What I love about Indie Games

While perusing the XBLA for games I could spend my holiday MS points on, I stumbled upon Fez.  I’d loosely followed it’s development and learned more about it watching Indie Game: The Movie.  I knew there was buzz around it (as well as some controversy) but I got the demo and that’s all it took to convince me to fork over the magical moon money I had left on my account.  It was a good purchase.  I was vaguely familiar with the premise and that there was more to it than it appeared, but simply cruising around as Gomez, enjoying all of the scenes and animations, the music, and finding all the unique little tricks to each level really endeared the game to me.  It motivated me to go back and watch some of Indie Game: The Movie again and to pay closer attention to the portions concerning Phil Fish and Fez.

I hadn’t really thought about it much up to this point, but over the last four to five years, “indie games” have provided the more memorable gaming experiences I’ve had during that time.  IG: The Movie, highlighted a few: Braid, Super Meat Boy, Limbo, Minecraft, and Castle Crashers.  I never really considered myself in tune with the indie gaming “scene” (if you want to call it that) but as time goes on I’m becoming more and more drawn into it’s content.  Hotline Miami and Lone Survivor were close contenders for being my favorite games of 2012, and playing Fez now I’m starting to have the realization “hey, this is what playing games used to feel like.”  Of course, on the surface, most of these games hearken back to the 16-bit games of yesteryear, and many were developed by people in my generation who played many of the same games as me.  Though I can’t shake the feeling that there’s something else to it.

The internet changed games forever.  It opened up entirely new possibilities, and obsoleted entire game formats.  It opened the floodgates of communication and information, and the world felt like a much smaller place.  Games used to be mysteries that you could tinker with and mull over endlessly.  When it’s just you and your friends playing them, it feels like the possibilities are endless.  When everyone in the world is playing a game, it’s old news days after release and we quickly move on to whatever is next.  Coincidentally, games became more predictable in certain ways.  They cost more money to make, creating a great amount of risk-aversion in developers and publishers.  They also required larger teams of content creators, making any singular vision of a game that much more difficult to filter out of the noise.  I should probably only speak for myself, but games became more boring as a result.  There isn’t the same type of magic in AAA gaming now.

The other mystery that was dispelled was in how games are created.  Anyone can download an IDE and build software.  The novelty of the video game lost its luster in an age of iPads and smart phones.  At the same time though, it gave everyone else a chance to create games that could afford to foster a more intimate relationship with their audience.  Adding mystery to a game didn’t automatically create risk, and these games could actually be built out of the creator’s desire to express an idea rather than attempt to persuade customers to hand over their cash.  Indie games and gamers get a reputation for creating self-indulgent “art” games that lean too heavily on having a retro flavor.  That may be true.  It can’t be denied though, and I’m probably stating the obvious here: the games industry landscape is changing and so is the market for games.

We may have an abundance of side-scrolling 2D platformers out there right now, but people like Phil Fish are on to something here.  And the next wave of indie developers are going to start creating games that you will never mistaken for a Super Mario Bros. knock-off.  I’ve more or less been a skeptic of indie gaming up to this point but I’m ready to buy in now.  These games will speak to people in ways that the professional industry is afraid to now, and no degree of production value is going to compare with that.


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