Indie developers spew rapid-fire rants

GDC 2010: Developers behind Super Meat Boy, Critter Crunch, Flower, and more line up to lay down their gripes with the gaming industry.

Who was there: It might be quicker to go over who wasn't there, as GDC boasted plenty of panelists for the session, including Adam Saltsman (Semi Secret Software), Jonatan Soderstrom (Cactus Software), Anna Anthropy (Auntie Pixelante), Jarrad Woods (Farbs), Brandon Boyer (Offworld), Randy Smith (Tiger Style), Nathan Vella (Capybara Games), Craig D. Adams (Superbrothers pixel artwork and films), Tommy Refenes (Team Meat), Robin Hunicke (thatgamecompany), Ryan O'Donnell (Area 5 Media), and Babsi Lippe (Papermint & Track Record).

Don't expect to see Super Meat Boy on the iPhone anytime soon.

What they talked about: While most multi-person sessions at GDC 2010 consisted of interaction between the panelists, the Indie Gamemaker Rant session was an orderly procession of five-minute spiels from a dozen people with an interest in the independent development community. Actually, it was only 11 spiels, as Soderstrom capped the session off by insisting it was time to start the party and play a video for electronic act Familjen's "Det Snurrar I Min Skalle."

But before the party could begin, the ranters needed to get a few things off their chests. Canabalt artist Saltsman had the first tirade of the session, talking about gaming's origins as a business pursued by white males with hygiene problems who don't sleep.

"Thankfully those days are behind us," Saltsman said, offering the audience the first hint of sarcasm in his rant. A trend was quickly established as he expressed gratitude that faceless companies no longer squash innovation, crunch time is a thing of the past, and publishers and storefronts are no longer gatekeepers and middlemen that separate gamemakers from players. Saltsman capped his rant with a bit of honesty, saying, "I have never been more proud to dedicate my life to this art form and this industry."

Vella's rant painted a rather cheery picture of the indie development community. Perhaps that should have been anticipated, as Capybara's Critter Crunch made even the prodigious vomiting of its gluttonous forest denizens cute. In Vella's illustrated rant, he portrayed mainstream developers as wearing suits and bring pushed by competition, while friendly, bearded indie developers operate on a steady supply of love. With mainstream development, Vella said there's a significant risk that developers will wind up "with s*** on their face," being pushed to do unreasonable things by higher powers. On the other hand, he said there's a significant risk that developers in the indie community will wind up receiving presents from peers and fans. By not waking up every day worried about s*** on their face and by fostering a supportive community, Vella said indie developers automatically win, while the mainstream makers lose.

However, Canabalt is available on the iPhone App Store now!.

For his rant, pixel artist Adams talked about the problems of applying words to games. He showed a picture of a game character that he called a "dude," next to the word itself. Though they refer to the same thing, Adams said the word uses an entirely different (and narrower) part of the brain. He then compared the phrase "a joyful reunion" with a pixel-art picture of a person running to his computer with hearts a-flutter. The impact was not lost on the audience, which chuckled in appreciation. The language of video games, Adams said, is equivalent to the sound made by getting a coin in the original Mario Bros., "and that's what we need to focus on."

Refenes did not mince words with his rant. "I absolutely f****** hate the iPhone App Store," the Super Meat Boy developer said. "I think it's awful. I think it's horrible."

To demonstrate, he started an experiment five months ago. His theory about the App Store is that it is the Tiger Handheld Game of this generation. When he was younger, Refenes said he had a bunch of Tiger games that were "horrible, LED crap." He asked if anyone in the audience beat Mega Man 2 or Sonic on the iPhone. Nobody had. He mocked the idea of playing the just-released iPhone version of Street Fighter IV using the touch screen, likening it to playing Street Fighter IV on a Tiger Handheld.

To prove his point, Refenes talked about his joke game Zits and Giggles. He put it on the store and it wasn't selling, so he jacked up the price to $15. Three people bought it, so he jacked the price up to $50. People still bought it. He began to check the game's sales sporadically and jacked the price up every time people bought it. Currently, it's selling for $349.99. He finished saying that the App Store is nothing more than a way to sell a brand, just like the Tiger Handheld titles were.

Quote: "Wah."--Hunicke, delivering an understated wail on diversity problems in the game development culture.

Thatgamecompany's Flower was a product of a diverse development team.

Takeaways: Lots of problems are facing the indie gaming scene. Games are too long. Diverse development teams will lead to better games. The joy of games can't be captured by words. The iPhone App Store is fundamentally flawed. Indie developers should be jacks-of-all-trades, able to handle art, programming, or anything else their game needs. Games aren't a new medium; they've been around thousands of years, and video games are just a new form of an old thing.

The word "indie" is designed to exclude people, which runs counter to the ideas of the indie community. Storytelling in games doesn't mean cutscenes or static text. The gaming media does an inadequate job copyediting and covering the indie sector. It should also be less snarky. It hurts to layoff a development team because a deal with a major publisher fell through. People need to learn how to talk about game design. People shouldn't denigrate new gameplay by describing it as a "gimmick."

Written By

Want the latest news about Critter Crunch (2009)?

Critter Crunch (2009)

Critter Crunch (2009)

Follow

Discussion

41 comments
Blaketoberfest
Blaketoberfest

Even I think Apple's App Store is trash. It's filled with so much derivative, unoriginal content that it makes the iPhone/iPod touch a poor gaming platform. At least OpenFeint is a fun Xbox Live alternative...

lilmp89
lilmp89

Amusing thing now. Refene's game was removed from the iPhone store. He got no reason at all. A week after his rant at GDC or his experimental prices? Funny stuff, and an interesting result...

Axe_336
Axe_336

Heh, I liked the guy's tirade against the iPhone App Games.

Bozanimal
Bozanimal

@Polybren The entry was fine; it appears to be good coverage of the event. The problem is that the developers seem to have squandered that time based on what was reported. Polybren: 1 Indie Developers: 0

AnelZukic
AnelZukic

I'll just agree with Refenes that the Appstore is just awful and how he said: "is fundamentally flawed." :)

Sepewrath
Sepewrath

lol wow these guys are pissed off. But some of their complaints are valid, like the one on the game media. I understand the game media is a business just the game industry itself. But lets be honest, its not like we can turn on Fox News or get the Daily News to get the latest info on the game industry. There are but so many sources of information gamers can turn to, so its not really necessary to have every article be only on the mainstream blockbusters to retain traffic. There are other games out there besides CoD, Mario and AC that can be given attention by the media.

snake3rules
snake3rules

so let me get this right, that guy Refenes jacked up the price of his product to absurdly high levels to "test" or "prove something"... yet its the present, his speech given, yet he still rips of consumers of HIS products, literally insulting and cheating the people who pay his bills... yet everyone else is the a-hole? Nice try buddy, try looking in the mirror sometime.

frankblack789
frankblack789

@dakan45 were you trying to make a point because nothing you wrote seemed to make any sense.

Incredible_Bulk
Incredible_Bulk

lol @ Refenes charging $349.99 for a game on the iPhone store. I work in a nightclub on saturdays and I can't tell you how many d-bags walk in with an iPhone and wearing Ed Hardy and think because they do they are cool. I can totally see some of these shmoes paying 350 bucks for a game just so they can say they bought it and try to rub it in someone's face. HAH!

Polybren
Polybren

@Bozanimal The takeaways are awful because I was trying to represent a good cross-section of the numerous gripes a dozen different people made during the hour-long rant session. And being a rant session, a tongue-in-cheek tradition of GDC, offering solutions isn't really expected. In a few cases, the takeaway recap consisted of absolutely everything said on the topic. As for Vella, his point was just that indie developers "win" because they work on what they enjoy and are part of a positive community instead of slaving away for "the man."

MachShot
MachShot

In order for "indie" to succeed in anything, whether it's video games, music, or whatever, it must offer an alternative of SUBJECTIVELY high quality material to the non-indie mainstream products. That means it has to truly be as good or better on paper, has to produce some respectable sales, and not just "good" in your little "indie is better!" bias brain. Video games are not like music or movies. With music, you find an unknown singer who can sway emotions like Norah Jones, rent a studio for an afternoon, and you may have hit gold, all for under a few hundred bucks. With video games you need programmers, directors, writers, light designers, level designers, character designers, musician, development kit, high-powered PCs and equipment, etc. There are no indie games out there that provide a better alternative to the mainstream stuff and there never will be (re-read above paragraph if you just had a brain fart). Name any indie game and I'll name a similar mainstream game that is light years ahead in quality.

linkdarkside
linkdarkside

@MooncalfReviews yeah stoped reading wend i read that.

-Fromage-
-Fromage-

I want to play Super Meat Boy.

jadefury27
jadefury27

"To prove his point, Refenes talked about his joke game Zits and Giggles. He put it on the store and it wasn't selling, so he jacked up the price to $15. Three people bought it, so he jacked the price up to $50. People still bought it. He began to check the game's sales sporadically, and jacked the price up every time people bought it. Currently it's selling for $349.99." Now THATS funny! dont let activision get wind of that marketing strategy!

Misfit119
Misfit119

@Bozanimal: Pretty much just Prodigy and Usenet I believe. Pretty sure those were the main forms of internet... everything back then. Geocities came after Keen was already finished. I'll never really have sympathy for a company that can't gather its own good press since, as you mentioned, plenty of the old companies got started that way. I mean seriously, Epic and id started this way, why can't you? And whoever says indie developers can't create anything as good as the big developers... you've got issues. Besides the aforementioned Torchlight and Trine, the guys behind The Maw and 'Splosion Man, Braid and Alien Hominid / Castle Crashers would like to have a word with you. Oh and the guys behind Portal came up with the game concept before starting to work at Valve - it's what got them the job.

glhx1rush
glhx1rush

"Zits and Giggles", hahhaahh

toxicmog
toxicmog

dakan45 Posted Mar 11, 2010 3:48 pm GMT Indie developers are weak. They can complain as much as they want but they never make a game like the big developers. Torchlight solid game, indie game. Trine, solid game indie game. Also most of these game company's were making the same style of small games years ago o.O

Richardthe3rd
Richardthe3rd

I kinda agree with Tommy Refenes though about the iPhone apps. I can't imagine doing an FADC on the iPhone. ;)

fillup0
fillup0

Indie developers think they are the resistance, not all game companies are suits sweating it out for guitar hero 55 you know...

dannyodwyer
dannyodwyer staff

@Bozanimal I actually meant how it was structured rather than the content, but I did find the diversity of opinions satisfying. Bundling 'indie' developers together has always been pretty idiotic if you ask me. We don't refer to startups in any other industry as 'indie' and a peice like this shows how these guys have their own stories and not many universal rules to take from them.

dakan45
dakan45

@Rogue_Link You are talking about games like fallout 3 and and borderlands. They took 4-5 years. Also stalker took that long, and was not as big. They just lacked what the big developes have. Also last time i checked Batman Arkham asylum took what? 2 years? Also the pop trilogy was made in 1 year each. So no points were made, sorry you were wrong.

Rogue_Link
Rogue_Link

@Dakan45 Are you kidding? You have no idea how hard it is to obtain the time and resources required in order to make a large title from big developers. The reason indie games are so small is because they don't want it to take 5-10 years to make one.

dakan45
dakan45

Indie developers are weak. They can complain as much as they want but they never make a game like the big developers.

Bozanimal
Bozanimal

@Misfit1119 No kidding; they should travel back to the 1990's when Apogee and its peers distributed primarily through Shareware and advertised by the internet, keeping in mind that the internet was Prodigy and Geocities. Actually, I don't think Geocities even existing when Commander Keen was released.

Bozanimal
Bozanimal

@dannyodwyer - I love you, Danny, but great read? I'm not sure I'd use "great;" it was okay at best. This was a good old-fashioned airing of grievances, but I see little movement towards addressing any of the issues raised. The takeaways are actually awful, because all it does is identify issues without making any attempt at solving them. What did we learn from this, really? The little guy is upset that they have to work within the parameters of the big guy. The little guy is frustrated. The little guy is tired of being kept down by the man: Down with the man! I'm not sure Vella's comments even made sense. Indie developers do not automatically win if they develop an excellent product without distribution support and product visibility. You don't automatically win when you "layoff a development team because a deal with a major publisher fell through." When they use their time at the conference to get together to share effective distribution strategies, wholesaling opportunities, marketing efficiently with small budgets, and how to work with existing tools available to indies through the app store, and I read about the rant here, then I'll call it a good read.

MooncalfReviews
MooncalfReviews

Games are too long? They aren't long enough! To the storytelling point; not to be a douche or anything, but (even though I agree with the point), I still can't remember an indie game with a good storyline.

lord_cack
lord_cack

Its funny, an article discussing EA, Activision/Blizzard, Square Enix, or Capcom, would have you slamming them for being these huge companies who don't care about games and only the bottom line. Greedy Mega Corps. that remake and rehash the same games year after year with no new ideas or concern for gamers. Now, we are talking about simple, low budget games full of new ideas. Created by people trying to eck out an existance against these huge companies and you have nothing good to say about them either. Seems to me we have a case of wanting too much cake and still trying to eat it anyway. Also on a side note, I think that it wouldn't take much for these gaming sites and the gaming media at large to cover Indie games and Preview/Review them.

mkeezay22
mkeezay22

well magicalclick to "grasp the key points" which gamespot cleverly hides in the undecipherable "wall of text" you must go through it with your eyes and retrieve the data to your brain,this is called reading. Your welcome

magicalclick
magicalclick

But couldn't we have something more organized? I mean, I can't grasp the key points when they are all hidden in the wall of text. Maybe GS is too professional for me?

Kevin-V
Kevin-V moderator staff

@twitchmonkey399 -- We don't attack the speeches. The session is called the "Indie Gamemaker Rant." The people involved with the session call them rants, not us--we simply reported on the content of the panel.

Misfit119
Misfit119

The gaming media does an inadequate job copyediting and covering the indie sector. Yeah because, ya know, every time some schmo who got together a bunch of friends to work on a game manages to release something the gaming media should take their time away from the gamut of other games to devote themselves to it. Admittedly the sites really could do to pay more attention to them but that's just whining, especially in a day and age where any developer worth his salt can drum up online support for his game. Seriously Snakes on a Plane did it and that was terrible. if their game is any good they can do the same without needing the mainstream media to bend down to help.

Kevin-V
Kevin-V moderator staff

@magicalclick -- The point with this article, as with others covering GDC panels, is to describe what happened during the panel. Whether or not you find it useful is up to you; after all, we didn't create the panel, we simply report what occurred there. The "takeaways" are summaries of the points the speakers made.

magicalclick
magicalclick

@melante That's the whole point, to waste time and get free meal. Usually they offer freebies in the events like this. I have been to one for envirnment and I choose the car industry meeting. Same thing, rant rant and more rant. Then, finally they went to a dinner party where you can see Terminator/Arnold on the stage. Too bad I left early because mine is free pass without food, and I was hungry LOL. I did saw his car with group of polices when I drove out, oh well.

melante
melante

well, they ranted about some problems: did they propose any possible solution? If not, it seems like a waste of time to me....

Tsuchikage
Tsuchikage

Um, so-called "rants" have been a staple of GDC for years. It's always on a different subject. It has nothing to do with GameSpot being biased towards indie games/developers. The rants are in place for developers to say what they think is wrong with the video game industry.

magicalclick
magicalclick

Yeah, I think this article is really weak. It asserts too much opinions on the title and I can't seem to understand the whole point of the article. Just bunch of wall of text with no meanings to them.

monson21502
monson21502

im here to rant how i have pay 80 points for games my dog could make!!!

twitchmonkey399
twitchmonkey399

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]