Indie Game: The Mixtape
Every time a chiptune bell rings, another free indie game is released online. The indie community puts out a full range of prototypes, small games, and full blown passion projects at an astounding rate. Especially with the rise in popularity of Game Jams – typically themed events that challenge overcaffeinated developers to transmute stress and constraints into a game using a time span usually around a weekend – there’s no shortage of small concepts being prototyped or eventually polished up into a game and released into the wild. Ludum Dare is in it’s 24th incarnation, with more and more developers stepping into the ring every time.
Self-publishing and digital distribution are the indie’s best friend – once you finish a game and want to release it for free, you need only toss out a download link on your site or upload to a website like Newgrounds. The barriers to making your game available to the world are crumbling every day, paving the way for games that might otherwise not ever be seen. However, with the relative ease of self-publishing comes a flood of games, and trying to find one that you can really dive in to can feel like a daunting task.
With the attention span of the internet closely resembling an ADD kid with a mouth full of pixie stix, this means some of the best free games end up without the larger audience they deserve. Typically a free game will bounce around press coverage for around a week and then fall off the map, effectively getting buried under whatever comes out next. We’re moving on to the next thing, and the sites that cover these games burn through content in an effort to keep up with our goldfish brains and demands for more new – not necessarily better – things. The fact that so few people that I’ve met outside of other indies have played Knytt Stories, a free, beautiful, and moddable metroidvania, simply because they haven’t heard of it, is upsetting, especially since playing it impacted me greatly as a developer.
This is a damned shame for developers and players alike to miss out on sharing these brilliant games that don’t cost a cent simply because they’ve fallen off the capricious scope of games press. Good games don’t stop being good, but they stop getting attention after a certain point. I’ve gotten hundreds of hours of enjoyment out of games that only cost me a few minutes of downloading:
Rescue the Beagles is not only a frantically-paced arcade-style platformer that has you saving puppies and platforming across a shifting landscape, but it has saved me multiple times from fully feeling the long hours on a Greyhound after midnight with hours to go until the next stop. Dungeons of Fayte is a 4-player co-op dungeon crawler with massive amounts of hilariously written content sandwiched in between challenging levels. The fact that it’s a jam game and was made in a short period of time makes me wonder if I’ve spent more hours playing it at this point than the developers spent making it. Stealth Bastard, a highly polished stealth platformer made with the free gamemaking tool Game Maker, complete with dynamic lighting, level editor, and online leaderboards, has elicited streams upon streams of obscenities from me while I struggle to get to the next level without exploding into piles of meat – and it does it in a way that’s challenging but fair enough to keep me playing instead of hulking out and throwing my gamepad into the sun in frustration.
With more and more free indie games being published with an ever-rising quality bar as more developers enter the fray, especially with the advent of Steam Greenlight, I worry that people who would otherwise fall in love with these games the way that I have, or developers who would be inspired and benefit greatly from experiencing these games, may not be able to find them. After looking to older mediums that have a similarly critical mass of content for answers, one obvious one stuck out from music.
Mixtapes – and not just the kind you make to impress cute girls. Collections of songs handed out to potentially interested parties, curated by music lovers who wanted to share their oh-so-refined tastes with others.
I have a folder on my desktop that survives every time I clear the mess of downloaded pictures or notepad files with single lines of notes in them – one labeled “Indie Games”. Every time I’m spending time with someone who loves games but might not be aware of these games I curate, I excitedly pull out my laptop.
Essentially, it’s my free indie games mixtape, and I encourage you to make your own instead of leaving it at just sitting on top of pile of bundled games in your Steam library that you’ve ended up buying, half of which you’ve not yet played. If you stumble across a free little game you like, instead of just playing it and forgetting about it, why not toss it in a folder? Then, I’d suggest taking it a step further and sharing them with other people who would like them.
Sharing games can be such a rewarding experience, providing that little high of showing something you care about to a person who takes to it with enthusiasm, and in this case it takes very little investment. Showing these games that I’ve collected to someone who I feel will love them is a lot like introducing two friends who would absolutely love each other if only they had met.
I’ll be frequently posting short bits on this site whenever I uncover another free game that really resonates with me, regardless of when it was released, instead of flailing my arms and yelling about them on twitter and varying street corners – hopefully you’ll give it a try and fall in love with some of them too.
Here’s my own (ever-growing) Steam Greenlight “Mixtape”; a collection of Steam Greenlight games that are worth looking at!