The thing every creative searches for is originality, but everyone also acknowledges that there is no such thing as something truly original. I believe that the difference between copying someone else’s work and doing something truly original is if you are able to be inspired by another person’s idea in concept, but in application, execute something that is uniquely from your own perspective. Drawing from the philosophies of music production and hip hop sampling, as well as the big business of remixes in the EDM markets, we see this repurposing or re-celebration of older works that give new life and meaning previously unheard of before. My favorite example of this concept is the Grammy Award-winning producer 9th Wonder’s beat Let Me Down Easy wherein he samples Bettye Lavette played at the beginning of the song and then injects his own spin on it, utilizing sampling as a creative technology to create a palette of sounds from the source material.
As you can hear, the second half of the song (when the beat comes in) does not resemble the original sample much because of the innovative way that 9th Wonder has reorganized and recontextualized the space. Recently I’ve been examining my own taste in games as I continue to reflect on my game design ‘style’, and I’ve realized that my favorite games have always been ones that have innovated on something that is out there already usually by combining it with another flavor or mechanic. It’s here that I begin my reflection on the games that I believe embody what I’ll call the Remix Approach, games that use this method to achieve something truly memorable.
The game Grim Joggers is perhaps not a household name, but in my personal view, the weirdness and humor combine together in such a unique way. It’s a basic 2D pixelated infinite runner over a hostile alien terrain in which the player controls a team of joggers (that run in a snake-like formation) to dodge obstacles, traps, and monsters. The remix is that they added a whole team of individuals to the running game model (usually players control one character at a time) and this allows for a more gory, hilarious time because the focus is not on precision survival but on strategic loss. When there’s only one runner left, it turns back into traditional runner mode and you gain extra points. This creates a toy that is endlessly fun to return to as you learn the physics of the train of joggers you control. The juxtaposition of alien landscape and track and field is an amazing mash-up that lends a lot to making this game stand out.
A more classic example of the remix approach lies in Super Smash Bros. I’ll say it again and again - it is one of the best games ever released. Character mash-ups aside, this game is so much more than just the diverse moves and interesting items/maps. The combination of accessible game design with the ability to get really good create such a great learning curve (easy to pick up, hard to master) which hooks many players into it. My favorite part about SSB is that it’s unlike any other combat game, relying on percentage of damage mapped to knock-back distance and a platform mechanic rather than HP. There are almost no combination moves like in Street Fighter (with the maximum combos being two buttons pressed at the same time, or a couple A buttons in a row). This results in a fighting game that feels much more realistic and fast-twitch, reliant on predictions of the opponent and their position, resembling real-life combat better in my humble opinion.
The idea of the remix can also dwell in the narrative/format. WarioWare Inc. stands out to me because of its innovative meta-story. This Game Boy Advance game about launching a video game on the Game Boy Advance, strung together only by one tap mini-games all crazily different from another, feels like a complete story in spite of all the zany elements. The fact that the game was about making games allowed players to really get into the world, and I was impressed by how cohesive the narrative design was in light of the weird UI elements that put you both in the game developers shoes and also in Wario’s shoes. This is embodied by the menu screens, where it pretends to be a cell phone that you use with apps loaded onto it. The mini-game format also innovates the development in an interesting way, undoubtedly making production easier because of it’s focus on super tiny experiences that can be quickly prototyped without difficult physics or rendering code. This format itself allowed a focus later on for interesting quick-tap interaction designs on the Gameboy DS version of WarioWare, utilizing the mic and other features now especially embodied with 1,2 Switch on the Nintendo Switch. This focus on mini-games as the entire game remixes the idea of what it means to have a complete game experience.
I’m currently working on a PC game called Homecoming 3000 - a prototype is available to play on my portfolio. But the main premise is that it’s a rhythm game and a platform game combined, inspired by DDR and Super Smash Bros/Crash Bash, and thematically we’re trying to combine Teen Prom tropes with Disco Alien tropes. I believe that this is something pretty original not because any of these ideas are new, but the way in which it was combined created something unlike other games out there. I’m excited to add additional characters to choose from, as well as refine both the tutorial/title screens, and the background animations as well. I’d like to playtest it so I can determine if there are additional mechanics/features that I’d like to add in, but seeing as this is my first time attempting to program a 3D game, I know this is an uphill battle.
In summary, the next time you’re stuck or out of ideas on what to make, consider the remix approach in all its flavors to help spice up your game!