Indie Experience Points: Changes And Retro Roots
Monday is always a dead day for any type of new indie news, and so trying to find a relevant topic is quite an endeavour. What I should actually mention, and talk about, is the changes the indie section has gone through. If you’ve noticed, the indie section on eGamer has been going through a bit of a transformation. We’re starting to review more games, running promotions and the giveaways are coming through nicely. If you haven’t noticed, I suggest entering our latest indie game giveaway. From my experience so far, the change has opened up more avenues and with the surge in indie game content on the site; I’ve started to see a pattern in popular indie games.
Retro, 2D sprites and pixel art, in general, are the visual norms of the popular indie crowd. It’s an aesthetic choice which builds familiarity with the audience and establishes lovability for the game’s visual cues, and essentially the nostalgia the game is trying to inhabit. Many popular indie games take this route. Braid did and Bastion too. It’s the visual bane of the indie industry, and you can see the 8-bit influence reaching into some other games, with 3D graphics.
Like Minecraft, which whilst having blocky three dimensional characters and landscapes, embraces 8-bit visuality in a stylistic way. This again brings up the point that many indie games are cases of style over substance, and is valid with many games. But the same argument can be laid on any game, where the visual style and gameplay are the key factors in the game’s appeal. Many games don’t have depth, but we play them nonetheless. Retro appeal works like any type of nostalgia, but again it depends on how games use it, which can positively or negatively impact the success of a game.
Of course, this is a debate which has run rampant on eGamer columns and features before. But I’m not truly arguing for, or against nostalgia. Rather I’m purely noting a trend that has characterised many of the popular indie releases, and is what the general public perceives indie games to be about.
This is a sad set of circumstances and many indie developers use retro visual styles because they harks back to their own experiences of videogames, and their understanding that all the ‘good’ games they played were experienced when growing up. This is not true of all indie developers. However, if you notice how many retro 2D platformers there are on Steam and XBLA, You get a sense of the direction many devs are taking their games.
There are a few devs brave enough to break away from the pack and use 3D in their work, with Minecraft being the example of breaking away from retro roots. But it’s still amazing how the 2D art style persists. Indie devs, like many of us, are the first generation to grow up with videogames, write about them, talk about them and assess them on levels never thought of. Blogs, web critics and reviewers all began springing up with opinions about games round about the time Braid popularised indie games in the mainstream. When a game becomes popular, many devs try to imitate the experience and clone the game to some extent as a means of gaining experience.
The problem with that is that the whole industry begins to reflect that movement, and an industry which is supposedly unique becomes very conformist, very fast. Yet you need to remember, this is not true of all indie devs, but a large portion is following the retro train with smoke billowing from their pipes. Even if the smoke might be slightly toxic.