I’ve been making games independently since high school, mostly just simple 2D games for the PC, but the amount of work required for even the simplest games is staggering. It makes me think about all the hard work that goes into games made by small teams, like Dear Esther, Braid, The Path, Super Meat Boy…the list goes on. After watching the documentary Indie Game: The Movie (watch the trailer here) I better understood the pain and struggle of completing a game. You put your sweat, blood, tears, soul, everything into it for a few years and let it out into the wild to be judged. You’ve spent all your money on this game–if it flops, you’re broke. That’s part of the reason I buy indie games, and that’s part of the reason why I try not to make snap judgments about them. It takes so much time and money and must be the worst feeling in the world for it not to be received well. In Indie Game: The Movie they asked the creator of Fez what he would do if the game didn’t sell well, and he said, “Probably kill myself.”
But all that effort usually pays off. Independent games are often some of the most unique experiences you can find, pushing the boundaries of gaming and asking important questions. Often they engage the player on a much more emotional and intellectual level. In essence, they treat you with respect. Indie games are notoriously hard. They don’t coddle you. They don’t tell you everything you have to do. The developers understand that you are an intelligent human being and you can figure it out yourself.
These games have stories to tell. They’re more than just your average shooter–they stick in my mind for weeks to come, making me ponder their hidden meanings. Dear Esther is an extremely simple game gameplay-wise, and takes only two hours to complete, but it takes much, much longer to begin to understand the story and meaning in your head. When I came back to play it for the second time, I was surprised by the different text, and came to more revelations about the story.
Though it’s a lot of work to make a game, it’s also never been easier to jump into game development. Game engines for indie developers are becoming more widespread, and powerful engines like Unity and Unreal are going free. Because of this, there has been an influx of amazing indie games of all kinds.
I’m currently working on a couple of games: one is my senior project for my Japanese major, an RPG called Onomatopoeia Quest that attempts to teach the player Japanese onomatopoeia while still being fun; the other is a 3D game that involves lasers, reflection, and other physics-type stuff that I’m making with a partner for my Game Design and Development independent study. The latter is particularly interesting for me because it’s my first 3D game, and also my first game made with Unity. It’s difficult to learn an entirely new engine and programming language, but also very satisfying when I see the results of my efforts come to life in the game.
While it’s exciting and rewarding to make a game by yourself or in a small team, it can also be very daunting. Video games consist of so many parts—music, sound effects, programming, and gameplay, just to name a few—and to be responsible for all of them is a bit terrifying. At big, AAA studios, each person works on a small part of the game, but as an indie developer you really have to do it all yourself. As a result, everything takes a lot more time. Sometimes I’ll spend months working on a game, and then when I ask a friend to try it out it takes them only a few minutes to finish. It can be frustrating, and make you think that your efforts aren’t amounting to much.
But when it all comes together in its final form, and you see your game realized as you intended, it’s all suddenly so worth it. This is your own creation—you somehow turned lines of code into a working game that others can enjoy. It’s an amazing feeling, and it’s what helps to keep me going.
I’m not sure what point I’m trying to make here…but I guess I think more people should play indie games. A lot of my friends dismiss them as simple and stupid, but I think if more people gave them a chance they would not be disappointed. They’re cheap too, perfect for the poor gamer in college! There’s plenty of game-of-the-year-worthy games that are already available like FTL and Limbo, and with many more amazing-looking indie games like Adr1ft and No Man’s Sky on the horizon, it doesn’t seem like there’ll be a shortage any time soon.
Check out these trailers to pique your interest:
No Man’s Sky: