The most obvious joke that springs to mind: What innovation?
Also wish I could Photoshop a picture of John Romero with flowing locks and a blacked-out tooth with the tagline "What, Me Innovate?" in nice big font.
I like to imagine Daikatana as an extended satire on the FPS-genre. What else could explain Superfly Johnson?
I think a lot of the enmity toward Romero comes from the fact that the first really big "Rock Star" videogame developer was exactly like a rock star - egotistical, ridiculous, shortsighted, prone to excess, given to ridiculous press-statements, temperamental and, by all accounts, a spoiled diva. And he failed; We could have forgiven all else had he succeeded. We wanted Jim Morrison, not some prog-rock bass-player heroin-overdose.
Slave to the Label
First-Person Shooters hobble themselves with their own definition and endless re-re-re-iterations. The essence of the experience is boiled down and made plain, so any deviation must be given extra letters - FPS-RPG, FPS-RTS, MMO-FPS. The ol' Alphabet stew. Drastic innovation would require re-casting the term. "Keeping it real" means only smaller alterations are allowed.
We should not expect them to be more than the Action movies of the videogame world - this is a fair goal. To the point, reveling in the singular interaction between weapon and target, tightly-focused. The enemies might have personality, but they are always to be destroyed - there is no reason or point in understanding their motives (if given) beyond plot exposition.*
Action movies suffer the same genre-confines. Any attempt to break the format from its straightjacket results in the hyphenation game. Action-drama. Action-comedy. Action-docu-dramedy.
Done well, like Half-Life, FPSes are driven, linear experiences. This can be strengh and/or weakness.
Strength, because unified narrative becomes easier to maintain. Emotional cues can be more consistently programmed. The player can be directed. Paths may diverge, but placing a simulationist freedom on the game would probably break genre.
Weakness, because the pacing might not be compelling. Too much control might alienate players. You could end up with another Rise of the Triad or Chaser, stunningly banal in execution, stripped of urgency or drive. Or something much worse, like Shadow Warrior.
I speak here of narrative and pacing as effectively similar beasts. Doom has little narrative within the typical conception of story, yet each level can be seen as a text that the player traverses, which either focuses immersion and the desire to complete it (to "finish the story") or breaks it, losing the player.**
The multiplayer realm, of course, diverges. There the focus is competition. The rights to be the Action Star, top dog. The game becomes divorced from narrative and focused on setting, environment, sporadic player-transactions (you know, shooting).
Here it is even more difficult to speak of innovation. Essentially we are discussing sport, and thus people expect certain sporting conventions, chiefly the notion of fairness. There must be balance between competitors. There must be rules.
In a linear narrative, such considerations are not so important. Balance and rules can always be tossed aside in favor of moving the single player forward. Deus ex machina is allowed, though not necessarily welcome.
But in multiplayer deus ex machina can only be explained by cheating.
This does not mean that there aren't many different avenues to explore in this competitive milieu. The human capacity to invent new and varied sports is legendary, and under sufficient boredom a roomful of people can reasonably create a fuzzy-version of a sport every five minutes.
What remains to be seen, then, in multiplayer, is not how we can drastically alter the transactions (by, for example, adding a social element, degrading or destroying the shooter notion) but how we can add more weight to them, how we might imbue them with greater consequences in the game environment, how we might allow more player choice without promising the sociopathic autonomy of single-player.
Vehicles are a good example of this min-novation***. They extend the game, enhance player motion (vehicles that fly, for example, opening up the vertical dimension - which Tribes explored years ago), require new combinations of strategies and tactics.
The (relatively) Unexplored Country
Co-operative mode, that red-headed stepchild of FPSes.
It could be the best three or four-way action you'd find on your computer outside of your stash of svcds. Instead it's, for the most part, relegated to the afterthought, or not-thought-of-at-all, bin. Maybe the idea of narrative scares multiplayer designers and the multiplayer notion scares narrative designers. We need a Reese's Cup-style melding of the minds.
The best is yet to come. Because what's come before has been mostly shit.
Time to send more developers to trust-building corporate retreats until the concept of working-together begins to look viable in a game design.
*Or, in the case of Half-Life 2, desire to uncover the motives of the enemy becomes an enormous carrot dangling in front of the player.
**Apologies for no doubt mangling any of a number of theories of interactive digital media.
***"Mini Innovation" -- not quite a full-fledged novel idea, not really an iteration, but more of an extension of a prior concept expanded to embrace a slightly larger concept.