As we entered the eighth console generation last year, both Microsoft and Sony release their black, shiny monoliths in the predictably consumerist run up to Christmas. “Mono-” perhaps being the operative prefix here as “all-games-must-look-the-same” fever spreads across their release titles. Cookie-cut genericisms rendered all titles indistinguishable from each other. Games conceived from the slugs and snails and puppydog tails of a bygone era, drip-fed on a toxic concoction of male power-trip idioms and hyper-masculine raison d’etre, offering the same, old experiences we’ve all grown tired of consuming a multi-gazillion times before.
Amongst the humdrum of the industrial-age, mainstream machinery churning away, evidence of Sony’s new found love for the “indies” delights us with Young Horses’ re-imagining of their ever-so-silly Octodad: Dadliest Catch coupled with Honeyslug’s exclusive, flow-inducing Hohokum. And lest not forget Frontier Development’s animal-magic that is the Xbox-exclusive elephant-washing-simulator Zoo Tycoon.
Yet, however much we may embrace Sony’s efforts to itself embrace the indie, maybe the console-war is not the battlefield of choice for the savvy independent. For it is over on the personal computers that indies have already been crowned king—or at least one king equal amongst many. Built upon the hacker-ethic, with the rise and rise of digital distribution mechanisms combined with the multiple crowd-funding schemes now available (noticeably as Kickstarter launches in antipodean waters), never before has it been so easy for the intrepid developer to connect with their audience, both on a local and global scale. Never before, therefore, has it been so important for the independently-minded to establish their voice as unique, distinct, and significant from all others, in order to be noticed at all. Not only to be heard above the spewing ticker-tapes of the mainstay, but also—and most importantly— to stand out high and mighty above the cacophony of their peers. This is the battlefield that must be commandeered. This is the war that must be won.
So maybe 2013 wasn’t so bad after all. Casting our thoughts back through a year that brought us such captivating titles as Northway Games’ insect-building Incredipede, Might and Delight’s heart-wrenching Shelter, Bossa Studios’ ludicrous Surgeon Simulator 2013, and Lucas Pope’s thought-provoking Paper’s Please, we can rest easy and assured that many other potent treats await our patient hands. For me, Infinite Fall’s highly compelling exploration/adventure entitled Night in the Woods captures both the delight and distinctness required to rise high above all this bustle and noise. Scott Benson’s visuals—like a cross between Chris Ware and Richard Scarry—manages to capture all the whimsical charm of Mary Blair’s Disney concepts, whilst the melancholic tone and coming-of-age tale recalls a not-so-distant past when Zelda games were still good, reminding us again why it is we fell in love with videogames in the first place.
In 2013 Infinite Fall’s Alec Holowka and Scott Benson became my heroes, not because their Kickstarter campaign raised a total exceeding four times their original goal (which incidentally was achieved within the first 26 hours of the campaign), but rather because of this heart-felt, humbling, and self-depreciative response to the community of backers that support them. Bring on 2014.
Article by James Manning
James Manning is a game-maker/player/writer/researcher who is concerned with the preservation of videogame play. James is currently a researcher at Bath Spa University in the UK, holds a Senior Lecturer position at Media Design School in Auckland NZ, and often wonders how he manages to be on both sides of the real-world at the same time. Follow him on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/jimaroonie?
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and they do not reflect those of the institutions to which he is affiliated.