Originality seems to be one of those issues that I keep on thinking about time and again. I guess it’s natural when you’re trying to be creative on demand in order to make a living to be questioning how much you should be “borrowing” from others. This week, like most weeks, I started work on a new game (although I’ve got a good feeling about this one!) which got me thinking again about the nature of originality.
I probably don’t have the best track record when it comes to making original games. Brainz is the numbers game from Countdown, and Flying Cats started with the thought that I could make something a bit like Fruit Ninja. My new game, at least initially, is going to be similar to a Wii Party mini-game and will take place in a world inspired by Studio Ghibli films. The question in my mind is is this a bad thing to be doing?
It would seem that being similar to existing games certainly doesn’t hinder success. When Tiny Wings got popular, people started pointing to other games with a similar mechanic that already existed but few people had previously heard of. Harbour Master was a deservedly successful game, made by Keith and Natalia who are loved and respected by the indie community, but it did attract more than a couple of comparisons to Flight Control. But both are great games in their own right. Even Donkey Kong bears a slight resemblance to Space Panic.
Truth is that there’s nothing new under the sun. Everything is some form of evolution of what has come before, and there’s nothing stopping two people having the same idea either. I wrote a brief for a game idea I had at the end of last year that looked like this:
“The idea is for an side-scrolling iPhone game where you must avoid the rain and stay dry. Rather than jumping on moving platforms, you must pay attention to what happens above you and time running for cover. The above action will involve various monsters that go about their daily lives in the world above, but will stop rain from falling beneath them. It will also combine RPG elements, by being able to spend gold collected on power-ups.”
Imagine my surprise when I saw The Rainy Day appear on the App Store. So many aspects of my idea are in this game, from the concept, to the wet-gauge, to the background story. They just made it less awesome. No matter how unique you think your idea is, someone could easily come up with something similar.
I’ve said before that originality shouldn’t be king, but our primary focus should be on implementation. That’s not to say we become rip-off merchants, and I think you can trust your conscience to tell you when that is what you’re doing. Whatever unique and amazing idea you come up with, there will always be parallels to be drawn with other games. And that’s OK. We make games out of who we are — they are creations that reflect us, our personality and our likes and dislikes. Who we are is made up everything that we’ve experienced, watched and played. So if your game starts to look like something you’ve seen before, don’t freak out — it’s all part of the creative process. Just make sure that the end product is great in it’s own right.