I’ve always been an exploratory gamer both inside the games themselves and outside as I try to find new gaming experiences as often as possible. That’s why this generation of games has been so exciting. Thanks to digital distribution and an increase in gaming platforms there are more games readily available than ever before. Of course this presents the inevitable problem of having too many options even when bargain hunting. There is stiff competition among lower priced games from new releases, retro games, and price drops on last year’s major releases, but when given the choice I find myself investing more of my time in indie games. The indie game movement is exploding and while it can even be a bit tiring to comb through, the rewards of unique and focused gaming experiences have been incredibly satisfying. Recently, I’ve even found myself exploring genres that I had either passed up or been too intimidated to try previously thanks to the accessibility of indie games.
Throughout May, Horrible Night will be Going Indie and featuring indie game related articles in support of the Indie Game: The Movie screening in Indianapolis on May 23.
I’ll never catch up, but can I still have fun?
While I may have finally accepted that I will never pursue competitive gaming in any serious manner, that doesn’t mean that I’m not up for learning a few new tricks. It has been fascinating to watch the professional growth of the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games. Spawning from the old school way of doing indie games, a mod, Defense of the Ancients (DotA) could not have been further off of my radar. DotA’s success in the Warcraft III community led to the formation of the independent development studio, Riot Games, who has since gone on to create the massively successful League of Legends. League’s second season currently has a $3 Million prize pool, so let’s just say I’ve been a bit intimidated to jump into MOBA’s because of how serious the level of competition actually is in the genre. However, the great thing about indie games is they iterate on each other so even if you don’t get in on the originals, just be patient as your particularly flavor may be next.
I’m happy to say that I finally broke into MOBA’s my way thanks to two unique takes on the genre. Monday Night Combat and its free-to-play sequel Super MNC had me playing a MOBA before I knew what I was doing. You see, I thought I was just playing a third person shooter with a cool game show gimmick with my friends. After a few horrendous (but fun) losses it turns out that there was a bit of strategy to these games. I started to notice “the lanes” and all of the non-playable robots in the arena that actually helped out if I kept them alive instead of spending all of my time running off to shoot, die, repeat directly with the other players. I started leveling up my character in ways that benefited the robots on my team and our team started doing better. We started winning, I was having fun, and the game was nothing like I expected but had all of the hallmarks of great cooperative and competitive games that I love. Although, I still didn’t know what I was doing until…
Awesomenauts. Again I had a broad misconception. I thought I was just signing up for a competitive 2D shooter that had a ton of Saturday morning cartoon nostalgia. It didn’t take long for me to draw similarities to MNC and therefore to League, but Awesomenauts is where MOBA’s finally clicked for me. Awesomenauts, like MNC before it, hooked me in with familiar gameplay. The difference here was that not only did the 2D action platforming feel comfortable to me, I naturally felt good at the game because the playing field felt much more level with the other new players. The 2D level design also distilled down the basic layout of MOBA arenas in a way that made a hell of a lot more sense. Sure it isn’t the deepest MOBA out there, and it took a handful of different games to get me here, but Awesomenauts finally opened a door to a genre that I never thought I’d walk through. While indie games may have created the MOBA genre it is far from the only genre that they have taken me to recently.
Your stupid game is stupid, and now I love it
Up until about a year ago, I ignorantly used to get annoyed when anyone mentioned the roguelike genre. I figured if any genre was worth talking about, it would have more than one game to compare it to. (Yes, I assumed the game Rogue was the only example until last year.) This all came to a head around the release of The Binding of Isaac and I gleefully ignored the discussion until after my first completion of the game. I was interested in The Binding of Isaac because it was designed by Edmund McMillen and the level design looked straight out of The Legend of Zelda. The art style, level design, and dark story were enough to sell me on this ridiculously low-priced game. The funny thing is after I finished it, all I could talk about was how refreshing I found the permadeath feature, the random level designs, and the challenge. Guess what? Those are three of the major selling points of roguelikes. I’d never been so happy to be so wrong as I had an entire genre of games to explore.
Diving into roguelikes was still pretty intimidating as a lot of the classics had ASCII graphics or a rough/archaic presentation layer. Not surprisingly, my breakthrough came in the form of a recent indie roguelike, Dungeons of Dredmor. There are so many systems at work in roguelikes that it is easy to get lost, but Dredmor makes it easy for the player to not have to worry about the details at first. The friendly character designs and the whimsical writing presented during the fantastic tutorial hooked me in and had me laughing at my many deaths and failures. I went from thinking that roguelikes are about persistence, practice and a significant time investment to playing Dredmor in quick bursts. Merely besting my previous score or trying out a new set of skills kept me entertained enough to come back for another round.
My time exploring dungeons in new ways didn’t end with permadeaths either. While I’ve been a fan of the isometric action of the Diablo style of dungeon crawling for a long time now, I never saw the appeal of the more methodical first person dungeon crawlers out there. Leave it to another affordable new indie game to open my eyes to the puzzling attractions of this unique perspective in Legend of Grimrock. Grimrock drew me in with its trailer that showed off its surprisingly immersive atmosphere and graphics. I just wanted to dive in and explore and didn’t bother to look at the gameplay details as the price was right for experimentation. I was surprised at how the limited grid-based movement options felt so welcoming to me as an explorer. I felt comfortable searching out solutions to puzzles and combat, but was constantly surprised when each challenge opened up new gameplay options. The pacing of Grimrock sucked me in and before I knew it an entire night of gaming had gone by and I didn’t want to stop playing. Not bad for a genre that I previously expected to bore me out of my mind.
New to me, but there’s more
Groundbreaking experiences are only one of the benefits of indie games. Encountering the fruits of indie games’ constant exploration of well-established game features that are more personal to you as a gamer can be even more rewarding. It has renewed my affinity for everything from platforming gameplay to well-told stories, which I will explore in part two next week.
Gamer’s Journey – Stories about the unique gaming experiences that have propelled us through games, franchises, genres, and the gaming industry itself.
Giant Bomb (images)