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How indie games took on the world (and won)

“Indie development is still kinda all over the place – everyone has a different definition of what being indie means and what they believe indie games should focus on. We all seem to have very different goals, but I’d like to think we all have an understanding of what advantages we have over the mainstream being indie and use them. Basically I think we all try and take big risks when it comes to innovation, content and theme that a mainstream studio wouldn’t ever be OK with getting behind.”

Above: Is it possible that 2D Boy (World of Goo) is better at smiling AND touching computers? Answer: suspect for further investigation 

Which brings up the issue of who that ‘we’ is. Clearly, indie developers are scattered all over the world, but specific communities have sprung up. Perhaps the most interesting is the US fraternity that McMillen is a part of – also comprising folks such as 2D Boy, hyper-prolific one-man experimental developer Cactus and designer/blogger Derek Yu (involved with indie faves Aquaria and Spelunky). Were you to visit, say, the Independent Games Festival at GDC, you’d find a lot of these guys hanging out together.

“I personally talk to all the hipsters in our little scene,” says McMillen. “I think it’s important as an artist to have an understanding of where everyone’s coming from. I’ve recently realized that the most valuable thing you can have in life is perspective, and that’s something you can’t make up in your head without personal experience or a good understanding on how others view and understand things. It’s very inspiring to talk to other artists about their work. It’s a huge motivator to see others doing what I’m doing, it’s very validating to talk to someone with your same interests and bounce ideas back and forth, that’s probably why I enjoy working with so many different people.”

That’s a profound difference between indie and mainstream gaming – ad-hoc communities coming up with a constant torrent of absurd and wonderful new ideas and egging each other on, as opposed to offices of desk jockeys slaving away on a contracted project.

“I do feel like there’s a shared current we’re all drifting on” says Ron Carmel, “and there’s a sense of togetherness in being the underdogs of the game industry. Maybe one day we’ll overthrow EA and ActiBlizzard and a new generation of underdogs will come to kick our butts into extinction. That would make me happy. I recently found out that when EA started out, they were all about treating the game developer as an artist and giving them photo credit on the box, much like musicians being promoted as the stars by record companies. Goes to show you, everything has a half-life, and eventually, everything turns to lead.”

Above: Blueberry Garden looks nothing short of delectable. But where are the blueberries?

The other half of 2D Boy, Kyle Gabler, supports the idea of a close-knit indie community. “Almost all the indie developers seem to know each other, brought together by sites like TIGsource, indiegames, and the common desire to suffer together and hopefully make good stuff without cash. It’s like in the end of Speed when Keanu tells Sandra that they might just like each other because horrible situations bring people together. I got to go to Sweden last week to hang with some of the scary talented Swedish indie kids, and luckily our common indie goals and understandings to grow curly moustaches translates across all languages, races, and cultures.”

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23 comments

  • JohnnyMaverik - July 14, 2009 11:58 p.m.

    "If Audiosurf takes you down a hole, that whole is the world's tightest, wettest, most perfect hole ever." Rofl. I second that though. I've bought Audiosurf and Braid and don't regret either, but where as Braid is something you play through, finish, maybe play through again and try and get those stars, and then leave, audiosurf never gets old because you can never run out of good music, unlimited replayability for a small price tag, can't get much better than that. @ GamesRadarMatthewKeast I agree with everything you just said man, I meen I'm guna start my uni course in september and it's games design (not called that but thats basically what it is), and the 2 things that scare me sometimes is a. will I beable to get a job afterwards, and b. what if I can't get a job that I like, what If I have to spend the rest of my life working of stale projects, but then I look at the indie devs and remember that all I got to do is work hard to add to and polish up my skills, then couple that with a bit of imagination and try and create something a bit fresh, I'm guna end up getting somewhere. As for what you said about dreaming about being a games designer, why not man? Theres plently of free tutorials and resources you can find out there, learn a few skills in your free time, use a bit of imagination and put a bit of heart into creating something then you'll get somewhere. Developing games isnt an exclusive party, it's not like being an actor, or a singer, or a film director, it's an open door which any1 can go throu...
  • GamesRadarMatthewKeast - July 14, 2009 11:13 p.m.

    One good reason to support (read: buy) indie games is this: how many of us have had dreams of being a game designer? Many don't get that chance, but if indie games continue to have a growing market viability, more people will realize their dreams. It also creates healthy competition by infusing originality into the games market, which in turn could provoke big studios to get more creative with their big-budget games. Also, a lot of indie developers end up having their games scooped up and given the high-budget facelift they deserve (Left 4 Dead, Portal).
  • sadisticgrizzz - July 14, 2009 4:55 p.m.

    i never tried an indie game but always wanted 2. but i must admit about 80% look awful.maybe GR can have an indie game review.
  • iluvmyDS - July 14, 2009 4:52 p.m.

    @oryandymackie: Did you actually read the article? I like this article, good reason to root for the little guy.
  • CH3BURASHKA - July 14, 2009 5:25 a.m.

    I didn't see this game on the list, but Giant Bomb posted a mini-preview on a game (the name eludes me right now) in which the surroundings were all black, and the only thing you could do was shoot a white paintball (that would arc) and the resulting white splash would paint the surroundings white. It was a cool mechanic and I remember there to be some horror elements, such as discovering blood on the ground. Anyone know what it is and if it's out right now?
  • JohnnyMaverik - July 14, 2009 3:33 a.m.

    Indie is the way. I still maintain that games are just as valid a form of art and a medium for expression and storytelling as movies, tv, music and even books, perhaps more so infact, a great game is a great movie, with the depth of a book and the length of season from a tv series which can encorprate a great soundtrack to boot, and can immerse the player in the world set before them to a higher level by giving them a level of control. Too often the big companies seem to forget this and think that a series of flashing lights and a few explosions are all we require to throw the cash at them, which is frustrating, but indie developers on the whole seem to fully realise games potential, and only financial contraints hold them back (although some seem to even break throu that barrier).
  • Turkeykilla7 - July 14, 2009 12:21 a.m.

    Indie games are alright every once in a while when you get bored of your good games. Totally not super pwnies.
  • CRYPTONiC - July 13, 2009 9:59 p.m.

    yea im not really a big fan of indie games i think they kinda suck
  • shinywaffles - July 13, 2009 8:03 p.m.

    Where's Media Molecule? They made LittleBigPlanet!
  • DEFAULT - July 13, 2009 7:06 p.m.

    Yay indie!
  • thochaos - July 17, 2009 9:39 a.m.

    Good article, just horribly written. Was the guy trying to impress his English teacher?
  • heartskuppy - July 15, 2009 4:17 a.m.

    i wonder if kyle gabler when he went to sweden met nifflas (nicklas nygren), who's probably my favourite indie developer, and i am suprised he wasn't given a mention in the article considering he's a very popular indie dev and has a game coming to wiiware, night game, which looks awesome. if you've never heard of him, go to his website (http://nifflas.ni2.se) and give his games a try, they are completely free and, imo, absolutely amazing. and if you like them, keep an eye out for night game on wiiware. apologies for the obnoxious plug, but i wouldn't be doing it if i didn't love this guy's games and wish to share them and wish for them to be successful. support the indies!
  • Life - July 14, 2009 11:20 p.m.

    If Audiosurf takes you down a hole, that whole is the world's tightest, wettest, most perfect hole ever.
  • JohnnyMaverik - July 14, 2009 7:35 p.m.

    @ sadisticgrizzz "maybe GR can have an indie game review." ...if you mean a review of an Indie game then they have many, World of Goo, And yet it Moves, Braid and Aquaria all picked up pretty favourable GR reviews and are all indie games mentioned in this article. "but i must admit about 80% look awful." Well, 80% ARE aweful, infact probably more than 80%, but there again I'd say that about games in general not just indie games... there again I'm a bit picky.
  • Diosjenin - July 14, 2009 7:53 a.m.

    The Experimental Gameplay Project was relaunched within the last several days. http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2009/07/08/experimental-gameplay-project-it-lives/
  • DaBadGuy - July 14, 2009 12:34 a.m.

    Hell yeah indy devs rock. They always make the best stuff for hardcore gamers, like Braid, that game was aweomse.
  • goodguy - July 13, 2009 10:37 p.m.

    i love u indies
  • doomdoomdoom - July 13, 2009 8:34 p.m.

    Some of these are really good games... But some of them are really bad and are copy each others basic left and right jump screen.
  • Corsair89 - July 13, 2009 7:49 p.m.

    Normally, I hate indie shit. But, indie seems to work for games, unlike most indie music and films. I usually define indie as "1% gold, 99% shit" but thanks to games, I may need to re-adjust that definition. reCaptha: toga colonel
  • oryandymackie - July 13, 2009 7:43 p.m.

    God, "indie" games, are not. It might be uber-cool to play the latest recycled 8-bit and casually slip in that you don't "Like, play MODERN games, they're so old and tacky". Braid was just created by a smaller developer, doesn't make games cooler depending on the obscureness of the developer. God, I wish somebody would smack all these "indie" gamers.

Showing 1-20 of 23 comments

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