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Innovation in gaming – where did it go?

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Games developers need to rethink their programming strategies and focus more on originality than fancy technology. That's the message from outspoken 3D Realms programmer Brandon Reinhart, writing about his experience at this year's E3 trade show.

Innovation in gameplay seemed to be sorely lacking all over E3," he observed.

"On a whim, I queried several game development teams on the constitution of their programming teams. It seems most game programming teams average about 80% tech programmers and 20% gameplay. How can true innovation in gameplay be achieved without proper focus?

"3D Realms is 33% tech programmers and 66% gameplay. The difference is significant."

Cynics may be suspicious of Reinhart's motives - 3D Realms recently stepped up promotion of its much-anticipated Duke Nukem Forever, and a promo video for the game released last week was applauded almost universally. But criticism of the industry's stagnation is likely to be welcomed by players who have long been calling for developers to come up with some new ideas.

Reinhart also has a certain credibility enjoyed by few of his colleagues. Followers of the online games community are accustomed to holier-than-thou preaching from attention-seeking developers, who often seem willing to stab their peers in the back if they can get a few column inches out of it.

But Reinhart has always shown himself to be refreshingly ego-free, with his occasional commentaries on the games industry being genuinely constructive instead of nit-picking put-downs.

However well-founded, though, his argument about innovation does crumble on an important point: Ironically, 3D Realms is one of the development houses most often criticised for lacking originality.

The company's 1996 hit Duke Nukem 3D was extraordinarily popular and is still seen as one of the best first-person shooters. Its over-the-top action and interactivity earned it hundreds of thousands of fans, and the game still has an active online community.

But one thing it certainly was not, was innovative. It simply took lots of ideas that had been done before, and did them again, accompanied by dialogue lines from popular movies - some of which, controversially, 3D Realms has since trademarked.

And based on what little has been seen of Duke Nukem Forever, it seems the 3D Realms tradition of absorption and repetition is set to continue.

As one message board poster observed, commenting on the game's E3 promo video: "Gosh how cool it is to take other content and just render it in your engine and make money off it. Duke3d's references were for the most part, just lines Duke said. DNF seems to encompass entire SCENES from other movies."

Another 3D Realms title, Max Payne, currently in development at Remedy Entertainment, is said to have been heavily inspired by action film The Matrix, offering such innovative features as slow-motion fight sequences and so-called "bullet time" effects. ®

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