The Creativity of Indie Video Games | Off Book | PBS Digital Studios

Indie is about small teams working on
tight artistic visions. You have the freedom to explore crazy ideas. What’s great about indies is that they don’t have the same money at stake so that gives them the flexibility to really really try new things. Indie video games are really helping, I think, to push the
boundaries of game design. Indies are pretty much the saviors of video games. In the beginning video games were
actually independent ventures. They started out in people’s basements and
garages. These were one and two man teams. And then video games got huge and you ended up having hundreds of people working on a single
title. I think what’s great about independent video games now is that you’re seeing this return to really really small teams, so teams under the size of ten. I think one of the biggest problems in
the past, for indies, has been distribution. Let’s say you struck a publishing deal with a Microsoft or Sony. That process is
going to be a lot longer, you might have a little more cash to play with, but you also have to deal with the
reality that your game needs to be put on a schedule and released at a certain time. One of the great things is that there’s some new platforms such as crowd funding, so Kickstarter or Indie GoGo. Those are places where you can put your prototype out there and say “Hey, I really want to finish up this product.” It allows you to garner a new audience and it puts cash in your pocket. So that’s what’s really exciting is that it’s
not the difference between me purchasing it and not purchasing it. It’s really a difference between something existing and not existing and I think that that’s a really exciting thing for independent game design. The jumping or the running or the bouncing off enemies, these are mechanics. This is different than something like having three lives which is
a rule but it’s not particularly a mechanic because it doesn’t push
you towards the interaction in the game on a moment to moment basis. For me,
the mechanics in the game are the small systems that lead to the emotional feeling you
get from playing a game. What you really want when you have a game is systemic
significance; learning that it’s okay to try again in certain context, learning
how to approach a situation where you’re uncomfortable because the game’s making
you uncomfortable but you decide that you’re going to tackle it anyway. That’s the purest and most exciting
motivation of a system. And I think indie video games have the possibility to create the most
interesting and unique systems because they’re driven by the want to make
something and to express yourself. I feel like a lot of Triple A games approach sound design from just a hyper-realistic perspective
whereas a big thing for indie games is vibe and tone and thinking about how I want
the player to feel and what kind of feel I want the music to convey. Sorta like an animated film or something,
you’re responsible for the entire soundscape. It’s not like there’s any physical space that the game is taking place in so you have to create all of that from scratch. For Bastion, a lot of it took place on like floating islands in the sky. So, yeah, I had to make up what that would sound like and I asked myself really weird questions
throughout the process like “What does it sound like when you hit a genie with a
hammer?” Like I had to figure that out, you know, so. You have to make it so that it’ll play over and over again without the player either
getting sick of it or even really noticing that it’s happening. How you swing your hammer, that sound has to be a big, satisfying hear because you’re gonna hear it like thousands of times throughout the game. All of your
senses that you use to play a video game should be tantalized. It shouldn’t detract, it shouldn’t draw attention away from other things. Everything should hold up the gameplay and the feeling of what’s happening. And if music doesn’t do that then it’s not doing it’s complete job. The visuals that I love the most are the ones that just blend seamlessly in with this world and make it come alive. In Osmos, there’s definitely a spacey kind of feel or like a deep underwater feel and so, sort of a dark blue seemed to be the right choice. And when you start going into abstraction, that space opens up so much more than realism.
Realism feels so focused. Like Andreas Illiger, Tiny Wings, the mix of this beautiful
watercolors but mixed with this procedural coloration that changes everyday. You want to
be artistically resonant and beautiful and aesthetically pleasing but you’re trying to
convey information. I’d say like a third of the time spent on the visuals in Osmos were spent on making sure that things look good at all magnifications. A lot of games don’t have to deal with that. And so you don’t want to overwhelm the player. You want them to have enough
information to do what is they need to do and you want it to look good. How do you render
the things that the player needs to see and how do you render them in such a way that they actually have a dynamic feel of what’s
going on in the game? Almost all visuals in video games are somewhat related to info-graphics
because they’re conveying information you need to be able to play. Some of it’s window-dressing but it all has to be harmonious and it can’t compete or take away too much attention or interfere
with what’s happening at the systemic level. And in the independent game design space we
don’t need an army of content creation but would have to basically implement that
vision. Indies are extremely interested in advancing our emotional engagement with games and they have the freedom to try
to do that outside of what get’s funded in the commercial sphere. Interactivity adds a third dimension to
storytelling. You actually get to be part of the story. Your actions determine what
happens and you’re able to experience a greater emotional and personal impact, I think, then you would by observing or viewing a passive story in which you’re not participating. One of our primary ways of interacting with a
game is by exploring. So the story can be on the walls, the story
can be in the environment, you can see a place that’s ruined, for example, and that
prompts the player to wonder how that place came to be. And the decisions that indie games ask
players to make on a moment to moment basis can create some interesting themes. For
example, there are games that are very violent that ask you to question violence.
We have games about the impact of choice. You know, what do you do when you can take one path or the other? Do you arm yourself or do you help someone else? But games where there are memorable relationships
between the protagonist and other characters are some of the ones that remain, I think, most relevant to the canon of the world of gaming. One of the most oft cited examples in the indie space
is this game called Passage. You start on one side and walk to the other
and then you die. But along the way, as you’re playing Passage, you meet a woman ages alongside you. It’s really the capsule of what means something in someone’s life. People are trying to find ways to make
those relationships feel more real, to make those interactions feel better
understood. Storytelling in games is still such a new frontier. I think we’re all very eager to see what people with the freedom to experiment will develop and when unique things happen, it’s going to be the indie space that produces them. Indie video games are really important to you the evolution of games because indie games have the opportunity to take risks. Because they’re designed by people who have a drive to express something really
specific as opposed to a drive to make money. They try to push
the envelope of the medium and provide new experiences that we haven’t seen
before. So that means new art styles, new mechanics, new methods of storytelling. We play, humans play. It’s always gonna be with us, it’s not going
away. And indie videogames contribute in a much more personal way, and they’re much more focused, they’re much more emotional. They speak to you.

100 thoughts on “The Creativity of Indie Video Games | Off Book | PBS Digital Studios

  1. You're right, no one is questioning it takes time and money on an individual scale. But if you're a studio investing 100 Million dollars or more on a game as a product and you fail, the fallout is much deeper than if an indie dev fails (hundreds of people lose their jobs, and the studio loses a huge sum of money). It's just a matter of scale, more money = more risk = potentially less innovation.

  2. I have nothing against indie games or indie devs or AAA games or AAA devs. I DO have something against games and devs that have ZERO innovation, or that try to be so avant garde that it turns into pretentiousness and both indie and AAA titles are guilty of this. The first and foremost rule of ANY game is that it should be FUN. PERIOD. If your game isn't fun, nobody will want to play it, and it doesn't take $1,000,000 or some grand artistic vision to make a fun game that everybody can enjoy.

  3. interesting that no doujin games or developers are mentioned… i guess indie games are only from the west??? doujin (ie: japanese indies) are just as innovative and prolific if not more. i kind of expected better from offbook… decent doc other than that…

  4. So I saw Journey in there several times. Seriously my favorite game ever. I get goosebumps every time I play. That was the game that pushed me to take the game design path of art, because I wanted to do something that made people feel as much as journey made me feel that first lonely time I played alone. For anyone who knows Journey, you know exactly what I'm talking about. For anyone who doesn't know Journey. There aren't enough words to describe beauty to tell you what you're missing.

  5. of course, unfortunately, at least in the states, the world seems to be divided in "the west" and "japanese" or sometimes "asian" which leaves out a ton of regions, but i assume eastern european nations & australia fall under "the west", i don't know where south america/central america, african countries or middle eastern countries would fall under however.

  6. I don't know if someone else has replied, but just in case they haven't it's bit trip runner. Now if someone could tell me what the game is at 3:32 ….

  7. I'm an indie game developer myself but these guys came off as a little arrogant if you ask me, yes indie games are important but they are not the thing in the world of gaming.

  8. Oh ya? What games do they publish? "Former Microsoft employees Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington founded Valve Corporation, an independent video game development company." I think you maybe confused with Steam their digital service provider and their actual products. Another good Indie game company would have been ID when they created Doom and Quake.

  9. They don't actually develop games themselves anymore and haven't for years, they simply take pre-existing projects and provide the resources to finish them plus they use steam to publish other projects. Oh and they can't be an indie developer cause they're far too large (same with ID (who actually develop good games)), indie developers are smaller teams usually 10 or less people.

  10. No indie developers are "independent developers" therefore the size doesn't matter. Also, by pre-exisiting projects you mean making the sequels to the Half Life series in the mid 2000s, as well as making Portal 2? Size has nothing to do with any of it. "Indie developers" is just a buzzword to make the game seem okay for being terrible. So that the gamer can say the themselves, "Oh this was Indie this game was really well done.", when in fact it is a huge pile of garbage in comparison.

  11. Indie refers specifically to smaller teams working on smaller projects with smaller budgets, independent developers are any developer not owned by a publisher or hardware manufacturer. Valve hasn't really come out with anything of their own since half life (which is crap btw), they simply scoop up projects with potential (like any other publisher), like portal which was actually a digipen student project, and provide some extra resources to complete it, in addition to publishing on steam!

  12. Sorry but i have to disagree with you and agree with the troll. I love indie games, I'm a big fan of Jon Blow and I think most indie games are very lovely and very personal. But Innovative? Not realy. Indie games may have some nice ideas, but biggest amount of "true new ideas" come from AAA games. Just because the entire game isn't based on one new idea doent meant it has no new ideas at all. Its kinda sad actualy that AAA devs never get credit for their great ideas as much as indie devs.

  13. I don't think that's entirely true. Indie games are still a huge commitment of time and money in many cases, but with Indies it's more of a commitment of time and money on the people developing it, it's their lifes at stake, whereas with big game companies you simply have a salary. Publishers don't ask their spent money back from game developers. This does mean they pressure game developers. I'd say there is actually more at stake for a developer when going Indie.

  14. I feel like it is a generational that all game developing studio are only out there to make money. I mean they do want to make money but that doesn't mean that, that is their only goal. I respect indie games but I have trouble getting in a lot of them because they tend to have more over all choices in them. This isn't always true but it seems to true most of the time.

  15. they may not have as much money at stake but the careers of the developers of indie games hinge on their success, so it's not like there isn't anything to lose. some of those people pour years of development into the games. they're not necessarily just things people slap together in their spare time. check out Indie Game: The Movie to see what i'm talking about. good movie.

  16. Hi. I agree with you that innovative ideas is one of the ways indie is helping the VG industry. Also, I'd like to add another point of view. The industry was going through a path where making AAA games each time required bigger budgets with, teams counting up to the hundreds of developers. Then, if the game flopped, the team was layed off. That way, developers can only hope to be part of a team with a succesful franchise, or don't work at all.

  17. It is impossible for an industry with such environment to flourish. It would be very hard for new developers to form, so when the elite group that works on established franchises can't work no longer, the new ones to take their place can never be up to the challenge. The digital distribution opened doors for indie development, so these artist can express themselves, create some fun jewels for us gamers, and build and establish a carrer for themselves.

  18. So maybe ten years from now, they'll be working for activision, nintendo, square enix or whatever big publisher there is, and we'll know our marios, zeldas, mass effects, call of duties, etc would be in good hands. So she's right when she says the indie scene is saving videogames, because it is breeding the future of it all.

  19. I love indie games more than I do with Action/FPS games because my bro has ps3 and only buys fps games, luckly I got a new pc and have time to spend it on indie games 😀

  20. i have a great idea for an indie game the only problem is; im not a programmer im just a gamer who doesnt know shit bout making a game so im just gonna throw my idea out there – its called "Mech Baseball" and its exactly what it is – i envision it with cheesy 80's style animation with super nintendo graphics – the story goes youre super wealthy (you own the solar system) and intergalactic travel/community is the norm – like mass effect – only instead of war we settle differences with baseball..

  21. cntd. you play for even more money/planets/space and mech upgrades you can make side bets & gain xtra cash – the mechs r huge and just like in real sports, sometimes theres fights amongst players and officials – so when that happens the baseball field turns into a arena and the winning mech's call/dispute is granted- you can upgrade mechs for better baseball skills or battle skills your choice – theres random risks/comedy- mechs miss practice demand higher salary or get n ego and sellout

  22. i like indie games but the whole thing bout them all being creative and not selling out is kinda bs um evrything i see there is a clone – go on xbox market place and count how many "minecraft" rip offs you have, fps , or something with zombies – if your gonna make an indie game make something we havnt seen before or a common game with an interesting twist

  23. Have you played Base Wars for the NES? Sounds a tad like your game minus the diplomacy, :).

    I agree with your points on clones. To have so many games and studios pursuing to make blatant homages/clones of other games without bringing much new to the table is sad and a bit pointless. That's just my opinion. It's really hard to pin down (nor do I think it serves a purpose) a definition for what indie games are, but that clones probably aren't it.

  24. yes i have played it i did like it but those are more like humanoid robots that a are human size – im thinking un-manned mechs that are huge and can be customized to look different and the battle isnt side view its more like fps but a mech not just restricted to melee combat

  25. Hey guys! Check out my first indie track in my channel
    It's called Ominous Paradise, I am startins and would
    like to know what you guys think 🙂

  26. To me, Known indie games are the best. Why? Because THEY HAD to be good to become such a success. They didn't have all the marketing that big companies have. The success is more based on merit than other big name games.

  27. Indie games are almost the new field for rags to riches stories. Though often times the game developers, being artists in the first place, just shove their money back into game development.

  28. video game is good on money but most the worst on video game is making young people get crazy,lazy, and caused big problem for American kid's grade at school, fighting at home with their parent. game are not good for kid at all. when your kid play game they not even listen to any body at all. Sometime video game turning bad for kid to use a real weapon to kill people too or shooting at school. bad idea to make game for young kids.

    video game

  29. What I do like the indie scene is that it brings the developers back to basics.
    It tests them on how well good they can create a meaningful game that functions well with very limited resources – basically how the AAA companies of today had to prove themselves 20 years ago.
    The games that indie developers make ultimately show how they take control over their resources, instead of having their technology controlling themselves and ending up with a game that loses most of its personality.

  30. Damn, I'm a gamer and this is crazy. Technology is going to change the future and possibly games are going to make an astounding comeback where other gamers like you and I are going to come up with something amazing. There are going to be crazy stories and stuff happening as games continue, but eventually even if it ends, it won't end over time.

  31. Well… living costs for the devs (food, rent, etc.), licensing costs for software (Unity etc…), salaries for composers/artists/etc., marketing costs…. all that stuff.

  32. If your having a mental block thinking out of the box, there's a free app out there called Random Ideas which generates interesting word phrases. I used it a couple times for game ideas.

  33. Also involves an element of luck. You could have the best game in the world but if no-one knows it exists then it's essentially shit.
    You're basically implying that all the known indie games are better than those than aren't which isn't a fair assessment in my opinion.

  34. 24 likes on this…
    They are not arrogant, they are passionate.
    Indie games are a big deal, it is increasingly difficult for new start developers to produce games. Large scale, largely funded video games are not the be all end all, just like modern large budget films they have begun to lack story and focus on spectacle.

  35. Why is a game called indie (short for independent) when they are produced by huge companies from the beginning of their development? Because indie developers have more creativity freedom? Well duh: Huge companies realised that indie games print money, thefore they're not naive enough to mess up with the development.

  36. They show screens of ICO a few times. Correct me if I'm wrong but wasn't ICO a triple A game? I loved it, but it's a massive budget big studio game, not indie.

  37. I don't like 8 bit graphics. I wish some indie studio would make a futuristic racer similar to rush 2049. I'm trying to learn how to make games with Unity, but it will take a LONG while till' i do make a futuristic racer. I wish I could learn Blender and JavaScript in less that a month, but that is just not possible. D:

  38. Now it's just popular to make easy fast cheap games with 8-16 bit graphics and slap indie game tag on it. Then some dumb popular youtubers play those games and scream on video and sheeps rush to get those games. Yay so great

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