Independent Adventure Games for the masses

paris
Independent video game developers are like the artisans of yore. They aren’t wage slaves, they don’t exploit anyone else’s work, they are neither masters nor slaves, but creative people who strive for the quality of their product and don’t have to succumb to whatever ridiculous market realities managers can come up with. In short, they are to be supported, fiercely guarded even, as they’re (more or less) involuntary combating dominant modes of consumption and production. Oh, and let’s not forget the fine games the indy/bedroom developers have historically come up with. Games like Another World, Skool Daze, Darwinia, Simon the Sorcerer and countless others that are all the proof you should ever need…

Then again, I simply refuse (i.e. can’t be bothered) to let this post deteriorate into a quasi-political rant with artistic tendencies. We’ll hopefully have time for this at a later date. For now, I think I’ll stick to the news. The indy adventure gaming related news to be precise.

XiiGames

Well, for starters (not that there’s much more on the menu, mind you), xii games of What Linus Bruckman Sees When His Eyes Are Closed, Anna and Spooks fame are working on a brand new adventure game set in a not-so-distant future when a particle physicist’s mysterious and spectacular death sparks a race to find his hidden vault and claim his terrifying new discovery. An indy dream team has already been assemble, but despair not. xii games is still hiring.

Fatman

On to some SOCKO! Entertainment news. Remember them? How about the first commercial AGS adventure ever released, the cunningly named Adventures of Fatman? Ah, lovely, I knew you would (pssst, if not, the game has been released as a freeware memory stimulant; get it here). Well, seems that the seemingly defunct SOCKO! team was just that: seemingly defunct. Behind the scenes they’ve been working on Fatman S.O.S. (Save Our Superheroes) their second game, which they hope to fund by selling a brilliant and particularly deluxe re-release of the original Fatman game. Give ’em a hand.


There is no magic in making games

Game Design

A game starts with an idea. You want to communicate something, you want to make a person an experience, you want a person to feel something, or maybe you just want to create something fun or interesting. Fill in the blanks, throw in some game mechanics and art, mix it all with months of work, and you have yourself a game. There is really no magic there. It’s just a lot of patience, a lot of trial and error, and a lot of passion.

Of course, the description I gave is an oversimplification, and the most interesting part lies in the details, in the specifics of each game, and in the characters of the people who are making the game. Personally, I’ve been making games since I was 13 years old. It started as an innocent hobby: drawing lines and circles in QBasic. You add some animation, some interactivity, and you’ve got yourself a game. Again, no magic. Since then I’ve been slowly improving my skills. I’ve made many games, all of them incomplete; all of them abandoned half-way. Anytime I felt like I learned enough, or I wanted to move on to something more fun, I would drop the current project and start anew.

It takes 10,000 hours to become really good at anything. If you only spend one hour a day on something, it will take you approximately 27 years to become really good at it. It’s a lot of repetition, and a lot of trying to achieve higher and more interesting goals. You keep starting over and over with a clean slate, hoping to nail it down perfectly this time around, but each time it’s like making an ice sculpture in a desert. Everything starts to melt, you lose details and focus, and eventually you decide to scrap it and start anew. There is really no getting around it, everyone has to go through it. But one day…

One day you wake up, and you say, “This is it! I’m going to make a good game, and I’m going to stick with it until I finish it. I’m not abandoning this one.” And you try your absolute best to finish it, and then you fail. You fail because your statue has completely melted, you are sweating, and meanwhile you keep thinking about this other awesome idea that you have, that would make a totally great game. So you move on. And on. And on. And every so often you try to commit, but you don’t. Until one day…

One day you do. And you finish your game, and by anyone’s judgment this could be called a finished game. A Real Game. And on that day you feel like a true game programmer, a true game designer, a true artist. You’ve seen a project from inception to finish. You’ve seen all the stages. You’ve verified that there is no magic.

Now, if you’ve started this process early, you have probably done most of these games yourself. Towards the end, where you meet other people who are close to your level (most likely in college), you start to cooperate with them. Yet, you look at the AAA games, and you think, “Why are our games nowhere as good? The graphics aren’t close, the art isn’t as good, the game isn’t as polished. Everything is just off. Surely the big companies have a secret that they guard well, that allows them to make the kind of games they do.” So you get an internship at such a company, and you look at what they do, and you notice…

You notice they are not doing anything differently! Nothing at all! They just have more experienced people: people who can anticipate problems, people who know how to correct certain problems, people who’ve done this kind of stuff for years. But, fundamentally, what they are doing is completely normal. No magic! So you learn from them, and you learn on your own, and you continue to do what you’ve always done: make games. Slowly you start making games that people like, that people think are polished, that people genuinely enjoy, and then one day…

One day you make it big. Everybody plays your game, and everyone learns your name. People think you just magically appeared out of nowhere with this magical talent. And most people will never see those other half-finished games you’ve made, which is probably for the best. Most people will assume you have some special talent that allows you to make games. They’ll ask, “How did you do it? What’s the secret?” And you…

You can look at them and smile.

Chronicles of an Indie Game Developer

cologames

From our, in their own words series John Newton from Cologames talks about his life as an indie game devekoper.

I’m a Flash developer releasing my games on my website ColoGames alongside a selection of other games. I make the best games ever and the worst, the hardest and the easiest. I’m a great developer and a bad one. My games are loved and hated. Life as an indie game developer can be brutal. Whenever I release a new game I watch with excitement as people rate and comment on my creation and I realise it’s impossible to please everyone. The comments can be nice and horrible, no one ever agrees. But the fact that I made the whole game myself, all art, design, and code makes the comments personal.

I’m not making a game as part of a big team. I can make whatever I want; it doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad. It’s the freedom to do what I want that makes being an indie developer special. Of course I don’t do this fulltime, otherwise I would have to rely on the income from the games, be forced to develop certain genres and be sure they were perfect before release.

I’ve always wanted to make video games but never thought I could. I didn’t know how to make them and I didn’t know anyone who could help me. This was long before the internet began. After high school I studied physics at university and learned to program in C/C++ at the same time the internet became accessible. I suddenly realised I had the math skills and programming knowledge to make games!

cologameslogo

I spent months learning more about game development and improving my programming knowledge before applying for a couple of jobs at local game developers. For my first interview I was told to download a GameBoy emulator, learn Z80 assembly language and produce a simple demo for the GameBoy in a weekend! I was so enthusiastic that I spent all weekend making the best demo I could. I got offered the job but amazingly I also had a job offer from the other company to work on a top selling PlayStation game, which I accepted immediately.

And so my career as a game developer began. I spent over 11 years working for several top game companies and have worked inCanada,Swedenand theUK. I estimate I’ve been credited on games selling about 30-40 million copies. So why do I now spend time making Flash games?

I still work for a major game company as a game programmer and often work 50-70 hours a week but I have little say over game design and I could never make any game art. I decided to make Flash games whenever I have spare time because they can be quick to make and release. I’ve also made two iPhone games but I had to spend much longer making them of a higher quality and it’s not fun submitting a game through Apple and then trying to promote the game so people see it. It’s much easier for people to see a Flash game and because my spare time is so limited it’s really my only option. It’s fun designing games and making the artwork without having the pressure to make it perfect. Most of the games I’ve released have been made in a short time. I have a few unreleased games that require weeks or months of work to finish so I haven’t released them.

bow battle

My latest game ‘Bow Battle’ is probably my best attempt at game art and it’s given me the confidence to try a bigger game with more art. Programming the games is never a problem, as long as I have the time to do it, but I like to spend time improving my art skills and hope to do some 3D modelling and animation at some point.

I’m about to start a new project which will probably take a while to make. But it’ll be nice to actually make a high quality Flash game that has some depth and is popular. No matter how good or popular my game is there will be negative comments but it’ll be my creation, a whole game created by me and hopefully loved by many.

ColoGames

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A Guide to the world of the Indie Adventure Game

Indy Adventure Game
It must have been back in the day when Terry Pratchett’s Discworld II was released that I first noticed PC Zone proclaiming the adventure gaming genre dead and most probably buried too, even though quite a few classics like Gabriel Knight III or Sanitarium would still follow. Yet, it was indeed more than obvious that the glory days of Monkey Island, Space Quest and Day of the Tentaclewere definitely coming to their end. Games went mainstream, quality dropped, the thinking gamer became a ridiculously small minority, good taste went tits up and magazines kept telling everyone just how very dead adventures were.

Heck, even now, after the obviously lucrative niche market The Adventure Company has carved itself, a variety of quirky Nintendo DS adventures and the amazing success of Sam and Max Series 1, nobody is convinced that adventures are truly back and people are still talking about redefining the genre, dropping costs, appealing to the mainstream, going 3D, whatever. What they are very obviously forgetting is that game crafting isn’t a power bestowed solely to big studios by the gods of gaming. It’s an art and craft everyone can have a try at, by either producing a freeware game or going for the more life-sustaining indy commercial development model. This exactly is the case with independent and/or freeware adventure games, a creative scene that’s been thriving for over a decade and going from strength to strength.

An Independent Adventure Game, you see, is a game created outside the stuffy world of uneducated managers who think they actually know what people like and believe there’s no value besides the exchange one. Indy Adventure Games, just like any medieval artisan’s product, only have to be true to the creator’s vision. They can be wildly innovative, copyright infringing, in full pixelated 2D, remakes of classic games, political, silly, absolutely shite, pop, over 500MB, excellent, boring, free or very cheap; anything at all. And, unlike commercial games, especially the ridiculously expensive ones which we’ve been living with for quite some time, they just can’t be proclaimed dead. As long as people -ordinary people- care for them, they’ll be around.

To play an Independent Adventure Game…

For the time being though, the indy adventure game is far from a dying species. One could even speak of an apex, if it weren’t for the ever increasing volume, variety and quality of productions. There are happily dozens of extremely talented developers and groups that keep churning out game after lovely game. To find out about -and of course play- said games, well, you’re spoiled for choice. For starters, this very blog will keep on covering those that catch my eye, Tim’s brilliant Independent Gaming will let you know about 99% of the newest releases, the Adventure Gamers Underground section, the AGS games pages, Adventure Developers, Erin’s blog and the the Adventuress will go on discovering and reviewing them, and then there are the developers’ websites like those of xii games, Herculean Effort, Wadjet Eye and Radical Poesis to search and savor.

<Intermission: In the unlikely case you’ve never played an adventure game and are thinking of having a try now that you ‘ve just discovered the world of freeware, please, do not expect frantic action. Expect interesting stories, mainly 2D graphics, lots of puzzles, inventory manipulation and lots and lots of pointing and clicking at things. The mouse and a capacity for lateral thinking are your friends./>

Now, to get you started and playing the latest and probably the best, I can’t help but suggest having a look at the linking epic that is my AGS Awards Winners 2006 post and the TOP 20 indy Adventures of 2006 as selected by Independent Gaming. Then, there’s this short ‘n’ random selection of games, merely for illustration purposes:

What Linus Bruckman Sees When His Eyes Are Closed

LB

Could you ever imagine EA coming up with a title like that? Or with a game simultaneously featuring two distinct stories? How about a hard brain twister? The most innovative adventure game of the past decade then? Of course not, and that’s the beauty of it. Download Linus here.

Space Quest 0: Replicated

Space Quest 0 - Replicated

Not a huge admirer of fan creations based on existing games, but this one is a glowing exception. SQ 0 is an excellent, original and funny little game, complete with 16-colour EGA graphics and old-fashioned parser interface, in which -you know- you type stuff. Could have easily been a proper part of the SQ saga methinks. Download it here.

Missing

missing

Now, for some adult-oriented entertainment. Missing is a gritty and beautifully illustrated adventure utilizing a simple ICOM-like point-and-click interface, that puts the players in the (probably) authoritarian shoes of a cop searching for his vanished wife and kid. Download it here.

Soviet Unterzoegersdorf

Soviet Unterzoegersdorf

Quasi-political satire with photorealistic graphics and absurdist humor, this one features a socialist cop in an almost socialist fictional state surrounded by Fortress Europe. Also looks quite a bit like Gabriel Knight II. Download it here.

Nearly Departed

Nearly Departed

A game by John Green, a Disney illustrator, no less. Fantastic graphics, impressive cartoon quality animation, simple interface and a still unfinished but very playable and highly enjoyable adventure. Besides, it’s the story of a reluctant zombie. Download it here.

Crafting, it’s so easy.

Well, provided you can come up with some decent graphics, game design, animation and music, it is. Programming could come in handy too, but as creating your very own engine can be both difficult and time consuming, there are many -mostly freeware- tools/engines that only require a minimum of effort and programming skill. The list that follows will hopefully help you. As for Interactive Fiction (text-adventures) it will be covered some other time. For now have a look at this interesting i-f writing bit.

AGS, the hallowed Adventure Games Studio, is by far the most popular scripting and adventure game creation environment to date. Pretty easy to use, freeware, geared towards classic 2D point-and-click retro adventures and backed up by a huge vibrant community, it’s probably where you should begin. Have a look.

LASSIE Adventure Studio, another free game creator, provides with the tools to create adventures in the classic Lucasarts style in Macromedia, Flash and Shockwave. Why not visit the LASSIE official site then?

The Wintermute Engine is slightly less easy to use a development environment, but with obvious 3D capabilities, impressive built-in graphical effects and high-tech tendencies. Quite the beast, really. Download it here.

Finally, and in a very blog-post ending way, you can also give the pretty excellent SLUDGE and Adventure Maker (also does PSP software, mind you!) tools a go. They are definitely worth your time. And mine.