and/or the reverse), which is often not the case. The common approach for the companies I’ve worked in has been coming up with “fun” mechanics, and then using other game elements to justify those mechanics, which misses out in many ways, as you say.

  8. frenz0rz says:

    I remember reading Kieron’s words on this somewhere ages ago, and I’ve been blathering on about it ever since. More and more nowadays I find myself seeking those games which transcend the artificial boundaries which we’ve created, or at least add exciting new elements to an already stagnant genre. I would, for example, play Dawn of War 2 over Starcraft 2 any day – if I wanted a generic, ‘classic’ RTS I’d go back and play CnC or something. Old, tired concepts have had their day, and this industry needs innovation damnit!! Otherwise we’ll be playing the same games over and over for eternity and the medium will be going nowhere.

    I say an end to all genres! Who’s with me??!!


    Ok, maybe thats a bit stupid. We need genre labels, or else we have no idea what the hell we’re buying. Perhaps we simply need to be paying less attention to them. As MadTinkerer pointed out, what about films? The different genre labels are still used so that you at least have a vague idea of what you’re about to watch, but a lot of the time you still dont quite know what you’re signing up for. In that respect, genre labels in films have become somewhat obsolete – still used for descriptive purposes, but not used to pidgeonhole films into safe little categories where everyone knows what to expect from them. Thats the different between films and videogames, and its something I think the industry needs to recognise if it wants to become as established an entertainment medium as cinema.

  9. Xocrates says:

    Allow me to share a personal anecdote.

    I only developed a taste for (non-action) RPG fairly recently, last year to be precise, but sometime before that I noticed S.T.A.L.K.E.R. in a Steam sale and, having heard good things about it, I decided to ask around if the thing played like an FPS or an RPG. I got the unanimous answer that it was an FPS so I decided to give it a try.

    Turns out the game was everything that I (at the time) did not enjoy on RPG, specifically the “Role-Play” part in RPG. The game sat unplayed in my steam list for nearly a year before I gave it another chance, now at a time when I did enjoy what the game had to offer.

    My point is this, I feel that the problem isn’t so much that genre definitions are restrictive as much as them being so ill-defined as to be effectively useless outside a very narrow range, specifically the range that encompasses most games of said genre at the current time.

    It’s a well known fact that RPG as a genre as lost almost all meaning inside the industry today, but even FPS can suffer from that (think Portal or Mirror’s Edge, even Minecraft). Our expectation for an FPS today are significantly different than the ones we had in the pre-half-life era, yet the definition of FPS hasn’t actually changed, just our expectations of it.

    I feel we shouldn’t so much get rid of genre definitions so much as we should stop designing/marketing games as belonging to specific genres. Then we can decide what genre the game fits in (if any).

  10. Mooglepies says:

    Difficult topic really; I think you have a point in that designers could prematurely limit themselves with “Let’s make an FPS game” but then surely sonme of that will be down to the quality of the design team in the first place, to not get creatively bogged down in that certain cycle of thinking. I think that the key is that it wouldn’t happen to a good designer, because part of being a good designer in the first place is being creative, surely.

    Many of the best games I’ve played were those that blurred the boundaries of genres or subtly riffed on the established conventions of their genre. Super Mario World, Mirror’s Edge, Mass Effect/2 spring to mind immediately, I’m sure there are more. But then again, lots of really, really good games do nothing but what their genre says they should, just really, really well (Starcraft 2, Mario Bros 3, any recent FPS you really enjoyed) . Finally, good games exist that fit no genre at all. Katamari Damacy, anyone? That tells me that how a game chooses what genre it is or whether it forms part of an established genre at all has little impact on its quality.

    I also think this has relevance to the topic of how to deal with innovation/iteration within a game series and managing how the fans of the series react to it. The evolution of the Sonic/Mario games and Resident Evil I think are good examples of marked change in genres (it’s worth bearing in mind that it took Capcom so many different prototypes to come up with Resident Evil 4 that they spawned Devil May Cry, and with it almost a new genre enirely). I’ll be interested to see how things like the new X-Com and Deus Ex handle it, because it seems to me that it is particularly noticable when there’s a large gap between releases.

  11. DeadPanda says:

    It’s worth reading John Zorn’s introduction and essay on the topic of genre within music in Arcana: Musicians on Music (Vol. 1). The premise is that on the whole the artistic statement is made independent of genre. Genre is introduced largely as a tool of the critic and advertiser to fit the product within some easily marketable conceptual framework.

    I guess the problem is that while it’s easy to produce a piece of music with relatively little investment, and the art can remain “pure” (see Minecraft), but by the time we reach megabucks it’s difficult to actually produce a piece of art and while you may end up with something that appears to be genre-crossing (usually genre-defining, in hindsight, damn those lazy critics), due to the number of stakeholders and financial pressure, it usually isn’t (see Inception).

  12. TheApologist says:

    To play devil’s advocate a bit here, I’d argue genres have far more use than you are attributing to them. They are about a certain language, in this case of gaming, that we all know, and certain conventions that enable us to understand what we should expect of the game and what will be expected of us as players.

    This has a few important benefits:
    1. It helps us pick experiences we will enjoy
    2. It helps us get to the action and to depth quickly in a game because we know it’s language well enough
    3. It allows for surprise and happiness when genres are subverted, or multiple genres are hybridised

    It is entirely possible to bend, change, hybridise and ultimately create new genres. The fact this doesn’t happen is not only a problem with genre.

    But attempting to live in a genre-less world would make gaming a more confusing and less pleasurable place to be.

    • Stick says:

      Objection, your infernal dishonour!

      1) It helps us never to try anything new, and Hades help any dev that doesn’t live up to “hardcore” “standards” of yore.

      2) It locks us into one language and makes us unable to cope with shifting dynamics.

      3) Ok, fair enough. You had me at “subvert”.

      Oh, and points 1-2 have absolutely nothing to do with my frustration at a few people’s reaction to a recent Bioware title. No sir.

    • TheApologist says:

      I accept there are problems with sticking to closely to genre conventions but perhaps in reality they aren’t quite as bad as you make out – most people can and do move easily enough between genres for example, with maybe a favourite that they know inside out and get pleasure from knowing inside out.

      I agree with you that it’s bad news when genre conventions drive production above other concerns for creativity etc., or when a community that whines about a game for not being just so gets listened to too much. But I’d maintain that life without genre convention would be a constantly confusing frustrating culture to navigate.

      And if you don’t agree I’ll send my winged monkey children to eat your mum’s soul. :)

  13. Starky says:

    Genres are a natural and inevitable part of any entertainment, hell any human creation – and in any medium you’ll find people who think they should be abolished or ignored. With music especially I used to be one of them, I’d like what I like I thought and damn the genre. Of course this was rubbish, I still ended up liking certain “genres” by default.
    You like a band, another sounds like them but with a twist, you like them too, then a friend who likes the second band turns you onto a 3rd, this third band is less like the first but still vaguely simular, so on so forth.
    This is a genre. Label it or not.

    Now on the creative side, I don’t make games so won’t comment on that, but I do write (a bit), engineer (a lot) and perform music.
    Genre is kind of important, sometimes I want to create a classic power ballad, sometimes I want to write a rock-funk-bigbeat electronic mashup. Often you decide this by picking bands you like you want to mimic “I want a Prodigy meets Chilli peppers vibe for this song”, but that is still genre mixing.
    To create anything you need a goal, you need an idea where you will take it, or what you produce will be shit.
    Almost no one who goes into the creative process blind produces anything of worth – and I bet this is true for writers and journalists just as much as any other medium. You need an idea of the tone, style and goal of the thing you are creating or it ends up a rambling wandering mess.

    I seriously doubt anyone but the big multimillion AAA games start the process going “this will be an FPS and abide all the FPS rules”. Genre mixing happens in almost every title I can think of, FPS or otherwise, except for a few limited titles of the AAA listing.
    Chances are they will have a list of goals “We want it to be an FPS, we want an advancement system with levels, we want perks and a large mix of explosive and ridiculous weapons, and a good mix of enemies”

    This just isn’t an issue.
    You are looking at big games and thinking “what if they were more creative with genre” well that is great, but those games are the equivalent of summer blockbuster action flicks – as you rightly state most of the mixing and mashing of genre happens in the indie scene, the EXACT same it does for music, movies…

    • Berzee says:

      Every so often you do get something that defies classification, though. But to *start* with the goal of simply defying classification, well that will get you into silliness. =) Like C.S. Lewis says,

      “Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”

      This is the way to do it — simply tell the truth in a game. =)

  14. Cynic says:

    In a world where we’ve developed the technology for flight, but not for gunpowder projectile weapons, the Sky Knights defend our beautiful country from it’s enemies.
    Enemies include:
    Airship Pirates (obviously)
    Crazed Frenchmen/Spaniards
    Weapons include:
    On foot:
    Cross and long bows
    Swords and stuff
    Something poisoned
    In the air:
    Spiky balls to drop on things like dragons and airships
    repeating crossbow that’s only good on large slow targets
    Airships with “ramming claymores”
    Airships with companies of longbowmen

    It’ll be a FPRPGRTSFlightsimsimsim

    • Tei says:

      Maybe you can add dancing and a date simulator, like the game Pirates!.

    • President Weasel says:

      Also I insist on the option to fit out a non-or-limited-combat airship with a large cargo capacity, and trade with various towns and cities, a la elite.
      I would also like optional Space-Rangers-esque text adventures within cities, but I’m not insisting on that.

  15. Alfius says:

    Anyone else yearning for Battlezone 3 as much as I?

    Also: Remember Hostile Waters? – Loved that game

    • Cynic says:

      Absolutley love Hostile Waters (and Carrier Command), especially Tom Baker’s voice overs. Wish it was getting a sequel.

    • stahlwerk says:

      Yes, Carrier Command. Too bad the mid-to-end-game was weighted down by dropping you straight into micro management of a large network of islands without providing you the adequate tools. What I would give for a slick-interfaced version of that game, no need to even update the 3d graphics, they are still charming. Just add a commander mode with RTS style controls to issue commands to your units and islands on the map.

    • Caleb367 says:


      Story was written by everyone’s favorite bastard Warren Ellis, I recall. So that makes HW an arcade/fps/strategy/graphic novel? XD

      (‘sides, I heard Bohemia Interactive were working on a Carrier Command remake)

    • JerreyRough says:

      Yes, we need more FPSS games (a term I’ve coined; “First Person Strategy Shooter”). There’s some people trying to make it happen with a UDK community project, just look up BZ3 on google and/or on moddb. ‘Course I don’t expect results anytime soon; there isn’t nearly enough focus there. That’s mainly why I didn’t join them and why I’m making a related project ;).

      Anyway, yes we need more non-infantry FPS games. Hopefully Hawken starts changing that.

  16. DeanLearner says:

    How about that Dungeon Keeper then eh? I’d classify it as a MISSINGNO


    • Hoaxfish says:

      It’s clearly a Dungeon Sim

      and all FPSes are soldier sims, but even then they’re all point&click games if you play with a mouse

  17. Tei says:

    A solution to the label problem, is to make people understand that something can have two labels.

    This article has 3 labels: feature, genres, opinion. Is a “genre crossing article”.

    Score 1 for the good guys.

    Another solution for the problem, is to insiste “genres” are purelly a guide, but not a limit. Insist that every game can be his own thing. Every game, a new genre.
    But this may not fly with commercial AAA games. Big publishers want to control the product. Creative products are too “volatil” so can damage the publisher reputation or economic results. Is better to produce iteration of old ideas with incremental enhancements that are purelly visual.
    This also means that wen we ask for creativity, we must stop looking at AAA. The AAA people can’t give us creativity, is too volatil. We must appreciate *less* the AAA games “genre”, and appreciate more the creativity where we found it. If it works. I don’t want to admire a game that is broken and is boring to play.

    I think RPS do a lot of that… talk about *great* games that only happends to have a small budget, but are awesome to play. I think RPS is already fighting the good fight.

  18. samsharp99 says:

    Surely FPS isn’t a genre though – you wouldn’t go around saying ‘I bought this sweet third person game yesterday’. Sure, it embodies action shooters – but the more correct title is ‘action’ – and if you think about it like that then it becomes very similar to film/music genres.

    Consider Portal – it’s a first person game, you shoot stuff (albeit portals) and it has elements of action (turrets / death / final boss) but labelling it as an FPS would clearly be a bad choice.

    I do agree that by defining your genre before the game has been made stifles your creativity. The best thing to do is have a stronger creative process – come up all ideas for the game, consider each one regardless of how silly it might be (as that’s how you get the quirky and interesting games, or you can justify why you did what you did) and then reduce it down and combine ideas until you get what you want.

  19. Berzee says:

    Remember that another reason for staying within a genre is probably just ease of programming. You spend all your time and mental energy creating a world that can be interacted with in a very particular way — say, a flight sim. If you are now to add sword fighting to the flight sim, it would certainly be awesome and highly worthy. But you would also have to design and program and get pretty animations for an entirely new segment of the game. It could possibly double your development time!

    But then, we all have our expectations not only of genre but also what each genre must *look like*. So an RTS would clearly need a different engine or control scheme or camera angle than an adventure game…we think it needs to be different, but Deus Ex (and probably others before it) proved that seamlessness is an option. If you don’t have time to do several control schemes for different parts of your game, then make sure you start with a robust system that allows for any kind of interaction that makes sense (like if you know you want point-and-clicky adventure parts in your RTS, you might not need anything except to make sure that your invisible general in the sky also has access to Infinite Pants).

    That article a while back that asks whether or not modding is still important…maybe one of the main reasons why modding is important is that it encourages innovation within a control scheme. (for example, DotA, I don’t think would have been invented if the developers decided to make an indie game instead of a WC3 mod).

  20. Berzee says:

    Also I just realized that the examples given in the article *are* all just versions of the horse and the drill. Proof it’s a tricky topic to talk about. =)

  21. Aemony says:

    There’s genres and then there’s genres. Some dictate the nature of the gameplay and some the perspective of which the game is played out.

    Adventure, puzzle, shooter and strategy are genres which dictates the nature of the gameplay while FPS, TPS, RTS and TBS are genres which dictate the perspective of the game. So genre blurring is already being done. Then there’s the whole definition of what a ‘genre’ really is. Is it the perspective within the game or is it the nature of the gameplay?

    I’m inclined to argue that even if the Total War series are a mix of RTS and TBS they are also Adventure games, but on a more historical scale.

  22. Cinnamon says:

    As far as I can tell the biggest danger is not rigid genres but genre consolidation, where too many games become mush of popular features and all come to resemble each other too much. People say that the future of all genres is RPG levelling up metagames to give the player external motivation, they say that the future of all gameplay is first person shooting, they say that all games must have best practice type multiplayer and also must have a movie type narrative so that nobody thinks that they are not artists. That might lead to some good games but if it is the future of games then the future is much less diverse and experimental. Game creation becomes a science of how to optimise the formula of adding all of the most saleable and addictive features to one mega budget game.

    When instead it should be a craft where the creator takes a great deal of pride in making something unique with it’s own identity. Thinking about a carpenter, he can make a chair or a table, maybe he prefers making one over the other. He might make a matching set of chairs with a table. He does not make a genre defying “furniture” that has the best features of all types. People do not go out to get a new furniture unless they have some Ikea shopping addiction or are professional furniture reviewers who must have an opinion on all furniture.

    So, in my opinion, genres are useful to protect the craftsmanship of games. Without them they cannot be defied and challenged intelligently.

    • Kolchak says:

      When I want a great Shooter I don’t really expect a fantastic story or Role Playing choices. I want to just kill things. When I want an RPG I really expect the opposite of that with a lot of choices and a great story. When genres combine it reminds me of the game Brutal Legend. It had a fun story but really skimped out on gameplay because it tried to be an RTS and an action game at the same time. It really failed on both fronts as a result.

      If Developers finely tune every mechanic of the game then that’s great. We end up with stuff like Deus Ex and to a lesser extent the Grand Theft Auto series. But if they try to do everything at once they often end up with flawed titles. So limiting yourself by genre can be a good thing.

    • edit says:

      Kolchak – I disagree – If a game which tries to incorporate elements from different genres “fails” at them, it is not because the developers over-extended themselves, it is simply that the implementation was lacking or could be better. It may take a few attempts to really nail a new gameplay type, whereas developers who stick with genres have the benefit of being able to play already solid examples from other developers and use those as a benchmark.

      It’s “safe” to limit to a genre, and of course there’s nothing wrong with doing it if the game has other merits, but safe also means unoriginal, and I’m much rather play a flawed but highly original game than a super-slick version of games I’ve played a million times before.

      It’s also worth noting that “blurring genres” doesn’t just mean combining a couple of existing ones.. That seems to be the trend and only further demonstrates how deeply into the trap of thinking within existing genres many peopledevelopers are. There is infinite possibility for new gameplay types.. I guess the creators with the true spark of inspiration to discover them are a rarity. It would be nice if at least more people attempted it.

  23. Zwebbie says:

    How much would you say that the idea of strict genres is at fault here, and how much the tendency for developers to look at other games when in need of inspiration, instead of the greater real life world?
    For example, Will Wright’s games are as creative as they are not because he crosses genres, but because they take inspiration from things other than games.

    • Berzee says:

      Exactly this =)

      I wonder how it works in other pasttimes that depend on rules and mechanics though? Like…do board game designers just make stuff up out of their heads, or do they riff off of the vast history of board games? How about sports? Are they even making any new sports nowadays? Card games? I know card games have some genres (like Trick-Taking games, I dunno, I don’t play cards :P). War games? I know that in swing dancing a lot of borrowing happens, and there are lots of structured bits even at the highest levels of talent — people like seeing familiar turns and kicks and jumps and spins done *really* well, and these are the same people who like seeing something they’ve never seen before, too.

      It’s pretty special when someone takes a look at part of the real world and converts it to games directly, without filtering it much. But I still think it’s good to have some copying going on, so that the mechanics have time to become polished and tested. The sad part is when it is decided, okay, we found one way of (for instance) modeling city management in a game. Now that is the way it must happen forever.

  24. Chris D says:

    “Tools can be the subtlest of traps”

  25. tanith says:

    It’s safe to make yet another COD clone, because we all know them and what they do. And they’re what we want!

    Speak for yourself.

  26. cliffski says:

    You can blame some of this on publishers and game budgets. No publisher will whack 10 million dollars on a table without knowing the demographic the game is aimed at, and the likely sales. Their best guess for likely sales is ‘similar games’. So if your game is an action-shooter FPS< then they can at least compare it to Battlefield/ COD etc.
    If your game cannot easily be labelled, they cannot forecast sales, and it becomes a scarier bet.

    With indies, it's different because there are no publishers to please. Ultimately thoguh, your game ends up in a genre-based list somewhere, whether it be steam, or somewhere else.
    At least 'strategy' is a huge genre.

  27. Wizardry says:

    It’s funny when there are no pure CRPGs in the mainstream these days. In fact, with CRPGs all you actually get are hybrids. Fallout 3, New Vegas, Dragon Age II, Mass Effect, Oblivion, The Witcher, Risen, Gothic. The list goes on. People experimented within the CRPG genre so much that no one dreams of making a pure CRPG outside of independents. Hybrids have become the norm. People once called Quest for Glory an RPG/adventure game. If it first came out today it would merely be called a CRPG.

    • bill says:

      You have a very pure and strict view of what CRPGs should be though. It’s clear that you’re a huge fan of the old-style CRPGs and know a lot more about them than I do – but i wonder if you’re being too strict and too close.
      The CRPG genre doesn’t have to remain the way it was in the old days.. it can evolve and spread wider without actually failing to be a CRPG. (except in the narrowest old sense of the word).

    • Wizardry says:

      And CRPGs haven’t remained where they were. As a result they are more popular than ever before. That doesn’t really change the fact that CRPGs have been combining elements from other genres of video games for years now. People love that. Just look at the sales figures. But that doesn’t mean that the CRPGs of today are as much RPGs as they were back then. In fact, real-time combat alone diminishes their RPG nature.

      My point is that developers make pure FPSs. Developers make pure RTSs. Developers make TBSs, racing games, sports games and platform games. CRPGs? Yes, but with the condition of also being a third person cover shooter (Mass Effect), a first person shooter (Fallout 3, New Vegas), a rhythm game (The Witcher) or an action game (Gothic, Risen).

    • Caleb367 says:

      It’s not an RPG unless it looks like a spreadsheet. Gawd dammit dude, I remember CRPG’s back in the C64 day. You know the Bard’s Tale series? That was probably the closest to your concept, and had a combat system very similar to jRPG’s – quite primitive, if you ask me. SSI games, crossed with turn-based tactics. Ultima, turn based tactics.
      Then came Fallout and Baldur’s gate… wait, crossed with turn-based tactics again, so no cigar.
      You may not have realized it, but you’ve just fallen into slapping a genre tag.

      Heck, I’ve played dungeon master on D&D for years, and we used freaking miniatures for combat, does that mean it’s not an RPG due to cross-breeding with tabletop strategy?

      I’m saying: you see that as crossing with other genres. I say that’s a STYLE. Or in other terms: a car is a car even if it runs on electricity instead of gasoline.

    • Vinraith says:

      It’s not an RPG unless it looks like a spreadsheet.

      Whenever someone dares to express an affection for RPG mechanics (or even more heretical, suggest the said mechanics are actually what defines a CRPG), someone comes along and accuses them of demanding “RPG’s that look like a spreadsheet.” I’m curious where these mythical spreadsheet RPG’s actually are. I’ve never seen one, none of my favorite RPG’s (and I’m a huge fan of RPG mechanics) remotely resembles one. These sound like something I might enjoy, actually, as I’m afriad of neither math nor thoughtful decision making about character development in my games. Where are they?

    • Berzee says:

      Wizardry, just to clarify, when you say CRPG do you mean “turn based combat with special abilities selected from a menu; party based; lots of stats and items to tweak”?
      this isn’t accusatory ;) i like those kind of games and think it’s a fine designator, just want to know because I’m idly curious

      Vinraith: progress quest :D

    • Chris D says:


      Have you tried Academagia? That looks a whole lot like a spreadsheet. It’s also quite good.

      On the more general point, having a preference for a particular style of game is fine. Denouncing all others as deviations from the one true path is less fine.

    • Cinnamon says:

      Bard’s Tale and Wasteland use the bottom third of the screen as a spreadsheet but many games in the 80s and early 90s tended to use screen real estate to put up elaborate huds and information dumps. You could even say that Doom was like staring at a spreadsheet by today’s standards.

    • Gaytard Fondue says:


      A lot of 80’s CRPG’s were in fact “looking at a spreadsheet”. And although I’m a huge PC nut, I actually prefer traditional non-CRPG’s. Unfortunately I never found a CRPG that got me hooked the same way as getting out your sheets and dice, sitting down with your 4 best friends and playing 12 hours straight while consuming insane amounts of coffee and Haribo.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      Academagia is an interesting game wrapped inside an awful, RSI-inducing interface.

      Put it this way, shall we: nobody makes games anymore that are recognizable as a computer version of an RPG. Simple, eh? For people who still use the term CRPG, that’s basically the idea. You program the rules, add a nice graphical interface, and (this is the tricky part) make the computer the DM.

    • Vinraith says:

      I actually prefer traditional non-CRPG’s.

      Me too, but unfortunately as one grows up friends tend to move away and 12 hours stretches become extremely hard to come by. I still enjoy a pen and paper RPG session whenever I can get together with people I like and find the time to indulge, but it’s incredibly hard for many adults to coordinate such a thing. CRPG’s are a means to scratch the itch without all the real life hassle.

      Put it this way, shall we: nobody makes games anymore that are recognizable as a computer version of an RPG.

      Well put. Other types of RPG are fine, but what I really want out of a CRPG is a pen and paper game I can play without needing other people.

    • Wizardry says:

      @Caleb367: Blah blah blah spreadsheets blah blah blah.

      RPGs crossed with turn-based tactics? More like RPGs that allow for movement in combat. Yes, that does happen to make them turn-based and tactical, but that’s because pen & paper RPGs were turn-based and tactical (back then, at least). Wizard’s Crown was not a mixture of turn-based tactics and RPG. It was an RPG and thus inherently turn-based and tactical in nature. That’s like calling Doom a mixture of FPS and action game.

      How does using miniatures in a pen and paper RPG make it a cross-breed of tabletop strategy? RPGs came from strategy games anyway. Again that’s like accusing Doom of being an action game.

      And let me confirm that I don’t think CRPGs have to be purely combat oriented (like The Bard’s Tale). As long as the statistics and abilities of your characters are tested or determine possibilities when interacting with the environment or characters. Whether this means charisma determining available dialogue options, skill in alchemy determining the power of potions, skill at picking locks determining the chance of picking locks or even strength determining how much you can carry, it doesn’t matter. This makes The Bard’s Tale a very restricted CRPG, being combat focused, but a CRPG none the less. It doesn’t, however, make it the “most pure” CRPG out there just because it relies on combat, because games can be CRPGs without having any combat in at all.

    • Wizardry says:


      That’s pretty much what I believe, anyway. The thing is, the meaning (or aim) of CRPGs didn’t suddenly change. They changed over time. Very early CRPGs such as Ultima, Wizardry and Dunjonquest (very obscure) were made for the purpose of simulating the pen & paper experience on a computer. They were highly experimental for that reason. Ultima and Wizardry carried on and the genre saw the introduction of Might & Magic, The Bard’s Tale, Phantasie and Questron among others. Pool of Radiance (being the first computer adaptation of AD&D) reaffirmed the aim of CRPGs as bringing the pen & paper experience to computers. A few years later, Realms of Arkania came out, being the first computer adaptation of The Dark Eye.

      In the late 90s, Baldur’s Gate carried on the tradition, while Fallout experimented with it while keeping firmly rooted in the origins of the genre (it was originally going to use GURPS). However, even at that point there were quite a lot of hybrids out there that had different aims entirely. Ultima Underworld mixed action and CRPG together, with the aim of being highly immersive. It succeeded and was a great game. Bethesda were influenced by Ultima Underworld and created Daggerfall, again with the idea of increased immersion. It was another great game. However, as it turns out, these action/CRPG hybrids have become the norm today. Daggerfall led to Oblivion and thus Fallout 3/New Vegas. Mass Effect combined Gears of War combat with BioWare’s plot heavy formula. What’s left of the traditional CRPG? Independents, largely.

  28. Zael says:

    Are there actually developers out there who start with the genre and then build a game? Why not just build the game and let everyone else try and put a tag on it?

    • Berzee says:

      This is what I do, but I’m just a guy to tries to learn to make Flash games on the bus to work. =P

      But still, even though I am not a real developer, I will explain my thinking. I decided to make an RTS when I wanted to get serious about creating something. I did this because:

      1) I understand right away the technical requirements.
      2) I already know that I love a certain style of this genre (the old base-building kind, not the new capture-magic-control-points kind)
      3) I don’t have to invent all the mechanics from scratch, but can take the decades of good ideas that have been built up by others

      REALIZATION: Genre is different in games than in movies or books. In movies or books, genre is largely about plot and setting and atmosphere. In games, genre has nothing at ALL to do with plot or setting or atmosphere. They’re more about a set of rules and possible interactions — mechanics, in short. If someone has a vision of a great new way to interact with a game world, they should never reject it solely because it doesn’t fit the genre they think they’re making. But if someone just wants to give players a nice experience in a world that features familiar interactions, that’s probably okay too.

      addendum — after I build the RTS I’m practicing with on the bus, I do want to reverse the process and try letting content drive mechanics for a change :) We’ll see if i have enough mechanical creativity to do that…or if I’m better off as someone who recasts familiar gameplay in surprising contexts. (or the third option — someone who just talks about it a lot on the internet ;)

    • Zael says:

      I understand that a developer would have an overall picture in mind when creating a game, that much is obvious. But I can’t understand why developers would limit themselves to a structure once they’ve established the base rules of what they want to develop. I really doubt that once they’ve decided they want their game to shoot things, using a first person perspective then they feel the need to incorporate every other aspect of the FPS into their game, like they’re signing some First Person Shooter contract.

  29. mcwill says:


    Let me say that again.


    Devs don’t get to decide what to develop with any real freedom except in the most special of cases (indies funded by independently wealthy bosses and bedroomers making it big – a la Notch – are the biggest of these). The vast majority of game concepts are carefully crafted and designed to appeal to one group of people and one group alone.

    These people, I should mention, are not nice people. Nor are many of them gamers. They are suits with business and/or marketing degrees and giant fat heaps of cash. They are coke-snorting, golf-playing, hooker-murdering 80s nightmares who witter incessantly about whatever buzzword they saw in their copy of Develop last week (“Agile” was the term for a while, now “Social” has taken its place).

    They are the enemy. They are the Death of Creativity. They are Publishers.


    • Zwebbie says:

      mcwill: That’s why I used to think, but after seeing games like Interstellar Marines or a hundred indie zombie games, I’m not too sure if publishers are really to blame here.
      Also, I don’t know about game designers, but game artists tend to draw space marines, mutants and boobies even in their spare time, regardless of how much we’d love to imagine that they’re all being forced into that by evil suits.

  30. Dawngreeter says:


  31. cmc5788 says:

    I largely agree with the premise of the article, but I think CoD and Total War aren’t such great examples. They can be in part forgiven for their genre-adherence by virtue of being sequels AND super-intense AAA titles. Major publishers are like a wagon caravan; they won’t ford the rapids until the waters have been tested by smaller men and beasts. Expecting more than that of them is like asking a force of nature to change because it would be a “nice thing to do.”

    Also, it’s important to note that indies and smaller devs innovate not only because they can, but because they have to. It’s one of their only real niches in terms of practical marketing.

  32. 7Seas says:

    It helps to be supportive of genre blending games when they come out, like Alpha Protocol, instead of lambasting them for not managing to juggle all parts of the experience perfectly. Then, genre bending games might sell better, which would encourage more of them to come out. who knows.

  33. Vagrant says:

    This has been bugging me for a while. The philosophy I’ve settled is that I’m not too concerned over genres as a whole, with one exception:

    There is no ‘First Person Shooter’ genre. ‘First Person’ is a camera choice, not a gameplay type, just call it a shooter. Maybe then people would have bought Mirror’s Edge! Maybe? Maybe not?

    Then we can start getting all specific. ‘Historical shooter,’ ‘Space Marine Shooter,’ etc. Or, if you will, manshoot, alienshoot, nazishoot, dino-nazishoot…

    • cmc5788 says:

      Have to disagree pretty strongly with this one. First- versus third-person camera style in a shooter indicates a strong enough playstyle distinction that the two are different genres. “Shooter” is too broad; it doesn’t tell us enough about the game.

      Of course, “first-person shooter” as a raw term doesn’t tell us much, either. It’s the history of experiences we have to draw on that implies the game will also probably be a real-time combat tactics simulator.

      My real gripe is with “Action-RPG,” i.e., Diablo clone. Now THAT is not a genre. That is a game. One game. Created repeatedly.

    • Vagrant says:

      I dunno, I’ve played a few 3rd person shooters that feel basically the same as a first person shooter. I can see your point, but I just don’t think ‘first person’ is descriptive enough of the game content. Just replace First Person with the theme or setting of the game.

      While I’m on the subject, the Drakensang post reminded me that we need to drop RPG as a genre. Hell, everything is an RPG these days. What does a ‘role playing game’ even mean, really? It’s not even code for Tolkien fan service anymore.

    • Veracity says:

      Action-RPG just means RPG incorporating action game combat. Play some on the console toys. Granted, RPG means almost anything and so next to nothing, but it’s still a simple enough idea. It might be an inherently broken one, though, since killing things with twitch is somewhere near impossible to reconcile with killing them with numbers. Diablo clones are a bit of a weird case, I think – although I can see how they’re action-RPGs in principle, the action element is usually barely there. Come to think of it, console/PC divide does this elsewhere, too. Does hack and slash mean Icewind Dale or Dynasty Warriors?

  34. Shatners Bassoon says:

    But First Person Total War would just be epic. Go over there horsies! Nay! Haw haw haw.

  35. Deano2099 says:

    It is quite awkward. Games are different to films because of the time, cost and attention investment needed. People are less likely to ‘take a punt’ on something random. So there’s a tendency to want to specify exactly what you’re getting in to.

    There’s also the issue of designer and programmer experience: they specialise in certain genres…

    I agree overall with the article but from a slightly different direction. Saying something is an FPS/RTS, or an RPG/FPS, or a driving game/RPG or whatever, puts too much focus on each element. You make a driving game/RPG and the reviews inevitably judge each element individually. It still happens today with the RTS/turn-based split of the Total War games – they’re often reviewed as two parts, not a whole.

    Any time you try and make a hybrid, you’ll be judged on each element, and they’ll often come up short as less focus has been placed on them than a single-genre title. The problem is that even if we’re thinking of hybrids, we’re still thinking in genres. It’s just “more than one” genre. When really it should be conceived as something unique.

  36. V. Profane says:

    When I used to regularly torrent movies I used to come across these new Hollywood productions that I’d somehow never heard of before. “How can there be a perfect DVD rip of this movie that hasn’t even been released yet?” I’d wonder. They featured familiar names and faces, had the level of production values you’d expect at a multiplex and generally were just as good as the mainstream. Of course, they actually had been released, but with very little distribution and no marketing. This was because they all lacked either a super-famous name and floating head for the poster, or an easy and attractive sounding “high concept”.

    Because they couldn’t think of an easy way to get the lowest common denominator to pay up, they doomed them to obscurity. This is the kind of malign influence that corporatism brings to creative endeavour, and the games industry is following the movie industry in more ways than one.

  37. BreadBitten says:

    Hey John Walker, are you guys at Rock Papers Shotgun somehow able to scan the minds of every new user who joins the website? This very topic has been erratically stumbling about in my mind for the past couple of days now.

    I think its in the very core of human beings to have a sense of organization, what bothers me most is why must we let that stifle out creativity? Is it so horrible of my game to be described as a “platformer, shooter, exploration based combat, tactical resource-driven strategeela-dee-da-dee-da” in some frequently visited videogame media website?

  38. J-Han says:

    I do not know of any game made these days that belongs to a “genre” unless you use only the broadest possible categories of genres. Videogames by definition are already a hybrid of multiple artforms, and every videogame I know of is a genre hybrid due to the loose way that the term “genre” is used. There is probably a better way to define genre, but I lack the philosophical knowledge to be able to do this. It has already been mentioned that “first-person shooter” is a combination of “first-person” (which some would say is a category of genres) and “shooting” and therefore “action.” So John Walker and Kieron’s suggestion for the blurring of genres is meaningless and worthless without strictly defining what genre means.

    It is also basically a bad idea. First, let’s compare this to the development of cars. Automobile engineers draw on a series of conventions and then introduce variations on those conventions in an attempt to improve them. Now some artsy fellow comes along and tells them to forget about all those conventions and come up with something new and innovative – which doesn’t on the outset seem like a bad thing, but what you’re asking them now is to reinvent the wheel every time they make a new car.

    Now think of genre conventions (limited strictly to mechanics) as successive versions of one single game. So Crysis was like version 5 (just choosing a random number) of the first-person shooter genre convention, and then within that broad categorical system, Call of Duty: Black Ops was like version 4.5. Hopefully Battlefield 3 will be like version 5.5, and then Modern Warfare 3 will likely be another clone of version 4.5 of those conventions. Those conventions, if developers strive to enhance them, improve games. The continual tweaking of the first-person shooting genre convention gradually leads to greater and greater games being made as the mechanics are constantly refined to maximize the fun of the experience.

    What can also be done is to narrow those conventions even further. We can separate Crysis from Black Ops into corridor environments and more open environments, respectively, in which case Black Ops is a really bad corridor shooter (I’m thinking of that atrocious hallway level when you’re fighting Russian spec ops) and Crysis is a decent open (but still linear) shooter. Now this is how creativity in game design is created: a developer comes along and looks at Black Ops and says, “How can we make a better corridor shooter? What conventions are working in this game, and what need to be changed, without making a completely different game?”

    The other obvious way to bolster creativity is explicit, intentional convention-mixing. Mass Effect: SLaQ [Stats, Leveling, and Quests] + FPS. Deus Ex: RPG + FPS. Diablo: SLaQ + HnS. Notice I am using convention in much the same way “genre” is often used. I am saying that a genre convention is an established mechanic or element of a genre. Like SLaQ is an element of some RPGs, although an RPG does not need SLaQ but it is a well-established way to serve the needs of RPGs. And obviously, a game incorporating SLaQ does not need the game to be an RPG – Deus Ex is the only actual singleplayer videogame RPG I know of, and it is not even a pure RPG since the FPS elements require skill. (An “true RPG” is an improvisational storytelling game, for the uninformed, and thus it obviously has nothing to do with, say leveling or quests.)

    These conventions are absolutely essential. I do not want to play games that are attempting to reinvent the wheel unless what they are inventing hasn’t already been invented, which is the job of cutting-edge indie developers for whom publishers are not a problem. Otherwise, games, to be good, need to include the most advanced variations of the conventions they possibly can. It is disappointing when a newer game takes a step back in the established and proven conventions, and instead are simply offering a five-year-old FPS with a new skin.

    For genres to be abolished altogether, that would be the END of refinement and quality, and therefore creativity, in game design. Creativity needs something to be opposed to against, for it has no force of its own and is purely reactive.

    • edit says:

      “Re-inventing the wheel” may indeed be a bad idea when you’re engineering a complex machine that peoples’ lives depend on. Art is precisely where it SHOULD happen. What we have here is a medium (computers) where effectively anything, any idea, any facet of reality… anything imaginable, can be simulated and offered as an experience. Nobody is going to die if a new game design doesn’t work so well. More likely, people will learn from it and the medium grows.

      Your analogy holds more for the technology of gaming. People needn’t re-invent the wheel when it comes to rendering technologies and so on. Gradual iterative growth makes sense there, as is true for vehicle design. When it comes to the creative content, however, the question is not “do I need to re-invent the wheel”, but rather, “does this even need to be a wheel at all?”. The possibilities are infinite and stretching in every direction, but we’re just looking down a few trajectories with tunnel vision. It’s the human way, but greatness happens when it is overcome.

      Sure, creativity is reactive, but there is a universe of stuff for it to react to. Assuming that quality can only exist when people directly build on very similar creations that came before is a very pessimistic view of what human creativity is capable of.

    • J-Han says:

      Videogames are different from paintings, movies, books, etc., in that they are closer to making cars than they are to making any of those lower artforms (and yes I said lower, as in inferior, artforms), due to the technicality required. Besides the creative impulse, much less is required for making a book, movie, or painting — excellent indie films can be made on basically non-existent budgets yet can bring in millions of dollars in revenue. For the most part, to make a good game requires more technical knowledge and more manpower than all the lower artforms combined. That is — in general. Like cars, they do need creativity to be interesting, but before creativity comes the the engine, the safety requirements, etc., all of which require in-depth technical knowledge built up over years of collective experience making cars.

      Thus, to make a passable first-person shooter requires that its shooting mechanics be at least as good as what is currently out there already. Innovation in that genre exists in tweaking, rather than re-inventing, those conventions. There is no way to re-invent the first-person shooter – it can only be tweaked, in ways that I anticipate Red Orchestra 2, for example, to introduce crucial tweaks to the mechanics that I hope will become more mainstream (if they work).

      On the other hand, it is of course possible to create ugly (by common standards) but high quality games all on your own, or with very little help, such as with Minecraft or Dwarf Fortress. But these are very, very special instances where the unique mechanics of the games result in an entirely different kind of aesthetic – there would be no way for Minecraft to be photo-realistic, for example, because the whole point is that the world is made up of big blocks.

      Every new game cannot be another Minecraft or Dwarf Fortress – there is simply not enough creativity in the world for that to happen. The overwhelming majority of games have to stick to proven conventions in order to be of sufficiently high quality to be worth playing. What you’re suggesting, that there would only be a few bad/stupid/ugly games, is false. If genres were to be eliminated from thought, almost every game would end up falling into established genres anyway but without the years of refinement that have come to define those genres.

      The expression of the true creative impulse is an unstoppable force and the existence of genre conventions actually helps it to grow. It gives it something either to refine, or to work against completely, while simultaneously allowing competently-designed mainstream games not to suck so bad.

  39. Gabbo says:

    Dammit John. While agreeing with your overall point, now I want an RTS with point and click elements in it.

    • BreadBitten says:

      ‘Wings of Liberty’ is all you need…!

    • Gabbo says:

      During those over the top cut scenes featuring burly soldiers with deep voices, can I combine honey with the cat hair to make a moustache?

  40. Moses Wolfenstein says:

    I’ve actually given a couple of lectures on this whole genre issue which you can find over on my blog (moseswolfenstein.com) . . . while, you can find some image laden presentations that don’t do a particularly good job of explaining themselves. One of these days I’ll fix that.

    Still, some of you might find my distinction between genre creation, genre subversion, and genre extension useful.

    Also, this Gamasutra article by Ernest Adams may be helpful:

    link to gamasutra.com

    Remember, genre is supposed to be a set of loose conventions. It becomes problematic when people start seeing genre as a rule system.

    Finally, I totally agree with the folks here who have noted that genre in video games suffers from being this bizarre mash up of different types of conventions (i.e. RTS vs. Sports Games . . . apples and oranges).

  41. Navagon says:


    I think that it’s important that the developer has a clear idea of what it is they want to achieve with the game, I have to agree that it is needlessly constricting to base this squarely upon established genres. It should instead be based on what they want to achieve with the game.

    So if they want to create an action driven sci-fi noir game, clearly basing it on the CoDridor manshooter model is abandoning 75% of what the game could have been right off the cuff. Where’s the smooth one liners? The feisty dames? The investigative work? The cooler, more measured approach? Gone.

    Total War ain’t no RTS though. It’s got real time sections and it has got strategy. But they’re separate elements of the same game. Shogun was one of the games that thwarted genre conventions, so it’s odd you neglect to acknowledge that in an article about them.

  42. Namos says:

    One notes that as the phrase “for fans of the genre” fell into disfavour (granted, its not a very meaningful phrase), it seems that the idea that review scores below the 80% indicate a terrible game became more prominent. “Above 80 on metacritic” is a label, as is “game favoured by RPS” – we do not rile against labels and genres, we rile against the rigidity of thought we assume they instill in those who use them… Rigidity that might not be there.

    Games are a combination of art and technology. And the call to defy genre is very much an artistic one. But conventions have their place, and defying them just for the sake of defying them seems to me a pointless endeavor – particularly when these conventions are useful shortcuts for making games. I see nothing wrong with building on the shoulders of giants – there will always be geniuses who make leaps towards yet untapped horizons.

  43. Dances to Podcasts says:

    The way the article is written it seems to want to replace A and B with AB, BA, ABA or BAB. I’d prefer C, D or E.

    • Berzee says:

      That’s sort of what I thought too, but I think it was just the difficulty of finding examples close at hand, and not an actual desire for more straight-up hybrids of his part =)

  44. Maykael says:

    We’re humans, we’ll never stop classifying shit. It’s one of the things we do and it helps know the world better, thus furthering our survival.

    That said, I think John’s point is right as long as one is constrained by some incompetent shareholder or CEO to do something that she does not want. But there are cases when she’ll be in the mood to create a traditional first person shooter.

    I’ve recently seen many discussions about how a game-maker should approach a new creative endeavor and I really do think that everyone is rather right in here. Maybe you want to make a traditional RPG, maybe you do want to make a genre bender, maybe you just want to tell a nice story and design your game around it, maybe you just want to make a game with no planning ahead. Depends on your approach.

    In a sense it’s like quitting smoking: there is no guaranteed method to it and you will fail the first 7 times.

  45. Ronin Jellyfish says:

    I have no problems with games being squeezed into genre boxes as that is how they initially get my attention. I know what genres I like just like I know what brand of drink I like etc. Having limited money to spend on games means that the first thing I think is “what type/genre of game do I fancy playing this week?”. You will always need that layer of labelling and I think saying that this is part of what stifles creativity is letting off develpoers lightly as many brilliant games have been made that sit pretty in one genre. Also if a game crosses genres and adds inovation to core mechanics (lets call it game “X”) then every other developer/customer labels all similar games the “X” genre. You can’t win against human needs to label.

    Great article for a “Blog” site BTW :)

    • Dhatz says:

      see whats wrong here? They put consumerism in front of game(same vith movies, its whole a trap untill there is option to refund). You first spend and only then you know, it has to change and with help of piracy it already has for the smart individuals.

    • JackShandy says:

      If only there was some way to play a Demonstration of the game before you buy it.

  46. Veracity says:

    Casual innovation relates to your own point about audience expectation, surely? They’re aimed at people who don’t know it’d be stupid to resolve combat by playing Bejeweled.

    I can’t formulate coherent thoughts. Devil’s advocacy, though: if you start with a super neat idea and try to build it up into a game, you’ll usually Molyneux yourself or produce something like Facade – trying to do something video games can’t. Not haven’t because developers aren’t ambitious enough or audiences too conservative or publishers too risk-averse, but can’t, and you could have worked that out with a day’s research up front and saved everyone some time.

    Video game genres are certainly extremely silly, probably unusually so. I’m not sure if they directly do any notable harm, though. Manshoot V would come out and be a reskin of Manshoot IV whether we called it FPS or not, and The Sentinel and Space Rangers 2 made it to market, regardless.

    Why is “indie” a genre? That’s horrid.

    • Dhatz says:

      I agre indie is only a cathegory not a genre, lets face facts: games cant be movies and therefore its pointless to try, even if you succeed like Heavy Rain, its still worse than if they were conscious about making game rather than faking movieism.(wtf, someone propose a better word)

  47. edit says:

    I honestly don’t believe that there is “huge risk” to blurring genres. The success of many of those casual games mentioned is a perfect example of that. If your game is unique but strong conceptually (and usually a strong concept also means you can explain it to people concisely) there is no reason for people to be confused or put off by it. People love new things as long as they are not poorly made. The only “huge risk” is if you have so little creative vision that you are incapable of making anything decent without relying on imitating the formulas employed by other games in established genres.

    Presumably the damage done by genre labels is primarily that people financing a game want security, and they think a well-established genre offers them that. The problem is that when non-creators who sit at board room tables are making choices that creators must follow, “unique vision” is the first thing to suffer. I think it’s about time large development studios stopped relying on publishers and made use of the facilities now very successfully employed by many indie devs – Digital distribution direct to the customer. Keep the creativity high and the middle-men out. Of course it might take some successful smaller projects before there is the budget to play with to make a AAA game, but that’s life.

    Public outcry is a non-issue here – Sure, people would be up in arms if the next COD title was not a straight FPS, but if your game is unique in design it should be new IP for god sake! COD has never been about originality. Nobody is going to complain that “New Game X” is not faithful to a genre if it was never intended or announced to be.

  48. JackShandy says:

    Hmm. You’d start with a large inventory space, and you can send out grunts to pick up various items littering the landscape. You can give these items to grunts to give them special abilities, which they can then use in various ways to overcome puzzles and obstacles to get to better items, which you then use to get to even better items, and so on and so on until you’ve captured the ultimate God Item, completing the level. I imagine this process would be themed around the idea of eating enemies to gain their powers.

    A level example: you send out your grunts to attack a settlement of monkeys and grab their Super-Jump ability, which you can use to jump over things. You jump your units across a chasm to reach the Mole Tribe, and use their drilling ability to burrow under the defenses of the Volcano Tribe, then use their Lava Rivers to solidify the waters of the Fish tribe, drill down and defeat them all one by one. Finally, you send a Fish Tribe Rainstorm over to drive the God tribe out of their homes, circle their village with lava which instantly solidifies in the rain, jump over the debris and burrow down to take the God Item easily.

  49. Dhatz says:

    sci-fi racing with mass-effecty conversations is my lifelong dream.

  50. Gap Gen says:

    I thought it was a shame that there was a period when every indie developer was making Mario clones. Sure, it’s a well-defined mechanic to copy, but it’s a shame that the most creatively unleashed people were re-hashing a decades-old idea. That, and I suck utterly at Super Meat Boy.