May 17, 2010

An Influx of Indie

A month or so ago I had a brief and intense moment of frustration when I was playing yet another AAA FPS that bombarded me with more of the same. A year ago a friend of mine, the lead designer for my team, asked me "how many Call of Dutys can you play before you get sick of them?" Perhaps that moment had finally come?

I decided to give indie games more of a chance.

In the past my trek through independent game developer space was fairly limited and with mixed feelings as a result. Now that I've gone deeper and spent a bit more money, I've made a few new opinions:

1.) Indie games tend to have amazing or outdated visuals. I find the former to be delightfully refreshing and the latter to be a moot point. If I pay $10, I'm not expecting too much artistically. Dragon Age was mostly fun to play but didn't look too sharp. I'm willing to give 2 man team's the benefit of the doubt. Below are some of my favorites:

2.) Indie games will often have a great gameplay concept but often not enough of it. I love the frantic nature of Guns of Icarus. But, there's only a few Campaign levels and the multiplayer isn't really "sticky" because it has no consequences (no persistence, no achievements, no leaderboard). But I only paid $9.99 for the game so I'm not too bothered. It just means I won't play it for very long...

3.) Just because you can do something different doesn't mean you should. I was really excited about all the cool things Penumbra: Overture claimed to be. First Person adventure game with a very mysterious, suspense-filled atmosphere. Puzzle solving, action. Hell, the game has you following the clues of your long-dead father in icy Greenland. That's cool and more importantly, pretty different. But, instead of having you use Left-Mouse Click or a "Use" key to interact with objects, you have to physically move your mouse to manipulate things. Opening a drawer in the first scene? Not bad. Using a hammer to smash wood? Really annoying. Trying to figure out how to open a trap door in the floor? Maddening enough to make me quit.

I wasn't solving puzzles. I was fighting the controls.

Or maybe I'm missing the solution entirely, but I don't know because I think it's the controls fault? I will check a walkthrough to see where the fault lies because ultimately I want to experience their vision. But, I feel they could have avoided this and focused on the mystery and puzzles with a "Use" key.

4.) Indie developers are scrappy. This is a weird one. I love that following an independent developer is sometimes just as involved as playing their games. Without a juggernaut marketing machine or budget, they really need to scramble to make noise. Some totally do! The Wolfire guys are brilliant (Lots of links for them at the bottom). Unknown Worlds created a Sudoku game to help finance Natural Selection 2. Sleep is Death lets you pay what you want. Many of them forgo DRM completely, let their games go open source, or do things like the Humble Indie Bundle (links below). I love it.

5.) Indie games might just blow your mind. This is the point that I think rings most true with what indies are always preaching at GDC. I don't think this is guaranteed or common, but when it does happen I feel like I find something I won't see anywhere else. I have re-lived and re-created some of history's greatest victories and failures, both militarily and diplomatically in Neptune's Pride. Appeasement, the Alamo, the WWII Pacific Theater...all things can be seen and done in this amazing strategy game. Uplink lets me feel like a hacker. That's just insanely cool. The potential of Sleep is Death is mind blowing. Just watch some of these tutorial videos or read what people say about it. Gratuitous Space Battles changes the RTS from something you can alter mid-battle, to something you must plan and anticipate. Why yes, I do want to be Admiral Ackbar.

My Play List (Recommended titles in red.)
I didn't recommend some games because I haven't played them yet. Some that weren't recommended are insanely good, but didn't strike my personal fancy (i.e. Red Orchestra). The Ship is absolutely brilliant, but I doubt it still has a community playing.

Note: The fantastic developers at Wolfire are constantly offering great deals. I purchased both Overgrowth and Natural Selection 2 a while back, as well as 6 games using their Humble Indie Bundle promotion. Follow them on Twitter to stay up on their awesome deals.

Eagerly Anticipated
  • Natural Selection 2
  • Overgrowth
What else should I be playing?

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