Beyond: Two Souls may be the last great game for the PlayStation 3. The latest production by the outspoken and talented game designer David Cage, Beyond: Two Souls offers a unique feature: the main character’s death will not end the game. Whether or not the game lives up to its hype, that innovation could be the latest in a long line of elements that changed gaming forever.
Here are eight innovations that forever changed the gaming industry.
1. Precise Jumping in ‘Super Mario Bros.’
One of the best things about Mario’s iconic adventure was that the player always felt in control of our favorite mustached plumber. Ironically, that was because Super Mario Bros. abandoned the tradition of allowing players to have considerable midair control. While taking control away from the player may sound like a bad idea, it proved to be a masterstroke, because it allowed for the predictability that was sorely lacking in jump-heavy games like Pitfall and Dangerous Dave, and reduced accidental deaths. Besides, Mario was already a mushroom-eating, princess-saving, dinosaur-fighting plumber. The least he could do is respect the laws of physics.
Did it last?
Mario became the prototype for modern platforming heroes, and almost every game in the genre treats Super Mario Bros.' smooth controls as a golden standard. Even in Super Mario Galaxy, with its warped gravity levels and awkward camera angles, you almost always felt in control. That’s the power of Mario, and all others try to achieve it.
2. Rotoscoped Animation in ‘Prince of Persia’
One of the reasons Prince of Persia has managed to survive as a franchise for as long as it has is because it always looks impressive graphically. This is less because of its character sprites and environments, and more about how beautifully the prince moves. That beauty first came courtesy of rotoscopicing, a technique where a live actor is filmed, and their movements are traced into an animation. Prince of Persia had great success with rotoscoping, and as a result, always looked much better than its competition.
Did it last?
While rotscoping has been overtaken by motion-capture graphics, Prince of Persia had an unmistakable influence on other video games. To this day, many developers emphasize realistic animation. After all, while great character design may make for pretty screenshots, great animation makes a game fun to play.
3. The Penalty for Killing Civilians in ‘Virtua Cop 2’
It may seem like a ludicrous idea today, but in this classic Sega arcade shooter, the lives of civilians actually mattered. If the player accidentally hits enemies' human shields, they become susceptible to return shots and lose a health bar. Granted, the game isn't entirely enlightened when it comes to law enforcement (you're shooting first and asking questions later), but even so, it humanely acknowledges the loss of civilians' lives — something the governments the world over could stand to do.
Did it last?
Unfortunately, this trait didn't make it into the age of modern shooters. Some products, mostly Sega’s own, will still teach you to value civilian life by putting your own life on the line, but for the most part, hurting civilians just isn’t a big deal anymore.
4. Quick Time Events in 'Dragon's Lair'
The greatest difference between cinema and video games is interaction. Quick time events, which require the player to respond to on-screen prompts as they play through cinematic sequences, were originally brought to the gaming world by Dragon’s Lair (that said, the idea was both named and popularized by Sega’s Yu Suzuki for the Shenmue series). Suddenly, dramatic sequences rivaling Spielberg productions became possible in gaming, all because the developer took some control away from the player.
Did it last?
Quick time events are here to stay. They were a defining element of Heavy Rain, a B-movie masquerading as a game that was developed by the studio behind Beyond: Two Souls, and they will be featured in the upcoming next-gen game Ryse.
5. Limited Weapons in ‘Halo: Combat Evolved’
Halo: Combat Evolved only allowed players to use two weapons, something shooter fans feared would destroy the genre. (Some preferred the days when nine weapons were hot keyed to the number keys on your keyboard.) However, this change by the people at Bungie added a strategic element to a game that was otherwise fairly straightforward, and forced some tactical thinking about what sort of weapon would be ideal to carry for an upcoming fight.
Did it last?
Since Halo, limited weaponry has been a staple in console shooters. Of course, radial menus have replaced the need for hot keys in many games. First-person shooters seem to like abiding by this convention, while third-person shooters do not, but it's ultimately the developer's choice.
6. Over-the-Shoulder Shooting in ‘Resident Evil 4’
The third-person shooter officially came to the fore courtesy of Gears of War, but one of its best innovations — its over-the-shoulder perspective — was actually inspired by this Gamecube classic. Of course, that was back when Resident Evil was actually a survival-horror game, and not the bullet fest it has lately become; back then, aiming was much slower than the average shooter. However, the obscured enemies and their increased ability to flank the player was pure genius, and it added a lot to a genre that was failing to keep up with its first-person counterpart.
Did it last?
Third-person shooters are still maintaining the Resident Evil perspective, mostly because of its role in flanking, especially in military shooters. However, because lethargic movement was an intentional and crucial component of Resident Evil 4, it may be more accurate to say that this convention is survived by a much quicker, speedier descendant.
7. Your Progress Carrying Over in ‘Mass Effect’
Bioware's Mass Effect brought us what may be the most promising feature of a role-playing series: the idea that a player’s decisions in one game could have notable impact in the next. At various points in the game, the experiences of your past will change the world around you, including the commercials that you see, the allies you meet, and the problems you face.
Did it last?
Unfortunately, the execution of the idea isn’t as dreamlike as you might expect, mainly because the resulting differences are either subtle or irrelevant. At the risk of giving away too many spoilers, the first game had two immensely different endings to choose from, but they resulted in nearly identical plot lines for the sequel. The trend was repeated in the third installment, at which point fans were essentially told that writing a strong story means taking decisions away from the player. While that does make sense, taking the decision away from players means taking away exactly what makes role-playing games so unique. Of course, allowing decisions to carry over also makes jumping into a franchise more difficult, and given that franchises are the future of gaming, that may mean the end of this innovation.
8. Death Doesn't End the Game in 'Beyond: Two Souls'
If you die in this upcoming PlayStation 3 exclusive, the game doesn't have to end. Creator David Cage told Joystiq that he, “always felt that 'game over' is a state of failure more for the game designer than from the player. It's like creating an artificial loop saying, 'You didn't play the game the way I wanted you to play, so now you're punished and you're going to come back and play it again until you do what I want you to do.'” When a player dies in Beyond: Two Souls, the story will branch off and readjust based on who is and isn’t alive.
Will it last?
Or, rather, will it even work once? Beyond: Two Souls has made a hefty promise, sort of the like the ones Peter Molyneux made and failed to keep with Fable. It will be up to the developer to find a way for the main character’s death to not break the narrative.
What are your favorite innovations in gaming? Be sure to share them in the comments below!