The Heart of Independent Gaming Beats Proudly
All too often, a lot of folks look at the gaming industry as this fully stuffed conglomerate, made up of multi-million dollar franchises and online game features, or completely catering to the casual gaming market by way of motion-based dance games or second-rate family games. While it’s true that there’s quite a bit of this in our industry, let’s keep in mind that there’s still room for the “little guy”, the smaller developers who are looking to make a name for themselves, if only to impress a few people with their wares of gaming tech.
Once upon a time, the industry started out as this small thing, with guys and girls hunched around computers and processing 4-bit games that barely ran on an Atari 2600. It’s grown quite a bit since then, with schools such as DigiPen opening up and teaching folks the ways of the world in gaming development. And while many have moved on to successful studios and video game management within larger companies, others have strayed along the beaten path of independent game development. And while not everyone is sipping on mai tais at the pool and counting millions of dollars, they thoroughly enjoy what they’re doing, making games for the sake of sheer enjoyment.
What’s cool about today’s game scene is that, while there are over-commercialized efforts, there are also a fair share of games that are getting their due credit, despite lacking an enormous budget or a huge marketing push. Microsoft developed its Xbox Live Indie channel primarily for the sole purpose of giving “little guys” their chance to showcase and sell their released games, and while it’s true that the new dashboard relaunch hasn’t exactly been doing them any favors, users can still find games for around $1-$3 a pop and enjoy themselves just as much as they would with a $15 digital release or, dare we say it, a $60 retail package.
And it seems like the face of independent gaming is starting to reveal itself more and more in this generation, with a number of developers gaining success amongst the growing fan community through the strength of their releases. Case in point – the Behemoth. A team that started out stomping through Newgrounds with Flash developments eventually made its way into consoles, thanks to the underground hit Alien Hominid. Now, their booth is flooded at nearly every game convention, including Comic-Con and PAX, with players flocking to their dedicated Castle Crashers arcade machine and highly looking forward to its upcoming Battleblock Theater, which should finally release sometime this year.
That’s not all. Take Team Meat, featuring a pair of programmers who took their time with Super Meat Boy, a game made up of 8-bit style visuals and a soundtrack that would truly do NES/SNES owners proud. Though it took some time to get it finished up, the game released in 2010 and has since become an overnight success, with its highly challenging levels, hip soundtrack and outstanding design. True, Team Meat hasn’t always seen eye to eye with Microsoft over the release, but there’s no question that it has gone on to have an enormous impact on the community. The developers recently announced that the game has reached over a million downloads, a huge feat for such a small project. (It’s currently at work on its next game, which could see release on the PS3…and isn’t a sequel to Meat Boy. Doesn’t look like that’s happening anytime soon.)
What’s more, Supergiant Games has also been enjoying a wildly successful gaming year under the strength of a sole game release – WB Games’ Bastion. Placed atop many critics’ top ten downloadable games lists last year, this artful adventure game has proven to be a big hit, selling 500,000 downloads – and climbing – since its release late last summer. And the team isn’t done yet, as it’s already at work on its next project, funded directly by the company. No word on Bastion 2 yet, but anything is possible.
Consoles aren’t the only place to see strong independent game development. Mobile platforms are seeing plenty of it too. Tiny Wings, a game programmed by one individual, has turned out to be an enormous success, despite its simplistic gameplay. (That’s part of the appeal, you see.) And big game companies are also turning to smaller developers for help. Sega, for instance, worked alongside a programmer by the name of Christian Whitehead, who made their recently released port of Sonic CD shine on the iPad and iPhone – something that previous “classic” Sega releases really failed to do. Here’s hoping they continue to work together in the future.
2012 shines a bright light on independent gaming, that’s for sure. At the Game Developers Conference, we’re likely to see a handful of amazing new projects from up-and-comers looking to show off their development wares, and you can bet that E3 2012 will harbor several surprises as well. Tablet and mobile phone development will continue to thrive, and projects that have taken quite a bit of time to see release will finally do so, including Dean Dodrill’s oft-delayed Dream-Build-Play project Dust: An Elysian Tale, which will finally hit Xbox Live Arcade this year.
Sure, none of these games are likely to ever reach the billion dollar mark set by Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, but as long as people continue to push their development instincts forward and make games, we’ll have all the more reason to check out what they have to offer. And chances are we’ll really love it. Long live independent gaming!