This past weekend, I was exposed to two very interesting looks into the world of indie video game development. I am by no means a gamer (very much by choice, as I'm terrified of becoming addicted to a game), so it's not a space I know that much about. I am familiar with runaway hits like Halo or freak indie successes like Minecraft or mobile blockbusters like Candy Crush, but my knowledge doesn't go much deeper than that, and I certainly didn't know much about the behind the scenes of the indie game world.
Even if you're not a gamer, I highly encourage you to check these two out, as they're simultaneously entertaining and interesting looks into a unique industry; additionally, each covers broader themes that apply to the world far outside gaming. One is a profile on the creators of Dwarf Fortress in Gamastura and the other is the documentary film Indie Game (it's on Netflix streaming). A little bit more about both below, but you should definitely go read/see the full pieces.
The first was a profile on the creators of the game Dwarf Fortress. I was unfamiliar with the game until I read this profile. The game is notoriously one of the most difficult games to learn for new visitors, as it offers no tutorials on the nearly infinite actions you can take in the game and really lacks in graphics.
The lack of tutorials are considered a feature, though, by the game's founders, the brothers Zach and Tarn Adams. By not investing valuable time in building out tutorials or designing graphics, it has allowed them to dive deeper into building their fictional world. This quote pretty perfectly sums up the brothers' view on features:
"A lot of the updates don't matter either -- I mean, I spent a month on beekeeping, but you're not confronted with beekeeping, and you don't need to learn how to do it, but if you want to make wax crafts and honey, then it's an avenue you can explore."
An interesting perspective for sure. They're focused on building a game and world they love rather than something that just suits new players. Additionally, the brothers are quite clear in the article that they view this game as their lives' work. The main focus of the profile is them thinking about how they're going to develop the game over the next 20 years. They have already decided that building this game is what they'll be working on for the coming decades, and they've already spent the better part of the last decade on it.
The game's only revenue is through donations, bringing in a total of 250k over the past 5 years (25k/brother/year). They're willing to forego financially greener pastures (one of them holds a PhD in Math from Stanford) to be able to continue focusing on the game, and throughout the article they're more concerned with physical aging getting in the way of game development than financial constraints.
To see anyone, especially nowadays, be taking such a long view of a single project is really unique, and I think it makes for a really interesting story and profile. Be sure to go check it out.
The second was the film Indie Game. Indie Game had popped up on my Netflix for the past couple months, and I had read some nice reviews, but it was really the Dwarf Fortress article that motivated me to finally watch it.
Indie Game is a look at the entire indie video game industry, but it really focuses on two games, Fex and Super Meat Boy. I don't want to ruin anything, so I'm not going to go into the plot or any of the twists and turns, but just know that the movie is well worth the watch. Not only is it a really well done documentary, but it nails some of the same themes of the Dwarf Fortress article, looking at the passion these developers have for their games, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. The movie streams on Netflix with an account and can also be bought on the movie's website.
It seems my effort to not play games to avoid wasting time in addiction took an ironic turn this weekend when I spent a significant amount of time devoted to learning about games. That's the way it goes, I guess. Definitely check these out.