Tom Powter on whether the landscape of gaming is changing…
When it was released in 2012, Journey quickly became one of the most critically acclaimed games of the generation. The utterly beautiful little adventure showed people that games didn’t have to be dark, gritty and full of guns. Nor did they have to be big-budget, cinematic experiences. Journey was a small game about emotion – a single venture, that took you across shimmering sands and through blistering snow. It was an experience.
Journey wasn’t the first of its kind by any means – nor will it be the last. It sent a message however, that smaller, more intimate games have a place amongst a market that was becoming overly saturated with sequels and overblown titles. As more and more of these ‘indie’ titles began to appear, they seemed to offer something completely new and fresh. Now, not all of these so-called ‘indie’ titles are actually made by independent developers. It’s a term that has become synonymous with smaller, perhaps more artistically ambitious games. These titles are associated with colour and whimsy, Journey’s brilliant golds and reds helping to capture the imagination of gamers. Often indie titles, being less expensive than their ‘triple A’ counterparts, take risks and try new things, offering up interesting ways to play.
Take Resogun for example. A small indie title about shooting alien ships, it’s something of a plucky game, that rose to fame as being consistently considered the greatest launch title on the PS4 – even with ultra-high budget titles like Killzone and Call of Duty competing with it. Resogun’s innovative combination of twin-stick shooting and a 3D cylindrical shooting plane put the gameplay first, and everything else came second. Add to this the retro feel of a purely arcade game and you had an instant hit. It was a tiny drop in the PS4’s initial ocean, that created a greater ripple than nearly everything around it.
Even now, big companies are beginning to take risks in creating these standout, artistic games. Ubisoft were a shining example (surprisingly) last year, releasing Child of Light and Valiant Hearts: The Great War – two small, humble titles. Child of Light featured a stunningly gorgeous art style with simplistic, yet satisfying RPG-gameplay, while Valiant Hearts set out to tell a brutally honest war story, wrapping it up in another distinguished coat of paint. With these lower risk titles, companies are more willing to branch out in terms of aesthetic style, and it often offers up great variation.
Hohokum is another wonderful example of a strange, wondrous game, that is more an experience in itself than anything else. As Sony have taken it upon themselves to champion the indie title (though Microsoft certainly have some excellent offerings, with the incredible looking Ori and the Blind Forest), we have seen their market flourish and grow. They have become the spark in a dreary, grey and brown world.
So where am I going with all this? Yes, indie games are wonderful. Some enthusiasts will be quick to tell you that they’re the future of the industry, that they’ll save us from the sinking ship that is the triple A barge. While I don’t necessarily believe that is true, I do believe that the emergence of the indie title has added a crucial second element to the industry. Indie titles offer developers an avenue to be creative and try new things. However, I do believe we are seeing the landscape of gaming begin to change.
Gamers are becoming tired of the same old, same old. Broken games and constant, annualised sequels have become the unsatisfying norm in the industry as of late. These indie titles offer an escape – a short, often delightful romp into lands unexplored. Where they were once relegated to the confines of the Xbox LIVE Arcade (where such wonders as Castle Crashers resided), they are now given marquee slots at E3 itself. Sony’s indie pioneer No Man’s Sky continues to awe with its impressive, ambitious scale – and it looks to be just the beginning.
Like No Man’s Sky, indie titles appear to offer endless, boundless expectations. They may be smaller games, but they make up for their lack of size in droves with heart and charm. Indie titles are moving further to the forefront of gaming. Sony clearly believes they share a large part of the industry’s future, and Microsoft too are catching on. I too believe that these titles offer a chance at variety in a world dominated by the machine that is Call of Duty, Halo 5 and the seventh Assassin’s Creed game.
That’s not all either – these bit-size games are the perfect way to reintroduce lost genres into the masses. The platformer is making a startling comeback. Ori and the Blind Forest looks to take the genre to beautiful new heights, and while not an indie, the two new Rayman games released last generation were a stellar example of game design. The aforementioned Child of Light and Valiant Hearts also offer some platforming aspects.
However, despite my lumping all of this praise upon these titles, they too face a danger – as they become a larger part of the industry, they’re threatened with being associated heavily with ‘experiences’. Journey was a game-changer yes, but not every small title from an independent developer needs to make people feel this way. Just last year, Entwined was criticised for being overly ‘preachy’ – it tried too hard to be a try-hard. Despite this, Entwined was a good example of the diverse art styles that indie titles are renowned for having.
So, to close, is the landscape of gaming changing? Yes, I think it is. It’s not simply enough anymore to slap a number on the end of an established franchise. Gamers expect more, rightfully so. Indie titles fill the gaps. There’s so much creativity here, and it’s desperately needed to halt the stagnation of our beloved industry. As such, their role in the industry will only continue to inflate. No Man’s Sky and Ori and the Blind Forest came away from E3 being two of the most talked about games – and believe me, it’ll happen again.
What do you think? Are these ‘indie’ games overrated? Or do you agree that they offer unique, much-needed diversity in the industry? Let us know in the comments!