In the battle for next-gen supremacy, indie developers are proving to be just as valuable as mainstream AAA juggernauts, and Sony, unlike Microsoft, appears to get it. I say this not because its Gamescom press conference was chock-full of amazing games from teams with meager rosters, but because the company is going above and beyond to give these teams a chance to thrive in the expensive world of game development. During a presentation by a select group of studios, including Ovosonico, Tequila Works, Hoursemarque, and Shadow of the Beast revivalist Heavy Spectrum, the takeaway is abundantly clear: Sony means business.
When you consider what Sony and Microsoft are willing to do to support the proliferation of games that deviate from the realm of "proven" franchises and giant blockbusters, it's a lot like comparing a childhood allowance to a college scholarship. Microsoft may give you a pair of Xbox One consoles to get you started, but Sony could provide you with much-needed capital, high-end production facilities, and even localization services. The company may even enable you to hire additional staff, which is exactly what happened in the case of Dynamighty. In fact, it picked up so many people that when its crew grew too big for its humble office, Sony found them a bigger space to call home.
Some of the games showcased during Sony's press conference are ports from other platforms, such as Rogue Legacy, Spelunky, and Fez, but then there are those games that exist in their current state because of Sony's generous assistance and input; input that devs may choose to adopt or ignore at their discretion. Even if you suspect that Sony is only chasing dollar signs, the consumer benefits in the end by gaining the chance to experience imaginative and surprising games.
Tequila Works' Raul Rubio describes Rime as an emotional tale of a lost boy stranded on an island, which, as unlikely as it sounds, becomes a character along your journey of self-discovery.
Murasaki Baby's intuitive touchscreen controls on the Vita allow you to manipulate her motions in order to solve increasingly complex environmental puzzles in a sinister, unloving world.
This delightful little game from Honeyslug sheds the emphasis of traditional game objectives--failure and pressure--instead allowing you to treat the game's whimsical world as a playground with an emphasis on exploration and discovery.
Shadow of the Beast
The reimagining of the classic Amiga game Shadow of the Beast comes from an unlikely developer: Heavy Spectrum. It approached Sony with its interest in developing a modern take on the game that wowed its developers as kids with its brutal, fantastical, and altogether mysterious world.
When the next-generation consoles ship in the fall, we'll see big franchises hitting both systems, with more sequels inevitably coming down the road, and assuredly, Sony and Microsoft will follow their third-party publishers with big-budget first-party titles of their own. However, apart from a few exceptions, the gameplay experiences and worlds won't veer too far off the beaten path. With so much money at stake, risk is inherently scary and perhaps dangerous for some companies, but this is where small studios have a grand opportunity to flex their creative muscle and introduce worlds, characters, and gameplay that we would have never thought to expect. For a lot of players who feel jaded by the constant cycle of repetition, indies provide a much-needed respite. In some ways, it's like recharging a battery, which in this case, is a passion for gaming. Though there are no doubt countless developers working for the likes of EA and Activision--to name two big publishers--who have a passion for what amounts to the fastest-growing medium for creative expression, it's unlikely we'll see them be able to buck successful trends in the name of experimentation anytime soon.
The one rare example in recent memory is Ubisoft's recently announced Child of Light, a whimsical role-playing game from a small team under the helm of Far Cry 3 director Patrick Plourde. Even Plourde noted in his discussion during GDC last week that he's taking an indie-like approach with a small and fluid team. He even noted that the project has become somewhat of a legend around the office as the "little game that could." With so many other little games out there without a properly funded, fed, and housed team to develop them, it's refreshing and pleasing to see Sony break the mold and give them a chance. Microsoft may be making attempts to woo indies to the Xbox One, but they pale in comparison to Sony's efforts. Sony's not saying "Sure, you can publish your game on our system if you have a proven track record and are self-sufficient enough to make it happen" like Microsoft is. No. Sony is effectively saying, "You have amazing ideas that can inspire new forms of imagination and excitement from our audience, bring mutual success, and we're going to do whatever it takes to make it happen."