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Posts Tagged ‘Critics’

So I think I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I’m mindie. No, this doesn’t mean I’ve decided to start dressing in drag or that I’m a girl trapped in a mans body or anything like that. I’m referring to being somewhere in between mainstream and indie (mindie).

The made up title comes from an article written by Alister Doulin that sums up some of the things I’ve been thinking about lately concerning the differences between mainstream and indie development. Doulin breaks down what being mindie is by addressing how mainstream and indie view profits, competition, publishers/investors, project size and art and then presents the middle ground where mindie fall in between.

Having been developing games for nearly two years now and co-running a studio for a little more than half a year I think the mindie label fits our philosophy on both business and game design well. Since we work the company as a hobby project and are lucky enough to have received our capital from an angel investor we don’t have to worry about creating a successful game (although that isn’t stopping us from trying). Our current market focus, iPhone and iPad, are markets that move fairly fast so there isn’t time to worry about competition. We simply look at what others are doing and try to incorporate what is successful into our own game designs. We keep costs low by working in our free time and spending money only when we need to and we make games that we hope are more than just “fun” but also appeal to a large audience of people.

I think we are very mindie minded.

What I find more interesting than this article, however, are the critics of the article. Many of their comments bring up good points, even Doulin admits he stereotypes mainstream (and even indie!) a bit, but I feel like they’re ultimately misguided on what the article is saying. Many of the comments bring up how continuing the mainstream versus indie discussion isn’t helping the industry (which I think they are wrong about). Even Johnathan Blow chimed in (rather pretentiously I feel) on the Gamasutra posting of the article to comment on how he believes talking and thinking about “petty things” such as this wastes a designers energy that should be spent making their games.

I want to come to Doulin’s defense on this because I feel that this article is very helpful for someone like me who felt a bit lost in where exactly they fit in this industry. Yes, I will agree that it probably doesn’t matter much to the industry what I label myself as, be it mainstream or indie or anything in between. I also agree that arguing about who is what and what it means to be this, that or the other isn’t going to get us anywhere. I do think that a conversation like this is important for those looking in from the outside who want to understand the differences between design and business philosophies. Talking about things like this also helps designers like me put things into perspective and realize there are others out there who share the same thoughts and feelings. That may expose some of my own insecurities about my position in the industry at the moment, and I’ll admit I have them, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels a bit more comfortable knowing there are others out there who share the same ideas and principles.

I also don’t think Doulin’s article meant to paint the industry as black and white and gray. I see it more as a gradient where the extremes of mainstream (all money) and indie (all art) sit on the ends. There’s plenty of room in between to organize this company and that studio into the spectrum. Doulin uses extremes on both ends (although he is a little kinder to indies) to illustrate his point so don’t expect them to work with everything (although some recent rumblings over comments made by Mark Rein of Epic might help prove Doulin’s point).

As for Jonathan Blow’s comment, I think that anyone who spends 100% of their time making nothing but games is going to miss out on a lot of great opportunities. The quote from Jordan Mechner that I like to use as my mantra speaks to this point in a sense. If someone wants to devote themselves solely to their craft and ignore the discussions going on around them they are going to miss out on chances to  impact the community in meaningful ways. If Blow wants to focus on letting his products do his talking that’s great, but he’s only going to get so far before his product fails to make the impact that his participation might have created.

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Update: Apparently, pOnd stirred up enough traffic that it brought down the Peanut Gallery website. For the time being you can now play pOnd here.

Warning: Spoilers appear below the break. If you want to fully experience pOnd play the game before reading below the break.

IndieGames.com lead me to an intriguing game yesterday called pOnd. It’s a simple, one-button browser based game made by The Peanut Gallery in which you use the space bar to control a characters breathing as he walks through the woods towards a pond. The creators proclaim the game to be a very zen like experience and even suggest players breath in time with the game.

Over all, its a wonderful experience. The graphics are superb and the music and sound really pull you into the experience of walking though a forest in the early morning. Actions in the world are triggered by the passing of the player and their breathing  which sends wildlife scampering and prompts beams of light to cascade between tree branches.

By the time I reached the pond I was totally immersed in the experience and like the character stopped to admire the scenery taking in the pulsing spheres that prompt the player to breath in and out.

-Spoilers Ahead!-

(more…)

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Roger Ebert is rather well known amongst the video game industry for claiming that “video games can never be art.” His latest foray into this argument came in response to a TED talk by Kellee Santiago on why video games are in fact art. I will refrain from delving into Ebert’s argument or lack of authority since many others have already done so (and much better than I probably ever could), but I do think this is a good opportunity to bring up another subject: the importance of critics in the process of validation.

Having someone who opposes our ideas gives us the opportunity to avoid shouting into the echo chamber, forever repeating the same tired arguments amongst the same old faces. Before Ebert’s post on the topic, the most interesting advancement in the discussion came from the Art History of Games Conference held in February where Michael Samyn and Auriea Harvey of Tales of Tales boldly stated games are not art and that video games are largely a “waste of time”. While this was interesting to hear from the group of developers who created The Path, it was still addressed to gamers and the gaming industry. If we as game designers want validation for our art form we need to look outwards not inwards.

Perhaps more importantly, critics point out where the flaws in our arguments are so that we can better prepare ourselves for the next confrontation. Dennis Scimeca wrote an article on BitMob where he address the possible short comings of Kellee Santiago’s Ted talk. If we want to further the discussion, we should look at where others (purportedly) failed and improve upon their shortcomings. After all, if you can convert a critic they will most likely be one of your strongest allies. Imagine what convincing someone like Roger Ebert the video games are art would to to further the validation.  Having someone like Ebert lending his voice to the argument would certainly be a step in the right direction.

Another thing critics are great for is presenting their counter parts with challenges. While Ebert has admitted it might have been wrong to say video games will never be art it still stands as a challenge for us as game designers to create something that will change his mind. We have a great base to start from with games like Braid, Flower, and Bio Shock. I can only imagine where our games will go in the future.

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