Raph "Theory of Fun" Koster has a wonderful, readable, theory-rich article that helps unpick the discussion about when a game is a clone of another game, when it's a skin, when it's a variant, and when it's a new game.
The article ends with an inspiring prescription for understanding how to synthesize new games using the best primitives from existing successful games and game-mechanics. This is Koster at his best, and why he's one of the leading theorists of game development.
So, the recipe for inventing a truly new game:
* Identify a new mathematical model. This is often done by finding a new kind of scenario to model: human relationships (The Sims), gardening (Farm Town), etc.
* Proffer a dimensional change on an existing ruleset, such as Tetris modifying the classic game of pentominoes by adding time and movement vector. Pac-Man and Miner 2049er and Flip & Flop are almost the same game (traverse every node on the graph). But the rule changes are major.
* Explore alternate sorts of graph structures, such as Blokus to Blokus Trigon or Gemblo. Jumpman vs Miner 2049er is a good example here, or indeed any other “gather things” platformer; changing the graph of points that require visiting alters much.
* Offer a replacement goal within an extant rule structure, which can force a major variant. A racing game versus a demolition derby sort of racing game is an example here.
When is a Clone [Raph Koster]
Researcher Yarden Katz scraped the database of Intellectual Ventures, a giant business that buys up patents, but produces nothing but lawsuits (previously), and discovered that IV claims ownership of nearly 500 patents that were created at public expense by researchers employed by public universities, and another 100 or so patents filed by the US Navy.
Kids’ author/droid builder Kurt Zimmerman created “Artoo Deco,” an Art Deco take on R2-D2, capable of movement under radio control, and with an in-built sound-system that makes cool, droidish noises.
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