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Even more (!) musing on Alpha-Funding

* Narrow-slice view of the industry incoming. I do not claim to speak for all (or most/many/any other/whatever) indie developers. Before Minecraft invented/popularised alpha-funding as a viable way to make videogames, here is how you’d make an ambitious large-in-scope indie game: Make a small...

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Simple Landscape Generation

Posted by CaptainBinky | Posted in Stuff | Posted on 26-02-2016

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Man I love playing around with landscape generators, it’s the most therapeutic thing ever. I recommend it. It’s the weekend tomorrow, what are you waiting for?

Anyway, in a break from whinging about games and the games industry I thought I’d write a few words about some daft experiments I was doing with landscapes… uhhh… (checks date modified on these files)… blimey, was it 2 years ago? Yeah, apparently mid 2014(ish). I had intended to write this blog post then, but it seems I never got around to it ūüėČ

Here’s an example of one of the landscapes wot I generated:

landscape

A couple of things to note: Firstly, it tiles in both directions which is handy. Secondly, it’s not very Perlin Noise-y. That’s because I didn’t use any kind of noise function to generate it – well, I sort of did (I’ll get to that), but not in the conventional way.

Perlin Noise (or more accurately nowadays, Simplex Noise) is probably the world’s handiest algorithm ever for generating textures. We’ve all seen it, we all know what it is, so there’s no reason to go into it beyond this extremely crude example:

perlinnoise

Read more here

Yeah?¬†It’s basically that except not using regular sine-waves, but instead adding together interpolated random noise –¬†for every iteration the frequency of the noise goes up and the amount it contributes goes down.¬†When using Perlin Noise¬†to generate your noise values, the result of cumulative additions (each time doubling the frequency and halving the intensity) is¬†that classic¬†turbulence look which is so synonymous with Perlin Noise that we often call the texture itself Perlin Noise:

clouds

(Okay, this is Photoshop’s Cloud Filter. But it’s basically the same and, for all I know, might actually be coded using Perlin Noise)

Anyway, I bring this up not because of any of this¬†specifically, but because the principle it operates on (add together lots of things to build up interesting structured noise) is the principle my landscape generators work on. This principle can generate you really interesting landscapes irrespective of what it is you’re using to add together to produce your final result. So your source could be an unstructured random mess but the act of adding lots of it together – each time the input contributing less than the previous iteration – can produce ordered structure.

So for my landscape, what was my input? Well, I just repeatedly added¬†sine-wave strips (where each strip’s orientation – either horizontal or vertical – and its position, thickness, amplitude, and frequency were random). So the first iteration would look like this, for example:

land1

And iteration two, could look like this:

land2

Keep going, then render it with landscapey colours and you end up with something like my landscape above. It’s¬†dead simple and you can use absolutely anything for your iterative additions – sine-wave strips, filled circles, filled squares, various pictures of cows – anything. Because anything added together sufficiently, will eventually produce something which looks like structured noise – which makes playing with your inputs kind of fun ūüôā

So – now knowing that my landscape is just lots and lots of sine-strips, looking at it again it’s really really really flupping obvious:

land3

Here’s a landscape¬†where I used filled circles (with random positions, radii, and strength – where the strength also diminishes with each iteration), where the circles were filled like a crater such that in cross-section they’d look sorta like this:

circlecrosssection

landcircles

Notice the crater in the central island ūüôā

So anyway. It’s not rocket science, nor the world’s most amazing way to generate super-realistic landscapes. But it’s fun, so I thought I’d share ūüôā

edit: This is what I love most about playing with this sort of stuff.¬†How something actually works isn’t in the least bit important, all that matters is whether the results are close to what you want. I love it when the underlying nuts and bolts are stupidly simple.¬†While I don’t claim to have invented anything original with this approach, what¬†lead me to¬†this style of height¬†generation was thinking about landscapes in terms of plate structure. I¬†considered trying to simulate plate tectonics (crudely) but then decided that it wasn’t really important how I got these sorts of structures only that I got them. So the sine-wave wibbles were¬†the first toe-dip into this kind of thing. Instead of using smooth noise, using a pattern with a sharp cut-off (you’re either in the sine-wave ripple (and therefore adding a bit), or you’re not – there’s no interpolation) could yield¬†some interesting features – a curve of a bay where around that curve you may get some little atolls, or dramatic cliff edges. These little features did somewhat end up in the results – close enough, at least, to be fairly satisfying.

I’d Rather Kill Humans Than Animals*

Posted by CaptainBinky | Posted in Games, Stuff | Posted on 09-02-2015

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*In videogames

Human-shaped polygonal surfaces in videogames are not people, no matter how well rendered, animated, and voice-acted. They are literal shells. They do not think, nor feel – they just react according to their programming. They are not Cylons where their programming is so complex that one could posit that they are alive, because computers aren’t that good yet – not by miles. Obviously. Nor are they complex enough that they “appear” to be alive, because computers aren’t that good yet either. It’s going to be a while before a videogame NPC is going to be able to pass the Turing test inside the context of a believable game world.

I find it odd that there has been discussion about certain NPCs being described as “objects” given that all elements within a game are objects. Everything is there for the benefit of the player, to use and interact with as a play-thing. The fact that some toys say, “I lub yoo” when you pull a string does not make the act of throwing the toy across the room, or pulling its leg off, unconscionable because it’s just a toy. It’s not real. When we pull the string, the toy is not thinking it’s just repeating one of a number of pre-recorded messages. When we interact with NPCs in a videogame, all we are doing is pulling on a more complicated string.

Were it possible to develop game characters which could convince us, to some degree, that they were people – with sophisticated A.I. and reams of dialogue such that each and every character had a fully fleshed out life story, hopes and dreams, then the concept of killing anyone in the game would suddenly become horrific, as in Austin Powers when a henchman dies and we’re treated to a scene presenting the grief of the henchman’s family. While there’s room for a game which explores these concepts, these would be the exception not the rule.

Which brings me back to animals. While we can’t get close to convincing players that videogame humans (or human-like characters) are real people, we can get a glimpse of how it would feel to murder them were it possible with animals. If, like me, you’re rather keen on animal welfare and hate the concept of hunting for sport then, like me, you might feel a pang of discomfort when instructed to kill an animal in a videogame.

tiger_farcry4

Far Cry 4

The reason I feel this way, is because with animals you can program behaviours for them which make them really rather believable. All the problems associated with believable humans disappear – animals are less complicated, bird flocking code is easy to write and can be convincing. Fur rendering has reached the point that animals can be rendered with close to photographic quality. All the uncanny valley problems associated with humans are not present – a well rendered and animated tiger could, in theory, trick you into believing it was real if you weren’t aware that a game was being played.

We arrived at photo-realism first with static environments. We’ll get there next with (so-called) “lower” lifeforms and we’re pretty damn close already (with pre-rendered effects, we’re already there). So being forced to kill an animal in a game (when that animal is rendered and animated well) makes me a little uncomfortable. Your brain knows it’s not real, but those morality chips get activated regardless. It’s a peek into the window of what games would be like, were we able to create humans as believable as we can create animals. It would be horrific.

So when we talk about videogame characters being objects, yes they are – and a flupping good thing they are too. So let’s get back to dragging them across the floor and pulling their arms off.

Is there an indie game dev ‘clique’?

Posted by CaptainBinky | Posted in Stuff | Posted on 24-08-2014

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Buggered if I know. Not in Newcastle anyway, since there’s bollocks all indie devs up here so far as I can tell.

Hope that helps.

Love and hugs,

Binky

 

(edit: longer post here)

Why I’m not (yet) excited by the Oculus Rift

Posted by CaptainBinky | Posted in Games, Stuff | Posted on 11-08-2014

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Let’s forget about the Facebook acquisition – that one aspect is enough to make me not want to buy one – but for the purposes of this blog, “Oculus Rift” is short-hand for any VR headset.

I have a spinal condition which makes it difficult to walk and to move generally. Basically, imagine that your central spine and hips have been replaced by an inflexible metal pole, and that’s essentially what it’s like. It doesn’t affect my life at all – obviously mobility issues have an effect, but I mean that it’s not something which bothers me which is why I almost never actually talk about it.

VR is tremendously exciting – the idea of actually putting yourself in a game world and experience it in a tangible way (Richard Cobbett has written an excellent post about the Oculus DK2 covering exactly this and more) has long been a dream of gaming.

However, playing Elite:Dangerous right now – I’m using an X52 Pro joystick – I can look around the cockpit with a simple flick of my thumb. Swapping between in-game control screens is quick and easy. Plug me into an Oculus, however… My neck’s ‘pitch’ control limits me to about 2 degrees up and about 5 degrees down. ‘Yaw’ I have about 15 degrees left and 2 degrees right. I have no ability to perform ‘roll’. And for that range of motion, what I definitely can’t do is turn with any kind of speed unless I want it to hurt. While I could continue using the joystick thumb stick for cockpit looking, this is quite likely to trigger nausea with a fully immersive headset so, more likely, I’d just have to put up with a limited range of head-look in-game.

As I said, in the real-world this doesn’t bother me particularly. But in a VR environment I’m pretty sure it would. I think I’d feel considerably more frustrated by my (lack of) mobility plugged into a device which, unlike in the real world, cannot recognise that I am primarily using eye direction to determine what I’m looking at.

It’s possible that these are empty fears, that the 3D effect alone will be sufficient to squash any frustrations. But never more so than with technological advances like these has something made me feel a little sad about a physical disability that up until now, had never bothered me. ūüôĀ

Alpha-Funded Development

Posted by CaptainBinky | Posted in Stuff | Posted on 09-10-2013

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The term “alpha” is pointless. It serves no purpose. What does it¬†mean? The whole point of any term is to add clarity to something and “alpha” absolutely does not do that. Well it¬†did, but now it doesn’t.

Here is a diagram of a traditional game development process:

GameDev01

Nice and straight-forward. The “Alpha” is the bit before the “Beta”, so we can intuitively expect the game to be a bit more crashy and incomplete but still very much towards the end of development – so you’d be getting a really decent feel for the game at this point regardless of whether or not some of the textures and models aren’t quite finished.

Let’s contrast that to something that’s Alpha-Funded:

GameDev02

Hmm… Yes. See, there’s the problem. If all of that red stuff is called “Alpha”, then there’s absolutely no way to know intuitively whether that means the game is barely functional, practically complete, or at any point in-between. In other words, if you’re having to explain why your alpha is so considerably less developed than somebody else’s alpha, that’s a good sign that the word “Alpha” is woefully insufficient for your purposes.

You may as well just swap the word “Alpha” for “Fundamentally broken in many key areas”, although while it gets points for clarity I agree that it’s not quite so marketable.

For me, Alpha-Funded games should use the term “pre-Alpha” for significantly longer and keep the term “Alpha” for that bit towards the end which then correlates to the equivalent builds in traditionally developed games. Keep these terms consistent in order to retain any meaning to them what-so-ever.

Because if we break down a game’s development into its component pieces, what we end up with is something like this:

GameDev03

In other words, certain features of your game (for example combat, NPC behaviours, whatever) may be at an alpha-level before other features, but on the whole the game itself could not be said to be in Alpha, until all of the key features (with a bit of wiggle room) have been fairly well developed.

That makes much more sense, if you ask me.

Game prices, whinging about prices, whinging in general

Posted by CaptainBinky | Posted in Stuff, Useless Advice | Posted on 08-07-2013

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Up there on the list of, “statements which annoy me” nestling amongst, “game development – it’s¬†just a job” (bullshit) and, “free to play is good for games design” (LOL) is this old chestnut:

My game’s, like, $10 – that’s less than the price of a couple of beers! What on Earth are you whinging about?

The reason it annoys me is the very blinkered approach to game purchasing it takes. It’s true that if you took any one game in complete isolation and did some sort of “hours played / total cost” calculation, you’d almost always come up with a stupendously good value number. Certainly if you compared it to going to the cinema. And doubly so if what you were going to see was Prometheus.

But other games exist aside from your own, and people buy many, many games. Since nobody’s disposable income is infinite, there are always going to be many many more games that you don’t buy than games which you do. You have to pick and choose – and try to ensure that you choose wisely. So if one of those games turns out to be a turkey, the thing that makes buying it disappointing is that it has effectively booted out a better game from that set of games you buy in a year. Unless you spend more on games that year. Which would, in itself, be annoying.

So that’s fair enough to whinge about, isn’t it? It’s not about the $10, or $5, or however much the stupid game is. It’s about the other game which is also $10, or $5, or however much that they¬†didn’t buy which might have been better – or the two games, each for half that price, which¬†each might have been better.

There’s not a day which goes by which at some point I don’t honestly consider that maaaaybe we’re rather under-selling our own game. It is, after all, a sandbox game with potentially¬†hundreds of hours of gameplay in it. And the price will almost certainly go up at some point since it’s been the same price for about two years now and it’s got quite a lot more in it now than it did. And I think that’s fair – particularly to those who bought in early, that they should end up with the game for a cheaper price. But at the same time it’s important to be in that impulse buy zone – that’s the zone in which you get the least amount of price whinging (aside from free stuff, obv) since those kinds of games tend to fall into the ‘games you pick up in addition to your list of games to buy’ category, in the same way that games which appear on the Steam sales, for peanuts, do.

Since managing to price your game at the perfect point for content and experience is practically impossible, it’s always better to err on the side of under-selling and over-delivering since doing the opposite is pretty disastrous.

Alternatively, you could price your game higher (flirting dangerously with the other side of that perfect zenith) and pick up that massive spike of impulse buys during a sale – having your cake and eating it too. In which case, kindly shut up when people whinge about the price of your game – whatever it costs ūüėČ

Professionalism and Indies v2.0

Posted by CaptainBinky | Posted in Games, Stuff | Posted on 08-01-2013

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Please don’t read the other one. It’s out of date. I was hoping that it would have slipped off the first page by now (I wrote it over a year ago) but, unfortunately, my blog post output is not nearly high enough. I could have deleted it I suppose, but then that seemed a bit disrespectful to the people who commented. So instead I’d like to update it with some things I’ve learned:

  1. Don’t write a blog post while whatever it is that¬†fuelled the post is still incredibly raw
  2. Always start an argument by defining your terms

This second point I learned after listening to the Cynical Brit Mailbox episode where I got utterly berated. What he does in his argument, is start off by defining what he means by the term “professional” and then metaphorically punching me in the face with it. But to the best of my understanding, we almost entirely agree – it’s just we differ in terms of what we mean when we say “professional”.

So. This is what I should have said over a year ago:

For me, acting professionally, has nothing to do with business practises – ways of handling money, methods of work, all the stuff connected with actually developing the game. All those things are a given¬†– you’d have to be utterly insane to suggest that it is not important to back up your data off-site, for example. When I say that it’s okay for indies to act unprofessionally, I am not in any way suggesting that it’s okay for them to take your money, then throw their half-finished game in the bin and run off to Spain.

What I mean is, that it’s okay for an indie to act like a human. To me, acting professionally is to stand there smiling while somebody tells you to your face that they hate you, your work, and they hope you die in a horrible accident. Professionals have to act like this because they have a boss, or shareholders – they are not personally in a position to determine the way that the company interacts with their customers – either the nice ones, or the ones who’d turn up at the door to spit in their face.

You’d have a point that so far as “official” responses go, things should be nice and polite regardless. If you sent an angry email to info@indiedeveloper.com and then got a reply back calling you a twat, you’d have a pretty rock-solid argument. But Twitter is different – it’s an ‘always on’ environment and one in which there is no ‘leaving work at 5pm’. To say that somebody¬†must always act a certain way on their personal Twitter accounts is to suggest that unlike almost all other people on the planet, certain people are never permitted to leave work – or, at the very least, must maintain a private account and be extremely cautious about who they allow access. Which would not only suck, but pretty much defeats the whole point of Twitter.

Consider the way Bioware’s¬†Aaryn Flynn responded on Twitter to the horrific abuse thrown at writer Jennifer Hepler:

Source

Unprofessional behaviour? Sure. Understandable behaviour? Yeah, I’m kind of with Aaryn on this (apart from his use of the term ‘Flynnsanity’ – ghastly) – I have no idea what happened afterwards, whether he was reprimanded or¬†secretly¬†applauded but I rather suspect that it didn’t go down entirely well with those which held the coin purses.

But this sort of thing is all that I personally mean when I talk of professionalism. You’re entitled to think that while maybe understandable, Aaryn Flynn’s response was shocking and appalling and I can’t argue with that at all. You might be right. But to me, he acted in a very human way and my respect for him shot up considerably. I like it when people act like people instead of machines and this is why I like the indie games scene so much – because developers are all vocal about the things they believe without having to worry about what their boss or their publisher might think.

I’m in no way comparing the events of what happened with us with the vile abuse towards Hepler, by the way. I will say that some of the comments which sparked the whole thing off were a lot worse than you’d probably think, though. The trouble with these sorts of things is, much like that image of Flynn’s Twitter timeline above, people only tend to capture the¬†reaction and not comments which triggered the reactions – which makes it¬†awfully difficult to decide with certainty whether the response was justified or not.

We all disagree on stuff, we all draw our own lines in the sand – have our own boundaries. It’s up to you to decide which developers (if any) you like and/or respect and which you don’t. I regret most of what happened with us and the damage done to good will. But I stand by the principle that it should not be a requirement that small indie developers should just stand there and smile while somebody smears faeces over their face.

Yeesh. Believe it or not, I was intending for this blog post to be relatively¬†up-beat. I’ll end with a joke.

A man with a long face walks into a bar. The barman asks, “why the horse?”. Shit. That’s not right. A spirit drifts into a bar and the barman says, “we don’t serve ghosts here”. Ah forget it.

The Problem I Have With Touch Controls

Posted by CaptainBinky | Posted in Stuff | Posted on 03-01-2013

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Few things irritate me more than failing to follow standard interface conventions. There are tremendously good reasons for these standards existing – I should be able to grab the mouse and immediately get to work without weird things happening, forcing me to trawl through the help pages.

Consider something like 3D Studio Max. It’s a 3D program – functionally it could not be further away from a Word Processing application and yet consider how the mouse actions work:

Left Click: Select an object for interaction as you would place the insertion point for interaction

Left Click & Drag: Select objects as you would select words

Right Click: Context-sensitive menu as in everything

Mouse Wheel Scroll: Zoom in and out, as you would scroll the document up and down

Middle Mouse Click & Drag: Pan the viewport as you would scroll the window

In the same way, there are certain conventions used with gamepads – ‘A’ should ‘accept’ and ‘B’ should be ‘back’ and while obviously all controls should be customisable (you may have physical reasons why using your index finger for accelerate is not ideal), that out of the box similar driving games should use similar controls is sensible.

There is, of course, room to move – not every game has the same requirements. But you’d be mad to decide that, really, the camera should be operated using the left thumb stick with movement handled on the right for… well, no real reason really – just the designer happens to prefer it that way round.

Gamepads are designed with these conventions in mind. Some buttons are nice springy analogue triggers because these are the buttons located in the sensible place for actions which require sensitive analogue control. Attempting to use a button designed for digital use (like the face A, B, X, Y type buttons) for sensitive acceleration is almost always completely awful.

So, it’s taken many console generations. But we have finally arrived at something approaching a sensible generic controller design which it is possible to assign sensible control standards to.

HOORAY! LET’S THROW IT ALL AWAY! WOOOOO!

It seems that the controller is perceived as a barrier to the sort of mass-market person essential to get if you want to take gaming to the masses. No, we must instead develop a more intuitive control system like pointing a wand or waving our arms around like lunatics. But none of these control systems are particularly intuitive either – you still need to learn how to interact with them but the point is, having learned for one game then intuition can take over for every other game.

But now that control schemes with controllers are reasonably standardised, the same applies to conventionally controlled games too. Hand my mum one FPS game, and after being thrilled blowing the heads off civilians she can move onto blowing the heads of slightly different civilians in another game without many barriers. At least in theory. Assuming sensible control decisions were made.

So. Touch controls.

If I pick up my phone right now, and attempt to interact with an e-mail application – it’s pretty obvious how it will work. Flick up and down to scroll the messages. Click and swipe to the side to pan between the various windows. There are guidelines for all these sorts of things in tremendous depth because it’s important that applications on a phone behave consistently.

What about a game? How should that be controlled? Should you draw some buttons on the screen and have me press them? Should I click and drag the main character around directly while simultaneously obscuring it with my finger? Should I swipe gestures to get it to do stuff? Bollocksed if I know – there’s no good standard because there’s a bazillion ways to make a game for a touch screen, and only a touch screen to control them with.

You can argue that it is this very freedom which makes developing games for phones so exciting. I’d argue that it’s not tremendously “free” when you’re basically attempting to design the least awful way of interacting on a device that’s clearly not designed to do these sorts of games. It’s kind of like playing Gianna Sisters using a joystick as opposed to playing Mario on a SNES controller. You can certainly argue that Gianna Sisters was brilliant (it was), but you’d be mad to say that playing Mario on a SNES pad wasn’t better.

I once made a pinball game for the Palm III. It worked pretty well since pinball only requires two buttons (plus one for tilt) which need to be on the left and right. That’s great, but you still need to tell the user that they need to press “Calendar” for the left flipper and “Memo” for the right. It’s stupid, but that’s what happens when you take a personal organiser and whack a game on it.

The closer your game matches the purpose the device was designed for, the better. Make a game for a touch device which is menu driven – like some sort of management game – and those highly developed and tuned standards come out to play in force and you end up with something that anyone can pick up and immediately feels right.

There is, however, almost¬†bound to be an unexpected genre that’s the perfect fit for touch controls – nobody designed the keyboard and mouse with the idea of developing something which 30 years or more later would turn out to be brilliant for shooting civilians in the face, after all.

Why I’m not a fan of F2P

Posted by CaptainBinky | Posted in Stuff | Posted on 15-11-2012

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One of the main reasons I was made redundant from my position at the studio I worked at prior to going indie was that I was (ridiculous as this sounds) too interested in the quality of our games. It caused arguments, stress, it made me a problem. I got so angry – I just wanted to make games which were good, that we could be proud of. You’d think this would be in the best interests of everyone, the studio included, since if you make consistently bad or, at best, mediocre games you’re on a downwards spiral towards the company exploding. Which is what happened.

This is the problem with financially driven entertainment. It’s easy to lose sight of the point – that games, primarily, are supposed to be fun – and instead focus on hitting those milestones so that you get your completion bonus. Balls to whether the game is good, have you technically fulfilled all the requirements of this month’s milestone? Yes? Move on.

Of course, all those development costs need paying so while it’s easy as an employee to stamp your feet and scream that the game is utterly awful, unless those milestone deliveries are met, that bonus which the studio relies on will disappear and suddenly people are losing jobs. It’s a¬†vicious¬†circle and a spiralling problem as development costs rise and team sizes bloat.

Everybody knows this. That, generally, games are just a business and there to make the developers and publishers money and, primarily, not there for the well-being of the gamers. But for the most-part it’s easy to separate yourself from this. You run home, clutching your copy of whatever it is you’ve been looking forward to, and you immerse yourself in it. All cynicism regarding why this game exists in the first place or how you have been moulded into thinking you need it, evaporates. From this point on it’s all about the game, and you.

Not so with Free-to-Play which reminds you at every opportunity, with a sledgehammer, that this is all about money.

Scenario A – game costs $10

You buy the game, it’s fun. You do well, but you get to level 10 and you get stuck. God this is hard. You consult guides, you ask friends, you try anything to get an advantage. You succeed, you feel great! Man, I’m good!

Scenario B – game is free.

You grab the game. Hey this free game is fun. You do well, but get to level 10 and you get stuck. Why is this so hard? What’s this, there’s an item here for $10 which will make this considerably easier. I can buy that, but where’s the satisfaction? I’ve bought my way to victory.

In both scenarios, you spend the same amount of money. But the trouble with F2P is that it makes you feel like the entire structure of the game, all design decisions, all difficulty spikes, everything is there to force you to buy that item. Is that really the best way to design an enjoyable experience? Frustrate the player to the point they give you cash (edit: or, as is often the case, bore them into giving you cash. Save yourself this arbitrary hassle! Only $5.99!)?

Or is it better to get that financial exchange out of the way, right at the start? It’s paid for, forget about it. Now the game can focus on entertaining you with no¬†ulterior¬†motives in play. If the game is hard, it’s there to challenge you to make you feel good about beating it, not sell you something.

Which model is ultimately better for developers and publishers is another issue entirely. But a gameplay experience should ALWAYS and EXCLUSIVELY be about the gamer.

 

(Other opinions are available)

Is it time to move away from the term ‘indie’?

Posted by CaptainBinky | Posted in Stuff | Posted on 08-06-2012

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What does it actually mean to be indie anyway? Yes, technically, to be indie simply means you are independent, but in the context of talking about ‘indie games’ the word carries more baggage than simply the lack of publisher.

To some, ‘indie’ is literally just short for ‘independent’ which qualifies Valve as an indie studio. Others deem Mojang as ‘not really indie any more’ purely on the basis that they’ve made loads of money. Personally, I’ve always had a rather hazy definition where ‘indie’ is kind of a subset of independent studios – basically if you have full-time staff, you’re now independent. The trouble with a definition like that is that there is some perceived value in being indie – like the indie scene is where the cool kids play and to be indie is therefore to be cool. But if the term includes everyone from Joe Bloggs making a game for shits and giggles right up to Valve, then there’s practically no meaning to the term what-so-ever. So what’s the point of it at all?

As much as there’s a positive element to being indie, there’s also a drawback. It’s really not at all uncommon to find people questioning, “why is an indie game more than $15?” because obviously it couldn’t possibly be worth that if it’s indie, right? There’s no way the game could have cost a sufficient amount to fund that it would warrant a price tag like that – heck, many argue that if you’re a proper indie your game should be free, “I thought you guys were doing this for love?”

It all comes down to everyone having different ideas what it means, both within gamers and developers. And while there’s confusion and no concrete definition, it’s going to remain an almost entirely useless term.

That said, what being indie does somewhat consistently say, is some sort of development philosophy – openness with your user-base and willingness to tackle niche markets. That said, there’s nothing to stop you from calling yourself indie, tucking yourself behind a pseudo-corporate wall, and making a Farmville-clone – and you’d have every right to call yourself such. So even that hazy general-philosophy angle comes with the caveat, “well… most of them are like that. Probably. I haven’t done extensive research.”

There wouldn’t be a problem at all with any of this, if the term wasn’t so damn in vogue. With so much disillusionment with the commercial industry, DRM, online requirements, price tags, etc, there’s never been a better time to say, “hey! We’re not like those guys! We’re indie! Support us!” – and maybe that’s all it does mean: “We don’t really know what we are, we just know what we’re not. We’re not THEM”.