Grab your laptops and head for the hills! The bursting of the great indie game bubble is upon us!
Surely by now you’ve heard about the surfeit of worthwhile games available on Steam and elsewhere, the Kickstarter fatigue that’s stricken gamers and thing-purchasers around the world, the mounting competition in terms of rising quality and sheer numbers, and the logic-defying, margin-erasing pay-what-you-want model of all the indie game bundles nowadays.
I mean, it’s clear from these factual observations that not only will there be not enough money to go around, but that some deserving games will get lost in the shuffle, right? Surely that state of affairs is tantamount to a massive bubble bursting!
Screenshot: UFC Undisputed 2010
Maybe it was something a teacher said to you years ago, when you were still a child. Maybe a parent uttered an offhand comment that stayed with you, despite its seeming normalcy. Maybe a stranger muttered something to you on the street, wished you goodwill when you needed to hear it most, or spoke a cryptic statement that stuck in your mind for some reason, only to realize the wisdom tidily packed up inside years later.
Whatever it was, this innocuous statement somehow has kept your attention all these years, maybe in the back of your mind, but always there as a constant. Perhaps it has become a story you tell, or a sentence you quote in an attempt to distill its special power for the benefit of others. Perhaps it has changed your entire perception of the person who said it. Perhaps it has wormed its way into your core belief system, spreading like a virus, becoming the linchpin of a major revision of your overarching life philosophy.
And maybe – just maybe – something you’ve said or done without even thinking has had this exact effect on someone else.
A slide from Robert Yang’s PRACTICE 2013 talk, “Well-Made: Back to Black Mesa.”
“How do you let people betray each other?”
“How do you handle gay marriage?”
“How do you get people to want to play?”
No, the above aren’t results from a Google auto-complete gone wrong. These were just a few of the questions posed at the Open Problems session at PRACTICE: Game Design in Detail, the NYU Game Center’s annual game design conference held last week. Now in its third year, the weekend conference brings together game designers working in digital games, analog games, and other disciplines of design for a series of in-depth discussions about game design.
Despite talks by name-brand designers like Warren Spector, Michael Brough and Sean Vanaman on emergent narrative, designing experimental games and postmortems on past successes, it was the Open Problems session that truly made the event special.
It was my last day in Montreal. I had just finished lunch at a local landmark a friend had recommended. The rest of the day was wide open before a late flight back home to New York.
I wandered for an hour or so, rolling my bag behind me, lazily scanning the streets for points of interest as I tried to ignore the brisk winter wind. Up one street, now maybe a right, now a left, now straight again; picking directions seemingly at random.
And then I saw it.
You are an indie game developer in a major American city.
You pull out your calendar app.
So the rapid prototyping workshop is on Monday… and Disasterpeace’s talk on procedural music is on Tuesday… I can work out of Microsoft’s accelerator space on Wednesday, get feedback on my prototype at the Game Center’s public playtest on Thursday… fix a few bugs in time for the IGDA demo night the next week, then get some beers at the Indie Drink Night on Friday. Yeah, that should work.
You put away your calendar. You’re not in Los Angeles. You’re not in San Francisco. You’re not in Montreal, or Austin, or Seattle.
You’re in New York City, and very quietly over the past year or so, the indie game development scene has been blowing up.
And now, an excerpt from the novelization of this year’s Interactive Game Society Award Winner for Best Writing, Murder Avenue.
I thought he was crazy. We both knew the odds of Cob Tyler coming back to his old stomping grounds were poor; he may be a lunatic, but he was a cunning lunatic. Carter had radioed to say that he went ahead, to do a sweep… but as I pulled up to the abandoned crackhouse we had as a lead, he was nowhere in sight.
I slowly turned the front door handle and slid open the door – only find myself staring down the barrel of a gun. Before I could reach for my piece, the door opened wide and a face appeared. Carter’s face.
He holstered his weapon. “Cob’s around here. I know it. I’ll check the basement, you sweep the house. Meet up again after.” Before I could respond he disappeared around a corner, and I was alone.
I ran around in a circle and jumped up and down a few times then pistol-whipped the air.
As far as game stars go, Eddie Rhodes comes across unusually blunt. Maybe the confidence came when his game attracted a following, became a cult hit, and starting making real money. Maybe it’s all a façade, carefully designed to fully exploit his exposure in the press. Maybe he was born with it.
Whatever the case, it’s well deserved. After only two years, Rhodes’ game Nexbit has exploded from personal project to major cultural phenomenon. Not content to just be a game maker, he’s proved himself a shrewd businessman as well, leveraging the game’s popularity into a personal fortune.
Impressively, Rhodes has achieved all of these milestones at the age of 22.
And Nexbit is his first game.
Everything is new. Everything is huge, and you’re so tiny. You don’t know how most things work, so even minute details of everyday things like spoons, light switches and cars seem like miracles.
Over time you get bigger, and things become less huge and majestic. By now you’ve eaten soup, changed a light bulb and driven on the highway – it takes more to challenge your imagination. It takes more to activate your sense of wonder.
It’s a glorious Sunday morning. You stir and stretch in your bed, a mess of wonderfully soft sheets and covers. The whole day is open. Will you laze around for a bit more? Get up and go for a walk, or to the gym? Make plans to meet up with friends? Whatever you decide, this moment is the birthplace of the day’s possibilities, when just thinking of the wide expanse of possibility makes you smile.
Jump forward 100 years. Unless dramatic advances in cryogenics are discovered…
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Dragonborn. (Photo: PlayerAttack)
Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory;
Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
Live within the sense they quicken.
Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
Are heap’d for the belovèd’s bed;
And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,
Love itself shall slumber on.
- Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Music, When Soft Voices Die”
Sticky Fingaz, from out your darkest fears
I make you meet your maker, make you meet the man upstairs
- Onyx, “React”
A rhyme is a curious thing. Cheesy in lesser hands, a well-formed rhyme has the odd property of elevating whatever the original sentiment is being expressed by sheer virtue of having the sounds be similar. Poets and songwriters have used this tool since time immemorial, elevating their works to be something else – to become, in the best cases, sublime experiences.
In the search for more meaningful, transformative gameplay experiences, is there a way to apply this principle to games? Is there a way to make games “rhyme”?