Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Some Mainstream Games, an Indie, and a Hybrid… and Victory of the Indies

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 30, 2012

Lotsa things to cover today, so this is a topic-laden post. We’ve got a really cool tactics game on Kickstarter, the return of an RPG classic all new-and-improved, and a mainstream publisher trying to emulate the indies (!!!!). Wow.

Telepath Tactics

Okay, first things first – I wanna talk more about this one later, but Craig Stern, the dude behind Sinister Design and Telepath RPG: Servants of God, is doing a Kickstarter for Telepath Tactics.  Like me, the day job is killing him and his development time, so he’s seeking funding so he can cut loose. But since time’s a-wastin’, I want to point you towards it. He’s a proven developer with several titles to his credit, which makes him lower-risk in my mind, and the amount seems pretty reasonable. If turn-based, tactical combat gives you a thrill, please consider backing this one:

Smart AI, destructable / interactive environments… Cool stuff. Seriously. At least as far as a strategy geek like myself can be a reasonable arbiter of “cool.”

Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition

So on to something kinda different… a classic of the mainstream industry, now revisited through decidedly non-mainstream routes, the Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition has released. You know, I bought the game when it was new, I bought the expansion, I bought it yet again via GOG.COM, and now I have purchased it one more time for the enhanced edition. Is any game worth all that? ABSOLUTELY. I haven’t played the Enhanced Edition yet, due to time constraints in the evening, but back in the spring (I think), just before the EE was announced, I’d started up a new Baldur’s Gate game, and was having an absolute blast with it.  I was literally just a few days into it when BG:EE was announced, and I decided to scrap my game and wait (for what was supposed to be a late-summer release, IIRC).  IMO, the original game still holds up pretty well, if a little on the low-res side – which the enhanced edition is supposed to correct. Hopefully I’ll find some time this weekend to start up this new incarnation.

Is this the last time we’re going to see some funky mainstream / indie hybridization? Don’t count on it. If the next topic is any indicator, the line is gonna just keep getting even blurrier!

The Humble THQ Bundle and How Indies Have Won

Finally – remember the Humble Indie Bundle? Remember how they took some hits over not being so indie when they included some less-indie titles, like Psychonauts? Well, now they’ve truly gone not-so-indie with the Humble THQ Bundle.  This has generated some serious nerd-rage, and I admit my initial response wasn’t all that enthusiastic. It still isn’t (though that didn’t stop me from picking up the bundle — however, it’s the highest contribution to charity I’ve done, as I usually consider the indies a very worthy charity…)  But even though the Humble Bundle thing is usually worth quite a bit of money to developers, it’s still a cool charitable opportunity. And when I realized that effectively THQ was donating a potentially unlimited number of copies of the game for charity at pay-what-you-want levels… well, that’s actually a pretty cool thing, isn’t it?

I mean, yeah, I selfishly really liked the Humble Bundle being an “indie thing” – but it’s not my indie thing, I have no ownership over it.  They can do whatever they want with it.  And I have no doubt that they’ll continue offering indie games in bundles in the future. It just felt like the big publishers (and economic woes notwithstanding, THQ is definitely in the “big publishers”, not-indie-by-definition category) were stealing a bit of indie thunder.

Mike Kasprzak on Twitter noted the following (after venting a bit over this bundle): “Hey I’ve got a positive spin for the Humble THQ thing: We won. Remember the fight to gain acceptance as indies? Now the pubs bow down to us. ”

He’s definitely right here. It’s funny that indies have thunder to steal. While individually the vast majority of us are as much the underdogs as we ever were, the whole collective “indie” thing has completely transformed over the last decade. I first started paying attention to it nine years ago, and it was hard to even dream of the kinds of accomplishments we’ve had in that time.

Consoles? No way. The only way indie games would be on consoles were through hacked consoles played by tiny underground communities of mostly other game-makers.

Minecraft? Sorry, those numbers were completely unattainable by indies, and there’s no way an indie game could get that much penetration.

Steam? There were game portals at this time, but they were mainly places like Real Arcade and Big Fish Games. And they were pretty exclusive to indie games, as I recall. The idea that indie games would be sold shoulder-to-shoulder with major mainstream releases online was a pipe dream, and the idea that digital distribution would become the dominant source of games (as it has for the PC) seemed likely but distant.

iOS and Android? Everybody kept talking about “mobile gaming,” but until the iPhone it was an unrealized vision. And now, suddenly, this is where it’s at – and the indies (so far) dominate it. The freaking consoles are losing out to these things.

Hey, we even have a movie available on Netflix kinda-sorta about “us”.

So yeah. The mainstream game publishers are now trying to compete with us. They are trying to emulate us. They totally want a piece of some of that sweet indie action (in spite of the fact that indie is defined by little else other than their exclusion).

So yeah. We’ve won. This is the world we wanted to live in, warts and all. Go indie!


Filed Under: Game Announcements - Comments: 6 Comments to Read

  • Michael Brough said,

    Hm, the thing about being independent is there isn’t really a “we” though. It’s not a coherent group; when Wolfire or Notch or Blow make millions that’s nice for them, but it’s absurd to count it as a success for me – I’m still making $2 a day until my savings run out. If anything, it makes them the new establishment, leaving room for new “indies” to rail against them.

    “Capital.. changes shape in order to capture and extract value from these new energies and dangerous desires.”

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I agree with you, but I think what you are saying is in itself a byproduct of “indie victory.”

    When I got into the gaming industry in 1994, the mainstream publishers had maneuvered things to a point where they were the only game in town. For a twenty-year run – from the mid 1980’s to the mid 2000’s – video gaming was almost entirely dominated by the publishers, who were themselves in something of a war for dominance. While there were some obvious success stories (like id Software, Apogee, Epic, later Popcap, and to a lesser degree guys like Spiderweb) that ran counter to this backdrop, it was still pretty much a given that there was “one true way” to make games was to go through a publisher.

    That’s really not a big unifying principle for indies, even back then, but they were such a marginalized, insignificant part of the landscape, it was often enough.

    Now? Well, a lot of us are still pretty marginalized and insignificant, but what has been called “indie” has definitely grown and stretched the definition of the word to the point where it’s of much more limited utility.

  • Michael Brough said,

    I’m not arguing that “indies” aren’t better off now than then. But when I see how everyone is desperate to get on Steam, to get retweeted by Notch, to get into the IGF.. the gatekeepers have been replaced by new gatekeepers – possibly less bad ones, but even that’s not obvious to me.

    Chris Whitman’s post on the topic is thought-provoking: http://christopherwhitman.net/blog/?p=513

  • Michael Brough said,

    (..to get into a humble bundle, to get featured by apple, to get onto a console..)

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    You are most definitely Not Wrong. And that’s frustrating to me. But this isn’t the first time – nor the last. In the mid 2000’s everybody and their cousin was doing casual games, and the gatekeepers were guys like Big Fish. If you didn’t get on the major portals, you weren’t going to be a success as a casual game developer. It was frustrating then.

    And a big part of the appeal of “indie” to me was the ability to bypass *all* the gatekeepers, and go straight to your audience. It’s still possible today – far more so than it was in the 1990s, but maybe less so than it was six years ago.

    But at least it’s a lot more decentralized now.

  • Void said,

    I don’t mind them featuring non-Indie games. What made me sad is that they broke the “no-DRM – no bullshit” rule.