Sunday, 20 April 2014

Opinion : The Indie Revolution

Many nights when I finish work I sit in my comfort zone and start the worst first world problem ever – what will I play tonight?  Most night I will turn to my Vita as it has a huge variety of games for me to choose.  I will look through my home screen to make my choice.  I have many big games sitting on my Vita such as Final Fantasy X, but most of the times I find myself being drawn to those smaller indie titles.  Currently I am hooked to OMG HD Zombies and whilst I was replaying the same stage over and over to claim 100%, it got me thinking.  Have indie title starting to take over AAA titles?

Don't Forget Me
I then looked over at my PS4 and the same is happening on there.  I have many indie titles on there (mainly thanks to cross buys and PS+) and I am truly enjoying them, especially the Metal Slug inspired Mercenary Kings.   Just like Final Fantasy on my Vita, Second Son is losing out of game time to smaller, less funded titles.  I remember a time when the only games you could get were retail games made by studios that were being pressurised by huge publishing companies.  These games could either make or break those poor developers.   Now, in the Indie Age, you can start a games company literally from your bedroom with no funding at all.  Most of the development software is free to start with and if funding is needed to get the project of the ground, then there is always Kickstarter.  Even the big boys such as Sony have seen that the Indie scene is currently huge and that there is a lot of money to be made as there self-publishing are very fair towards the developers.   On the other hand though, there are many titles which you could call indie which are just terrible but most of these only sit on mobile device – I am mainly looking at those free to play titles.  Saying that though, a few gems have come from mobile devices.  Currently I love Monument Valley on the iOS.  If you have a device which supports iOS and you love interesting puzzles, then please play it; you will not be disappointed.

I have really gone of topic and need to get back to the point of this article.  How the indie scene is going, could it really be the future?  Are they always going to tempt you away from the big titles or are they just great filler games?
The first question I asked myself is what makes these games so good that I am drawn to them time and time again.  The big thing for me is that some offer a completely new experience.  In a world where we are overloaded with the same monotonous old crap year in, year out it is nice to try something fresh.  As I mentioned in my rain review, that is what made the game for me.  There are some great titles which offer fresh new gameplay which you will not see anywhere else in gaming.  I go back to OMG HD Zombies for an example of this.  It is a very simple idea at the core but damn it is hard to put down.  You are a lone survivor who is equipped with a rifle and all you have to do is kill as many zombies on the screen as possible.  In some of the levels there are over 100 zombies on screen and you will have only five bullets to use.  Sounds impossible but the key to the game is that there are different types of zombies which carry out different actions once killed meaning that by killing one zombie you can easily chain kills with one bullet.  Like I have said it is so simple but I have put more hours into it than Final Fantasy X; I have not even completed the first blitz ball game yet! 

Other than offering something new to the table a great game contains a great story. To me a game could have terrible gameplay but if it has a deep story which can drag the broken gameplay though, I will invest my time in it.  A game could have solid gameplay but I will get bored easily as there is no story present. 
Some of these indie title offer deep stories which really can tug at the heart strings and you might find yourself talking it over with other players.  Nevertheless, with these deep stories comes a short run time (an average of 3 hours).  It really is quality over quantity but it really feels that some indie studios are not capable of writing a story which will run the length of a bigger title (average of 10hrs).  The one thing that have noticed though is that the bigger studios have a skill for padding gameplay out in between key story scenes thus making the game feel longer.  Whereas, for example, Thomas Was Alone uses a narrative all the way though the game so the story is always in the front with its unique gameplay carrying it along.  In all honesty, whilst writing about how a story is told in both types of game, I have become conflicted.  On one hand I would reply a shorter indie title of a larger studio title to experience the emotions created by the story telling methods but on the other hand I can easily remember how I felt during the conclusion of great story telling games such as Bioshock or The Last of Us.  You could say that maybe the indie titles have learnt from their bigger siblings or vice versa.  Either way, no one is losing out.

Emotional Roller coaster
One little feature which I find the greatest is how indie titles are heavily supported by their developers.  It makes gamers believe that this game is the developers pride & joy and not something churned out of a publisher.  The support does not stop here though.  Through the power of social media including Reddit and the Steam Community, developers are listening more and more to the players.  We are no longer being ignored and mocked.  If you have a genuine issue with the game which you feel could make it better, make yourself heard!  In this age you are more likely to be listened too and the best thing is that the bigger developers are learning from this.  In the past year I have seen more big developers offering streaming sessions of upcoming games and even hosting IAmA sessions over at Reddit.  I really hope that they are using these sessions to understand what gamers are looking for in future games.

Taking Over the World One Block at a Time
These are a few of the features which I think make indie games appealing to gamers but where there is good, there is always bad.
The first downfall is the hype.  Big studios always have the opportunity to spend big bucks advertising games and creating the biggest hype train ever (I am looking at you GTAV).  This is the greatest way for a game to get around the world and get people chatting about it.  I remember how excited I was for GTAV and could not wait to play it; this was down to very efficient advertising campaign.  On the other hand, smaller indie titles have a very hard time about it.  Take Monument Valley on the iOS.  I only know about this because I visit the App Store each week to see what is new.  If you do not own an iOS product you would never know what this title was, let along play it!  The only way a small title is going to get know about is through word of mouth.  In most cases, Indie titles are born on the PC but since the dawn of the PS Vita and PS4 a lot are being born there.  Sometimes, the bigger Indie titles are ported to Sony Platforms due to high demand, but the majority of times they are born and then die on the PC platform.  This leads me nicely onto another issue with some smaller title; when the hype dies.  I find that Indie titles go through fads which can sometimes only last a week.  The title could be the best selling title for that week but there is always another title wanting to take its place.  This had created two worlds; one in which developers out do themselves to create something truly unique or developers trying to create the next Minecraft or zombie title.  A perfect
Damn This Game to Hell
example of the latter is the god awful title, Flappy Bird.  Unless you lived in a cave for the short period in which it was “popular”, you should know what I am talking about.  It is a title which a tiny devolvement studio could create on a break but for some reason it was the most popular mobile title with millions of downloads.  This is not the worst part though.  The developer took the game down and what followed was the worst case of copycat killing in human history.  For weeks on end the top 10 titles on the iOS Appstore were clones of Flappy Bird!  It meant that even if there were better titles coming out on the store, they were not getting the recognition they deserved!  It is a disgrace and it shows how some developers are in it just for the money.  Do not get me wrong, money is always the key objective when developing a game, but having passion for it is just as important.  There are some titles which “borrow” elements from successful games create a unique gaming experience.  Project Zomboid and Day Z are two titles which combine survival, crafting and zombies but they offer difference experiences which you will happily go back too.
My final issue (and probably the biggest) is in the form of a question.  Has it got too silly?  A strange question to ask as I am always searching for originality but there are some titles which are just plain silly!  I started asking this question when I noticed the huge increase in simulation games.  The first to get my interest was Surgeon Simulator.  On the face of it, this sounds like a title which should not exist.  Why would anyone want to simulate this? It is so bizarre but curiosity will get you to try this and you may enjoy it.  It is a very well created game with engaging levels and due to this, I think the silliness fades away.  Another game which I turned away from was “Papers Please”.  I read the synopsis for it and though “Why the hell would I want to play that?!”  I am up for something new any day of the week but this was too far for me.  It sounded boring and if I wanted to be bored, I would go to work.  Could you imagine an actual Immigration Officer playing this title?  Well, I found out that I was really wrong about the title.  I over looked a friend playing it and found myself sucked in by it.  Like Surgeon Simulator, it is a very well-crafted game.  It is no way as straight forward as you first seem; it is a complex puzzle game with a tough difficulty curve and once again the silliness fades away quickly.  These are two examples which I have found in recent times which seemed very silly at the start but soon faded once you knuckled down into them.

Nevertheless, there is one very recent title which I honestly thought was a joke until it was released on April 1st.  That is, Goat Simulator.  Really, why do we need this game?  Is it a joke? What were the developers thinking when they thought this up?  Well, let us answer these questions.  No we do not need it; out of everything in the world, I do not need to know what a goat does each day.  Yes it is a damn joke which has really got out of hand and the developers knew what they were doing.  It all started when the developer, Coffee Stain Studios, held a game jam and this was born.  Following this, they released alpha footage on YouTube and the world went crazy.  Gamers demanded for it to be created into a full game and the studio delivered.  So, one final question about the silly games.

Is it the developers fault or are they just giving what players demand?  I believe that the blame lies with both parties.  Yes, it is great when developers listen to their fans but sometimes there is a line which should never be crossed.

It is becoming harder to classify what an “indie” title is these days.  Examples which come to mind are the gorgeous games from thatgamecompany.  They are short, sweet, and full of wonderful mechanics.   But most of all they are full of emotion and give you an experience which you will talk to you fellow gamers about for years to come.  Even if they are not classed as indie titles, they do embrace what indie titles are about; removing the fear of trying something new.  Saying that though, some games can go too far and then the games become just silly but this may be what developer may need to do to keep the scene full of fresh material.  The main thing to take from this is that it used to be a make or break situation for game developers, but in the age of bedroom developers this is not the case.  I believe that indie title will not take over the world.  They are not big enough but they can live side by side with the big studios and hey, they may even learn something from each other.  One can only hope.

These are the opinions of myself and not Otaku Gamers UK


  1. Dude, this piece was superb. I never thought of that way about games. To be honest i hate most of the indie games. I only loved rocketbirds hardboiled chicken and the unfinisched swan... Most indies feel shallow because i love some good written story ( Like you mentioned the last of us).
    I will keep reading the news and stories of you guys. Keep up the good work!
    Yours sincerely,

  2. Glad you enjoyed the read - it is a strange gaming world we currently live in :)