The Story of Sequels

June 22, 2006

The games industry has a conflict again. This doesn't involve slow hardware, backwards compatibility, or even Microsoft's pig-headedness. No, today's problem involves creativity and the problems it causes.

Scott Miller, my absolute hero, raves on the importance of intellectual property. The only way to have creative freedom, he claims, is to maintain control over brand names. His company, 3D Realms, realizes this concept by allowing most games they produce to remain the intellectual property of the developers 3D Realms financed.

Unfortunately, continuous use of brand names causes another pandemic, the unending march of sequels. In the movie industry, sequels of any quality are expected to make around 2/3 the income of the original. The games industry tends to spout an even higher rate, with many sequels outselling their origins. For example, take almost any realistic sports game. Madden football games began in 1989, and continue to be best sellers today. Each year, a new iteration of the same game outsells the edition from the previous year.

Unlike the Madden games, which serve as revisions of the same, relatively-static concept, the real issue here comes with games that should be using innovative concepts. For example, I love the Mega Man games to death, but this series tends to rehash the same game with only minor changes to art. These sequels serve more as expansions, especially with such a non-existent story (even in the X series) and little redesign of gameplay. Of course, Mega Man is a blatant example of this abuse of a brand name, but this sort of repackaging appears in many other titles.

Pokemon, Rainbow Six, and Deus Ex also serve as examples. The original Pokemon was wonderfully creative; continuing the same fighting mechanics and goals in to three (?) generations of the same game was not. Interestingly, the most innovative game in the series besides the original is Pokemon Snap, which received terrible reviews. Rainbow Six also served very interesting concepts and gameplay in its original design, but served major design issues when the same style missions, planning, and execution appeared in sequels. The truly brilliant Deus Ex was followed by the mediocre Invisible War, which had some innovations in gameplay (though few) but served the same basic story conflicts.

The industry must therefore walk the fine line between making meaningless sequels (let's not become the movie industry) and creating so many universes that none are unique (visible in the world of comics).

With CC&C I originally wanted to all games, comics, etc. to be part of a serial. Slowly I began to realize that I would only make one game in a series and then move to a different series because I wanted to try a different kind of game experience. I only returned to older series to completely revamp the user's experience. For the Maze of the Mastermind series, the original game called for solving trivia puzzles in a series of larger pyramids. In the second game, I completely broke from this concept, making some excuse to how the pyramid was not complete. This game was to also involve logic skills, but not in the form of trivia.

We'll have to see where this goes in the future, but I do believe there have been examples of successful sequels. Consider Duke Nukem 3D, Timesplitters 2, and the original Mega Man Battle Network. Each offered some of the same, whether it be gameplay, characters, or themes, but also alot of something different. The differences do not include changes to the amount or type of enemies or weapons, but rather deal with fundamental alterations to the game design. Duke 3D involved a completely different perspective, original story, and innovative level design. Timesplitters 2 offered a completely new and integrated storyline and level design as well as some new gameplay types. Similarly, a big change to the storyline and a huge alteration to the game mechanics of Mega Man were used in Battle Network to create a new game design.

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