What makes an indie game? When the indie game movement started, it meant something along the lines of “a game developed and published by a small number of people”. However, the term “indie game” has changed meanings, and now it means… well, that’s the problem. No one is really sure. As my friend (whom I referred to in my previous post) said in our conversation, ” the definition of indie has been evolving, and right now there isn’t a single definition but several for what indie actually means.” The reason for this, as she well pointed out, is the existence of kickstarter and crowdfunding sites. I don’t think anyone will argue that Primitive Thoughts-developed games (the ones I make) are indie games, or that Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest is an indie game. But what about games made by individuals who have the support of an institution, like the games from DigiPen students? What about games developed by small studies of three to five people, like Freebird Games’ To The Moon? What about larger studios by established game developers who, nonetheless, work without the support of major publishers? Is Tim Shcafer’s Double Fine Studios (which boasts 65 employeesand titles such as Psychonauts and Brutal Legend) an indie studio? What if the three man studio previously mentioned raises 2 million dollars through Kickstarter to create a game? Is it still an indie studio? And what about Telltale Games, which boasts over 200 people and are the makers of games like The Walking Dead?
I’m having a conversation with my friend and she tells me about how she read an interesting article over at Game Informer (print) about how “indie games” are a genre, but they are an ambiguous genre that no one can really define. This seems to me like, at best, a misguided statement. Certainly, it is hard to identify what an “indie game” is, but the term “indie” isn’t a genre – at least not in the traditional sense of the word, which is to identify markers in a text itself – as much as it is a term that identifies the production and publication processes of a game. In the rest of this post I will discuss what is an actual genre, using various texts as example, explain why there is no such thing as an “indie game feel”, as my friend argued. Later, at a follow-up post, I will attempt to define what it does mean to be “indie”.
It seems like people don’t very much like Beyond: Two Souls. With a Metacritic average score of 70 points, negative comments about the game abound, even on positive reviews. Over at Game Trailers, Ryan Stevens writes that the game makes players feel inconsequential. Over at IGN, Lucy O’Brien writes that ““playing” it a very confusing and unrewarding experience”, while Ludwing Kietzmann over at Joystiq writes that the scenes aren’t tied to one another, that there is no chemistry between the actors, and that the writing is goofy. Ben Croshaw’s Zero Punctuation review was specially harsh. Certainly, the game review community largely agrees that Beyond: Two Souls is a “bad game”, with some even arguing whether it’s a game at all. Although some like James Wright over at Impulse Gamer write that it’s one of the more memorable gaming experiences to date, the consensus is that it’s bad. However, I am not only inclined to agree with critics like James Wright in that, yes, Beyond: Two Souls is one of the most memorable experiences in gaming, but I would also argue that games like Beyond: Two Souls (along with the other Quantic Dreams games and Spec Ops: The Line) and are spearheading a new era of videogame narrative which shows a grown up side to this form of media.
I have previously written about the Fallout games, specifically Fallout New Vegas, about the interesting choices it forces players to make, and about how players can become more self-aware about certain aspects of their personalities through play. The ending of the expansion titled The Divide had the potential of providing another such moment of introspection, but it dropped the ball at the end.
At the end of The Divide, after either killing Ulysses or convincing him to stand down, the player will be forced to make a choice. Standing inside a missile launch facility with the missiles already activated and the countdown sequence already engaged, players will be forced to either attempt to stop the missile launch, launch the missiles at the NCR, launch the missiles at Caesar’s Legion, or launching the missiles at both the NCR and Caesar’s Legion. To stop the missile launch, however, the player has to sacrifice ED-E, a robot AI companion that accompanies the player throughout the entire Divide. This choice is meant to make the player decide between the lives of the innocent residents of the NCR, the slaves captured by Caesar’s Legion, and one of the player’s companions. Although this had the potential of being a gripping moment where the player would wrestle with his consciousness in a moment of introspection, weighing the lives of thousands of innocent people versus the life of one friend, because of the way the game is designed and the programmed outcomes, players are inclined to simply send the missiles to both the NCR camp and Caesar’s Legion.