It was only recently that I’ve actually started putting more time aside to play indie games. With so many triple A titles coming out these days and limited time to play them all, it’s easy to forget about the smaller titles. And when I say indie, I’m not so much talking about studios like ours (Climax Studios). I’m more thinking more along the lines of FEZ, Super Meat Boy and Antichamber – games that were developed with minimal funding and by a few people (whether self-published or published by someone else). Indie studios like our or Telltale don’t operate the same way as these indie studios. Certainly we’re independent, but a 26 year old studio with over 100 employees that has worked with many major IPs (we made 2 of the Silent Hill games) and with many of the big publishers is not what comes to most people’s minds when you say ‘indie’. I think we do need to come up with a better term, but that’s a matter for another day. So what’s so charming about these truly small budget, but not always small scale indie projects? Why am I suggesting taking precious gaming time out for games like Antichamber or Monaco? I’m of course not saying you should stop playing AAA titles or bigger indie titles, only that these smaller titles deserve a place in your heart too.
I’ve talked about this briefly in other posts, but I think it’s definitely deserving of its own post. The main reason I think you should play them is that there are some really really great indie games out there that in terms of entertainment value far surpass the enjoyment I’ve gotten from many AAA games. One of the major reasons for this is the level of creativity that many indie titles have. Often they’re simple in terms of graphics or controls and it’s obvious that the dev is utilising all the resources they have to their fullest. There’s no sense of waste like you get in big games. Games like Minecraft and FEZ have obviously struck a chord with many people, indicated by the breakout success of these titles. It’s true what many people say – not a lot happens in FEZ. That’s part of its beauty, that it’s so slow paced and that you really can just take it easy and enjoy the world. I can’t really imagine that idea selling with a lot of big publishers. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing at all. Big budget games receive their funding for a reason, the money is handed out for ideas that publishers think will sell. My life would be a lot bleaker without the next Tomb Raider or Mass Effect. And there are many AAA titles that do experiment, like BioShock Infinite – a trend I’ve been particularly happy about. Indie games though, don’t have those restrictions. If the devs have the skills and the imagination, they can make what they want. They don’t have people telling them it’s a bad idea if they take crazy risks. That means there’s a huge chance it could tank. Conversely, that’s why games like Minecraft and Super Meat Boy exist. The pure fun that can be had from building almost whatever you want in Minecraft means you look past the fact that in terms of coding and graphics and so on, it’s not super advanced. It’s not about how polished the game is or whether it looks good – it’s all about having fun. And it most likely would never have been signed on by any sane publisher.
Many of indie games are also innovative and devs often experiment with new art styles and gameplay mechanics. Indies can go for the retro look quite easily and add their own twists to give it a fresh, new look. Retro does seem to be all the rage these days and best of all its cheap. However, an indie dev is much more likely to pull this off without raising any eyebrows. Resogun by Housemarque is an arcade shooter that rotates around a central pillar. The concept has been around since the dinosaur age of gaming (not that there were any actual dinosaurs at the time) and the gameplay is faithful to the originals, but adds its own feel with a new mechanics and mind melting graphics (the voxels!). It’s become my most played game on PS4. Alternatively, some devs go completely off the wall and do something entirely new, like 30 flights of Loving, which is more like interactive fiction that a game. There aren’t any restrictions. If an indie dev wants to do something and they can figure out the logistics of how to make it happen, they can do whatever their imaginations can come up with.
Many genres that AAA devs haven’t found a way into yet are perfect for indie devs to sink their teeth into. Platformers for instance, have now come back into fashion even in the AAA scene, thanks to some creative games devs like Team Meat. Indie horror has become a huge genre with games like Slender: Eight Pages and Amnesia: The Dark Descent leading the pack. Genres like these are perfect for indie devs, because they do tend to be simpler to develop for and require less funding to make something truly amazing. Survival horror is all about the atmosphere and creating a real sense of immersion through audio, art style, graphics and mechanics. You don’t need a game to look really slick for it to be frightening. The vast array of indie survival horror games out there prove that.
They’re cheap. With lower development costs and fewer overheads and less mouths to feed, indie games rarely cost the same as a AAA title. They’re also usually shorter for the same reason. However, a short intense experience is no less valuable or fun in my eyes than a longer one with perhaps less to do. Considering the low cost of most of these titles (FEZ is $9.99 on Steam), they’re at least worth a shot – even if you wait to pick it up in the Steam Summer Sale!
It’s true that because indie devs often don’t have anyone to answer to and no one to temper their brilliant ideas, often concepts never come to fruition or if they do, they’re kind of a mess. Some are really promising, but poorly executed whether because there just weren’t enough people with the right expertise to get everything right or because the idea was just too ambitious for one small team to carry out. Some of them are just downright terrible. But considering how wonderful some of the ones I’ve played are, that risk is totally 100% worth it.
I still haven’t allocated enough of my time for indie games, but I’m glad I’m now discovering a love for them, because it’s really enriched my gaming experience. There are those who seem to resist indie games and I’ve often seen it argued that indie games don’t do anything that AAA titles don’t and I think that statement’s just completely untrue. Even from my experience of indie games, which is minimal compared to many other gamers, I’ve had completely life-changing experiences from smaller indie titles and seen and done many things that I never would have in a bigger title. Again, I’m not advocating favouring AAA or indie games over the other. I think they can sit comfortably side by side. I just hope that you won’t forget AAA’s smaller indie cousin, because s/he’s got a lot to say too.