Mutation: it is the key to our evolution. It has enabled us to evolve from a single celled organism into the dominant species on the planet. This process is slow, normally taking thousands and thousands of years, but every few hundred millennia evolution leaps forward.
A similar quote could be applied to game development. Games evolve, they’re rarely revolutionary. Often, this is by design – sequels are often evolutions of the original design, fixing what was wrong. Or, a designer sees a nice game and thinks he can improve it, or even he focuses on one idea and fleshes it out. The truly revolutionary games, like Dune II, Wolfenstein 3D, Ultima Online and Homeworld are few and far between.
Half-Life was really just an evolution. It built upon the simplistic design elements in previous games and merely extended the scope and capability of scripted events. Its effect on the market was revolutionary – witness the sales numbers and massive online presence – but as a game, it was merely highly evolved. Even Doom III appears to be going in the evolutionary direction. The graphics will be improved, but comments from id Software indicate that they don’t plan anything revolutionary for the gameplay, just delivering a good id game.
And HL2 is… different?
Half-Life 2 might just be different. In many ways, it is just evolutionary. The graphics are an improvement but will doubtless be surpassed within a year after its release. The game will include other evolutionary improvements, like an advanced physics engine. It would be revolutionary if Half-Life 2 was the first attempt at this, but as the disastrous Trespasser and Devastation demonstrate, HL2 is rather late to the party. Terrain deformation is also nothing new, Sacrifice was the most impressive of many games that had it. Good AI has managed to sneak its way into a few games, most recently Vietcong.
It’s just that Half-Life 2 combines all this with strong design elements. There are interesting weapons, innovative monster designs and a mysterious plot thrown into the mix. The end result was the most impressive demo of E3, even though Valve was playing their cards so close to the chest they gave away basically nothing and half the show was a bluff.