Recently when reading a friend’s blog they were discussing indie games and how they are a refreshing and enjoyable alternative to the more mainstream blockbuster titles. As it is an interesting topic I thought that I’d take some time to write an article with my thoughts on the subject.
I saw an excellent article on NowGamer with some interesting insights, but one by Josh Olin (most recently worked on CoD:Black Ops) in particular stood out:
“Too many developers who try new things are getting burned by “pundits” and angry entitled fans who look to be contrarian, sometimes simply for the sake of being contrarian.”
Originally I felt that there was maybe a little bit of bitterness in there over negative reviews but to be honest, I’ve been there before and agree. All too often games trying something new get criticised, leading to effectively the same game getting released over and over.
I’d take it further and say that because a game may introduce an innovative and exciting feature/system, others will copy and not long after fans and “critics” will lambust new titles that haven’t copied it. However does it benefit or suit the game? For example I’ve read a lot of reviews slating games for their lack of sticky cover but they were fast paced and just didn’t suit the slower and more “tactical” nature of a sticky cover. I’ve played a few games where it seemed like certain systems were hacked in because other games did it, Duke Nukem Forever being the prime example. Its no surprise that games can feel very similar when we criticise them for not following suit on every trend. Rather than expecting a tick box of features for a game to be worthy of our playing time, we ought to take a game for what it is. If that game doesn’t have a cover system or strawberry syrup health effect yet is still great fun, perhaps it doesn’t need one and perhaps it is great fun for not having these systems.
However with your small indie, mobile & arcade titles these bewildering demands by players to make the same game. The focus is very much on creating unique little experiences that have a core gameplay and very little gumpf surrounding it. Looking at Angry Birds, it doesn’t need sophisticated AI, a long compelling plot, vast destructable environments or ground breaking graphics. That is just less things to go wrong and also provides a much more direct access to the core enjoyment. Some of the core gameplay of these games is fairly “old skool”, maybe with a unique twist or just delivered in a new form. There’s still many of my old games that I still enjoy to play, so having them brought back on the latest platforms with a lick of paint can be very much appreciated! One thing to note here though is the closer that you stick to the original blueprint the better. Maybe tweaking some known flaws, but otherwise a gameplay that has proven itself as top notch is best left alone.
Of course the style of gaming isn’t the only reason why we’re seeing a shift, after all many people prefer games that cost millions to put together with stunning worlds, advanced AI and a compelling plot, something that you can sit down and play for hours on end. Money, like it or not, is also a major factor. Going indie allows for more creativity as you don’t need to sell millions of copies to break even. This can be more enjoyable to develop and being able to produce titles quicker provides a variety that you maybe don’t get working on triple A titles. Similarly from the player’s perspective, you can pick up a few games that may each give you a fair few hours of enjoyment or spend a fair wad of cash on a game that may not be quite what you hoped.
Mobile games has of course further opened this up with cheap, often free, games available that you can quickly play. On top of this we have Facebook games and both really opening up games to a much wider casual market. We’re seeing new types of games and revitalisation of some classic gameplay. Personally I think it is great that we have both indie & mainsteam / Triple A and that the industry needs both. Major studios will continue to fill the shelves of retail chains and dominate the charts, providing games for Christmas presents. At the same time people will find new avenues into gaming with different and unique styles of gameplay thanks to indie games. I hope to be part of it again soon!