Walking into the exhibit I thought it wouldn’t take more than twenty minutes or so to take in everything it had to offer. My naivety was short lived, after I had spent close to an hour just watching the interviews from game makers having yet to touch any of the demos. Unfortunately I was there during what seemed like a fifth grade field trip, so instead of trying to elbow my way through a sea of twelve year olds to get a chance to play some of the games first hand I focused on watching the videos and reading whatever information was available. What struck me as most interesting were two things.
First, was the huge number of featured games that were created by a single person or small group of people that was a years long side project. Often stemming from a single idea or vision that wasn’t complete or comprehensible, these indie designers started coding and molding their visions into something presentable. One specific example that stood out to me was from the maker of The Floor is Jelly, Ian Snyder. In the interview he explains that the idea for the game came while designing a different during a game making competition/pageant. At first it was just a side project he was working on to take a break from his pageant game, making waves in flash. He liked the looks, mechanics and feel. In a short period of time his hobby of making waves in flash turned into a serious focus as more was added and it was turning into an intelligible work that had the potential to become a game. To me, the explanation of his process was the embodiment of what “indie” games should be. He was designing with a personal passion for a side project without any thought of how it would be received or marketed. That may be a bold assertion of his motivation, but that is how it seemed to me. Maybe as it evolved into a game some thought of marketability came into consideration. What seeded this game wasn’t an entire well thought outline of a game. It was a mechanic that a game was built around.
For me, when I think of indie games, I think of low quality graphics, short, but pointed stories that are more personalized than the cinematic highly perfected AAA games. Unpolished in the sense of Pedercini’s “polish is poison.” This exhibit was showing some games which seemed very “polished.” I don’t think this is a bad thing, I’m a visual person. If there is a game that can give a stunning visual experience that is outside the norm of the standard game experience I’m all about it. The second striking exhibit and perhaps the most visually stunning game I saw at the exhibit was Journey. Setting aside the gameplay and story for now, I was completely impressed with the art and cinematics of the game. It seemed “polished” to meticulous detail, but the makers should not be apologizing for it because the result is breath taking. Of course this application of the idea of “polish is poison” isn’t a perfect fit because I’m just talking about the visuals, but I think it is important to note that taking the time to perfect your vision of what you’re creating should be a main focus an indie game designers process. Rant over, continuing with Journey. Beside the great visuals this game’s other aspects were very impressive to me. It is part of a game sub-genre that gives you little to no instruction during and it is your job as the player subject to fill in the blanks and personalize the gameplay to fit your style. The multiplayer aspect is unique and one of the biggest points that attracted me to it. With out a companion you’re just a traveller in the desert trying to reach a far off mountain limited to walking by yourself in a painfully slow fashion. If however, you have a companion your mode of travel is transformed as you can glide over the surface and you can get to places that were unreachable before. Of all the new games and genre’s that were introduced to me in the exhibit, this game was the only one that I was looking forward to downloading and playing when I got home. It did not disappoint.
There were great games, great reviews and as a whole got me excited to go home try some of them out. But, there were some exhibits that I don’t know why they decided to use if they point of the exhibit is to legitimize “indie” games and their impact. The best example of this is Tenya Wanya Teens. This game is, for lack of a better word, stupid. Having one of the biggest screens in the room to showcase this pointless game was a waste. Its only foreseeable purpose was to laugh at the two poorly animated teens dressed up as bears catching salmon or farting on skunks. I’m usually the first one to find the humor in a good fart joke, but this was just poorly done catering to lowest level of human intelligence. I may be being too harsh and opinionated. It just didn’t do it for me. I think, at best, this game did nothing for the exhibit and most likely did more harm than good.
As a whole I thought that for the small space allotted to the exhibit they did a really good job of showcasing as many good games as they did.