Category Archives: forum

beyond “indie”

i spoke at gdc again this year, though they called it “rapid-fire indies” instead of “indie rants” because apparently they’re trying to move away from the idea of rants. but if they wanted to get away from the idea of rants, why did they have me speak? my speech was about how we should move away from the idea of “INDIE GAMES” instead. here is a video my friend andrew recorded, and here is a transcript:






the words we choose to label things define the limits of our discussion, and this discussion is much more limited than the one i’d like to be having.

i don’t think the “indie” label has ever sat right with me because it has always seemed so limited: when we talk about indie games, we’re talking about a set of twenty or so particular games that look a certain way and play a certain way, which were made by an inner circle of celebrated indie game developers to be played by people who self-identify as “indie game fans” and perhaps no one else.

when, really, the promise of tools like game maker — that let anyone make a game with no professional or programming experience — and the cheap broadband internet that allows them to distribute their games without a publisher is GAMES MADE BY EVERYONE FOR EVERYONE, not games by the same small handful of nerds for the same nerds to play.

that’s what we should be having a conference about: this amazing era that we stand on the threshold of where game creation is available to everyone, where no one has to be just a fan or part of a scene because everyone can be a creator. that’s what’s exciting.

the indie label doesn’t contribute anything to the discussion except a needless sense of distance: calling a game an indie game or an author an indie developer just enforces the illusion that it’s an exclusive club, an inner circle to which most people aren’t admitted.

so my challenge to all of us is to stop thinking and talking in terms of indie games and indie developers, to get beyond the idea of an indie scene, to center the discussion on GAMES made by PEOPLE because there are going to be a whole lot more people making a whole lot more games and the indie label has become a moeity — a distinction we don’t need to make in an era where there’s no distinction between who can make videogames and who can’t.

zzt recommended reading list

zzt was created in 1991 by tim sweeney of potomac computer systems, which, funded by the sales of the zzt episodes, published shareware games throughout the nineties as epic megagames, and is now known as epic games, the publishers of unreal and that game where gigantic men fuck each other with chainsaws. this first game of theirs, zzt (the name was chosen so it would always show up at the very bottom of title lists on shareware cds), remains the most interesting to me by far because: it includes a level editor.

lots of games include level editors, but few level editors include a scripting language so robust as zzt-oop (“object-oriented programming”), so versatile that authors have completely subverted tim sweeney’s expectations for zzt worlds and created games that look nothing like his. at the same time, though, authors are limited to sixteen-color graphics comprised of the 255 characters in the ascii set pc speaker sound and music.

what that means, though, is there’s no need to create external resources, to draw sprites or model figures or record sound effects or compose music. limitations can be liberating: free from the need to create assets for their games, authors can simply create their games. and the ascii characters are abstract enough symbols to serve as atoms in the creation of almost anything. those without game-making experience will still find zzt approachable: it already contains everything that will be in any game.

these are by and large the people who were drawn to zzt – people with the desire to make games or tell stories but without the experience or knowledge or technical skill to take the conventional route to game creation. kids, amateurs, dabblers, and hobbyists. videogame zinesters: much of what they produced is unpolished and unplayable, and much of what they produced is incredible outsider art. which is why i thought a list of recommended games might be a useful place for the interested to start exploring.

like my knytt stories reading list, this one began (and was mostly completed) on the gamer’s quarter forums. and like knytt stories, this is a good time to consider zzt’s library – not because it’s changing, but because it’s probably complete. the long-running game archive z2 just declared zzt dead, and why not – it’s served its purpose: allowing people who aren’t programmers or digital artists an avenue to game creation before game maker or construct existed. now they do.

the following is a list of the zzt game i think are most interesting to someone who has no experience or interest otherwise in zzt. there are games that are more technically impressive – zzt’s object-oriented programming is powerful enough to allow for things like platform and puzzle games that look little like zzt – but what’s technically impressive in zzt isn’t impressive outside it. and if these games pique your interest, there’s almost two decades of material to explore.

the links are all direct downloads – you’ll also need a free copy of zzt (probably version 3.2) to run them. and you’ll probably want to run zzt in dosbox.

click for the full list.

knytt stories recommended reading list

it’s been almost two years since nifflas (shown here in a diaper i peer-pressured him into wearing) released knytt stories, a tool for creating and distributing run-jump-and-climb adventures in the style of his earlier knytt. the adventure included with knytt stories, “the machine,” closes with the line “many more stories are yet to be written.” and sure enough, over the course of those two years, many stories were.

knytt stories is a simple level editor with very little scripting involved; many of the people who use it have little to no prior design experience. as such, many of those stories have the qualities of outsider art that i find so intriguing. another consequence: many of them are plagued by common design mistakes and are unreasonably difficult. because the community of people who make and play knytt stories is so small, most stories are designed simply to challenge other creators’ mechanical knowledge of the game, making them mostly useless to anyone not already deeply invested in knytt stories.

which is why i think there’s value in having a list of those knytt stories that are worth playing: a recommended reading list. i was piecing one together on the gamer’s quarter forum, where much of the below text is from, but that forum grew inactive when it became clear we weren’t publishing any new issues. that’s one of the reasons i’ve moved the list here: the other is that nifflas’s forums were wiped a few months ago, and many of the old links no longer work. some of these stories were left without homes, so i reuploaded them to the knytt level archive. the links below are (almost) all direct downloads.

it’s also a good time to do it: the editor has just been updated to allow creators to script their own game objects, though at present the scripting is limited to animation. nevertheless, this is the type of change creates a distinct “before” and “after,” and we’re at a good point of vantage to assess the “before.” the limited scripting and lack of custom animation forced authors to design in creative and subtle ways, and many earlier stories are all the more interesting because of that.

the following are the knytt stories i think have strong or interesting enough ideas to be worth experiencing. they’re by no means the only good ones, but i think they’re the ones of most worth to players who aren’t otherwise interested in knytt stories (the stories that are most technically interesting are among the least playable). nifflas’s own stories are naturally recommended, but for the purposes of this list i’m more interested in player stories. my own stories can be found in my portfolio, to the right.

click for the full list.

jill of the jungle

this past week on the amazing forums i don’t mention nearly enough i’ve been documenting jill of the jungle in screenshots, both for historical purposes and because i think the jill series, considered as a whole, has a fascinating story to tell about the growth and artistry of a game designer. this was back in the early days of shareware when epic games was still a fledgeling shareware house named epic megagames and the shape and form of personal computer gaming was still largely undefined. given a blank canvas, what would tim sweeney draw?

lots of screenshots, along with my notes on the games and the choices the developers made. click and see.

michael jackson’s that bit where michael jackson leans over really far

i don’t know if i mention this often enough, but my magazine has a pretty fucking rad forum. this past week’s topic of conversation: games for the wii balance board.

Obedience: The Game
A game wherein you must use the wiimote and balance board to obey complex commands — but when you fail, one of your Miis is killed via electric shock. Unlockable special “electrosurf” play mode, and “Milgram classic” wherein you must obey audio cues to electrocute your Miis.

(courtesy Sediment)

What Did You Get Me? Is It A Watch?
The perfect gift-giving simulation. Players take turns picking up the Wii Balance Board(tm) and shaking it in their ears. The Wii-mote(tm) speaker will give audio clues as to whether the present is soft, fragile, or alive.
(courtesy helicopterp)

Duke Nukem Jackboot Stamping on A Human Face Forever
‘It’s time to kick ass and stamp repeatedly on a face. And I’m all out of ass!’
Join forces with wisecracking action hero Duke Nukem to live out George Orwell’s brutal analogy for the future of mankind! It’s you, Duke Nukem, and a gymnasium full of human faces. Whose legs will get tired first?
(courtesy Harveyjames)

Street Protest
Can you stay on your feet when rushed by a wall of riot shields?

How about staying vertical under water cannon fire?

And you have to hold up your sign (wii in hand) at the same time!
Or throw stinkbombs, rocks, molotovs. (In the Riot Bonus Levels.)

Bonus points for returning tear gas nades and flipping/torching cop cars.
(courtesy Redeye)

XX/XY: Sit On My Face
Quirky relationship game from the makers of Project Rub.
(Harveyjames again)