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Posts Tagged ‘Indie games’

What is “Indie”?

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

My latest musing is up at Resolution Magazine, pondering what is “indie” when we talk about indie games? Here’s a sneak peak:

“I LOVE when you’re hanging around minding your own business and out of nowhere you’re ambushed by an interesting discussion that insists you poke and prod at it until you’ve sufficiently explored every nook and cranny it’s got. I had such an ambush today, when I asked my twitter brethren what their favourite indie game of 2010 was. A few game titles were thrown in the ring before debate quickly turned to semantical definition of the term ‘indie’. What is an indie game? What are The Rules™ when applying this monicker? Some interesting points came to light, some people finding it quite easy to apply a definition and a set of attributes a game must or must not have in order to call itself an independent game. Some acknowledged varying shades of grey in the interpretation. I personally go from moments of clarity to utter confusion. Usually followed by despair, exasperation and some sort of delicious biscuit.”

Read the rest here!

Freeplay Independent Games Festival

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

Indie games have a soft spot in my heart much like handmade clothes bought at markets or home made conserves tenderly made by Mrs. Perkins. They’re made purely for the sake of making them, not necessarily aiming to be a cash cow or blockbuster. A lot of the time independent developers have the freedom to really ensure their vision stays on track and doesn’t get derailed by having too many cooks in the kitchen. I’m not the only one that loves to get their indie on, and being from Melbourne where there is a festival for something every weekend, it was only a matter of time before we got us an indie game festival, and this year’s looks to be the best yet. August 14th and 15th the State Library of Victoria will see this year’s edition of “Freeplay” the independent games festival, run in conjunction with the State Library of Victoria and the Victorian Government, lovingly crafted by Paul Callaghan and Eve Penford-Dennis. The 2 day festival will see talks, lectures and workshops for everything from “What does it take to develop a game?” and “101 things I learned in Game Design school” to the Inaugural Freeplay Awards.

Recently Paul kindly sat down to answer a few questions about the event and indie games in general.

What and why is Freeplay?
First the what…
Freeplay is Australia’s only independent games festival and it takes a look at the creative and artistic side of games and digital culture.
It was started in 2004 by Next Wave, and in its first year took place in a converted karate dojo on Swanston Street. Next Wave continued it in 2005 and 2007 at ACMI, then in 2009 stewardship of the whole thing passed to me and my co-director Eve Penford-Dennis and shifted venue to the State Library of Victoria. That first one for us was really successful and we’re back in 2010 with the same mix of a free public and a paid conference program.

And the why…?
There are a lot of events that look at games from a business / studio perspective or from the consumer perspective, but very few that look at games as creative and cultural artefacts. Freeplay fits into that gap.

What do you think indie developers can do that no one else can?
Indie developers can just make things. If you’re working in even a small studio, you’re likely beholden to at least one or two other people – and possibly hundreds. If you’re an indie, working by yourself, you can experiment with the form, make mistakes, and hopefully try a whole bunch of things in the same time a larger studio gets through pre-production.

That’s what we want to encourage with Freeplay. We want people to leave after the Sunday with a whole bunch of ideas and the energy to prototype and workshop and just get down in the dirt and make some cool new projects.

Why are industry get-togethers and collaborative efforts such as Freeplay important?
In a lot of ways, we’re in a period of transition right now, making the shift from being a technology industry to being a creative industry – and we aren’t quite sure what that means. Technology industries tend to be very secretive, keeping things quiet, making sure they’re the first with some breakthrough. By contrast, entertainment industries are a lot more open. Screenwriters, musicians, novelists, poets, all workshop their ideas, all get together formally or informally and share their thoughts, stress-test their projects, and all the while try to learn from each other. Middleware, more powerful hardware, and new distribution platforms, have meant that technology is no longer the limiting factor. Now we need to rely on our creativity, and to do that we need more get-togethers and collaborative efforts like Freeplay.

How do you determine your finalists for the Freeplay awards?
We had a crack team of judges play the over 50 games that came through. They graded them all according to the categories we had (and added an extra one because we had some international entrants – something we weren’t expecting this year), then we tallied the votes and that was pretty much that :)

The categories themselves were workshopped by our amazing program advisory committee and after that it was just a case of letting people know the awards existed. The one thing that makes us a little bit different from other awards is that we wanted to encourage more than just completed games, which led to us having categories for best concept art and best on-paper design.

We were blown away by the response this year. It’s really exciting and affirming that there’s such great projects around, and teams willing to put their work out there.

What do you love about Australia’s indie game scene?
I like that we’re in the time of flux that I mentioned before. I like that things are a bit uncertain right now because that gives us the possibility to craft our own future. I think we haven’t seen the best that Australian indies have to offer yet, and that’s kind of cool. We’re looking forward to Freeplay being part of that future.

Thank you, Paul! I appreciate you taking the time. Only one week away from the festival you must be busier than BP’s public relations department, so thanks!

I’m really looking forward to this year’s Freeplay festival, you can find information on the programme here and buy tickets here. Keep an eye on Freeplay’s website for the Fast Five interviews with local industry-folk, keep up with the goings-on by following Freeplay on twitter, and you can check out the finalists for this year’s Freeplay Awards. I’ll see you there!

Review: Limbo

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

I’m currently basking in the afterglow of christening my brand new Xbox in one of the coolest ways I can imagine – finishing Limbo. Upon downloading Limbo from the XBLA I hit the ground running with my new console and found myself spellbound by a tiny boy with unearthly glowing eyes. Created by Playdead, a relatively-new indie developer founded in 2006, Limbo is Arnt Jensen’s directorial debut. Boy has he set the bar high for his next project. Within it’s first 8 days of sale, Limbo had over 200,000 people on the XBLA leader board. If the best friend of the indie game is word-of-mouth, Limbo’s name is getting a fine reception amongst players and reviewers alike, as shown by winning awards for Excellence In Visual Art, and Technical Excellence at the 2010 Independent Games Festival.

Limbo’s appeal is the classic successful formula of elegantly matching simplicity with a gorgeous art style. You start out the game just a boy in a forest waking up. No idea how you got there, or where you’re supposed to go. No backstory apart from a short description in the XBLA that informs you that he’s trying to save his sister. No idea what from or who has her (my bet was on some kind of spikey dinosaur for a while there). There’s no tutorial, no highlighted flashy bits saying “Press B here!”, you’re on your own, which funnily enough isn’t frustrating or confounding. The controls are simple and easy to pick up, all you can do is move (left control stick), jump (A), and interact (B). The learning curve is extremely minimal, I took to the game instantly having never even held an Xbox controller before. Gore can be turned off if you prefer, but I think the gruesome death sequences add to the atmosphere of the game. Seeing his glowing eyes close after he falls down like a lifeless rag-doll is heartbreaking enough to give you motivation to try not to kill him again. Even though you’ll fail in doing so. Over and over again. You aim to avoid dying yet most of the time you only learn something can kill you after it’s already killed you. How they managed to make this not frustrating as hell is quite frankly beyond me. With no loading times and no story-telling cutscenes to distract me, once I was immersed I was immersed and refused to surface until my little monochromatic buddy was safe.

The art style is breathtakingly beautiful. I struggle to try and do it justice with comparisons but I think it can best be described as Art Deco (the glass dome in chapter 12 and the elevator in chapter 21 particularly) meets Steampunk (all the gears and industrial goodness from about chapter 15 onwards) meets Alice in Wonderland (the forest in the earlier chapters). It’s entirely greyscale, and has no background music. Two very bold decisions made by the creators, but completely and utterly suited to what they were trying to achieve. I cannot imagine it any other way. If there was music, it would feel tense and ominous at times, it would be too much. If there was colour you’d get lost in the details of the surroundings and lose focus on where you were supposed to go or what was something to interact with and what wasn’t.

The puzzles and interactivity are on the perfect difficulty curve. I teetered ever-so-close to ragequitting. I was right on the cusp of throwing down my controller and never going back, but then was quickly rewarded for my patience just in time. I enjoyed Braid (another side scrolling puzzler with a vaguely similar narrative), but found their decision to make the time travel mechanics essential in solving some of the puzzles sort of jumped the shark for me. Having time travel as a back up for when you die was great, but having it as part of the strategy seemed to unnecessarily up the difficulty into FrustrationTown™. Limbo avoids that by keeping it really clean and simple. You interact with a limited number of things, you can push and pull things, climb ropes and chains, flick switches and pull levers. You mess around with gravity and magnets at some points, but it’s never overly elaborate or exhausting. Any tedium was of my own stupid doing by missing a simple jump or not grabbing a rope in time. (Yeah, I’m looking at you that thing on the flying fox, go to hell).

‘Limbo’ is the perfect name for this game as you’re constantly between two worlds, not quite sure of where you’re situated. I don’t know how they did it, it’s spooky and eery and quite menacing at certain points, yet I felt an overwhelming sense of wellbeing and even warmth. Unlike some other horror-themed games I didn’t want to just get it over and done with as soon as possible so I could avoid wetting my pants, I was comfortable in that world, even though it was supposed to be unpleasant. The boy himself is creepy – a black silhouette with glowing eyes – yet he’s innocently endearing and quite sweet. The world of Limbo is riddled with a feeling of being unclean, there seems to be a ‘grit’ on everything, there’s rotting debris, flies, and dead bodies contrasted by the occasional hopeful ray of light, trees straight out of a fantasy novel, and a few sporadic glimpses of optimism represented by pure white butterflies dancing in the dark. Every morbid fancy in this game has an equally good and pure side to it – every black has a white. Suddenly the saturation choice makes unabridged sense. Limbo is a game of good and evil at it’s very core, but with charming and appealing differences that made me fall in love with it. Sometimes you find the good and the evil even in the same entity. Your protagonist isn’t a once-wronged macho caricature hell-bent on revenge, it’s a tiny boy lost in a scary world just trying to survive. The contrasts in this game are many, and they’re engaging enough to feed your brain without needing a clear spelled-out story. That is what makes this game so surprising, at first glance you think it’s over-simplified, and the more you play it you realise that it isn’t lacking anything at all. I absolutely adored my time in Limbo and look forward to going back to get some more achievements so I can be in that world a little longer. The gorgeous goose-bump-inducing ending is reason enough for me to play this game through at least more than once. So if you don’t mind, I’m off to go repeatedly impale, squish, drop, fling, drown, and electrocute a small boy.

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