Last week, I discussed what exactly makes an indie game, well, indie. Be it its method of publication or artistic style, indie games come about in a variety of ways. Now the question becomes ‘So, why should I care?’ Indie games are just small passion projects that help get a small studio off the ground right? What importance do they really have on gaming as a whole? If that’s your thought, I invite you to truly meditate on this next part. Ahem..
SIT YOUR FIVE DOLLA’ ASS DOWN BEFORE I MAKE CHANGE!
Everyone happy? Perfect!
Indie games are, in fairness, often born from a small studio that is making its first foray into gaming. It very well could be a project purely to make money, or it could be a passion project spanning many years of work.
What indie games offer, though, is a window to creativity that larger studios are often closed to. Imagine if Call of Duty one year decided to break its trend and produce a 2D sidescrolling, pixel art game a la Metal Slug. It would certainly be an interesting idea, and some people might eat it up, but fans of the series would likely be in uproar. After all, Call of Duty is an established formula, and breaking from it is incredibly dangerous and potentially highly damaging for its sales. Therein lies the trap of large, established IPs. When a studio lands a hit, they are now obligated to at least maintain most artistic or gameplay-centric themes. In fact, even some indie game series are not safe from this, with Scott Cawthon’s Five Nights at Freddy’s World proving such a drastic departure and eventual failure that even Scott publicly apologized and offered refunds to everyone that bought the game.
To sum up the previous paragraph, with an indie developer, the sky’s the limit, and when you have no limits, you can do things that larger studios are afraid to, or can’t afford to experiment with. With games like Braid, you have a story that seems simple enough; hero chases bad guy that has captured his girl. Yet upon beating it, you experience it again in reverse, and see that you aren’t chasing your woman…she’s FLEEING from you. Maybe that’s not Shyamalan enough for you. How about, to continue from earlier, Five Nights at Freddy’s, where you play a protagonist that can do literally nothing but look at cameras and close doors. How about Fez, which took a 2D world and required 3D manipulation to proceed. What ALL of these choices do is show the mainstream gaming world that gamers don’t just enjoy these odd mechanical choices, they embrace them! In a world where every FPS is essentially the same game with a new coat of brown, where even Dead Rising 3 can’t escape the doldrums of the modern shooter tropes, how refreshing is it to know that games like Nidhogg, a game described as ‘brutal 8-bit fencing’, find traction in an environment starved for innovation.
It’s not only mechanics that can win over the masses, art styles flourish when you don’t have big brother over your shoulder. Yesterday we released Squeaky’s video of her playing through and discussing Hue, by Fiddlesticks studio. The game uses color not just to paint its world, but to literally aid the character in progressing. Is that wall blue? Switch the sky to blue, and it vanishes. Are orange blocks in your way? Paint the world the color of a sunset and they’re gone! When color alone isn’t enough to satisfy, how about HOW that color is applied? Last week I mentioned how Ubisoft’s game Child of Light, a game which, at first glance, looks VERY indie. Each character looks hand drawn with a colored pencil, with their colors not solid but allowing some of the white background through, as the pencils are apt to do. While the game itself may not be a traditionally indie game, its art style is, in my opinion, very much inspired by some of the simpler art you’d see from an independent title.
Indie games offer a testing field that mainstream Triple A games just can’t touch without facing serious critique. And from those testing grounds, ideas and trends can spring up that otherwise would have lain dormant, and are free to explore popularity in the mainstream. From there, those new trends can become established tropes, and thus from humble beginnings can new eras bloom!
Stay Kultured, Gamers!