Dishonored vs EA’s Gibeau: a win for new IP

Thursday, 11 October 2012 16:26 GMT By Dave Cook

Dishonored has received rave reviews from the majority, despite claims that launching new IP late in the cycle is a mistake. The comments of some execs are defeatist at best and actively damaging at worst, says Dave Cook.

The human race has always feared the unknown. When man first discovered fire, we didn’t instantly start cooking food, lighting our homes or spark up fat Cuban cigars. We got burned by it, and that’s when we started to understand and respect what it was capable of.

New IP is the same. Sure, some of it fails catastrophically, but the industry makes mistakes, consumers get burned, and then the medium as a whole learns. This is progress.

It always falls to a select few, those fascinated dreamers who want to push the boundaries of what’s possible, to show us what can happen when we dare to think beyond the realm of safety.

What if someone told Gabe Newell that founding Valve was a foolish risk? Just how fucked would the industry be today without Steam, or the inspiration of Half-Life?

New IP can achieve this if it is handled well, and that is why I refuse to subscribe to the notion that unique ideas are doomed to fail before they’ve truly begun.

It’s such a weak, defeatist attitude that serves no one but those who want to validate their own foolish opinions. It reeks of close-minded ignorance, like when someone watches a ten-second teaser trailer for a new IP that features no gameplay, then saying something idiotic like, ‘Looks shit’.

What if someone told Gabe Newell that founding Valve was a foolish risk? Just how fucked would the industry be today without Steam, or the inspiration of Half-Life?

Go back even further and try telling Steve Russell and his geeky MIT buddies to stop dicking around with Spacewar! and hit the books. The industry simply wouldn’t exist as it does today without that creativity.

New ideas are invaluable, even if they do fail, because this self-perpetuating industry thrives on iteration, on improving and abstracting the mould. It’s also the reason EA’s Frank Gibeau’s recent comments regarding new IP fall wide of the bullseye his company should be aiming for.

Gibeau stated in an interview that launching new IP so late in the current console cycle is a mistake.

Rubbish. The games industry is beyond the point where console cycles mark the beginning and end of each phase in its evolution. PC and mobile gaming don’t have cycles, and – love or hate those formats – they are now as important as any big name hardware.

Anything that gets more people gaming, and ultimately injects more funds into the industry deserves praise.

Angry Birds may not be relevant to many hardcore console players out there today, but it is to millions of people – millions of people who never considered themselves gamers in the past. Anything that gets more people gaming, and ultimately injects more funds into the industry deserves praise.

Which brings me to Dishonored. I never place games on high pedestals because – as we all know – no game is perfect, but Arkane’s grim tale of revenge is something special. It’s one of those rare games that comes along and rips through the wall of design by committee, focus testing and uninspired sequels.

Some may say, ‘But hold on: it’s just like Thief, Bioshock, Half-life and Deus Ex combined’. Yes you’re right, but look at the quality of games you’ve just name-dropped. They’re all unique IP that haven’t been bled dry by sequels – not yet anyway.

Dishonored takes core fundamentals from all of those games but runs with them to create something that feels new. The city of Dunwall feels like a tangible, unique place, battered by corruption, sin and plague, all without resorting to a murky colour palette.

The city’s inhabitants are truly loathsome, making you become emotionally engaged in Corvo’s struggle. It echoes our own real-world state, wherein national economies are fucked and the poor are getting shafted with both barrels. It’s relevant, and it hits home if you let it.

Some have bemoaned the fact that the game isn’t open world, but you really have to play the game to understand that while Dishonored is a a string of connected play-spaces, they are teeming with possibilities.

It treats you like an adult in the way games used to, not some dullard with a wallet who is there to be exploited.

Do you murder everyone in sight or go for the pacifist route? Do you possess a rat and sneak into a compound’s vent system, or do you complete odd jobs for a corrupt citizen to earn safe passage within its walls? The freedom afforded in a confined space is malleable, and marks a triumph in design.

Even Corvo’s limited skill-set has been called into question by people who haven’t played the game yet. Why give players a massive selection of uninspired tools when a tighter, more useful arsenal can provide wider possibilities? Sometimes restraint is the best option.

It’s also bastard-hard, refusing to coddle players through its meter-less stealth system, gruelling checkpoints and brain-testing conundrums. It treats you like an adult in the way games used to, not some dullard with a wallet who is there to be exploited.

Gratification is your reward, a feeling that Dark Souls player will know all too well. It’s that rare vibe you pick up whenever you overcome the seemingly impossible, and Arkane has scored well. The sheer artistry and talent on top of that makes for killer game of the year material.

So that’s Dishonored, potentially the most intriguing new IP of the generation, and there is still so much more that can be said on the issue of new ideas. After all, big name developers like EA are always looking forward to what comes next, because they have to act now in order to be ‘generation-prepped’ by the time Xbox 720 and PS4 come along.

I get that, but saying that new IP can’t succeed just because new machines are imminent is both defeatist and actively damaging. It’s the wrong message for such a big entity to be broadcasting, especially one that has the power and funds to help nurture fresh properties. We’ve yet to see Dishonored’s sales figures, but given the reception it’s unlikely Bethesda will regret going triple-A with something completely new in 2012. Gibeau should know better: the success of new IP isn’t just dictated by the console market.

Dishonored releases across Europe tomorrow.

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