The Importance of Indie Games

There has been a lot of buzz around indie games lately. The indie game market has been booming for years now on PC and since the release of the now-current generation of consoles it’s clear that this is going to affect console gamers.

First off, we have the simple fact that there will be more games. The first year or two of a new generation of consoles is generally fraught with empty space where nothing releases, resulting in a relatively small library. This has two effects: it stops people buying the consoles until there are more games available and it often leads to those who did buy the console complaining about a lack of games (as if there was no way they could have foreseen it somehow).

While there has been fewer gaps this time around due to more releases than usual, at least after a few months, the indie releases are helping to plug the gaps. Titles such as Towerfall Ascension and Stick It To The Man may not be blockbuster triple-A titles, but they are fairly unique experiences. Towerfall is perfect fodder for the type of local multiplayer that everyone is so enthusiastic about and Stick It is a puzzle game that manages to be funny, which we see too little of in gaming. They are both great, but they’re certainly not the kind of thing that would necessarily come from a big publisher.

Which leads into the second point: indie games are made with a lower budget by people who do not have higher-ups messing with what they can do to appeal to the mass market. They are often designed with the type of ideas that a large publisher would not be willing to invest in, or sometimes whole genres that have been overlooked.

Did you see the No Man’s Sky gameplay at Sony’s conference this E3? The video is embedded above (here’s a longer version with commentary revealing a few details about the game). Or did you see this trailer last year? The space flight genre has been largely ignored by the big publishers as of late, with the only real contender being the X series, which is a bit too sim for my tastes.

No Man’s Sky is an indie game, it is made by a team of several people, rather than dozens, and it’s quite possibly the game I am most excited for. It’s also one of the prettiest games I’ve ever seen. This is a game of such ambition they had to code bots to play through the game to let them test it. Also in development independently are both Star Citizen and Elite: Dangerous, both were crowdfunded (Star Citizen continues to reach even more dizzying heights financially) and both look great.

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These are very big games in a genre that the rest of the industry has largely ignored for years. A sequel to Freelancer (my favourite multiplayer game of all time), subtitled Project Lonestar, was in development for 360 until it was cancelled in 2006 when the developer, Anvil Games, was shut down. Other than that and the X series, space games like this have been limited to underwhelming options that don’t really approach the scale and depth that is generally expected of the genre. So now indies are making their own, and they’re looking very promising.

This is what indie studios are able to do. They can take ideas that a large publisher won’t and make them into games, whether it’s the darkness of Limbo, Hello Games’ targeting of the little-used space genre, or just a unique mechanic like those found in puzzle platformers (that are a little too common lately) like Snapshot.

Sure they are (very) often made up of pixel-art but it seems a shame to discount a game based purely on aesthetic when its gameplay can be so damn good. Towerfall Ascension is great fun with friends and the pixel graphics don’t matter, though they are lovingly animated. Fond memories for games from previous generations are always because of the fun you had playing it, the graphics were just a bonus at the time but if you go back now, the gameplay is still great but Tekken 2 just looks ancient by today’s standards.

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These games can then be used by Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo to fill in the gaps between the big releases, both first party and third. This is particularly nice when they are featured in something like PS+ because not only is it giving an indie game and studio a little time in the limelight, but it’s introducing many gamers who may not have ever tried the game to something they might like. When Mercenary Kings released many of the comments here on TSA expressed their surprise that they enjoyed the game, despite its aesthetics.

I used to dislike pixel-art graphics just as much as anyone else, but my ancient Mayan-age PC has resulted in me playing many games that I would have avoided otherwise. I played Minecraft because everyone said it was great at the time and it quickly became my favourite game of all time despite its graphical fidelity. When I think back to my time with it, I remember the gameplay – discovering a huge mountain that was riddled with caves and dungeons, slowly converting another mountain into a castle with a four level mob spawner.

It’s really the gameplay that is important here as it generates the moments that continue to amaze long after the sheen of the graphics rubs away. Allowing those indie games to punctuate the bigger releases is beneficial to us all and will hopefully breed an era of innovation where certain genres had previously been stagnating.

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6 Comments

  1. Lovely article, fella.

    Indie games are utterly wonderful with they bring to the table. I, personally, don’t really like the pixel-art style but it’s also to do with the genres that are being attempted with the style. They often go hand-in-hand and it’s an era which I was really happy to move on from when 8-bit was all we could manage. However, the fact that we have Playdead’s Inside, Hello Games’ No Man’s Sky (and everything in between) makes me very happy with the choice. These aren’t just little games that can be enjoyed on iOS for a few hours. These are universe-defining behemoths would could very well turn into time-sinks as the months roll by.

    Good on them, I say. They don’t take a damn thing away from the triple A titles and they help smooth out the lulls between big releases from the heavyweight publishers.

    I am very sorry for pointing something out but it’s a bit of a gripe. I’ve seen it many times on TSA but excuse my grammar Nazism. Fairly unique? Very unique? Really unique? Something is either unique or it’s not. It’s an absolute term and drives me bonkers to see it any other way.

    Anyway, ignoring my minor gripe, lovely stuff and hopefully a lesson to folks who are still getting to grips with more than COD, FIFA, GTA, Halo, Uncharted, etc.

  2. Having watched the E3 trailer for No Man’s Sky I’m really looking forward to it. The fact that the studio is limited in budget and manpower seems to have led them to a kind of graphics that’s really appealing and noticeably different to the big AAA titles.

    • Very interested in No Man’s Sky, after watching the video with commentary it’s going to be interesting to see what the trophies will be.

  3. While i believe indies are a good thing i cant help but be frustrated by the fact the VITA is fast becoming an indie handheld and not the AAA portable machine that was promised. Killzone and Uncharted play and look great on the handheld, but games like these a very few and far between. In fact i know of no AAA titles that a coming to the console any time soon. Such a waste.

  4. Great article, quite a big topic to undertake, the past indie pieces have been great too so it’s nice to see a steady stream of musings. On the subject of space games, from a bit of Googling I did ages ago I think Cold Stars (wonderful looking, huge story, big universe) will be Russian only when it’s released. Shame really, I got very excited at the trailer then crushed on realising I wouldn’t understand the game. I get the impression that lucky niche audiences, eg Russia’s space sim fans, are very fortunately getting beautiful games that ooze quality and at the same time niche developers are selling small ideas to big audiences on indie friendly platforms. Small, odd, niche and unique ideas are really taking off and it’s truly great to see talented developers with small bank balances reaping their well deserved rewards. And with No Mans Sky, which seems full of potential, hopefully us non Russian big idea lovers get our cake with a fork and an invitation to tuck in.

  5. I’m not sure if i should be happy about Indies. I just recently broke my Minecraft addiction and now i face the prospect of exploring No Man’s Sky one planet at a time until the end of my days.. :/

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