You're Wrong

You're Wrong
The Indie Space/Time Continuum

Jason Della Rocca | 10 Aug 2010 12:32
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Self proclaimed "bad game designer" Purho, of Crayon Physics Deluxe fame, similarly views the majority of his games as prototypes built to learn game design: "My main reason is just to get feedback on the game idea and also to learn game design. I figured that the best way to do that is to do a lot of small games and get feedback."

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As such, each game can be seen as a step in the designer's evolution as an artist, much like how you can trace the growth of a given painter's or musician's craft across their body of work. Award-winning art game designer Jason Rohrer likens it to an ongoing conversation about game design, where each game is an "utterance" in the dialog. Rohrer comments on his own trajectory: "I've done a bunch of small games and prototypes during my career as a game designer. Looking at that collection, you can really trace the evolution of my thoughts on game design because you've got 14 points to plot." Though appreciative of the polished quality of Braid, Rohrer is sad that he has to wait so long to plot points between each of Jon Blow's utterances.

Kokoromi co-founder Heather Kelley views all this as "hallmarks of a maturing medium." To her, there is no right or wrong approach, we need all of it. She also points to the diversification of funding and business models for indie games as a key to being able to support deeper/longer projects - a current reality being that many indie developers simply cannot afford extended times of exploration.

Another potential creative outlet for deeper independent games is academia. Tracy Fullerton, who heads up the Game Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California, reiterates that "going deep takes commitment, persistence and some kind of ongoing support, even if it does come from a day job. I think one of the best places to go deep in indie development is actually an academic environment, where you may have the option of doing a longer development." Of course, USC's lab helped to incubate Cloud and fl0w and spawned indie studio thatgamecompany. Co-founder Jenova Chen "leans toward the deep approach when making something for a considerable amount of others, throwing in more time and care" as evidenced by their ambitious announcement of Journey at E3. Though, it should be noted that it took seven prototypes to fully explore their design ideas for Flower, their previous game.

Hot off the universal acclaim for Limbo, Playdead Games CEO Dino Patti puts it more succinctly: "If you want to succeed, make your life depend on it!" Patti believes that one of the main challenges for indies is they have many ideas and lack the resources (i.e., time, money) to focus the allocation of abilities. As opposed to viewing it as a deep versus fast issue, Patti sees fast games/prototypes as the way to discover which ideas to go deep on - a necessary process to prioritize the ongoing allocation of resources. Or, as Rohrer puts it, "designers are sniffing out the road to commercial success."

Jumping back to the Nordic Indie Night, the Kokoromi party at GDC and all the other indie meet-ups and jam weekends, you can't help but wonder if it is all just one big exercise in collectively sniffing for success. That, despite all the advances in virtualizing work and the lone wolf developer stereotype, indies seek out each other to collaborate and share and help each other succeed.

Sure, many developers still fit the garage-tinkerer stereotype. "I think I match the stereotype pretty closely. I make small games. I make them rather quickly. I do it totally alone," Rohrer wanted to make clear. Likewise, Söderström claims that past attempts to collaborate have failed 75 percent of the time: "Mostly I do work on games alone in a room somewhere."

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