Reposted on new blog at http://dynamitochondria.blogspot.com/2010/01/january-challenge-12-mashups.html.
Who doesn't love a good mashup? Discovering two otherwise familiar experiences combined in an unexpected way can be delightful. A sweet synergy makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
It could be argued that the core concept of the mashup, putting two elements together in a new way, is the root of creativity. Our conceptual space is the sum of our experiences, and we can't discern with any accuracy where any new idea that springs into our head actually originated. Did we think a totally new thought, or did a combo of two things we've seen, one last week and the other twenty years ago, suddenly fit together in our consciousness?
"There's nothing new under the sun" is frequently interpreted at the macro level to dismiss a seemingly new phenomenon as something someone else did earlier (and better). I prefer to interpret the phrase at the micro level; when we break a new idea down far enough, it turns out to be constructed of existing atoms of experience.
Games are similarly made up of atoms, elements of design that combine to form the experiences that obsess us. More broadly than individual games, game genres are made up of established complexes of game atoms to create a recognizable type of game experience.
Examination of these established complexes, taking the time to deconstruct them into their atoms, enables us to consciously find compatibilities between genres that maybe haven't been joined before. A particularly good combination might form the basis for a new genre. MMORPGs are simply sandbox social RPGs, but they caught on as their own phenomenon. The next big revolutionary genre of gaming will probably be a similar mashup.
So let's try a couple.
A-Life Strategy. There are games that use Artificial Life concepts as development or programming tools that the player never need experience directly, and there are those that feature it as the core game. Conway's Life is the earliest example I'm aware of. A-Life games derive emergent behavior from the intersection of simple rules, frequently by use of genetic algorithms to select for successful combinations of attributes. A strategy game could make use of this in two ways simultaneously. The player uses an A-Life studio to specify success criteria, combine successful genomes, and introduce random change in order to improve friendly units between deployments. At the same time, initially random enemy units are selected for success, have their genomes combined, and mutated. The next generation of units then meet on the battlefield. Rinse & repeat. The beauty is that the genetic algorithms should slowly converge into enemy behaviors optimized to fight the player's style. Does the player tend to turtle? The enemy should eventually develop hard-hitting fighters with little defense. The advanced player may adopt a given tactic for several rounds to encourage the evolution of behaviors that can be exploited with a change of tactics. Like in Spore, the enemies and friendlies that the player evolves through play could then be shared with other players of the game.
Multiplayer Serious Sports Resource-Management. Serious games, an example of genre of purpose, have a goal other than strictly entertainment, usually to teach a skill or preach a position. In this mashup, the player takes on the role of the coach and/or owner of a sports team. The challenge is to manage salaries, training schedules, media exposure, team member egos, endorsements, contracts, and the like to produce a winning team. Winning is measured in many ways: winning games, maintaining popularity, keeping great players on the team, and all the other ways that sports teams are seen as winners in the real world. As a multiplayer game, teams are pitted against one another in games that the players may or may not be able to affect during play, at least directly. If the team members are fully developed AI NPCs, they might play out the game independently, while players perform actions more appropriate to their role, like yelling at referees, dealing with media spin, or just enjoying an emergent game experience like one might watch a game on TV. The multiplayer aspect also makes for interesting play in the form of bidding for contracts and competing for draft picks.