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  • Truly Independent Game Development: A Case For Making Games By Yourself

    [08.20.09]
    - Lindsay Grace

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    Why Now?

    Independent game development is affordable in ways it hasn't been before. There are plenty of warehouses of development resources. Engines, assets and audience abound. The trick now is pulling them together. There was a time when one person couldn't produce a game without becoming a programmer, artist, and designer. There are clearinghouses for each now. Yes, even game designs are dumped in web repositories for the creatively challenged. The quality of these resources varies greatly, but the multitalented independent developer can pull together resources surprisingly seamlessly.

    There are clearly advantages and disadvantages to developing games by yourself. Anyone who has worked on a class project in a difficult team has likely wished they were doing it by themselves. Yet, most aspects of creative development in the digital world are moving toward team oriented production.

    To explore how teams and independents fit into game production we can tell game history another way. Our first independent developers were explorers, or to follow cliché, pioneers. They stepped out into uncharted waters and made a new home. That home was immediately commercialized and cities developed where they had built their homes.

    Mystery House begat Alone in the Dark. Alone in the Dark begat Resident Evil. Resident Evil begat Silent Hill. Each generation makes itself bigger and arguably better. Occasionally a new city is built from the home of another pioneer. Sometimes those cities just emulate on a style. Tetris begets mountains of Tetris clones; The Sims creates McSims franchises of its original design. Even more rarely, a city becomes so big it creates its own suburbs. Grand Theft Auto inspires a whole community of like-minded, formulaic clones. Regardless of your preference, Levittown will always be an important suburb, simply for being the first.

    If you subscribe to that version of game history then you might want to look back at those pioneers for inspiration. Those adventurers who step well outside the city limits often set the standard. A bit like Louis and Clarke, Jonathan Blow and David Hellman paired to map a new type of game experience. A whole troop of want to be explorers, independents looking for the next awe-inspiringly clever game design, being by follow

    For years I told my students that the days of lone ranger game development were dead. They aren't dead; they just don't exist within the city limits. Making games that fit within the expectation of the standard AAA title is a bit like trying to build a skyscraper with one carpenter. With contemporary tools, a single developer has little chance of making a game that competes with the complexity, breadth and depth of a comparable title built by a professional team. However, where a construction team might struggle to make an intricate miniaturized model or a structure with no historical equivalent, a solo developer's svelte independence becomes an advantage.

    There are still tasks in our daily lives for which team construction is a problem. The team is sometimes its own Achilles' heel. It is its own harmatia -- an attribute in classical Greek tradition that has always proven advantageous until it leads to its owner's demise. Large development teams are often too big to adapt to change, too consumptive to starve, too established to take substantial risk.

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