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Independent Games: A Developer Note From C.D. Jones
July 31, 2013 - CD Jones
I thought I'd take a few minutes and express briefly how I feel about indie games and the people that surround it.
Indie games are wonderful and often better than half the Triple A titles that are released. But that's just my opinion. However, as someone who plays games often, a lot of them are never the thing I was looking for. Not to just say with a blanket statement that they're bad, they just don't strike my type of game style.
I will say that I believe a lot of indie game developers are in the industry for the wrong reasons. Some of the examples being too focused on building a game on personal attachment, life stories, and nothing but art. From what I've observed, doing any of those things, if not all of them, are immediately setting you up for imminent failure. There's so much more to making a game than having it only be personal. When you begin to say to yourself you're making it for you, why bother to think that it's going to a smashing success?
I think one of the most boldest and most honest things I can say is something pretty much directly taken from the movie “Star Trek: Into Darkness”. It's a scene where Kirk says “I have no idea what I'm supposed to do... I only know what I can do.” That statement says so much to how much truth is behind the development of Anomaly 1921.
I live from creating convincing atmospheres. Whether I did that successfully is up to you, even though at the end of the day what I think of it becomes the final verdict when it's done. No matter how much I love the atmosphere of New Manhattan, the taste is subjective, like all things. I should not expect every single person to enjoy its story experience. I should also not say that it's not a game for everyone, because that limits the audience and makes it a niche thing, which is bad.
I don't call myself an indie game developer, because I personally, hate the term. I really don't know what to call myself but a science fiction story-teller. Sure not all the stories are going to be for everyone, but I sure don't begin writing them automatically assuming that and rolling with it. I write them because I believe they are interesting stories to tell.
If people's views on the world change day to day, how can I expect to design a game that will absolutely please everyone? It's impossible, but that's okay. But it's not okay to design the game because it's only the way how I see the world. That's when the imminent failure comes in and takes over. And it's rather easy to fix, but difficult to design.
Designing an intuitive, visually pleasing, interesting, convincing atmosphere with good narrative is the most difficult thing I've ever done. Because the further I am into the project, the less and less it becomes personal, and more of an experience specific to the player rather than I. What would the player want? What would the player see? What would the player think to do in this situation? Being that it's nearly impossible to tell apart those differences yourself, you start to design in a multiple avenue type way. Giving the player freedom of how they feel I think can be most effective rather than slamming how they should feel into their throats.
I could say I've learned a lot from this. Sure I now know a lot about game design, but on a grand scale, I know nothing. And that's the most honest thing I could say. But it's true for every developer that makes a game. There is in no way, shape or form any way to tell that you built a world worth exploring besides it being in the players hands. You can never tell ahead of time how engaging or deep it is without having other people experience it. It's about the more work you put into it, the better chance there is for people to notice. But that also shouldn't directly pronounce you a failure, because all you have to do is listen. Take a step back and watch what they do. It's hard knowing that negative feedback and compromising certain attachments to your game. But when all said and done, sacrifice is in most cases for the better.
What was once New Manhattan is nearly no more. The break I took to learn what was lacking or bad design really hit me hard to the point of quitting a hundred times. I was stressed and Anomaly 1921 was looking pretty bad to say the least. But I examined it closely from alternate perspectives, trying to understand it from multiple points of view. That's when about six or so months ago I began etching away what I had done to completely redesign a proper structure. It's safe to say that seventy to eighty percent of what was written and built was completely scrapped. It was tough to see what I had was now nothing, but what I have now succeeds it by a thousand percent.
You're not going to be noticed just solely because you know C++ or you've been in the industry for ten years. Just because you can program or draw doesn't mean you know anything about game design. Listening to developer diaries, commentaries, let's plays, podcasts, interviews, etc, has exponentially put me in the right direction. Even if they're for games you don't care about, listen to what the designers and players have to say about the process and what it takes to create it from the ground up.
I hope this doesn't come across as a smack in the face to any indie developers out there. But be well aware that what you're doing is not the beginning or the end. If you're passionate about something, that's great, you'll need it. But it's only the start of an unpredictable scape. By no stretch of the imagination am I making a perfect game, of course not. But I do know for a fact that I'm going to get as close as I can get.