By ahoodedfigure 7 Comments
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.