When the first home console was released back in the 1970’s (long before my time), it didn’t have the flashiest graphics, the most polished textures, or the immersive sound effects we have access to now. In fact, it had none of that!
The awkward pixel blocks on the screen, the unclear instructions… games from that era often have a dated feel to them, and sometimes makes us wonder why it was even played.
But what those games did have, was the power to capture your imagination. The sprites on the screen were more than pixels, they were representations of what we thought. They had the power to bring out what were just blurs and blobs in our mind, and project them onto a screen.
The blobby aliens from Space Invaders? They were as vivid as the monsters from my nightmares.
The forests from Legend of Zelda? They were as immersive as actually stopping and smelling a flower.
Nowadays, we have much more computing power at our fingertips.
Instead of blocky sprites, our processors and graphics card compute massive 3D worlds, and paint them beautifully with polished, HD textures.
Instead of 16 bit classics, we have beautiful scores recorded in a studio, or heart-pounding electric music, carefully mapped out digitally.
It’s a different era, and appeals to a much wider range of people. Video games are not just for imagination, but for actually living out what you want to do. Be a gangster, master assassin, or super soldier, there’s an experience for everyone.
Indie vs Studio
What does it mean for small independent developers, that games are getting bigger, beautiful, and all together more complicated?
In short: not much.
Let’s take a step back, and look at these huge creations that get pushed out yearly. These games, in general, require:
- An expansive code base to handle the 3D world.
- Extensive HD textures and fluid animations.
- High quality sound and music.
- Thousands of hours of programming power.
With these components and more, the game comes together to create an immersive, modern video gaming experience – one we’re all used to at this point.
In these games, the characters are beautifully detailed, the shadows and depth look breathtaking, and it all looks incredibly realistic. The immersion is there – and it doesn’t take much to experience it.
Now, we can take a look at the kind of games that aspiring developers and independent studios put out:
- An engine to run the game (maybe even a pre-built one?)
- Pixel art or lightweight textures and sprites (made with love)
- A few awesome sounds or tracks (used cleverly and to create atmosphere)
- Lots of hours of programming power (it still takes time and effort)
Put yourselves in the shoes of someone who wants to make video games. How can one guy or a group of people even come close to competing with these studio titles?
The key is understanding the games. Take for example, any first person shooter. Sure, their usually entertaining, have great graphics, use modern graphical techniques, and incorporate things such as a storyline, online multiplayer, leaderboards…
Ooof. Imaging designing, programming, and testing all of those things – as an independent group. That will take a lot of time, knowledge, and work – and even then, the studios will be able to churn out these kind of titles faster.
Now imagine a silly game where a bird flies between pipes. A clever platformer where you can stop time. A side-scroller with a silly storyline. These kind of games aren’t made by studios, because they can’t be milked to fill the investor’s pockets with money. So why do they exist?
Indie games, in my view, are the games that forgo using the fanciest most modern asset around, ones that lack online multiplayer, ones that don’t have the achievements or other features to keep you playing. They focus on mood, atmosphere, and experience, compared to realism.
Indie games are the ones you play just for the sake of playing.
Indie games are the ones with unbound creativity.
Indie games are the ones that are made not because they have to be, but because someone WANTED to make it.
They capture the experience of more than 30 years ago, the moments where we used our imagination to cross the gap between the blotchy sprites, and true immersion.
Indie games can be anything, and it’s because of this that they exist. It’s an art form on its own, and can be used to portray emotions, tell stories, or just keep someone entertained for a while.
Indie games capture a creativity and ingenuity that can’t be found in most large studio titles. They have imagination, heart, and often, they have passion that you can feel while playing them.
They are made by people who love games, and want you to love them to. That’s usually why it’s a hobby, compared to a day job.
And that’s why I make, and play indie games.
Just a bit of a disclaimer,
I have generalized indie games to quite an extent in this article, but I am fully aware of titles that can even compete with triple A studio titles with regards to the quality of the assets and atmosphere. I specifically wanted to refer to games that couldn’t possibly be made with one man, or a small group. I also wanted to paint indie games as games that capture creativity, like the old days.