June 17, 2011

Indie Games: Charcoal’s Take

A long time ago, May 24th to be spe­cif­ic, Dr. Pix­el won a QWOP com­pe­ti­tion in which the some­what-grand prize was an arti­cle about any top­ic. He chose “indie games in gen­er­al”. This is a fair­ly broad top­ic, so that means I get to ram­ble, which is fair­ly char­ac­ter­is­tic of me if you know me or my writ­ing. So, here we go.
First off, I have a prob­lem with the term “Indie Games” on the grounds of poor def­i­n­i­tion. Tech­ni­cal­ly (accord­ing to Wikipedia, which has nev­er ever been wrong about any­thing, ever), an indie game is “cre­at­ed by indi­vid­u­als or small teams with­out video game pub­lish­er finan­cial sup­port” (From “Indie Game” on Wikipedia. Hooray for non­pla­garism!). How­ev­er, many “indie games” that become pop­u­lar quick­ly gain the atten­tion of said pub­lish­ers, and finan­cial sup­port becomes avail­able. Does this mean that said cre­ators are no longer capa­ble of pro­duc­ing any “indie games” ever again? Or do the games just lose all their indie cred, as hip­sters scoff and rem­i­nisce to a time before Hot Top­ic start­ed sell­ing Angry Birds T‑Shirts.

^Warn­ing: Cloth­ing from Hot Top­ic may cause a hip­ster to become angry and lec­ture you for thir­ty min­utes. For use at home or when trolling at Star­bucks only.
I sort of under­stand where Indie game fans are com­ing from. Even fair­ly large com­pa­nies (Red Octane, Bungie) have had their flag­ship prod­uct maimed by cor­po­rate giants (Activi­sion, Microsoft). The prob­lem is that once some­thing is con­sid­ered good by a pop­u­lace, every oth­er enti­ty judged by said pop­u­lace begins try­ing WAY too hard to emu­late the suc­cess­ful enti­ty. For exam­ple, you remem­ber that shoot­er? The one on Xbox? The one with the cam­paign that you just blew right through and then start­ed play­ing the mul­ti­play­er? You remem­ber that mul­ti­play­er, you know, the one where you gain expe­ri­ence and lev­el up and you get bet­ter equip­ment and/or guns because of it? And you held down Left Trig­ger to aim down your sights? If you’ve had a 360 since its release or short­ly there­after, I dare you to find every shoot­er you own that that descrip­tion applies to. If you get less than five, you just did­n’t own that many shoot­ers. This is just one of many things that is being copied every­where. That per­sis­tent metagame lev­el­ing up for the sake of lev­el­ing up is in almost every match-based mul­ti­play­er game on the mar­ket right now. /rage.

^Metagame lev­el­ing is now as overused as this rage face, as well as any oth­er “meme face”.
Indie games are a lot more free to exper­i­ment, because often­times they’re done mere­ly for fun. Nobody’s job is rid­ing on the suc­cess or fail­ure of this pilot title. This can be good or bad. Some­times, exper­i­ments fail, and they fail hard. For every epic return to the 16-bit RPG (which there are not near­ly enough of, espe­cial­ly those with­out the ani­me graph­ics), there are fif­teen hip­sterif­ic satir­i­cal night­mares that don’t even clas­si­fy as a “game” in any sense of the word.

^ “It’s sit­u­a­tion­al irony. You paid for a game and expect­ed one, but instead you got a shirt. It rep­re­sents my feel­ings about con­ser­vatism.”
All in all, I can’t real­ly claim to be “for” or “against” indie games. They’re just games. If I judged games based on what they’re made from and who they’re made by, rather than on the qual­i­ty of the game, that’d make me a… hrm… some­one throw me a term in the com­ment sec­tion?
I can’t real­ly close up an arti­cle on indie games with­out any good rec­om­men­da­tions, so I’ll throw some out for you. Most of my favorite “indie games” are flash games that are playable for free online. Make no mis­take, the ones I’m rec­om­mend­ing are still high qual­i­ty.

Pro­tec­tor is a free flash game series, based (and best played) on a web­site called Kon­gre­gate. It’s an amaz­ing­ly bal­anced series of Tow­er Defense games that involves ele­men­tal mages, which are capa­ble of induc­ing dif­fer­ent effects on the ene­my. You know all of the ene­my waves in advance, and its up to you to deter­mine the best way to build your forces and han­dle each one. It’s a sim­ple game on the sur­face, but a lot more strat­e­gy goes into it than you might think. There isn’t too much of sig­nif­i­cance in the way of plot, but there are a few nods to some for­mer inter­net fame.

War­lords: A Call To Arms is anoth­er free flash game that I first expe­ri­enced on Kon­gre­gate. Again, it’s decep­tive­ly sim­ple on the sur­face, but win­ning some of the lat­er bat­tles in the cam­paign involves some heavy strat­e­gy. Units spawn on a timer and move and attack inde­pen­dent­ly. You deter­mine what units spawn, and where. Some units, like spear­men and archers, come out rel­a­tive­ly quick­ly. Stronger units, name­ly mount­ed ones, take longer to spawn. This game also has two-peo­ple-at-one-com­put­er mul­ti­play­er, which can get addict­ing very quick­ly. It’s also worth not­ing that this game has been released on the iPod/iPhone App Store.

Braid… It’s just Braid. It’s tech­ni­cal­ly a plat­former, but it’s like noth­ing you’ll have ever played before. Buy it. Now. It’s on Steam and Xbox Live Arcade. There may also be a ver­sion for you PS3 homies out there (I don’t own a PS3 so I’m out of the loop.). Srsly. Buy it. You won’t regret it.
It’s good to be back on the arti­cle writ­ing train again! Leave me some com­ments below! I will be upset if you fail to com­ment.


  1. CharcoalCoyote - June 17, 2011 10:32 pm

    As one more side note, I don’t know if it counts as an “indie game” (Tom Fulp has a lot of mon­ey), but Cas­tle Crash­ers on the Xbox Live Arcade was real­ly, real­ly fun.

  2. ScrotusKilmystr - June 18, 2011 6:58 am

    don’t for­get Alien Hominid which start­ed as a flash game that as so ridicu­lous­ly hard I don’t know any­one who’s ever beat­en it but it’s so much fun, and it’s what put Tom Fulp on the map if I’m not mis­tak­en.
    It too is on XBL I think PSN (it was port­ed to the PS2 from pc first..) and i’m sure still free to play on the PC on Newgrounds.com

  3. CharcoalCoyote - June 18, 2011 8:48 am

    Well Tom Fulp owns new­grounds, but yeah. Alien Hominid was fun.

  4. IronJade - June 18, 2011 12:37 pm

    NVR played Braid, but I own CC and love it. I can sug­gest quite a few. Hon­est­ly, if you have friends to play with.… Evony.… That game is just mil­i­tary Age of Empires per­pet­u­al world PvP may­hem. A ton of fun to play and so strat­e­gy ori­ent­ed that it can make you sick mak­ing one sim­ple mis­take lat­er on in your build. Also, For­tix and many MMORPG’s.


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