“Going Anywhere?”; On Innovation.

First, a couple of service announcements:

First, Kuma(Brian Hollenback(sp?)) is talking about us.Give it a look.
Second, on the Wiki Preoject, I will be at the army next weekend, so I’m adding a day to the Logo entries. You may send entries for the “CSI Game” project logo to my email(tundranocaps(at)gmail(dot)com) till Sunday the 16th on 2000 GMT. You don’t have to be working on such a game in order to send me an entry. We’re short on entries, so all help will be much appreciated.


Ok, this time we’ll talk about Innovation, lack of it, what we need it for and all that jazz. This post came to be in large part thanks to the post “Reinventing the Alternator”over at Story-Games, also, continuing on my building-upon-prior-entries habit(reading this blog should be done from the bottom), it also is a continuation of the post where I mention Iconoclasm(though the real point of that post was that games, especially of the CSI Game variety are an outgrowth of their authors’ personalities).

I will begin with a couple of personal experiences. One of my backburner projects is called “Cancer, the RPG”, the more I worked on it the less progress I made. I felt the desire to create a new system, but the more I zoomed out, the more problems I’ve encountered, this resulted in me creating solutions on an even further out level, which yet again, created more errors on the next level.

Enter Cranium Rats, where I just took as a basis a system that was simple and worked, and went on with it(said system was the one used in InSpectres and octaNe by Jared A. Sorensen). I didn’t need anything fancy, since this wasn’t the focus of the game. I just needed something that worked, so I looked around(actively), found something that worked and took it to serve in my own game.

I also had a couple of passive “looking around” and a couple of “Alternator reinvention”, which are also called parallel evolution. There are some portions where the game had things that it needed, some “Holes” and I filled them. After the fact I identified that this is in fact the mechanic from game X(Token economy is influenced by PTA). On other occasions I created my mechanic, and later found out it has some striking semblances to mechanics I didn’t know of while creating the game(Goals and Muses from Nine-Worlds).

So, this time I took care of applicability first and foremost, now it’s time to delve into the theory(with little “t”) behind it.

When we say a game is innovative, do we mean it’s innovative compared to all that is out there or compared to what is accepted and mainstream(let’s not argue this, there is a mainstream RPG section)? For example: Conflict Resolution, Scene Framing, GM-less/GM-full are all common things in many Indie RPGs, these things aren’t innovative in comparison to them. However, when I’ve shown Cranium Rats to some of my friends who are not aware of Indie-rpgs, they really smiled about the Scene Framing issue. This is also the deal with “Fantasy Heartbreakers”, they think they are innovative, but they only are compared to two decades ago, so they’re not even innovative compared to the mainstream.

When we take something and refine it, that is innovation. The concept existed, but not the implementation as is. Consider Flags, each take on Flags is different, from Burning Wheel’s BITs to The Shadow of Yesterday’s Keys to Nine Worlds’ Muses to Cranium Rats’ Goals. Not all innovation must be radical and profound. We may have a concept we like, but no implementation we do, or we take an implementation we like and take it one step further, or polish it up. In fact, refinement is a very important bit of innovation; when you get a new idea it’s all sorts of rough, shiny and exciting. Innovation makes it safe to use.

Parallel evolution is another key-issue, for me at least. Innovation isn’t an act, it’s a mindset. When you are into the innovative mindset, you innovate. The fact you “reinvent the alternator” doesn’t matter. As far as you’re concerned, as far as your mental processes go, you just invented the alternator. Be proud. Be proud also because it shows you that the idea is a valid one, if only because you see its existence elsewhere.
Also, “reinventing the alternator” is crucial in terms of actual RPG Design and refinement! Now, that sure came out of the blue. But consider it, you came up with solution Ai in your game, and someone else came up with solution Aii in his game. When you compare the solutions you can see and learn from the differences, each is a refinement, each has a slightly different way it works, even if it strives toward the same goal. When you look at the differences between things that strive to accomplish the same, you learn, a lot more than you learn when you look at the differences or similarities between things that don’t try to accomplish the same goal, because you have more points of reference.

I believe innovation happens on its own, we tend not to be satisfied with things, so we innovate. Innovation for the sake of innovation is still valid and actually important. It may not be as useful because it doesn’t spring from an actual need(“See a need, feel a need”), but once people find a hole into which to find the solution, or use it as comparison, it works great. Sometimes, you also invent instead of refine because you feel like it. It may work out, and it’ll be great. There is no reason to say that the idea of innovation for its own sake is not valid. It is, and it encourages the right mindset. Innovate, invent, and it’ll end up refined and useful.

You don’t need to innovate, but it sure doesn’t hurt.

Expect a follow-up entry in the next two weeks about Innovation and CSI Games. Also expect an entry about “Competition”, but I keep pushing that one back, because the longer I keep it loosely(poorly?) defined, the more interesting discussions about it I have.


2 comments on ““Going Anywhere?”; On Innovation.

  1. Guy Shalev says:

    Here is a thought that’d been bouncing in my head, also a question!

    So we have Innovation. We have a base product and then we have refinements and/or innovations made about it.
    Do we need the first step and the other markstones, or do we only need the final result?

    For innovators, I believe you need to see the steps. So you could see which areas were innovated and to have more stages from which you could branch. Even if you branch from the first step, you’re innovating in a possibly completely new direction, so it doesn’t matter how far the idea had been taken in another direction.

    But what about consumers? Do you need to see the half-formed and half-functional steps along the way, or do you only need to care about the state of the art, the final product?

  2. Guy Shalev says:

    This post on the Forge talks about Luke Crane and his experience creating Burning Wheel, in regards to other games in the hobby and innovation.

    Very interesting and powerful comments.

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