@Courtawulf True, Indie Gaming has really gone a long way, and granted, I spent much more time with The Binding of Isaac than with any shooter in the last 5 years, but a few big studios keep impressing me. I think one of the biggest problems of big studios nowadays is that they prefer to iterate inappropriately instead in a series instead of making new games (wink wink Activision, will you stop at CoD 245 ?) even when the series hasn't a lot of place for improvement, but when they try new things, they still make games worth playing. I'm thinking Mirror's Edge (unfortunately, commercial failure), Mass Effect (which iterates just long enough to have a very good story), Heavy Rain, Dead Space (dismemberment is a good mechanic), Assassin's Creed (before they decided to maximize profit with Brotherhood and Revelations) ... There's still enjoyment to be found in the big industry if you know how to look for it. Plus, some indie games are just so infuriatingly poorly optimized, it's a pain to see them lag on computers smoothly running much more detailed games like Crysis (Super Meat Boy started lagging on my computer during the middle of the hospital when enemies became more numerous, Binding of Isaac has the same problem but it's not game-breaking, I bought Magicka and just can't play it ...). It would be nice for some of them to get a makeover.
A GDC screening of Indie Game: The Movie highlights the struggle of those in attendance.
Monday marked the first official day of GDC 2012 at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco. Developers, journalists, students, and enthusiasts braved the migration to and from the convention halls, conjuring excitement, enthusiasm, and most noticeably, body odor, along the way. Everyone present at the convention shares a connection to gaming, from the largest studio execs to the loneliest, ramen-stuffed, one-man development shows. Now, more than ever, the latter is increasingly becoming the loudest voice in the room.
Smaller outfits sacrifice aspects of their lives that the majority of us wouldn't. They trudge through development with unfettered aplomb for their vision, but often times, they must face the realities we all ultimately contend with day to day. However, it's this independence that allows these developers to do what they do. Without the security and representation of a large studio, they are constantly on the precipice of a breakdown, but at least they can create what they want, how they want, and (for better or worse) when they want. Indie Game: The Movie is a documentary that sheds light on three independent game developers and how the process of making games without the comforts of a big company behind them affected their games and them.
All of the subjects in the film shared the same internal struggle: achieving personal expression through a video game at the cost of social, financial, and mental stability. That aside, the personalities behind the games in question were as different as Mario and Master Chief. On the one hand, you have thoughtful, soft-spoken, Jonathon Blow, creator of the 2008 hit Braid. At the other end of the table sits Fez designer Phil Fish, who's spent the better part of five years beating his head against a wall, redesigning his game three times over. In the middle sat Tommy Refenes, Edmund McMillen, and his wife, Danielle McMillen, who played no small part in supporting Team Meat during the development of Super Meat Boy.
These few represent the hopes of thousands, and their success (completing games that expressed a love of the medium) outlines the sacrifice anyone must make to achieve something great, game related or otherwise. It was not only an incredibly inspirational experience for designers, but also those who strive to express themselves in creative ways.
The film received high praise from the industry at the Sundance Film Festival, where it was awarded the World Cinema Documentary Editing Prize. The pace, cinematography, and documentation of the three stories that made the cut are certainly worthy of recognition, but without the passion exuded by the film's subjects, Indie Game: The Movie wouldn't have shone so brightly in the tired eyes of convention goers. The inspirational sagas rang true in the hearts and minds of the audience, who went on to give the film and the proceeding panel a standing ovation.
At the end of the screening, several audience members posited questions related to the experience of the subjects as independents, and though their responses recalled struggle and strife, the air of fulfillment on stage communicated the positive results of hard work and dedication. This message applies to all walks of life, but given the nature of the film, it had a noticeable impact on the developers in the audience to the point that people seemed ready to live on scraps, cut off the unsupportive people around, and chase their dreams by the time the credits began to roll.
Whether they have an idea they can't get off the ground or they've had to halt production for lack of funding, independent developers face obstacles at seemingly every turn. This film proves that in the face of it all, perseverance and passion are the keys to success. Most importantly, it proves that it's possible to triumph as an individual where even the largest companies can fail. The catch, however, is that the individual has much more to lose, but that only makes victory that much sweeter.
I don't think I'm alone when I say that I've all but given up on mainstream gaming. Not because I'm some kind of elitist indie guy who likes obscurity for the sake of obscurity, or because I don't have the money for big name games, but because indie games are more personal, more mature, and (when you are honest with yourself) more fun. I would feel confident in saying that there have been more exceptional indie games in the last couple of years than there have been exceptional big name titles in the last ten years.
Making games on your own is hard, draining, frustrating, but if you can get the work done it really pays off.