Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Am I Becoming One of THOSE Guys?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 18, 2010

When I was a kid, I remember reading movie reviews in the paper (yes, that’s what we had to do back in those days, on actual paper even…) and being stunned at how the critics would pan the movies I thought were so awesome. Why, those guys were out-of-touch old-fart snobs who had obviously become so jaded that they had lost all love of movies. After all, was it so wrong to create a crowd-pleasing movie?

And now, here I am writing almost the exact same criticisms about mainstream games that are almost scientifically formulated to please the mass audience of gamers. Games that a million (sometimes MILLIONS) of players love.

What is wrong with me? Have I turned into one of THOSE guys – those jaded out-of-touch snobs who’ve lost the love?

Man, I hope not. Though I think I’ve learned to appreciate what those movie critics were dealing with back then.

I’ve sometimes re-watched those old movies I loved as a kid, and discovered how lame they really were.  They weren’t necessarily bad… but they were designed to appeal to audiences that weren’t particularly sophisticated. An audience that hadn’t already seen the same storyline and characters enacted on the silver screen a dozen times before over the last thirty years. An audience that hadn’t already heard the same jokes, seen the same action sequences (but with weaker special effects), or heard the same professions of love and duty.

So these movie critics had been there before, and found themselves in the movie theater saying, “Well, it’s pretty, but HEAVEN HELP ME I HAVE TO SIT THROUGH THIS BIG-BUDGET DERIVATIVE PABLUM ONE MORE TIME! Won’t someone please make something original that surprises and excites me?” They wanted to see something that reminded them of why they love movies in the first place. Instead, they had to watch stuff calculated to cash in on proven formulas. They had to – those kinds of budgets demanded the closest things they could get to guarantees.

So now, here I am – a gamer and developer, not a critic, but I’ve been playing these games since the pre-Pac-Man era and been making them for – scarily enough – about half that time. So I’ve played a few games in that time. And when playing through the introductory tutorial of a familiar genre, I think I hear the echoes of those old movie critics screaming in my skull. I want something to surprise, excite, and delight me, and remind me why I love gaming.

And both mainstream and indie games still do that for me. Sometimes.

It’s just that with the big budget mainstream games, too often I find myself playing and overcome with a feeling of ennui as I realize that while the game may offer some twists and new mechanics, I’m traveling through some extremely well-charted, “safe” territory. It’s like riding the log flume at the amusement park the weekend after your whitewater rafting trip.

Indies don’t have any kind of monopoly on pushing the boundaries, nor are they immune to playing it safe. And – let’s be honest here – wild experimentation and explorations into unknown territory often lead to failure. Simply being different and original doesn’t make something good.

But I have found that more often than not over the last few years it has been the indie games that have made me stand up and take notice. I will freely admit that since I’m playing more indie games than mainstream nowadays, the difference could simply be accounted for by sheer probability.

Or I could have turned into one of THOSE guys.

Filed Under: Indie Evangelism, Movies - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

  • sascha said,

    “What is wrong with me?”

    Nothing is wrong with you! You are just one of the minority of people who have a sense for the unusual, who try to be original and who love to experiment and to adventure.

    “wild experimentation and explorations into unknown territory often lead to failure”

    Only if you try to carter at the large mainstream of people out there who are too dull to try something new! Most triple A developers have lost their last bit of innovation a long time ago. Why is that? Because 90% of everything is bad! And 90% of people are dumb sheep that buy bland, boring, ugly and simple things! Be glad you don’t belong to them! … I know this sounds kind of arrogant but it’s the truth!

  • McTeddy said,

    I don’t think it’s actually that simple.

    I’d wager that the reason 90% of people are dumb, and 90% of games are bad, it’s that 85% came to the party too late.

    Those of us who played games of old had to learn to live with the limitations of hardware. We learned to enjoy ourselves with poor graphics, simplistic gameplay, and even glitches existing in games. As old gamers we were forced to learn that beauty isn’t skin deep.

    Game developers eventually learned to improve on the flaws and develop new techniques and hardware.

    Many of todays young ‘uns joined at this point. Many of them have never played a 2D game (Sad… but true). These people were never trained to look deeper, making them sad shallow gamers.

    Jay, you’ve been a loyal gamer for a long time. You know how to judge games on something deeper than first glances and mob opinions.

    You have officially crossed into the category of older and wiser. 🙂