B Games

We all use the term B Movie, but it has different meanings depending on how its used. Some people mean it derisively, to imply that because it's not the grandest that cinema can offer it's not worth paying attention to. The rest, I think, use it with affection. They know that even the weakest production values can hide a strong heart. The same I believe is true in games.

Independent productions have a lot stacked against them. They tend to be done by a handful of people (sometimes just one person), who get to spin as many plates as they can to please as many people as they can, with the more tasks they take on increasing the time it takes to make it way past the point where it could be a viable income source for all but the most dedicated and/or LUCKY. They don't get the advantage of being connected to a marketing juggernaut that convinces us that we must have it because of bullet pointed features, and live-action films that have nothing to do with the game. I'm sure you can think of other examples, depending upon how you define "independent," but one advantage independent creators have is flexibility. Their tasks are in direct proportion to their ambition, and if they have a strong central creator, they can accomplish a lot, and take risks that those with a lot more investment in them can't take. 
 
Still, even major studios upset this trend, having genre defining or genre enhancing experiences that are (hopefully) seen by many people and help push the games conversation forward (or sideways).
 
Despite heavily polished games looking so much richer than their skin-and-bones counterparts, I will never be able to join in deriding some pixel-art garage game; it's just not possible for me. Games used to be ONLY that, with a few exceptions, and that was when no one had any expectations because it was all new. Without a lot of market data or huge departments who'll have to adjust to changes, you're just a bit more willing to try something new, something a coder has been itching to try, without the risk of wrecking the huge game-creation machine when you try to turn a sudden corner.
 
I can't say, though, that I could ever disregard the bigger companies, either. When they do things right, they do them really right, and the level of polish can be almost blinding.  But I don't really see this as an either/or question:
 
Truth is, wherever they come from, I like good games. I like to get something for my money and time, almost like I'm talking with the developers and exploring the virtual space they've created. I don't care if it's on a phone, made of cardboard, or needs a thousand-dollar machine to run; quality, while somewhat subjective, does feel nearly palpable when you run across something great. And I would hate for any type of company out there to completely drown out the other types.
 
I still remember a conversation I had with a kid on the bus headed home from school. We were talking about game systems, and I said I had a Sega. He told me that Sega sucked, and I asked him why, had he played anything on there? No, he hadn't. It was about belonging to a brand; I'm assuming his flag's colors were red and white with a mushroom in the middle. I knew through friends who had the NES that the Sega wasn't good at everything, though I had trouble finding anything that quite compared to Phantasy Star. In this case it was a lateral comparison between software giants, but we do tend to settle into comfort zones when it comes to who is producing our games, too. We focus on realistic cheekbones or flopping bodies and forget that a game can be pretty much anything. Clearly, the Atari 2600 game Adventure's sprites are low res, but I can play Adventure for a few minutes and have a fun little story to tell when I'm done. That game is OLD, but in the grand scheme it still WORKS as a game.
 
A lot of games now struggling to be noticed are like Adventure; a single screenshot will say a lot about what you're in for, but it won't say enough. I'm willing to bet you'll find something cool if you let your guard down and try a few games outside your comfort zone. God knows that's happened to me a bunch of times over the course of my life, and while it's a struggle sometimes to break open an "ugly" package, I've seen enough hidden gems to know they're out there, and worth all the time spent searching for them.

6 Comments
7 Comments
Posted by ahoodedfigure

We all use the term B Movie, but it has different meanings depending on how its used. Some people mean it derisively, to imply that because it's not the grandest that cinema can offer it's not worth paying attention to. The rest, I think, use it with affection. They know that even the weakest production values can hide a strong heart. The same I believe is true in games.

Independent productions have a lot stacked against them. They tend to be done by a handful of people (sometimes just one person), who get to spin as many plates as they can to please as many people as they can, with the more tasks they take on increasing the time it takes to make it way past the point where it could be a viable income source for all but the most dedicated and/or LUCKY. They don't get the advantage of being connected to a marketing juggernaut that convinces us that we must have it because of bullet pointed features, and live-action films that have nothing to do with the game. I'm sure you can think of other examples, depending upon how you define "independent," but one advantage independent creators have is flexibility. Their tasks are in direct proportion to their ambition, and if they have a strong central creator, they can accomplish a lot, and take risks that those with a lot more investment in them can't take. 
 
Still, even major studios upset this trend, having genre defining or genre enhancing experiences that are (hopefully) seen by many people and help push the games conversation forward (or sideways).
 
Despite heavily polished games looking so much richer than their skin-and-bones counterparts, I will never be able to join in deriding some pixel-art garage game; it's just not possible for me. Games used to be ONLY that, with a few exceptions, and that was when no one had any expectations because it was all new. Without a lot of market data or huge departments who'll have to adjust to changes, you're just a bit more willing to try something new, something a coder has been itching to try, without the risk of wrecking the huge game-creation machine when you try to turn a sudden corner.
 
I can't say, though, that I could ever disregard the bigger companies, either. When they do things right, they do them really right, and the level of polish can be almost blinding.  But I don't really see this as an either/or question:
 
Truth is, wherever they come from, I like good games. I like to get something for my money and time, almost like I'm talking with the developers and exploring the virtual space they've created. I don't care if it's on a phone, made of cardboard, or needs a thousand-dollar machine to run; quality, while somewhat subjective, does feel nearly palpable when you run across something great. And I would hate for any type of company out there to completely drown out the other types.
 
I still remember a conversation I had with a kid on the bus headed home from school. We were talking about game systems, and I said I had a Sega. He told me that Sega sucked, and I asked him why, had he played anything on there? No, he hadn't. It was about belonging to a brand; I'm assuming his flag's colors were red and white with a mushroom in the middle. I knew through friends who had the NES that the Sega wasn't good at everything, though I had trouble finding anything that quite compared to Phantasy Star. In this case it was a lateral comparison between software giants, but we do tend to settle into comfort zones when it comes to who is producing our games, too. We focus on realistic cheekbones or flopping bodies and forget that a game can be pretty much anything. Clearly, the Atari 2600 game Adventure's sprites are low res, but I can play Adventure for a few minutes and have a fun little story to tell when I'm done. That game is OLD, but in the grand scheme it still WORKS as a game.
 
A lot of games now struggling to be noticed are like Adventure; a single screenshot will say a lot about what you're in for, but it won't say enough. I'm willing to bet you'll find something cool if you let your guard down and try a few games outside your comfort zone. God knows that's happened to me a bunch of times over the course of my life, and while it's a struggle sometimes to break open an "ugly" package, I've seen enough hidden gems to know they're out there, and worth all the time spent searching for them.

Posted by Mento

To be fair, Adventure was cutting edge when it came out. Like how we're impressed with the majestically swooping dragons of Skyrim today, the gamers of the late 70s were just as impressed with the majestically quacking duckdragons of Adventure even as their pixel was getting swallowed for the dozenth time.

I'm digging that now more than ever video games have a tier system to them that, while occasionally overlapping, are beginning to see a fixed structure. Where it's now the AAA $60 disc games that get promoted to heck and back, the slightly more obscure $40 budget disc games that tend to have their cult fanbases, the oft-lauded downloadable games around $10-$20 from significant studios on XBLA/PSN, the Indie market of titles made by the one or two man groups you're talking about that often show up in charity bundles and Steam sales for half a sawbuck, and the very low-key but often time-devouring "foot in the door" dollar iPhone games and browser freebies that inundate the various online directories that house them. And that's not including the various MMO models that are available either.

It's also surprising, at least to me, that on every tier there's approximately the same 10:1 ratio of sheer repetitive shlock that's guaranteed to do okay due to a strong adherence to current trends to the truly inventive games that slip through and deserve to be played by everyone. Just like how there's ten brown shooters to every Dark Souls, there's ten Tower Defense games to every Limbo. At least that's how it seems. I have a reputation of being jaded these days.

Moderator
Posted by nintendoeats

@Mento: Jaded people waste less money.

Posted by Fripplebubby

@ahoodedfigure: Actually, in your kid anecdote, bus-kid was probably just an idiot. Most kids are idiots. Even in highschool, I've heard about how the Xbox 360 has "the best graphics ever" and how everything else sucks.

Very good read.

Posted by themartyr

Of course there are B games. Look at titles like Deadly Premonition, or You Don't Know Jack. Each of these are games that are never aimed at the 'A' market, and that come with a few rough edges, just like any B movie.

In fact, similar to from whence the 'B movie' term originated, studios will often have one team working on their 'A' title, whilst others work on the lower-expectation 'B' titles. Unfortunately we haven't yet moved into the highly intriguing prospect of titles coming in an A/B package, as the movies of the 50s did. Mind you, there are certainly comparable example of it, such as the Humble Bundles, for instance, which often combine lesser-known, more experimental content alongside 'crowd-pleaser' reliable closer-to-A content such as Braid.

Edited by Brackynews

Spelunky. Cave Story. VVVVVV. Super Meat Boy. Terraria. Minecraft. Retro City Rampage.

Some of those titles began their life as a Flash game. Some people will deride Flash games as a genre or a philosophy, rather than a platform like Java.

All of them have evolved from obscure indie darling to mainstream release. But every one of them is a "B-game" to *somebody*.

Posted by ahoodedfigure
@Fripplebubby: I guess kids get in arguments like that all the time. I tend not to, either because I lack the depth of knowledge or I lack the ability to pick a fight before I feel like I've been insulted. If someone trashed the Genesis I'd probably think they'd either never played anything on it or were applying their own brand of tunnel vision to the games they'd played, a sort of very recent nostalgia. I probably defended stuff vehemently, but I was never either/or when there wasn't any social pressure. Star Trek and Star Wars are just different, people! 
 
Thanks.
 
@themartyr: I'm really happy with how the Humble Bundle has been working out, and it's cool to see they're doing them more frequently than earlier. I hope they continue to make sales... although I can't imagine the creators getting a whole lot out of the deal. Maybe as more people realize the content they get with a lot of these games they'll be slightly less timid in upping the bid a bit. Who knows.
 
@Brackynews: Yep. Such games can be crazy awesome, and the bonus is, at least for now, they're playable across a ton of platforms. Nice to see.
 
@Mento: My point is that Adventure still works as a fun game despite its age. I wasn't even acquainted with the game until years after it came out. I probably would have loved it if I hadn't been so intimidated by the cover that I went with something less complicated looking (I forgive myself now, I was like 4 years old or so). 
 
I see what you're saying about discreet tiers allowing smaller games to flourish rather than being drowned out. 
 
As for the ratio, I'm never sure because it's hard to keep up with how All Gaming is developing unless it's, y'know, your job or whatever. Right now I've basically been deep in a figurative tunnel working on a very tiny toe of a very big market, so I imagine there are tons of things I'd love to play that I miss out on because they're not packaged in a way I'd notice. It's exciting and dangerous, but I also worry there's a chance the bubble will burst.