I'm getting a little jealous.
Every time I take a moment to look at what my indie game designing peers are doing, I see really fantastic ideas for things we've never been able to do in a video game before. They make it look so easy! I for one, have never been a terribly innovative game designer. I have rarely if ever strayed far from genre norms and my games haven't really introduced anything brand new in terms of game mechanics. My ideology has always been to take existing game mechanic tools and use them to build something sharper than what came before. I often wonder if not being able to invent something completely original makes me a bad game designer.
An example; Wolf, a project I finished last year, was a story-driven adventure game which played almost identically to a 2D Zelda game. It didn't try to mask what it was; the game was very bluntly trying to emulate the experience of playing a Zelda game. But the original Zelda was made trying to emulate Miyamoto's childhood excursions into the wilderness around his own home. You see the crucial difference here: by portraying a real-life experience, I think Zelda comes out feeling more "pure." And Zelda was, at the time of its conception, a completely revolutionary game experience. I used to explore the wilderness around my house, too, but until recently it had never even occurred to me that I could translate that experience into a video game, one that could be entirely my own.
What I'm saying here is that I think if we want to find real innovation, we really ought to look not at what other games are doing, but at our own real-life feelings and experiences. When we can portray emotions entirely with game mechanics, the results are bound to be innovative, in the same way that each person's life experiences are unique.
Looking at Wolf again, it's a game about a girl with the werewolf curse, who unknowingly transforms at night and kills all her friends and neighbors. She deals with the loss of her humanity, guilt, and worst of all, she knows that as long as she lives she's still a threat to the people she loves. Those are complex emotions. So then, looking at the game purely from a game designer's standpoint, why did I choose to complement that story with gameplay originally crafted to portray outdoor exploration? To truly do justice to such a story, the gameplay and mechanics too should have portrayed the same conflicted emotions.
Having said that, I have no idea how I might go about doing that. Maybe I wasn't born with that necessary genius, or maybe I'm just inexperienced, but I--like many other game designers--still haven't learned to convey complex ideas or experiences with a video game.
That's not to say that my games lack all emotion whatsoever. Assassin Blue's story is a simple one, about an assassin who gets fed up with mindless killing and turns on his employer. The gameplay, too, portrays mindless violence as you fight your way through hordes of ninjas and samurais, who explode in a shower of blood when defeated. But while the game's end seems to condone such violence, the actual game rewards it, so the story ends up failing to really connect with the gameplay. Dubloon, I think, might be my game that most closely connects its story and gameplay. It's a game about pirates, essentially; and to complement this, the game features a balance of open-world exploration and hidden treasures, combined with a battle system that stresses teamwork within your crew. But these aren't very complex ideas either, and certainly ones we've seen in a game thousands of times before.
I've heard people say games themselves are simply not capable of portraying particularly deep feelings, and as such have limits as a form of expression. I reject that. I want to believe that we can take complex emotions and turn them into a new and compelling game experience. This is something I want to take with me as I continue my pursuit in game design.