Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 25, 2011
I like to praise the really good subset of indie gaming that is of quality, beautiful, creative, genre-defying, innovative, and / or just extremely well executed. Naturally, I focus on the tip of the iceberg that stands out above the rest. But unfortunately, the indie world is full of crap. And clones. And even clones of crap. On some level, I don’t mind this. A lot of indie games are the result of people learning to make games.
But as a customer and as a gamer, I thought I’d offer a few suggestions for game makers for what I want to see, play, and buy. While as an RPG fan some of these suggestions may be oriented more towards RPGs, this is really supposed to be genre-agnostic. And I can’t even say if these are commercially viable suggestions. These are just what I’d like to see more of – what tend to grab my attention.
Don’t Give Me Something I’ve Played Before
I’m enough of both a gaming geek and programming geek to be intimately familiar with the thrill of getting stuff up on the screen that works the way you envision it in your head, or more particularly from another game. Remember: Your job isn’t done there. It’s not enough to emulate your inspiration. If you are trying to appeal to me, as a fan of the original, remember that I’ve already played that game. I don’t want a reskinned, low-budget rehash of a game I loved. I want something familiar but different.
Provide a new twist on the mechanics. Play with concepts that were not taken far enough. Hey, you are an indie on a budget, why don’t you try scaling down the mechanics and distilling the experience into an even tighter core. Maybe your idea is a counter-terrorism version of X-Com. Seize upon that theme and think about what else could be done with that concept to make the gameplay more authentic to the theme and more interesting. IEDs? Hostages? Political twists?
Don’t just clone an older game. Use it for a jumping-off point, not a destination.
Put Some of Yourself Into the Game
Don’t be afraid to put some of your own personality into your game. One of the reasons I have been so fond of the Aveyond series has been because of how the personality of the designer (or, I guess, designers, with the latest offerings) come through. Sure, older games (especially adventure games and RPGs) were filled with some silly aspects and pop culture references that haven’t aged well. But in spite of that, I think that the “authorial voice” behind them was what gave them the staying power in my imagination, while many newer games have have either that “designed by committee” lack-of-flavor, or a lack of consistency caused by too many cooks. I still enjoy them, and they are still of high quality, but I do like my games to have a little personality in them.
Better yet, look at Dejobaan Games’ AaaaaAaAaaAaaaaAAAa! A Reckless Disregard for Gravity. It’s got personality in spades. Maybe too much for some, but for me it’s a big part of what makes the game so fun.
Explore some themes or beliefs that are important to you, too. Remember what Ultima IV did with the virtues, or what Ultima VII did with the idea of organized religion. Fallout used parody and science fiction to offer a little bit of social commentary on government and corporatism.
Now, there’s definitely a danger there, and you don’t want to get preachy about that. The above games are great examples because they did not go there. You need to be genuine. Use the metaphors as a chance to hold up a mirror to the player and let them draw their own conclusions. Maybe they won’t agree with yours, but that’s okay. Also, don’t try too hard to be “edgy.” There’s a point where it ceases to be cool and interesting, and it comes off as disingenuous. I have no interest in contrived shock effect.
Within some pretty generous boundaries here, I think there’s plenty of room for personal expression and for game creators to try and make more of a personal connection with their players. Don’t be safe and generic.
Play to Your Strengths
This is another item where I need to kick myself and follow my own advice more often. But while tiny teams and tiny budgets are often perceived as a disadvantage for an indie, they’ve got a lot of advantages they can exploit as well. Look at the success of Minecraft and VVVVVV and what they were able to accomplish in spite of (or perhaps because of) the lack of high-quality art. Or what some of the RPG Maker developers (or Unity developers, for that matter) have managed to do without extensive coding backgrounds.
Ultimately, indies have several things going in their favor. They have freedom that big studios and publishers don’t have. They have more ways to distribute and monetize their games than ever before. There’s an amazing array of tools out there that are cheap and more powerful than ever, especially for a studio that doesn’t need to stay on the bleeding edge of technology. These are powerful advantages all by themselves.
Indies should play to these strengths. And the successful ones are doing just that. Focus more on quality of mechanics, not on quantity of content. Focus more on depth of a few simple systems, not scope. Go low-budget, go low-tech, and make the most of it! Be agile. Be quirky. Be cool.
Filed Under: Game Development, Indie Evangelism - Comments: 13 Comments to Read