I spent the day at the Montreal International Game Summit. Among the more interesting talks was Amir Rao's post-mortem on Bastion, a fine downloadable game which has sold 1.5 million copies and won a slew of awards. He said that many of the most innovative and freshest aspects of the game came about when he and his team were attempting to solve their design problems. They just attempted to come up with ways to solve these problems that players hadn't seen before.
For example: in a 2D isomorphic game, you don't get to see the sky. Solution: place the fantasy landscape in the sky, so that we see the sky below the landscape. And have the landscape form under the player's feet as he walks, rather than just have it there all the time.
I interviewed Ron Shusett last night. He's been working on his current screenplay for a year. He got the structure down a long time. He's been holding the script back, though, until he could come up with three totally fresh and new special effects.
Dan O'Bannon had been working on ALIEN year and a half, but he hadn't figured out how to get the alien on board the ship in a fresh way. Then Ron Shusett came up with the chest-burster. Without that, would the movie have got made? Would it have been iconic? Would it have spawned a franchise?
Point is: the best creators are not satisfied with the traditional. They go the extra mile, or the extra month, or in some cases, the extra year, to come up with something that no one has seen before.