Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Independent (Indie) Gaming

John B. Marine | 12/09/2014 02:48:00 AM | |
Independent (or "indie") gaming over recent years has exploded into great popularity. When I recently blogged about my thoughts on the OUYA gaming console, I noted one important element of the OUYA's appeal was in indie gaming. Some people- especially mainstream types- tend to think quite poorly on indie games and indie developers. Many think they lack the polish and the appeal of titles from major developers on major consoles.

I am NOT completely educated on everything indie gaming, but I will make an attempt to discuss indie gaming here on "John's Blog Space." Welcome to another post of mine! I have a lot to discuss. Or in Internet lingo, my material is more "TL;DR" (too long; didn't read). However, it's "TL;DR" that is worthy of a long read. So I hope you enjoy this post.


I will use "independent" at times rather than exclusively use "indie" because for some reason, I tend to think of India whenever I hear or see "indie." I do welcome my Indian (as in the country of India) readers/visitors to JBS, of course! :)

Talking Points.

Here is a brief look at what this post features, especially if you fear this is a "TL;DR" style post:

Independent Gaming Thoughts
• The Major vs. Independent Argument
• What Makes Indie Gaming Popular?
• My Concerns on Indie Gaming
• The Future of Indie Gaming?
Independent Gaming: Final Thoughts

Let's begin!

--- Independent Gaming Thoughts ---

In the past, it used to be that only the big-name developers and companies produce great games. That is true to an extent. The finest franchises and companies help to inspire us game lovers to dream of making our own games; or perhaps, aspire to join these companies to make some of the best video and computer games one can ever play. Also in the past, it used to be that making games was incredibly difficult, or that many attempts to make unique games just honestly weren't good enough to stir the imagination or inspire a generation.

Times have definitely changed. These days, almost anyone can make a complete game and sell it online. We have certain tools to make games such as Blender 3D, GameMaker: Studio, and one of today's biggest suites for building games- Unity 3D. There is also Microsoft's XNA gaming platform; but as of the initial date of this blog post (December 9, 2014), Microsoft ended support of the XNA platform. Created games don't have to be extravagant or completely mind-blowing in their design or in their execution. But among most people, a game has to be on par with current popular games on major systems to be worth anyone's attention. Some indie developers even prefer more retro styles to try to deliver a retro-inspired experience. So how an indie game looks is indicative of its character and what kind of character the game is supposed to deliver to its audience(s).

The "Major vs. Independent" Argument.

The notion of indie games going up against major titles brings on a classical argument- is indie material any better than major titles? Can even the biggest indie media better than even the worst major material? While I am not any movie buff, think about someone who wants to see a great movie. Most people would rather watch major movies from major companies with major actors/actresses. If you believe only in major material, you would feel as if it would be impossible to enjoy a similar or better experience if you were to watch a B-movie or an indie film. What if, however, you come across a B-Movie or an indie movie and enjoyed it as much as or more than any major movie?

Well, the same applies to indie games vs. their major counterparts. Some gaming experiences from indie games can be better than a lot of major games. I spent most of the previous paragraph making reference to movies because the arguments are similar. Just like you can be impressed with a non-major movie, you can be impressed with a non-major game.

What Makes Independent Gaming So Popular?

Here is why I think indie gaming so popular. I feel that indie games and companies have a certain character and personality to them which make them better than a lot of titles from proper top-tier developers and franchises. Many of the independent titles are either original ideas or different spins on what classic franchises and companies have perfected.

What makes the major gaming companies and major games so popular? Simple- the highly successful ones are the ones that are trendsetters and help set what direction the world of gaming is taking or where it should be taken. Some of the better indie games also help set the tone. Just like in any business or industry, everyone just wants to seek the next best thing. They want to seek the best opportunity and set a tone for others to either follow or better. In today's gaming culture, Minecraft is among one of many indie games to establish that sort of character that makes indie gaming fun. Such a game has the kind of character and appeal that puts itself on par with or better than most Triple-A games and franchises of different genres.

Another popular aspect of indie gaming is the unique appeal and ideas offered in games. Most major developers wouldn't dare think of certain ideas for their games the way a lot of indie developers would think. You may find some indie games to try to bring back classic gaming experiences in today's postmodern times. You may even run into occasional (and sometimes unnecessary, to be honest) swearing as well as animated blood from time to time. Not every indie game has some capacity of immaturity or tomfoolery. Some indie games are pretty powerful in their concepts and in their execution. Not too long ago, I learned of a game called "That Dragon, Cancer" (IN CASE YOU'RE INTERESTED: more info on this game can be found at thatdragoncancer.com) as I was looking around online. Many developers have unique ideas. Some others just try to re-capture certain experiences from past games and past franchises. No matter what, indie developers are always looking to stake their claim and make their mark any way they can.

What seems to be popular concepts among a lot of indie games is that of randomized material and procedural levels/worlds. Randomized levels mean they feature a lot of items and obstacles randomly generated so that no two levels are ever the same. Most procedural levels offer experiences where when you think you've reached the edge or boundaries of a level or world, the area gets expanded with more items. Especially with games that have a retro feel to them, many indie games try to capture the classic game look and feel (and even retro sounds sometimes) even in these postmodern times. Most people complain about most indie games lack of great graphics or mind-blowing audio.

My Concerns on Indie Gaming.

Forgive me if what I am about to say makes me less of a person; but I feel that most indie games I've played are actually tougher than most mainstream games, and that I am not as keen about "hardcore" levels of games. There is also the notion of permanent death. In other words- when you die in a game, you're dead... forever. Think of the Hardcore setting in Minecraft where if you die, you can not respawn, and your world is deleted. At least these concepts are a lot different from what most mainstream and popular games offer. Fair? No. Different trains of thought? Absolutely.

I mentioned indie games offer a good amount of difficulty to keep any player honest. They may be TOO great in difficulty to where such games may not be as enjoyable to most people. Frustration does not equal fun. Some of the things I mentioned in the previous paragraph add up to some of many things that will bring most people to delirium and frustration. You don't want that.

One indie game that made me think a good bit was a game simply called "Treasure Adventure Game." This highly-acclaimed indie game offers a pretty good experience while also testing your puzzle skills. Without spoiling anything, I solved a puzzle in one of the main levels by looking at specific elements of the level. I found out the way to solve one of the puzzles was to follow a certain trail provided by the background. Before playing "Treasure Adventure Game," the only other game I played that really challenged my thinking was "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time."

The Future of Indie Gaming?

Even the indie gaming hobbyist can feel confident knowing he/she made a quality game he/she put full heart and effort into. Various indie developers often times try to get Kickstarter campaigns going to help fund further development of games. I am not sure as to the financial aspects of developing games, but many indie game developers struggle to try to make quality games with such restrictive budgets. So the request of money to keep games properly funded is one way most developers try and financially survive. Just like some people go through life with so little and eventually come out fine, indie gamers are the same way. More power to any indie developer- solo or an entire team, hobbyist or professional- in trying to financially survive while also creating great games for people to play.

One other thing I question is if enough is being done and if enough is being offered to let future game developers successfully create and complete games. Indie games, more than anything, should be an avenue for people to create more quality games for people to enjoy. Various developers in the indie scene help make this possible in inspiring a newer generation of gamers and game developers. Even if such games are made for certain platforms or seem almost entirely are rip-offs of major titles, at least there is some kind of avenue for indie game developers to announce themselves in the gaming scene.

Now that you have some of my main thoughts on indie gaming, it's time I provide some final thoughts.

--- Independent Gaming: Final Thoughts ---

Most independent gamers and independent developers won't get anywhere near the attention of most mainstream games. Most of them may not even reach the levels of superstar status like Minecraft. Just because indie developers and gamers aren't mainstream types doesn't mean they are worth putting aside. People make any number of complaints regarding indie gaming, as if every game has to be on the level of a "Call of Duty" or "Far Cry" whatever just to be worth one's attention. Indie gaming, if anything, is several wake-up calls for gamers and the gaming industry.

A lot of indie games have more personality than most mainstream titles. This leads to their immense appeal. Such developers and such games are even offered on the likes of PlayStation Network and various PC and mobile platforms. In fact, XBOX Live even has an entire marketplace devoted to indie games called XBOX Live Indie Games (or XBLIG for short). This shows indie games have a both spotlight and recognition as a legitimate gaming market and a legitimate force in gaming.

If you criticize indie gaming in saying that they don't look and feel like anything the average gamer would play, you'd be right to an extent. But at the same time, not every game has to be Triple-A quality to be worthy of a play. Even the "ugliest" and amateur game can still be great fun to play. True gamers would enjoy an ugly game with great gameplay as much as a beautiful game with great gameplay. True gamers would enjoy a great game from a "no-name" developer as much as a great game from a major developer. All indie games and indie game developers prove you can have as much gaming fun from a small developer with a quality title as much as any major game from a major developer. Even if certain indie games lack the quality and polish of a Triple-A title from a major developer, some would argue there is much more personality and character in most indie games as opposed to mainstream titles. Since variety is the spice of life, we need influence from the indie scene to show that us small-time and hobbyists have as much a voice in gaming as any major developer. And I'm sure we couldn't care less if major game reviewers (like IGN, which I sometimes call "IGNore") give the indie scene flak and hate on indie developers and indie games. We can't hear your hate because we are too busy making our own games for people to enjoy.

The moral of the story- indie developers and indie games are just as fun (some if not better) than most mainstream titles. Don't shrug off indie developers or indie games just because they don't provide Triple-A mainstream titles. Don't shrug them off just because their games aren't at the forefront of cutting-edge graphics or technology. Instead, appreciate the personality and charm these indie games and indie game developers provide. If you can and if you are able, please support the indie gaming scene any way you can in ways you are able to.

That's all for this one.

--- Independent Games and Independent Developer Spotlight ---

Most links featured in this list was taken from "John's Creative Space." More may be added in the future. I simply want to direct people to certain indie developers and indie games. Visit these links to learn more about each indie game either created or being developed. Take a look:

Minecraft is perhaps the most popular and most successful indie game on the market today. Its popularity is immense with all sorts of videos and merchandise created in its image. Get to know this title if you haven't the slightest idea of Minecraft or its popularity.

Personally, I wasn't impressed with Terraria when I downloaded a demo of it for my PlayStation 3. Terraria still remains a popular indie game. It is a 2D side-scrolling RPG that allows you to build many things and explore the land.

Stonehearth is a city-building game. Gather resources with your crew and also battle monsters that dare threaten your city and your people.

Build and Shoot
After "Ace of Spades" was sold off to Jagex, dedicated fans made their own re-imagining of "Ace of Spades." "Build and Shoot" is a voxel first-person shooter built in just about the same vein as the former Ace of Spades.

Voxatron is third-person shooting game. It is styled somewhat by games like Smash TV. Players can take part in any number of the different levels and challenges offered. Also, players can make their own levels and characters.

King Voxel
Mostly in the likeness of the very first The Legend of Zelda, King Voxel is an action RPG that will seriously appeal to Zelda fans.

Blocky Roads
This is a driving game where you must rebuild your farm after a hurricane destroyed everything. You'll have to venture out into the world and rebuild your farm piece-by-piece. The goal is to traverse around the terrain while collecting coins to purchase material. Later with progress in the game, you will be able to make your own machines. You can change skins as well as upgrade vehicles and buy new ones.

An action RPG with a Minecraft style to it in survival and in crafting items. Collect resources and build and maintain a city. Loads of monsters roam the colorful world of Trove. So make sure you're equipped to take on these challenges... or die trying!

Fist Puncher
A beat-em-up in the vein of games like "River City Ransom" and "Double Dragon," with RPG-style customization and upgrading elements.

Drift Stage
An independent racing game with a style that screams '90s arcade racer. It is purely arcade.

Space Qube
This is a shoot-em-up styled like the After Burner series but in space.

Spark Rising
Build and customize ships and take part in battle with this futuristic action game.

Here is a game where you go through a dungeon and try to survive against the many monsters that inhabit the dungeon.

As a failed game character, you are part of a world trying to learn about life before you eventually die. It is a 3D voxel game.

This game takes place in a post-apocalyptic world. You are trying to survive against a handful of evil people, creatures, and machinery.

The Kindred
This game is allows you to explore and build cities. There are also elements of exploration and survival as you go about creating your cities and living within this realm. (SPECIAL NOTE: I included this title in respect to one of the people behind this project- Nellie.)

Those were all the links from "John's Creative Space." Here are a few more indie games and other related material:

That Dragon, Cancer
Here is one of the most powerful games I've come across. This is an adventure game that chronicles the fight of a little boy who battled brain cancer. Gamers who played it have been emotional at just how powerful the story is.

This is a blog devoted entirely to the indie gaming scene and the various games and developers who contribute to indie gaming.

XBOX Live Indie Games
If you own an XBOX system and love indie games, this is your marketplace and medium for which to enjoy indie gaming.

(all OUYA games)
The OUYA gaming console features MANY indie games. Claiming to have more than one thousand games you can try for free and pay for the games you love, this is a basis for which the indie gaming scene has a quite definitive voice. Visit this link to see the many games created mostly by indie developers.

Game Development Tools and Resources (MSDN)
Even though Microsoft discontinued XNA support, this link provides resources you can use to make games for Windows and Windows Mobile.

(all games listed on Kickstarter)
For a showcase of indie games featured on Kickstarter, visit the link above. Give yourself an idea of games and game developers who need funding to help financially support their gaming projects by looking at Kickstarter's game pages. Of course, you can always help fund various Kickstarters if you have money to donate in helping fund games (and other things on Kickstarter besides games).

I just wanted to make a notion to these games to help push the point across about creativity through gaming. I'm sure if you are reading this blog and this blog post, and if you represent any of the games I mentioned; then I'm sure you wouldn't mind giving you a shout-out here, right?

A Quick Note...

One thing to note... a lot of the 3D games I made mention to were constructed using Qubicle Constructor. If you want to read my blog post on Qubicle Constructor, visit this post: "Qubicle Constructor" (John's Creative Space). Another powerful tool in developing voxel models is MagicaVoxel. For more information on MagicaVoxel, visit voxel.codeplex.com/, or see my posts on and related to MagicaVoxel in my creative works blog by going to "MagicaVoxel" posts (John's Creative Space).

This post is over, but I'd like to offer this for discussion:

Do you support indie gamers and indie developers? Do you think they will ever be on par with mainstream games and mainstream developers? What do you think it will take for indie gamers/developers to get the recognition and respect they want to reach?

Thank you for reading!

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John Marine said...

The first two pictures are adorable. I am a cat owner and really love my cat (although I know dogs are much more loyal). Pets (and especially cats) actually help with stress-relief! :)


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