How Indie Developers are Reviving the Classic Era of Video Gaming
Stardew Valley, Pillars of Eternity, Axiom Verge, Mighty No. 9, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, what do all of these video games have in common? Two things actually, the first is that they are all titles developed by independent (or indie) gaming studios. The second is that they all have roots in classic video game titles that gamers who weren’t raised in the age of smart-phones and Flappy Bird have loved for years. Harvest Moon, Baldur’s Gate, Metroid, Mega Man, Castlevania, all of these games defined aspects of the gaming Industry for so many years and now they are impacting an entirely new generation of games; only this time the Triple A developers are no longer at the wheel.
The indie games scene started off as flash games and low-budget projects, but with the rise of Kickstarter, Steam Greenlight, and other crowdfunding and support opportunities, Indie developers are able to unleash their visions of gaming greatness like never before. The difference between these indie games and their predecessors is that the Independent developers objectively look at these classic games and know how to improve on them without destroying what made them so wonderful in their prime.
Another strong point about these titles is that Indie developers know that gamers are tired of the “Day one bugfixes” and unfinished games being launched because Triple A developers can’t seem to be bothered to take extra time to assess the quality of the products they are producing. These indie games are not only being beta tested properly for balancing issues, but are also being tested to make sure that user needs are met. An example of this is Everquest Next, which was canceled recently; the developer cited that the reasoning behind this was that it was “not fun” after development had proceeded to a certain point.
It is this sort of thinking and attention to the needs of the consumer that sets these things aside from games made by a Triple A developer such as Ubisoft, who has released Assassin’s Creed games for years with bugs and controversy following every launch period. This most recent wave of “retro-inspired” games makes me feel much better about the legacy of the gaming industry; as it seems that games won’t shift ENTIRELY to mobile or MMO status, at least not for another few generations anyway depending upon public opinion.
A question that pops up every now and again is “Well if these retro-inspired games are so fantastic, why aren’t Triple A developers taking notice and taking advantage of it?” This is a very valid question, but it brings about an interesting point about one of the aforementioned games above. If Konami had their way, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night would never have left the drawing board; this seems odd for a Kickstarter project that raised $5,545,992 with 64,867 backers (one of the highest amounts of Backers in Kickstarter history) however as Koji Igarashi explains it, Konami wanted nothing to do with the project, which led him to strike out on his own, reaching out with Kickstarter in order to fund the project.
Many Triple A developers and Publishers don’t grasp the concept that while graphics, flashy colors, and innovative mechanics can be great; there are many gamers that long for throwbacks to their childhood, to games that captured their imaginations and their hearts as children and teens. These games don’t need to be ENTIRELY old fashioned, as there are modern touches that can be added to them (such as Pillars of Eternity’s use of an Inventory management Stash that is portable) in order to make them more accessible to all gamers. With the advent of multiple difficulty levels, and casual modes, there is a higher degree of freedom for these indie developers to create games both for the hardcore classic gamer, and the newer, more casual player.
The interesting thing about these new indie games, is that these games (such as Pillars of Eternity and Stardew Valley) will be the classics that newer generations go back to years from now, when the gaming landscape has changed again and people long for when their favorite games captured their attention for the first time. History is being made with every moment, as indie developers are making a name for themselves, and Triple A developers are struggling to keep up with an industry that is no longer satisfied with “let’s just release it as fast as possible, we can patch it later.”
There will always be buggy games and games that are unfinished at launch; but at least now we have alternatives, indie developers and Triple A developers that aim to provide polished content that will provide joy and entertainment to new gamers as well as those of us who love the games that inspired these next creations.