Thursday, February 28, 2008

Indie Ethics

Boy, those indiependent games have just been taking off, lately! Jonathan Mak's (depicted above) Everyday Shooter got picked up for distribution on Sony's Playstation Network service last year, 2D Boy's World of Goo is apparently getting distribution via Nintendo's upcoming Wiiware service, and millions of people have played Desktop Tower Defense - I count two people in Morgan Library playing it right now! Come on, guys. Don't you have papers to write or something? Geez.

Alex Pham of the LA Times wrote a piece about the recent success of indie game developers, entitled "Indies start to make their mark" - it compares development frameworks like Microsoft XNA to ding-dang youtube, which is gutsy, I'd say.
Much as YouTube is giving unknown video auteurs a chance to find audiences, the video-game industry is opening its doors to upstart developers. Major companies including Microsoft and Sony Corp. are starting to snap up and promote games by amateurs and indie developers as an antidote to the soaring budgets of mainstream games.

Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo Co. have built online stores where millions of players can buy and download games via Internet-connected consoles, bypassing traditional retailers that refuse to stock anything but blockbuster titles.
Those new distribution methods, like Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade, strike me as being especially promising for future independent development, especially when games like Metanet Software's N+ ended up as the #1 game on the service last week. Heeere's hopin'!

Jonathan Mak gives sound advice
In a wonderfully tangential turn of events, 1up's got a pretty neat series of interviews with Jonathan Mak and a few other independent developers. I was goofing around with Game Maker on Tuesday night, and there's a lot of good advice in there for aspiring game designers (possible alternate term: "game goofballs"):
"If you have a turd and you try to add stuff on top of a turd, it's still going to be a turd," says Mak. First, focus on the initial interaction and what makes it cool. "If you look at [Metanet Software's ninja-themed puzzler] N, just moving the ninja around, just doing the wall jumps, is already fun. It's not fun to the point where you're like, "Aw, I can't wait to move the ninja,' but it's already really interesting."
My favorite piece of advice ties back to my earlier experience with the Game Maker tutorial, something I'll get to in a minute:
1UP: You have this inspiration for a game, for a core interaction. What is your process for taking it from this "may be fun" to the prototype stage, and how does this develop into a full-fledged idea?

Before I answer this question, I want to append something to the first question. I don't exactly remember what it was, but don't make a design doc. Forget the design docing. Whatever the way Ubisoft does it, don't do it. Just don't do it. There's no need to do that. They need to do it because they have to make money, or else people lose jobs. You don't have to that. You always have a job. You employ yourself.
Right, so I was working through the initial Game Maker tutorial, and the first thing it has you do is write some design documents. You know those banner ads that implore you to "SHOOT OSAMA BIN LADEN TO WIN A FREE IPOD!" or all manner of similar objectives? This game they want you to write a design document for is pretty much that game.
(From the Game Maker tutorial) The second step in creating a game is to write a more precise design document. You are recommended to always do this before making your game, even if it is very simple. Here is our design document for Catch the Clown.

Catch the Clown design document

Game objects:
There will be just two game objects: the clown and the wall. The wall object has a square like image. The wall surrounding the playing area is made out of these objects. The wall object does nothing. It just sits there to stop the clown from moving out of the area. The clown object has the image of a clown face. It moves with a fixed speed. Whenever it hits a wall object it bounces. When the player clicks on the clown with the mouse the score is raised with 10 points. The clown jumps to a random place and the speed is increased with a small amount.
This is... probably how genocidal dictatorships get started, on some level. Some guy unquestioningly writes the design document for the Final Solution and awayyyy they go! So, yes. Good advice, Mak. Eschew that corporate jibba-jabba. Mmmm hmmm.

The most complex game ever made
On the opposite end of the indie games spectrum is Dwarf Fortress (see image), an independent game developed by two guys, Tarn and Zach Adams, who now depend on donations to make a living (they're developing the game full-time). It helps that they have a cult following - Dwarf Fortress is probably the most complicated game ever made, and it runs entirely in textmode! No actual graphics to speak of!

Gamasutra has an interview with the Adams', and they do a pretty good job of summing up the game's staggering scope in the first couple of paragraphs:
The scope of the game defies belief: it contains an extensive world generator, a three-dimensional cellular automata system for simulating fluids, naming languages for all major races, an economics simulation, and even a complete Adventure Mode in which the player can explore abandoned fortresses. It's so detailed that large web communities have sprung up around the game, both on the developer's forums and Something Awful, where players trade stories about what happened in their games. Some of these stories have even become popular outside the game's community.
Most of the interview consists of elaboration on the game's technical side, but the Adams' make sure to discuss their basic inspiration for the game's "generic fantasy setting":
Tarn Adams: What's left to answer is why'd we be so into doing a fantasy game. That's probably the same as everybody else: Tolkien, D&D, myths, and of course, the movie Beastmaster. (We like the part where the evil priest is like, "You'll be sacrificed to 'The God of AAaa,'" like they didn't even bother thinking of a name, just powering through on the power of their badassedness.)

I think that's about it for now. Have a good weekend!


Matt Brown said...

Cool post! I only recently was exposed to the world of indie gaming. I was very surprised to hear that the Half Life 2 expansion "Portal" was initially developed by students from DigiPen institute. Crazy stuff! It's great to hear that the world of gaming is not limited to just the mega conglomerates.

Matt said...

So I have to wonder, J. Are these indie games now then better than the indie games for the Super Ninetendo? You know I'm talking about "Bible Adventures".

Jason Moses said...

That's a good question! Probably not.

nabbercow said...

Now that was a long post. Good thing it was COMPLETELY AWESOME. Jonathan Mak is my hero and I want to be just like him when I grow up. Now I'm gonna go read those interviews..

Slonie said...

You know over the past couple years, "People who write Shareware for the Mac" became "Indie Mac Developers."

I hadn't stopped to think that it paralleled the change in game dev.

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