Like most people, I need to take a break in between hours of doing what I do, and as I do what I do at home, I guess I can take breaks that appeal to me as and when I want. Since I’m naturally at the PC, it’s only natural that my breaks are too, and they involve playing games more often than not.
The bit that’s confusing me of late is down to the choice of game…
I’ve watched what I play when on my PC, and I’ve noticed my tastes changing over time, but through all the years I’ve been playing games, I found one pretty common thread running through the games I spent a *lot* of time playing.
They’re almost exclusively from independent developers, and even when there’s a big name attached, the development team behind it will be reasonably small and independent.
And here’s the part that makes most sense to me: each of the games I spent a long time playing, I did so because not only were the games well presented and well executed, but they brought things to the table I hadn’t seen anywhere else. Or, as I think of it, they innovated.
I’m not going to deconstruct the list of games, why they innovate, or what’s compelling about them, since that’s probably for another time, but the fact they all do innovative things is also related to the fact that they’re independent houses developing them.
See, that’s something I’ve noticed firmly with modern gaming – the vast majority of traditional production groups, i.e. the ‘established’ groups, all tend to adhere to what’s established. I’ve covered this in passing before, I’m sure, the notion that innovation is expensive and dangerous and ‘more of the same’ is much safer and thus cheaper.
Trouble is, I don’t want to pay anything for a retooling of something I already bought, and I find that the games I’m playing are not that. Some of them are like Puppygames’ works, they are modern takes on retro games, but still with things that are different. Some of them are like Braid, or Machinarium – riffs on games done many times before (Braid feels like a great many platformer I’ve played in my time… but it has the time manipulation factor that’s new, as for Machinarium, I immediately saw a comparison to Gobliiins) – but even while they’re riffs on existing ideas, they’re new interpretations.
And they’re things that just aren’t going to come out of the big studios. I think the last time I saw an actually original game come out of one of the big establishments, was EA releasing Dungeon Keeper in 1997 – but even then, it’s got the Bullfrog indie magic behind it, rather than being purely EA, so I’m not sure that counts. (I’ve probably missed some, I’m not a pro gamer, and even when Blizzard stormed the world with WoW, they were already pretty established through their previous games, and these days they’re tied up with Activision anyway)
What I’d love to see, then, is more ‘established’ game developers not being afraid to get out there and do something actually new. I see game franchising, and sequels and prequels (LucasArts, I AM looking at you) but really, there’s nothing new in any of them. They look prettier, sound nicer, but the gameplay underneath is nothing new. The indie folks have got it right, they go and try new things, and sometimes it makes a right killing (Minecraft, anyone?) but you’d never see EA producing Minecraft, or Sony, or anyone other than an indie group doing it.
Meanwhile, indie folks, keep doing what you’re doing, please. Please keep the big guys on their toes, and keep alive the spirit of trying new things!