Following hot on the heels of my recent article on ‘How to Make A Triple-A Game’, I thought it only fair to also write a guide for all you aspiring indie devs out there, too. See, we don’t all want to make blockbusters with budgets large enough to fund planetary terraforming activities, but which gameplay-wise end up being shallower than a gnats paddling pool…
No! Instead, some of us want to make art, maaan!
We want to make games that change how people see the world!
We want to forever alter how people perceive ‘play’ and what constitutes a ‘game’!
(and ideally, we want to do all that whilst doing as little actual programming as possible because we all studied English Literature at college…)
…I kid, I kid!
But for all you Notch-wannabes out there, here are the absolute essentials you must include in your next project in order to take your pixelated throne and be crowned the King of Indieland –
1) A chiptune soundtrack
Technology is a wonderful thing. Year on year, scientific advances open up whole new vistas of possibility to us. In the creative fields, we now have unparalleled opportunities for innovation and artistic exploration.
So why, oh why, are we still making game soundtracks that sound like they were made on a calculator in the Eighties?
On the average desktop PC you now have enough processing power to recreate a 50-piece orchestra. Modern audio software means you can tweak individual frequencies until the cows come home (or until it ‘Hertz’, if you will. Ahem.) You can download, for free, samples of pan-pipes being played in the jungles of Peru. The sounds of deep-sea lifeforms communicating via sonar. The complex vocal harmonies of Tibetan monks.
But no, you’re right- let’s just rip off the Streets Of Rage theme tune for the millionth bloody time.
Bleep bloop bleepity bloop blee-
*single gunshot rings out*
2) Massively unrealistic Kickstarter goals.
–$20,000: A thousand on-screen AI controlled zombies all modelled on individual Kickstarter backers!
–$35,000: PS4 and Xbox 720 support!
–$50,000: UNLIMITED PIZZA 4 LIFE!
–$70,000: Hugely-intricate physics engine based on real-world data from the Large Hadron Collider –PLAY AS the Higgs-Boson!
–$100,000: A soothing back-rub from Angelina Jolie for the Top Ten Players on our Leaderboards!
–$200,00: Strong AI: Exponentially increasing artificial intelligence bringing about the Singularity! WELCOME TO THE HIVE MIND
3) An unreliable narrator
All those University classes in 20th Century Post-Modernism have a lot to answer for. They’ve spawned an entire generation of writers to whom nothing is more passé than the traditional narrator – you know, one who might conceivably be trusted in some practical sense. It has become an un-bendable rule of indie storytelling that the kindly voice who walks you through the tutorial stages must IMMEDIATELY STAB YOU IN THE BACK the second you have learnt the controls. Any seemingly ‘good’ character will always at some point be revealed to be a right bastard, and vice versa. If you come across a crazy, meth-addled hobo at any point during your in-game travels, you can bet your bottom dollar that he’s actually the only guy in the story who really knows what’s going on. The Shyamalan-esque twist has become as prevalent in gaming as the health bar. You’ve seen it a thousand times already – narrator tells you to stand on the big red X, trapdoor opens beneath you. Narrator leads you to big empty room, jail cell doors slam behind you.
If this trend continues, we will soon have game manuals that reliably inform you to put the disc in the microwave on the ‘Mashed Potato’ setting for an hour, or games that corrupt your entire hard drive as soon as you foolishly click ‘Save’.
…actually, wasn’t that Skyrim?
4) Pixel art
YOU COMPLAIN THAT EVERY AAA GAME LOOKS THE SAME AND THEN YOU GO AND MAKE ANOTHER BLOODY 8-BIT PLATFORMER.
5) Breaking the 4th wall
Little Red Riding Hood walked nervously through the gloomy and oppressive forest. The trees leaned in ominously on all sides, quietly breathing out the mist that coiled lazily near the forest floor. “How far do I have left til I reach Grandma’s?” she thought. “I hope it’s near…” As she wandered on down the path, she-
WITH THE FACE!
STOP READING, YOU STUPID IDIOT!
…This, ladies and gentleman, is the jarring literary technique known as ‘breaking the fourth wall’. It is the moment where a piece of fiction acknowledges itself as such, and breaks the unspoken suspension of disbelief required to immerse oneself in a story. It’s the moment an actor turns toward the camera with a saucy wink, the moment the audience groans tiresomely ‘He’s behind you!’ at the pantomime dame. It’s Hideo Kojima’s FAVOURITE THING EVER.
Now it seems, straight-up fiction is no longer cool. To stand any chance of being taken seriously, all fiction must be meta and all player-game interaction must be ironic and knowing. It’s not enough to just make a game – now, said game must constantly tap the player on the shoulder and say:
“Hey, I’m a game. I know I’m a game. Funny old thing, this game business, eh? Gosh, my developer must be clever to make me. Jeezly crow, yes! Sure, his parents said he’d never amount to anything. Sure, all his creative writing was graded C- for being gimmicky and unoriginal. But look at him now! Making a big ol’ clever game like me! Anyway, it’s been nice chatting, but you should probably get back to playing 8-Bit Platformer With Quirky Gravity Mechanic now….”