About indie games and their art styles.

About a few months back, I wrote a draft for a rant I was gonna put on Destructoid’s community blogs about art styles in video games, with a segment that featured my opinion on indie games. Basically, it was a rambling, incoherent mess. Because of that, I decided not to post it to the site. But I felt like I still had something interesting in that block of text. I’m going to talk about indie games and how I don’t give a shit about them.

For the record, I’ve played several indie games from lesser-known developers: Darwinia, Braid, Audiosurf, World of Goo… all of these are pretty cool games. They do something different with established formulas, making them fun in the process. However, once Braid hit the scene about a few years ago, every kid and their grandma was suddenly churning out indie games about once every hour. It drove me nuts because games like these were receiving high praise. Praise it didn’t deserve.

Back in December, a friend of mine linked a trailer to this indie game that was on Xbox Live’s indie game service called Curse of the Crescent Isle. I’ll just link you to the trailer so you understand my point:

You know how some people bitched about “the worlds in next-generation games are nothing but brown,” taking a stab at games like Gears of War? Or how people bitch at so many Call of Duty clones there are in the market thanks to Call of Duty 4‘s big success? If you’re one of those people who bitch about that and make something like the above, you’re a god damn hypocrite. In fact, if you defend things like this, I have the right to hit you upside the head with an old Nintendo Entertainment System.

For the record, I loved the NES. It was an awesome system with awesome games like Super Mario Bros. 3 and The Legend of Zelda. Hell, I have more games for that system than any other system I own, barring my vast PC game collection. But if I want to reminisce about the NES, I’ll dig my NES out of the closet and plug it into my HDTV. Or buy the respective games on the Wii’s Virtual Console. I don’t need retro 8-bit throwbacks complete with an Anamanaguchi soundtrack. The faux 8-bit art style is the reason I didn’t care for the Scott Pilgrim video game. Well that and seeing Paul Robertson’s animated gifs he made for the game on every message board I visited for about six months.

I’m just saying that I usually don’t care for these sort of games, and when they receive such high praise from people I know, I keep thinking that those people are just praising these sort of games to separate them from the dudebro gamers who just play Madden and Call of Duty every year. It’s like they’re trying to be video game hipsters. Which makes me wonder if they drink Pabst Blue Ribbon or listen to bands like Arcade Fire. (Apologies to actual hipsters. If they still exist, anyway.)

That’s my biggest problem with indie games. You can make an interesting game idea without having to make your art style stand out, although it certainly doesn’t hurt you if you make it look unusual. I’m not saying your game has to look like every other game out there, but make your art style be the backdrop of your indie game, not the forefront of it. Look at games like Chris Hecker’s Spy Party. It has graphics that remind me of early 3D games. But even he understands that it’s the gameplay, not the graphics, that make a game stand out and be good.

Look at indie games like Narbacular Drop and Tag: The Power of Paint. Those guys had interesting concepts — portals and paint that controls movement — that got them noticed by Valve and had their core concepts integrated into the Portal series of games. That’s how you make a good game: Taking something interesting and making it fun. Although, in Portal’s case, having the former writers of Old Man Murray probably helped a bit too.

I’m not saying that I hate indie games and that Call of Duty: Black Ops is how the future of video gaming should be. I just get tired of hearing games writers pour excess love on some dude’s indie game project that probably isn’t as interesting as they hyped it up to be. It’s the main reason I stopped watching Area5’s Co-op, because Matt Chandronait or Ryan O’Donnell would be on there seemingly every other week verbally masturbating about some indie game they saw that might be “the next big thing.” While sometimes they were right — one episode featured the guys who made Tag: The Power of Paint — most of the time those indie games ended up being forgotten, as they should be.

Besides, will games like Braid or Minecraft still be remembered by the gaming population at large in about ten years? I doubt it.


About B.J. Brown

Just a guy in his thirties continuing his ventured tales on the internet by writing random but quirky things on my mind.

Posted on April 4, 2011, in Opinions, Video Games and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I remember around when Geometry Wars came out, and for the next few years it seemed like every indie game that got huge praise heaped upon it for being bold and original was _yet another psychedelic space shooter._ I almost went nuts when Space Giraffe came out. (It’s a psychedelic space shooter… _with a silly name!_)

    That doesn’t mean those games are _bad,_ it just means people shouldn’t think indie games are immune to the follow-the-leader syndrome that plagues the mainstream games world.

    And, holy hell am I sick of faux-8-bit graphics. Maybe it’s just me bitching because I’m a child of the nineties and I’ve had it up to here with eighties nostalgia, but there are other ways to do graphics on a budget besides simulating old consoles! I mean, there’s vector graphics and shading and procedural generation and all sorts of pretty things that any old PC will do that an NES couldn’t and won’t break your budget. Nostalgia is a poor substitute for content.

    (so, uh, yes, I agree)

    (another indie fad I’m sick of: isometric projections! They _don’t exist in the real world!_ They make it impossible to judge distance! There is no horizon, no vanishing points! Stop using them!!)

  2. I had loftier expectations for the graphics for Curse of the Crescent Isle but I couldn’t get anyone else to do it so I did it myself. There’s been a slowly growing backlash against 2D 8-bit graphics even within the Indie community and it looks like the direction is turning more in the direction of Flash style graphics (which I think are hideous) and low-poly 3D with pixel art (which is growing in popularity).

    • Yeah, it’s that case of people defecting against things like heavy on browns and greys, or even the brief cel-shaded phenomenon from a few years ago

      I’m not saying 2D 8-bit graphics are bad per se, rather I think we need to see more unique art styles. It just feels like the cheap way out.

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