The Oft-Overlooked Game Bargain Bin

from the forebears dept.

As we sit at our office desks delving a bit into Crysis 2, I’m feeling extra-warm toward the indie titles. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy hot game tech as much as the next technophile, but I’m still personally fascinated by the return to older, simpler, and warmer premises and aesthetics. Interacting with the annual Independent Games Festival finalists at GDC is a breath of fresh air in a s

ea of hyper-commercialization. This year I stood observing the new IGF pavilion on the expo floor, musing with a couple of gents about the reversion that indie developers are taking toward older styles and genres (I’d find out at the end of that conversation that those gents were two of the original founders of Tengen, ironically enough, but that’s neither here nor there). There’s

such a rich wellspring of creativity coming from mom ‘n pop dev studios. Games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Minecraft, Fract, Bastion, and Retro City Rampage all exhibit the power of creativity + dev tools.


And the tools are rising to meet these indie developers and to facilitate the manifestation of their creativity. Tech like

Raph Koster’s Metaplace, the

GameSalad platform, BigWorld’s Indie Suites, and others are a direct response to a demand for tools that thin the gap between concept and creation.

And this disappearing chasm means a democratization of creativity… which in turn means that we see more and more manifestations of someone’s basement brainstorm.

I’m enjoying playing Mount and Blade, for instance, specifically for its thematic specificity, and rough-edged graphical feel (people complain about the intense fog of war, but I love it as a stylistic throwback, intentional or no). Theroughness is endearing to me, as it would probably be for many others who invested countless hours in the discount bin at CompUSA. The games you’d find in this gigantic cardboard videogame limbo land presented a window into a subsector of obscurity that just felt unavoidably genuine. You’d find very generic, very specific titles like Man Who Kills Wombats With a Pikeor Snake-Fighting Wizard Woman, or even my personal favorite that I just made up: Talented Toast Thrower.

Many of these titles would be crap, but some presented this underground awesomeness that the Quakes and GTA’s of the time just couldn’t possibly do, given their polish and gleam. And they were often, given their lack of resources, very focused experiences (e.g. man+wombat+pike). Today, we have this same sort of focused thematic approach in games such as Mount and Blade, or World of Tanks: an action tank MMO built on BigWorld technology in Minsk. The concept is absurdly simple, but executed extremely well, and has become a runaway hit since its release. And, though some of these studios may not be technically classified as “indie,” they are unequivocally not EA.

Recalling all of this reminds me of why tools are awesome, and are such a great lubricator for creativity.

I’m also loving the irony of this video of Mount and Blade opens with an obligatory Crysis 2 lead-in.


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