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makeshiftwings

indie games in "AAA" genres

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There is a basic principle that small, independent developers tend to follow when creating games: that you can't compete with the big boys, and that rather than try to create an FPS better than Quake or an MMORPG better than WoW, you should target a niche group where there is less crowding, and market to them. I can't argue with that; overall, it is very sound advice. The problem, to me, is that most small indie games turn out to be puzzle games, spaceship blasters, obscure flight sims, or turn-based WWII strategy games. And I don't really like any of those. I was hoping to get some ideas from other indie devs and see how a small, independent, low-budget game might succeed in one of the big-name genres. First, we should set some ground rules: no assuming that your team of two programmers and an artist is somehow "so good" that they could recreate Half-Life 2 from scratch in a month. We need to be realistic and expect that we will have far less artwork and content in general than most retail titles. Also, no relying on a publisher or investor swooping in to give you millions of dollars or set up a ton of servers or give you a hundred customer service employees, which means certain ideas, like standard MMORPGs, are right out. The game needs to remain underfunded and understaffed throughout its whole life time, in true indie tradition ;) Also, I'm assuming the game will sell through shareware or other internet-based sites, have a small marketing budget, and generally not make it into retail outlets, so there will be a smaller user base, again, throwing out certain concepts like "the MMORPG that will beat WoW". So, here are some ideas I have, first, general ones that apply to all genres: Dealing with Less Content - Indies can not realistically make an RPG with 60 hours of quests, or an FPS with 200 missions, or 100 different monster models. Two alternatives are: Episodic content: Instead of a 60-hour RPG for $60, you could sell a 10-hour RPG for $7.99, with the hope that if it sells well, you could make part 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. I think this method has a lot of advantages: with smaller games, you have more chances to listen to player feedback and try out new ideas without worrying too much about losing a huge investment of time and money. Players win because if it turns out they don't like a game after buying one episode, they've only lost a sixth of the price if they'd bought a full retail game. However, the episodic model hasn't proven to work that well in real life, for various reasons. Some players are just turned off by the idea of a small game, and wouldn't waste their money on it, even if logically six small games should equal one big game. Similarly, against logic, a lot of people are LESS willing to spend money on something with a low price than something with a big price, because they assume anything with a low price is low quality. Procedurally Generated Content - This is a method that a lot of indie games use now. For maps/levels/quests/etc, you come up with a set of rules and let the computer randomly generate content for the player. The good part is you then have infinite content, and infinite replay. The bad part is that procedural content can often start to seem repetitive and shallow, especially if the game or genre in question usually focuses on things like story or dialogue, which is notoriously hard to generate procedurally. Player Generated Content - Retail games are now realizing that this is the wave of the future, and I think indie games need to take advantage of it. Offering a good construction set to your players and letting them trade their creations to other players is basically like getting an entire extra art and design department for free. The good news is that a mod community can keep your game going well beyond its original life expectancy, offer the players the chance to make the game their own and fix any little problems that might otherwise stop them from liking it, and in general solves a lot of the problems of people not wanting to buy your game because there's not enough content. The bad news is that making mod tools and an easily moddable game requires additional time, and you generally can't release a game that's JUST mod tools; you need to do plenty of your own content as well in order to get people hooked. Genre-specific: FPS - Unfortunately for the indies, FPS's are often marketed by their graphics. It's unlikely that an indie could pull together a better graphical engine than whatever Quake/Unreal is doing AND fill it with better artwork than the latest iteration of those games. I'd say trying to compete graphically with retail FPS's is hopeless. Instead, you could focus on other aspects that FPS players like, target niche audiences within the FPS audience, or try to bring an alienated niche market into the FPS fold by offering something different. For example, multiplayer online modes are veyr important to hardcore fans, and they might be willing to play an FPS with bad graphics if it offers a unique and balances online mode. You could make an FPS with no single-player campaign, one that maybe focuses just on a particular style of match: deathmatch, or Capture the Flag, or something more esoteric like Unreal 2004's Onslaught mode. If you put all of your effort into creating just a cool variant of Onslaught Mode, with some unique weapons and vehicles, a good mod tool, and didn't try to do anything else that FPS's do, you just might be able to gain some ground. RPG - Unfortunately for the indies, RPG's are often marketed by their huge number of quests, hours of gameplay, or number of weapons/spells/classes/races/whatever. It's unlikely that you'll be able to create a standard RPG with more quests than Baldur's Gate 2 or Final Fantasy X. There are a few areas where an indie RPG might gain ground though. First, story. Plenty of RPG entusiasts proclaim "the story is the most important part", though there may be some debate as to whether they're telling the truth. It's difficult to say what makes a "good" story, but I think an RPG could get an audience if it works with settings or themes that the retail system thinks are unprofitable. Putting your game in a different setting than standard fantasy or sci-fi, like germany in the world war, or the 1970's american disco scene, or "mars, during the victorian era, but there are robots, and everyone has telepathy" might be enough to garner a niche audience that will forgive your game any other flaws it might have. Even in a standard setting, certain themes might attract a niche audience: adult/sexual themes (the retail avoids them, but we all know there is a disturbingly large audience out there dying for elf porn... :/ ), intellectual/philosophical/political themes directed at older gamers (the retail circuit is often accused of "dumbing things down" so as not to alienate players), etc. Yet another method to gain an audience would be to focus solely on a certain aspect of RPGs at the cost of all else. Say, the battle system, leading to a tactics-style game with minimal quests and plot, but lots of random battles. Or reverse it, and downplay combat/skills/equipment, leading to more of a Sims/interactive fiction game where almost everything is resolved by story and dialogue choices. This post is already too long; I'll leave it to some other people to respond or post some ideas for other genres. :)

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Guest Anonymous Poster
I think rpg would be a good place for indie developers as most of big name ones are somewhat unoriginal and a lot people exisit that feel rpg are focused too much on bleeding edge graphic and painfully long fmv's than gameplay

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You've hit the nail on the head. You may be interested in this if you haven't already seen it (note, I realize the link's been around)

Basically, it talks about procedural content generation merged with player-created content. It mirrors pretty much everything I can think of saying so I'll just let Will take my post from here.

Spore and Game Creation

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The thing about the "big boys" is that, just like big movie studios, they tend to play it safe and formulaic. Indie games, much like indie movies, don't have to rely on formula. They can try new things and experiment with more radical ideas.

The plethora of indie games already available shows exactly how much they can vary already. Of course, many of the games are more formulaic than the commercial games (tetris clones, or computer versions of board games).

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Heh, this reads exactly like what went through my head a week or so ago, when I realised that every one of my game ideas was morphining into the impossibly long RPG I've always wanted to make. I suppose the main difference is that I actually like puzzle games and spaceship blasters as long as they have originality and soul [smile].

The other big difference is that I think aiming for a "big-name genre" is itself a mistake. If you aim for a big genre you are more likely to hit squarely into a mould of game that the AAA high-budget developers presently dominate. If your game design can be best described as "It's like *insert big name AAA title here*, but with *insert insignificant change here*", then it's pretty much doomed as a commercial prospect.

For example, I'd personally steer away from FPS games that are in any way similar to those made by the AAA teams, including trying to make the best Onslaught game possible. An FPS game might work if you pick a unique setting, such as setting it in the Napoleonic Wars or in the Caribbean during the age of pirates. Or even better, mould it with another game type, such as FPS/RTS, FPS/RPG or a FPS/adventure game.

As for RPG games, these can work if you've got enough content creators and you don't aim for a ultra-high-tech engine, as a good story is unique enough to act as a selling point. However I think it's better if you don't aim to make an RPG in the style of Bioware or Square-Enix. Depending on what you define an "RPG" to be, you could consider making an adventure game instead, or a strategy management RPG-type game like the Princess Maker series (like was done with Cute Knight). Story and stats doesn't have to mean a Final Fantasy type game.

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1. Indies don't have the resources to compete with AAA games in the GENRE.
2. Indies fall back to puzzle games and other simpler GENRES.

Here's my question for the indies out there: why are we trying to compete in their genre. Why not create your own genre? Screw the first person shooter and the MMO. Let's bring in some new genres! We need Bomberman, Lolo, Pac-Man, Bubble Bobble, Katamari Damashii... at one point Tetris was innovative, now it's been done to death. We need to let that sleeping dog drown and move on into the sunrise... or whatever I was trying to say.

I'm not saying clone the lesser known classics, I'm saying be inspired by their innovation and do what the major publishers can't afford to do: experiment!

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What about the fact that indie teams, without pressure from management and budgets, can afford to take twice as long to make the same game as a larger professional team? Xenallure aims to be an RPsim of roughly equal quality to Final Fantasy 8. It has a bit less content in that it will use scripted scenes rather than FMVs and should only take about 40 hours to play the first time, but it's still a huge project. It has been in production for 2 years and will probably take another 2 years to complete, but it will damn impressive when we're finally done with it.

Another tactic indies can use that the industry can't is sharing code and content. Xenallure will hopefully include several subgames. Rather than writing them all ourselves, we'll look around for indie puzzle and arcade games which could fit into Xenallure with a little remodeling and ask their creators if they want to team up. [smile]

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What about the fact that indie teams, without pressure from management and budgets, can afford to take twice as long to make the same game as a larger professional team?


Except, you know, that unfortunate need to eat that we all have. :)

Some indie teams have that ability, either through luck or sheer willpower, but where exactly does an indie make enough money to pay rent if they're not releasing games?

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makeshiftwings:
I enjoyed reading your post very much! I had same sort of ideas but havent seen it so clearly.

Quote:

...the retail avoids them, but we all know there is a disturbingly large audience out there dying for elf porn...


fine... I give you my blessing with your elf porn as long as you promise to leave the dwarf porn


M2tM:
Wow! I saw the spore video now and its amazing!! (its 3:27am now, an hour ago I was like "Ill just see the first few minutes..." and I couldnt stop watching.

Will Wright is a genius, but I think I figured his secret -

(Player generated + Procedual)*(inovation + skill) = pure total amazing jaw dropping goodness.

plus he is a great lecturer.



as for inovating, thats pretty hard! The human brain usualy comes up with stuff somewhat near examples seen before... its how we are made, so coming up with something entirely new is hard.

what about combining genres?
- GTA combined lousy FPS with lousy car racing with somewhat lousy modern RPG and got a smash hit (well, they had some not lousy stuff too).
- Unreal's Capture the flag is sort of a mix between FPS + Sport(football style).
- More and more games and genres steal from RPG ideas such as xp and leveling (even some platform/arcade games now feature leveling up).

But I guess there arent that many generes so mixing them isnt going bring thousands of new ideas.
there are some new mini generes forming (for example, protect the castle type) so it may be beneficial to look for those and try mixing and matching to get new game concepts. Some new generes may start from a simple internet flash game and can be mixed into a AAA size project.

Iftah.

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Quote:
Original post by JBourrie
What about the fact that indie teams, without pressure from management and budgets, can afford to take twice as long to make the same game as a larger professional team?


Except, you know, that unfortunate need to eat that we all have. :)

Some indie teams have that ability, either through luck or sheer willpower, but where exactly does an indie make enough money to pay rent if they're not releasing games?


Isn't an indie team by definition one that doesn't make any money? If you turn a profit you become part of the real game industry.

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