retr0ial: My Stance on Indie Games

Welcome to a brand-new segment on the blog which I’d like to call retr0ials. In these posts, I’ll talk about various topics currently going around the video game industry, and give out my personal thoughts on them. And for my first retr0ial, I felt that it would be necessary to talk about what has possibly become one of the biggest gaming trends in recent years: Indie Games.

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(NOTE: I did not make, nor did I draw this picture. The credit goes to Mike Gaboury.)

Twelve years after the release of Cave Story in 2004, the indie game market has slowly but surely become saturated. Many games have come and left their mark, from Shovel Knight to Five Nights at Freddy’s and most recently the critically acclaimed Undertale. All of these games have received massive followings and have been praised for their own respective reasons. Of course, when something becomes widely popular, people will eventually (or quickly, depending on how fast it becomes popular) get sick and tired of it, as evident by videos such as these:

(NOTE: No antagonism, resentment, or hostility is meant towards the creators of these videos. Everyone has their own reasons for disliking something, and that is perfectly acceptable.)

As for what I think…it’s honestly a mixed bag for me. A while back, I said that I “usually love what indie games have to offer”. However, that has changed somewhat. As time progressed, I had begun to notice something: most, if not almost all indie games tend to rely on nostalgic throwbacks. Of course, this is not a bad thing at all: sometimes, it’s nice to see something that harkens back to something that you really enjoyed when you were younger. Games such as the Bit Trip series and Super Meat Boy are great examples of this. But as the old saying goes, “too much of a good thing can be a bad thing”. As of now, the market is being bombarded with games that aim to be “throwbacks” or “tributes” or utilize “8-bit” visuals, with the most common term to be found being “retro”. This is where my personal problem comes in: the misuse of the term “retro”. Now, the term “retro” can be applied to anything that can be considered old-school, not just 8-bit games (yeah, I know that the blog’s name is retr0pia, but we focus on more than just 8-bit games). Unfortunately, because of the oversaturation of these types of games, it’s been associated with nearly every single game that has pixelated graphics.

The “relying solely on nostalgia” issue also ties into another problem: spiritual successors. Now, I am not saying that all spiritual successors are bad. In fact, I’m actually looking forward quite a bit to Yooka-Laylee and Bloodstained, because the people behind those games actually seem passionate and devoted to delivering a game that not only the fans of their previous work can enjoy, but a game that newcomers can enjoy, too. However, when you have games such as Armikrog and Mighty No. 9 (yes, I know that game isn’t out yet, but let’s face it, with all the delays and drama, there’s simply no way it can pull through), there’s the feeling that the developer puts making the game resemble its spiritual predecessor as much as possible first and making the game itself actually worthwhile second. It’s this kind of thinking that makes people believe that indie games have done more harm to the industry than good.

Of course, there are indie games that I do enjoy. As I have said previously, I liked Bit Trip and Super Meat Boy, and although I haven’t played them, I have heard a lot of good things about the Shantae games. What I personally think should happen is that indie developers should focus less on pandering to retro gamers, and instead focus more on original ideas. If they can execute them properly, that is. That’s all I have to say on the matter.

What are your thoughts on indie games? Be sure to post them below in the comment section, and make sure to leave feedback!

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2 Comments

  1. I think the pandering to nostalgia has only gotten so severe with the rise of crowd funding. When you’re asking people to pay for a game before development has even begun, you’ve really got to have a hook to get people to want to donate, and nostalgia is a very powerful means to connect with the class of consumer that has enough disposable income to risk on crowd funded projects. I would also point out that not every “retro-style” game is meant to pander to nostalgia. Games like Fez and Undertake may have pixelated graphics, but they are wholly unique games, not meant to be spiritual successors to anything.

    As for indie games as a whole, I personally have found them to be really important in maintaining the variety and creativity that has drained out of the $60 retail releases. But I also have a lot of fatigue with the games that are following clear fads. Like I really like Super Metroid and the games it has inspired, but it seems like every week I here about a new Metroidvania coming out.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have to admit that the indie scene didn’t really appeal to me in the 2000s and, to a lesser extent, the early 2010s. There was a propensity a lot of them had where you could tell half of them were made to prove to naysayers that they are art just like every other medium, thus you got one-dimensional experiences such as The Stanley Parable. It’s an interesting case study because I would say the mentality stifled creativity more than it did to help promote it.

    It wasn’t until the last few years that I really became interested in the scene because of three main reasons. The first was that the AAA industry had something of a meltdown in 2013, releasing a torrent of awful games and conducting increasingly shady business practices. It hasn’t really recovered either; right now, they’re keeping themselves afloat with a series of short-term victories, but not anything sustainable. Back in the 2000s, indie titles were pretty neat, but the AAA industry was busy churning out some of the best games ever made, so saying it was a one-sided battle is an understatement. Now? Now AAA games getting destroyed by efforts made by a single person has become an increasingly frequent occurrence. Going on the way they are, they’re not in for a good time. The second factor is that graphics have reached something of a plateau – that is, it has gotten to the point where most types of games can be realized. Because we have access to these various eras, going back to the 8-bit (or even the 16-bit) era is less relying on nostalgia and more of a stylistic choice. The last factor is that many indie developers finally abandoned the aforementioned “pursuit of art” mentality and are thus creating titles that are fun to play – whether they end up being purely focused on gameplay (i.e. Shovel Knight) or using the medium to create unique storytelling experiences without sacrificing the fun (i.e. Undertale and Papers, Please).

    In short, we could be looking at a golden age for the indie crowd.

    Liked by 1 person

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