“It’s not where you take things from - it’s where you take them to.” - Jean-Luc Godard
To be honest, I am struggling to write this post. I am so tired of the topic that it pains me, but that is also why I am driven to talk about it. Yes boys and girls, I am talking about the word "clone", which is now more indiscriminately used than the words "dude" (described by some as one of the most versatile words in the English language) or "indie" (who's definition spans everything from penny markets to billion dollar businesses).
More of the Same... But not Really
It has been said that there is nothing new in this world, only old things that have yet to be discovered. Though I may not completely agree with the literal use of that phrase, there is an understanding that no idea is unique; we are simply inspired by things we've seen before. The spirit of that statement explains that we look at our past to learn about the mistakes they have made or maybe attempt to present a new and modern perspective on an established idea.
Joseph Ducreux was a painter who often specialized in portraits. Heavily inspired by another traditional portrait painter, Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Decreux also experimented with expression; something rarely seen at the time. Despite the unique expressions however, there was a clear connection in the techniques that Decreux developed and where his inspirations resided.
Only after many hundreds of years can we look back and see the breadth of knowledge that has been accumulated. What we don't often consider when we quickly thumb through the art books is the fact that it took many hundreds of years to get to where we are today. Even in that span of time, there are fairly clear lines that separate eras of art and many paintings in the same era shared a very similar composition.
Give it a Minute!
A comedian once told a story about how he was getting older and watching the generations grow up. He talked about his parents and what they had to live through, then went on to describe some girl who was groaning because the text on her phone wasn't going through. At this point he screams, "Give it a minute! It's going to space and back for crying out loud!" I often think about this when I'm presented with another hater's comment which typically boil down to, "I didn't actually download the demo, or play the game, but I did see a screenshot and your game looks like _____. What a clone!"
Today, games are a lot more than a painting. And though the art design has quickly become the main act of any modern video game, the gameplay tends to be the subtle brush strokes that separate each game. Unfortunately, gameplay is not something you can see, it is something you can only feel. YouTube may have helped visually unique games find their audience, but games who focus on subtle brush strokes will more often be called that popular misnomer, "clone". The harsh reality is that less and less gamers are treating games like paintings in a museum where they spend time to study the strokes, and more like a Google image search for adult content.
In many ways, the internet has damned us. It has turned us all into ADHD subjects who are constantly looking for the shortest number of clicks to the next best thing. Video games in many ways - and especially now that we've gone digital - are now treated much like pornography. It used to be that we had to capture a prospective buyer in the first hour of our game (remember 45 minute demo's and shareware?!), later reduced to 10 minutes, and now 2 minutes. The reality seems to be more like 30 seconds these days, and that assumes that YouTube isn't lagging enough for that person to get tired of waiting to buffer the video.
The abundance of noise on the internet makes it nearly impossible to convince someone to even bother downloading your game. If the user is not getting to the "climax" in an unreasonably short amount of time they will inexplicably hate you forever.
Was it Always Like This?
Sadly, the painters of our past probably had it just as rough albeit in slightly different ways. What we read about in the history books and see in our local museums is only a glimpse of their lives. The more interesting lessons are sadly lost with time. Were those painters - those artists who are celebrated today - where they ridiculed for following in the steps of their masters?
I'd like to think that it was embraced by most to see a new artist who learned the techniques of his mentors and presented works in the same vein. Imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery, and it may have been true since the 17th century where variants of that quote originated. Here and now however, in the age of the internet, it will earn you the cruelest words that can never be unsaid by a face that you will never meet in person.
With such bitterness online and shrinking attention spans, the only solution seems to be - make fine art or porn, to improve your chance of critical success. As an engineer, it is painful to see mechanics sitting in the second chair under aesthetic but whoever said "gameplay is king" probably was looking at beautiful screenshots when he said it.