All of this talk about the industry and its current infection of “sequelitis” got me thinking (dangerous, I know). If the industry has truly lost its creativity and lust for innovation, then why do I still play games?

Well, the only reason I could think of is that games are still fun. Sequels, remakes, it doesn’t matter: fun games are still fun. Redundant, simple, logical, yadda yadda yadds, but true.

I think that some of the need for creativity and innovation has been taken on by the indie game scene. So, that’s our topic for this week. What do you think of indie games? Is there room for smaller indie games like Dear Esther and Jamestown with the behemoths like Fez and Minecraft kicking up dirt? Are Fez and Minecraft even considered “indie” any more? If not, what is the definition of “indie”?

Sunday, 5:29 pm – Ricky

A wild podcast appears! In which we talk about many games, indie and otherwise, and drawings are made to be shared later. Fair warning: it’s long.

Download it here (right click –> save as) – Gamentary Round 3 – or listen below

Saturday, 6:45 pm – Albert

While this is not indie news, Jagged Alliance: Back in Action is 40% on steam! It’s now $23.99 for the weekend, so if you’re remotely interested give it a shot. I strays a bit from the original but i’ve thrown 62 hours into it when it was released… needless to say, I enjoyed it. They’ve updated a lot of bugs and glitches so things are running as smooth as possible.

Friday, 11:43 am – Gavin

Speaking of Trials, here’s a famous and favourite video that you may or may not have seen.  NSFW audio.

Thursday, 8:10 pm – Ricky

Man, I was just not a fan of Project Zomboid. At least, I couldn’t get into the demo the way Albert did. Maybe that speaks to Gavin’s question…

I have a level of tolerance for slightly unpolished or non-AAA titles. I think I can safely say that most core gamers do – we’ll sacrifice certain things (some things less than others) to get a fun experience. Project Zomboid didn’t look fantastic, it wasn’t intuitive to play, I didn’t “get it” right away, so I abandoned it, perhaps before its time.

I think this level of tolerance also moves depending on where you are in the game. Early and mid-game, you might be more likely to criticize and out-right quit a game because of a perceived flaw. But late-game, you’re perhaps more forgiving, or even more determined to get past a particularly frustrating part or flawed mechanic for the storyline finale or pay-off. Bayonetta was a great example of this – I enjoyed the game – fun mechanics, great graphics and well-crafted enemy types – despite it’s negatives – bad voice acting, corny dialogue, and wtf story. But when I got to the final boss, I wanted to shove a stiletto boot up Hideki Kamiya’s urethra. The only reason I powered through it was for the pay-off of knowing I beat the game.

I was given a copy of Trials: Evolution for the Xbox 360, and I feel like this will be a game that I’ll love to hate – fun, engaging, challenging and infuriating all at the same time. Maybe someone will get a dirt bike up the urethra instead this time…

Thursday, 2:21 pm – Gavin

Great stuff Albert!  Project Zomboid looks like a riot.

I mentioned this in the comments and wanted to bring it forward as I think it’s a question worth pondering.  To what extent are we willing to sacrifice or forgive one aspect of the game in favour of other aspects?  For example, are we willing to forgive poor graphics a la Minecraft (I know, the poor graphics were kind of the point) in exchange for a massive world, or phenomenal physics, or an engaging story, etc?

On the indie side, I look at something like Dungeon Defenders, which had charming but highly dated graphics (for $15, you get what you pay for).  Yet it provides a fantastic multiplayer experience, a strong challenge, and a rewarding leveling experience.

On the major release side, I look at something like Deus Ex, which, even in 2000, had pretty awful graphics and the physics were bad.  Characters walked like stick figures with cement for blood and the shooting mechanics were clunky.  But the engagement factor on that game was utterly through the roof – the missions were unique, the characters were well-defined and intriguing, the side-quests (or rather, parts that were not essential to the game but you’d come across them anyway) didn’t distract from the main story, and the plot was phenomenal; it was like a present wrapped up in a few layers of paper, and you could only remove a little bit at a time, so the story was parceled out in such a way that it was paced terrifically.  There are no sections where you’re playing it and you think “OK, this is a good game, but I really just want this section to end” (I’m looking at you, boat section in Half-Life 2).

Left 4 Dead intentionally scrapped plot and focused on level design and enemy AI.  It’s not the best-looking game out there but you don’t give a rat’s ass when you’re facing down 50 zombies with two of your closest friends and one random jackbag who found his way into your private server.

Assuming we all like our games to be fairly balanced, what’s your tolerance for a game that is (possibly intentionally, by style or by lack of funds) lacking in one or two specific areas?  Does it eliminate the immersion factor?  It could be anything – voice acting, bad physics, level design, etc.

Wednesday, 11:52 pm – Albert

I know we were talking about Indie Bundles, so here is a link to  the Indie Royale SPRING BUNDLE. As of now, there are 6 days left…!

1. Unstoppable Gorg

2. Depths of Peril

3. Tobe’s Vertical Adventure

4. Inferno+

5. Slydris

6. Ballistic

Available on Steam and Desura. Check it out!

Tuesday, 10:45 pm – Albert

Wow, definitely some insightful thoughts from Mike and Gavin about Indie games. I’m exactly like Ricky where I don’t get to play too many indie games. I just started playing Minecraft, but some can argue that it’s not “indie” anymore. Just as fun though either way! I’m having a blast and I followed it when it was in i’s alpha and beta stages but never wanted to play it until it was “done”. The beautiful thing about games like Minecraft is that they are never really done. There are always updates to the game and the mods extends the gaming life as well.

That being said, there is a game that I have been following that I believe fits into the Indie scene and that game is Project Zomboid. This is the gist of it, right off the site itself.

Project Zomboid is a Zombie Survival RPG. Here are some of its planned features:

  • Retro-isometric style with plenty of zombie insides thrown in for good measure.
  • A massive city and the surrounding areas to traverse, explore and loot.
  • Open-ended sandbox world – survival is your only goal, and we’re sorry to tell you… you WILL die eventually.
  • Get infected. How will you spend your final days? Will you have a heroic moment of self-sacrifice, or end up chewing your best friend’s throat out?
  • Meet other survivors who you can join forces with, trade with, undertake missions for, or fight with for resources.
  • Loot, salvage, and build what you need to survive the apocalypse, from food and medical supplies, to weapons, even just booze to help get you through the nights.
  • Advanced item crafting allows you to use looted items to build weapons, traps, defenses, and many other things to help you survive.
  • Character progression. Learn skills and perks to help your character face the challenges of survival.
  • Starvation, illness, loneliness, depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, suicide, insanity, trust issues. There’s more to zombie survival than shooting zombie heads off.
  • Join your friends and survive the apocalypse together in co-op multiplayer.
  • The world changes the longer you survive; power plants fail, plunging the city into darkness and making batteries and tinned food prized commodities. The army rolls into the streets to perform ‘clean up operations’ and other gamechanging events occur the longer you survive.

I have played the demo and I really enjoyed it. They have some amazing ideas such as the starvation and becoming depressed. You have to board your windows and doors up otherwise Zombies will come in. I ended up running from store to store just searching for food and medicine. I found a shotgun and had limited bullets but I was tired and needed to sleep so I ran up an apartment building, cleared the zombies, boarded up my room and tried to sleep. In the middle of the night, I heard pounding on the doors. Clearly, they knew I was in there. I ran down the stairs where I used a doorway as a funnel and shotgunned the zombies… but there were too many and I ended up having to bat them until I died. It’s not a matter of surviving – there is no hope in that. It’s about HOW LONG you survive.

I definitely believe that the crew behind this game has concentrated on gameplay and has a unique outlook on a (one can argue) overplayed Zombie game era. Try playing this game and let me know what you think! (or take a look below)

Tuesday, 9:16 am – Ricky

I feel like there’s more content in the comments section than in the actual post! Amazing comments Mike and Gavin. And thanks for the birthday wishes! It’s awesome getting older. Yay.

I’m not going to weigh in too much on indie games for one reason – I feel like I don’t play indie games until they’re too big to be called indie. By the time I’ve heard of them or had a chance to play them, they’re big, promoted and more mainstream. Or, they were big from the start and just “masquerading” as an indie game (Fez, Braid and Super Meat Boy are examples of this). In my mind, indie just represents games that are developed independent of a large publisher, big budget or development team. This could be one or a few people messing around and making things for iOS, or it could be someone making stuff with the Source SDK. But as soon as it turns into a big self-funded enterprise – like Notch and his company now – that’s when you lose the “indie” mantle. At least, that’s the way I feel.

On the road this week, I don’t have a lot of gaming options usually, but now that I have my Playstation Vita, I feel like the world of gaming has opened back up to me. So, what amazing new Vita game have I been hooked on? I’ve been playing pinball! Yes, pinball, that classic piece of Americana that died with the concept of the local arcade. Pinball Arcade takes original tables and makes them digital – it claims to be the only pinball game doing this, and with limited experience in pinball games, I’m inclined to agree. The sounds, lights, “graphics”, gimmicks and gadgets are all here, and they really contribute to an addictive experience. That “one more turn” feeling is more present here than in any of my recent games of Civilization. It’s so easy to get hooked on one table and try to beat your own high score. Pinball Arcade is also available on iOS for those of you who are Vitaless.

Monday, 11:15 am – Gavin

I think I must first preface this by saying that I can’t come up with a strict definition for “indie”.  It’s probably some combination of funding, size of the development team, and distribution platform.  But hell if I attempt to convey it.

I think that there’s absolutely room for indie games today, but indie developers need to understand what they’re up against.  Behemoths like EA, Activision, Rockstar and Square Enix have massive war chests.  They can bankroll enormous undertakings, hire celebrity voice actors, spend lots of time in development to iron out the wrinkles, but most importantly, can drop $10 million on massive advertising endeavours.  Obviously this is not accessible to your average workaday independent game developer.

In terms of being a profit-driven enterprise, I think one of the most important things for indie developers to do is not try to compete directly with the big ones.  Understand your limitations as a developer, and understand what the public likes and is currently buying.  Are you realistically able to develop a first-person shooter that can compete directly (commercially and critically) with the Call of Duty or Battlefield series?  Probably not, so figure out your niche.  What can you do that other developers aren’t doing?  That’s really the big thing – don’t try to one-up a major developer; instead, try to provide the public with something they aren’t already getting.

I find that a lot of indie games are successful because they forgo the aesthetics.  All-in-all, I believe that aesthetics are lower on the food chain than gameplay, controls, and engagement factor.  Why waste time and money making a beautiful game, if you run out of funds midway through?  At the same time, it’s important for users to temper their expectations.  An indie developer can make an amazing, phenomenal, mind-blowing game, but if the customers expect it to look like Crysis, have the engagement factor of Half-Life, have the replayability of Deus Ex, be as fun as Super Mario Galaxy, and cost $14.99 on Steam, then they’ll probably be disappointed.

As such, there’s absolutely a place and a future for indie games; we just need to remember to think outside the box as consumers.  I know I’m preaching to the choir with you guys, but customers have to be willing to try new things.  So much of the success of indie games comes from word-of-mouth that reaching that core first group is essential.  I’ve never read a single review of Braid, but I know it to be a wonderful game by virtue of word of mouth (yes, I know Braid isn’t exactly the best example – didn’t that guy have something like a $200K budget to develop that game?).

Although I do raise a question – can a game still be indie, even if it comes from or is otherwise supported by a big developer?  Something like Shadow Complex from Epic – hardly a AAA title.

On a completely unrelated note, here’s something interesting.  Forgive me if you’ve already seen it:

Monday, 10:52 am – Ricky

This post went up late. So sue me. We’re indie.

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