Eric Hunter remembers the first time he played an “indie” game, though he didn’t necessarily realize it at the time.
“I still remember the days of telling people about, what was at the time, super small games like Blood or Chip’s Challenge,” Hunter recalled. “I remember reading the credits for games like them and there was only five names. Five names! How do five people make a game?!”
Looking back at the games of old, it’s hard not to think that these games were meant to be challenging yet fun. Pushing yourself to limits unknown on a single quarter just to put your initials on the high score list.
As time went on, story was moved center stage where characters would play out their lives, meet others, overcome their fears, and create heroes out of themselves.
Then things changed again. People who don’t normally make games, started making games. They weren’t under the impressions we all were about “how a game should be made”. And with that, came some interesting titles that didn’t feel… fun.
They told tragic tales of heroes you hoped would come out top and then they didn’t. They lost. They died and their friends and family were the only ones around that would still remember their names.
Sadness is a feeling too, much like the feeling of fun. It strikes us in different ways, touches us in places we aren’t use to. These emotions are usually tied closer to music or movies. But with video games, you take an active role in the playing out of the story. You become tied to the hero and those around her. You become her. You think like her. You feel like her.
And sometimes, that’s more memorable than having fun.
The sheer number of video games on the market today is astounding. Companies are “gamifying” their work spaces to try to keep up with the Candy Crushers and the World of Warcrafters. What once was a very secluded and banishing hobby has broken the glass ceiling and gotten everyone’s attention.
With some much to choose from on a wide variety platforms, why would anyone play your game?
Is it a fun, unique mechanic? Are the graphics life like? Is it a whole new take on an existing genre?
Whatever it is, do it right. Make it solid. Give people something to come back to again and again. Something to tell their friends about.
But more importantly, make it something that you are proud of. Proud to put your name on and let live on for as long as the internet is around.
I recently dived into an indie game called “Super Win the Game”. A simple markup of classic platformers from a bygone era of cartridge blowing and blinking red lights. Super Win the Game has even gone as far as to simulate playing on an all but dying tube television set complete with color bleeding and scan lines. The game is pretty fun.
The first power up you receive when traversing the terrain is the double jump. A magical ability that, while in air, creates an invisible platform allowing you to jump once more. With this power, you can now reach higher platforms you weren’t able to before.
I’ve had my run-in with poorly created gameplay mechanics (the slide from Mega Man 3), but it begs the question: why must we double jump?
If the idea is simply to reach a higher ledge that you weren’t able to before, you would think that the creativity of the design would take over. In years past, we’ve seen this type of mechanic taken to new heights (no pun intended) using different strategies rather than a simple astral plane platform appearing for a quick moment.
Cave Story provided a limited jet pack.
Boogerman used flaming farts.
Mappy had carefully placed trampolines on the ends of levels.
If your purpose is to catapult your character to taller heights, you would imagine that creativity would take over. Something that fits the character’s story or currently abilities. Not just a simple second jump in mid-air.
As a gamer, it comes off as lazy, overused, and easily forgotten. A simple level design challenge that is drowned in a sea of poor gameplay choices. It’s too basic and it almost never fits the game’s plot.
Level design problems like this offers a chance as a developer to give your creativity a workout. And if pulled off successfully, will give the gamer a nod and smile knowing that there are more interesting things that lie ahead.
Don’t fall for the “well everyone’s doing it” approach. Take time and effort to dive into the world you’ve created and allow the character themselves reveal how to conquer a challenge in their own way.
Alright! The Jig’s up. Last year, we conquered 1 More Castle and imposed our communist will. So we thought we’d return the favor. To be blunt, I think we all miss the 1 More Podcastle anyway. This is probably why this episode was the greatest thing and, at the same time, very emotional for a lot of people. But April’s Fools is to be celebrated so let’s not dwell on the past too much and appreciate what it brought to all of us!
In the 70s and 80s, America saw the rise of the arcade. Pinball and ticket machines still had their place but what was taking more and more space on an arcade floor were video games. Pong, Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, Galaga took center stage and people stood in lines just to push a quarter into the slot to give it their best shot.
This was a time of unknown. Very few went before them so the territory was uncharted. No real data was formed to set a path to success. It allowed developers and publishers a chance to throw a dart at a board, create something out of the ordinary, to see what its outcome. Street Fighter 2 had yet to standardize the six-button setup for fighting games. Light gun games didn’t have the ability to reload by shooting off screen (typically you only had a single shot or two before you lost a life.) Anything and everything was on the table to be explored to its infinite reach.
Indie games are currently going through this transition but in a different fashion. For too long, standards have become concrete. Sure there are different styles of gamepads you can use to play PC games, but most of them either resemble an Xbox controller or a PlayStation controller. Four face buttons, two analog sticks, shoulder buttons, rumble. So much, in fact, that some games even showcase one of these controllers during the startup screens suggesting its use for the right amount of enjoyment.
History doesn’t repeat itself; it rhymes.
You start to see games being released that use what can only be considered as fairly obscured control schemes. Take for example a game like QWOP. A simple running simulator that tries desperately to reenact the moving joints of a human being using keys on a keyboard.
Monument Valley twists what you believe as up and down by simply taping the destination on the screen and warps you to the final conclusion.
These results are made in spite of what is considered “the norm”. Rather than jumping into the unknown due to a lack of exploration, developers are taking what everyone is use to and contorting what our muscle memory remembers to force it to relearn.
By doing so, it sticks out among others that simply follow the path of less resistance. As a developer, it forces you to think outside the box. Not just with the controls but with everything.
Don’t follow history. Take something that’s good and make it great.
Games take time to be created. Sometimes that delivery date gets extended to incorporate new mechanics or to smooth out the edges. Other times those dates shorten.
Day 1 patches. 50 GBs of data required to be downloaded before the initial start and menu screens. These things have become second nature in the world of video games. And many of us have gotten use to the idea of a game “not working” until months after its release. Others wait until re-mastered versions hoping the problems will be finally fixed.
Most of the time they still aren’t.
A bad game is bad forever. As time goes on, those missed launch dates, day 1 patches, and poor customer service will mean nothing if your game is just plain terrible. You’ll lose more people with a game full of glitches and missing features than you will those who had to wait a few weeks, even months, longer than originally promised to play.
Take your time and make the game you sought after to make the first time. No one needs more re-releases or HD remakes of games already in HD. Years from now when someone new comes across your game on a virtual store shelf, your lasting reviews will determine if they purchase it or place it on a never ending wish list of forgotten titles.