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INDIE, BEATING THE MAINSTREAM AT ITS OWN GAME

This is the golden age of indie. The past few years has seen an explosion of astounding independently developed games. Around the world, bedroom coders and small teams of devs are producing some of the most exciting, innovative and just plain fun experiences available. And what’s more, with the maturation of digital distribution on consoles, PC and handheld devices, they’re reaching ever larger audiences.

It’s never been easier to make them either. Tools such as Flash, the Unreal Development Kit, Game Maker, Unity and Microsoft XNA have made development ultra-accessible. The creation of videogames has been democratised. Now anyone with an idea and a little skill can realise their dreams in videogame form.

And what dreams they are. The indie scene is awash with interesting, challenging, charming and joyful games. While the mainstream seems intent on either playing it safe with endless franchise sequels or going after the Wii buck with motion-controlled casual titles, indie games are taking more and more risks and reaping the rewards.

It’s a notion that has been echoed elsewhere, but the current state of videogames echoes that of Hollywood in the ’60s and ’70s. At that time the major studios – the likes of MGM and Universal – were a factory, pumping out film after film, sticking to tried and tested genres in order to recoup the huge expense of production. It was filmaking as industry, not as an art.

However, the rise of a group of independent directors and producers revolutionised the system. The likes of Scorsese, DePalma, Altman and Peckinpah rejected or subverted the established norms, creating relatively cheap, experimental films that rejuvenated cinema. The boundaries had been destroyed and it had a trickle-up effect on the entire medium. The big studios couldn’t help but take notice.

Independent developers are beginning to do the same thing for videogames.

(Read more at Gaming Union)

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AN ODE TO THE UNFINISHED GAME

ODE
Some people feel the need to finish every game they start; it’s a odd compulsion. Some also won’t walk out on a bad film because it’s been paid for, or put a book down when they fail to connect with it. But if a close personal friend didn’t make the game, take you to the cinema, or write the book, why care? Why put yourself through the slog of reaching the end of a game you stopped enjoying or caring about 20 hours ago?

I used to be like this. Until recently, I simply had to finish every game I played. More than that, I had to get at least 500 achievement points on each one. It was horrible. Like some kind of self-inflicted, life-sapping, terminal illness. It meant that not only did I have to slog my way through games I tired of quickly, or just lost interest in, I then had to go back again afterwards on a depressing fucking collection hunt.

The fact that F.E.A.R. 2, long since traded in, appears on my Gamercard with a mere 380 achievement points, used to keep me awake at night.

But now I’m free. I’m an inveterate unfinisher and I’m encouraging others to be the same. Now once I cease to be interested, a game is usually finished for me, no matter how much of it remains. So, for me, Assassin’s Creed will always be a beautifully rendered vision of the holy-land, with one of the most fully realised environments I’ve yet encountered. Not the dull, repetitive snorefest I know it becomes. Similarly, Lost Odyssey will forever be a gorgeous paean to a bygone era of JRPGs, rather than a long, over familiar trawl through outdated game mechanics.

Until relatively recently, my new attitude would not have been remarkable. Games just were not supposed to be completed. Indeed, they employed just about every tactic they could to make it hard as possible. With infinite levels, super-spamming bosses, insane bullet hell and even Ghouls and Ghosts‘ nasty trick of making you do it all over again upside down.

Now, as we find ourselves slaves to the videogame narrative, we are eased towards completion, given infinite lives, or even invulnerability. Anything to get us to the end.

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Was I being unfair to Rockstar by abandoning Grand Theft Auto IV at around the midway point? I didn’t have the will to play it any more. Especially as the narrative, so engaging and propulsive early on, was quickly beginning to derail itself. I’m sure they don’t care. After all, they were the ones that picked up all those awards, critical adulation and an impossibly large truck full of cash.

Would the guys at Bethesda care that I never completed Oblivion, instead spending about 20 glorious hours exploring and encountering a wonderfully diverse set of distractions? I doubt it.

I don’t hold it against people, that I didn’t finish their games, nor do I proclaim a lack of talent. Like Oblivion it’s sometimes just a matter of time. So many titles drag on and on and while the core of the game is compelling and fun, it wears a little thin after the 30th hour. Fallout 3 is a undeniable masterpiece. But it sits there on my shelf, untouched for months, after my attention was diverted by some other shiny thing.

Some days, on the other hand, I’ll start a game only to decide I’m not in the mood for something new, and return instead to an old favourite to revisit a cherished opening level or scene. Occasionally, friends are surprised and annoyed when I return a borrowed game and admit I couldn’t get through it. These might be the same people who don’t share my passion for the work of Petri Purho or Jason Rohrer, so it evens out in the end. There is, after all, no accounting for taste – as a friend who saw Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus on my recommendation will never let me forget.

So I toast all the half-finished, half-played games that have passed through my hands, saluting both the creativity of those who made them and the fortitude of those who completed them. And finally, I confess to having played every last second of Sonic Unleashed. I could have stopped after the first appearance of that damned Werehog, but I found it, like a gruesome highway accident, horrifying yet impossible to look away from – until I defeated the final boss, ripped the disc from the tray and hurled it across the room in disgust.