Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Competing Against the Past

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 21, 2012

One of the awesome things about indies is that they are capable of revisiting genres or game styles that have long been abandoned by the industry at large. Turn-based RPGs, adventure games, 2D platformers, shoot-em-ups, space combat sims, even flight sims… these game categories are nicely represented by indies nowadays after long dormant periods.

This is a great thing. I’m extremely pleased with all of this. But here’s something I feel a regular need to say:

Guys & gals… indies… I love ya. I am thrilled to see new life injected into an old genre. But I want to see “new life” there, not just a budget “best of” rehash. As a guy who has played a lot of the games that you have drawn inspiration from – and a retro-gamer who still plays some of these games, often for the first time in all their retro glory: as far as I am concerned, you are absolutely competing against the past.

We live in a world where classic console and computer games are now available as uber-cheap downloads.  If an indie game adds little or nothing to a classic game that inspired it, I’m still just playing a cheap knock-off. Even if it is separated by over a decade, and even if your game has higher-resolution graphics and runs on modern platforms, it is still a cheap knock-off of another title.  The “indie” badge doesn’t mean much to me when you are cloning a game that old, and nostalgia will only take me, the player, so far. Because the best that’s gonna happen with a weak retread is that I’ll play the game for a short time, and it will just make me wish I was playing the game that inspired it instead.

I am absolutely NOT saying you shouldn’t create a game that builds upon a foundation of a classic game that inspired you. Chances are, if that game inspired you and you can capture whatever that magic was and share it with me, I’ll feel that same level of enthusiasm.  But it must be your game. It has to be new. It cannot be just a pale imitation of a past classic.

A unique and compelling story can help. Different or new game mechanics can help, too. Don’t just ape the approach of your inspiration – question it! Find a focus! Don’t put an old classic on such a pedestal that you don’t even try to improve upon it. No game is perfect – at best they are a collection of smart compromises. There are always things that some segment of the audience would like to see handled differently, or things that couldn’t be done then that can be done now if you are willing to make cuts and sacrifices elsewhere to hone your vision. This doesn’t mean changing things just for the sake of changing them, but you absolutely must inject your own ideas and originality into your game. Make sure your game stands out as something new.

Otherwise, what’s the point of being indie? You may as well set up shop making ports of other people’s games to different platforms. (It’s good work, and probably pays better.)

In today’s world, you really are competing directly against the very games that inspired you. Make a game as if you intend to win that competition.


Filed Under: Game Development, Indie Evangelism - Comments: 2 Comments to Read