Friday, 16 January 2009

Indie and the Temple of Homebrew

You don't need a degree in psychology to know that anyone who has been interested in games for a significant amount of time has - at some point - wished to make a game of their own. It might've been a tiny little idea gleaned from playing their favourite game, or a 100-page long document detailing every last blade of grass in My Dream Videogame Land.

To that end, most gamers have a mixed feeling of respect and resentment for the select few dreamers who put in the time and effort to make their crazy dream become a reality - the Indie and Fangame developers. These are people who have produced games for the masses with no official development team and often very little funding; working with whatever coding skill they have at their fingertips, and producing games completely for the thrill.

For this kind of selfless time-investment, Indie developers garner a fair deal of respect and praise for what they do; but at the same time, there's an undercurrent of resentment. Why? Because we're not the ones that made and produced those games...

One well known success story would be Cave Story, the 5-year long work of Daisuke "Pixel" Amaya, a platformer for the PC with gameplay roots in the side-scrolling Castlevaia and Metroid games. Living up to his pseudonym, the game is well-recognised for it's low-resolution sprites, and the catchy 'bleep-bloop' 8-bit soundtrack. It was all released for free, too. There are a bunch of other quirky little games to his production history, but this is the first that made an impact overseas.

The game became so popular it was rapidly translated from Japanese to English, the soundtrack got a remix album, and a huge fan community sprouted. For many, Pixel's work was their first step into the world of non-corporate game production. It blew the lid open on the community, Indie work from other developers became far more accessible, and the use of game-creating software (such as Game Maker and RPG Maker) shot through the roof.

Of course it was only a matter of time before a licensed developer stepped on to the scene, and the WiiWare team Nicalis approached Pixel about making Cave Story Wii with him. At the time of writing, the release date is set for early 2009.

It feels like an appropriate end for a well-designed indie game to be officially published as a retail game, but some people of the gaming community disagree. Because these games were originally produced as freeware, to some it feels... 'wrong' to have to pay for what is essentially the same game you could have played for free. Cave Story isn't the first game to have experienced this (de Blob, World of Goo, and Audiosurf all started out as independent developer games before being snapped up by a larger developer). Although that sentiment has some truth to it; if these games are as good and as popular as the fanbases suggest, then maybe the creators of those games deserve some financial thanks for the gifts they gave us. The retail versions of these games also tend to have various upgrades made to them that make paying for them that little bit more worthwhile.

One way to not go about indie game development is to do what Robert Pelloni (I suggest reading the content of that link from the bottom, upwards) has stunned denizens of the 'net with. Similar to Pixel, Bob (as he prefers to be known) spent 5 years developing a game - Bob's Game - all on his own; although he decided to spend this period holed up in a small room - that as far as photographs and videos he's taken show, has no windows - and has developed a somewhat... unhealthy obsession for his game, and the numerous cameos he's made of himself in it.

Upon completing the game, he decided not to release it as freeware (a fatal mistake as far as holding public interest in his game was concerned), and instead asked Nintendo to let him purchase a development kit, so he could publish it on the DS. Not having a business address or anything remotely resembling financial security to his name, Nintendo flatly refused Bob's request.

Either the idea of Bob's intellectual baby being denied by a big name company, or having not left a tiny windowless room for five years began to get to the poor guy, because he began to act progressively stranger, starting up a 100-day protest against Nintendo's 'misdeed' - again locked up in his room, and then cancelled after 30 days - shortly followed by (badly) faking his own death on camera, and repeatedly changing the information on his website to increasingly nonsensical ramblings. Currently, he suspects the Yakuza have broken into his home and stole some of his data...

The sad part of the whole ordeal? The game doesn't look especially impressive. A technical demo at best - it looked like a game that really would work best as freeware on the PC. Let this be a lesson to all you would-be developers reading this - when making your game, create for the love of creating; not for the love of popularity. And remember to shower and get some fresh air once in a while.