Designing 3D Bird: Achieving innovation

I’m starting today a series of posts sharing tips that we found useful when designing our games. The first one is going to be about how to achieve innovation in games, or other aspects of life.

For the sake of this argument, I’m going to define a metric for being innovative. And, in this case, to be innovative is the same as to be successful: You are being innovative when people using your work find it innovative.

Let me explain myself: Sometimes you do things that, from your point of view, are original, useful, groundbreaking, and in some cases, pure genius. But, since people in your surroundings don’t share your opinion, those things or ideas go nowhere and are eventually forgotten. At least, it’s something that has happened to me many times. However, I’ve done others things, without so much effort, that were just OK in my opinion that, for some reason, everyone seemed to love. We could spend hours discussing many aspect of this -by the way- universal phenomenon. However, since the recognition of other fellow humans is important for the individual in so many aspect, I think that this metric is fair in most cases.

Now, let’s continue:

The way I see it, you can innovate in two ways:

  1. From scratch: Try to think on something that has never been done before. Experiment with it. If it works, try to improve it. After many iterations, if people like it and find it innovative, you’ve achieved innovation.
  2. By copying and mixing: Have a look around you to see what’s in fashion. Select the elements you like. Copy them like the soulless bastard you are, and mix them together. If people like the hybrid monster you made and find it innovative, you’ve achieved innovation.

At this point, you will be thinking that you will be disregarded as a copycat if you use the second technique. But the interesting thing here is that no, it does not happen. People will think something like:

What a simple idea. How is it possible that it didn’t come to my mind before? All the elements were there already, in plain view, but the trees did not allow me to see the forest.

Do you want an example of that? YouTube. I don’t think this one needs much of an explanation.

Do you want another? The iPhone. Really: I saw a video of a phone concept in March 2001 that was, basically, a modern smartphone; six years earlier than the iPhone. Online curated software stores were nothing new either.

A classic example: Who invented the mathematical concept of derivative, Leibniz or Newton? Both of them had a real argument on their time disputing the authorship of such an important innovation. But the reality is that, at the time, the mathematical tools to define derivatives were there, and if none of them would have come up with this concept, another mathematician would have had not so many years after.

My point today is: Both techniques are valid, since both of them can lead to similar results. But the copying and mixing technique is easier.

Case of Study: 3D Bird

We used the from scratch technique to made Photon Rush. It was hard, took quite a long time and experimentation, and I feel proud of the result. Many people I respect said that the game is original in its conception.

We used the copying and mixing technique to design 3D Bird. After some minutes of thinking (because we wanted to make a Flappy Bird clone with some twist), I remembered this video from Freddie Wong:

And so 3D Bird was born. It took just minutes! And after 48h we were pushing the game to the stores. I feel like a copycat here, but really, nobody care about what I think. What is important is what people think, and there are many people leaving us comments like:

I’m tired of so many Flappy Birds clones, but this one is crazy and original!

Original? Well, they say so. So… it’s might be!

And anyway, it’s the game that’s paying the bills. Heck, we need to pay the bills to make games!

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