The (Abridged) History of Indie Gaming
As the gaming industry moves onward to many different and innovative designs over the last two decades, the ideas and scope of gaming has become FAR larger than most people could have ever designed it to be. Consider the early 80’s: Every game system was a risk for any establishment or household to take in, as the genre of “games” only existed on boards, cards, rulebooks, and the limitless imagination with a character sheet. The early developers risked their livelihoods on moving pixels across a screen, and it seriously paid off for some, and not so much for others. Nowadays, with the advent of direct game download, increased interest, and inclusion of a relatively new genre - the independent game - more and more developers are gaining a spotlight through a multitude of flash and developing systems, as well as their artistic style and incredible dedication out into the public eye.
Let’s jump back to where this all began, even further than the inclusions of home systems; the 1970s: the years of “Asteroids” and “Pong,” The Colecovision and the Atari 2600. During this time, the large pool of aspiring developers and the companies producing these initial eye-poppers were on very good terms, giving and receiving ideas and manpower to create entertainment. After all, the fame and the money were there; “Pong” sold hundreds of thousands of machines, the idea of a visual medium the audience could control astonishing and wholly innovative. As time moved on into the frightful Game Crash of ‘83 and into the 90s, developers decided to release their games in a different form without the need of a publisher. Creating the games themselves, the fledgling Internet allowed potential gamers to download and share new titles with friends and loved ones, the term “Shareware” more than appropriate. Allowed to play a small fraction of the game, a paltry $10-12 provided the full game, with more levels and gameplay than the game alone. Notable games during this era include “Jazz Jackrabbit,” the original “Duke Nukem” platforming game before 3D Realms came onto the map, and Spiderweb Software’s “Exile: Escape from the Pit” - a game which, along with it’s sequels, were featured many times on PC Gamer’s disc preview feature.
While this was going on, two more methods for independently-created games came to light; open-sourcing, and alternate game-making systems outside ASCII and Java, with the occasional Flash. Open Sourcing - a term which refers to a program whose source code has been released to the public, allowing for access by game developers for modification - also began showing up at this time. Due to the rise of user-created content and it’s popularity, developers initially released the source code as a courtesy over time to a growing fanbase, such as with ID Software’s “Doom” series and “Descent:Freespace.” Other companies -with an interest in their fans but with a far tighter leash over the work such as Blizzard Entertainment and Microsoft - released games with built-in campaign and map editors, allowing the player-turned-developer to create new content to release to a steadily-growing community which has evolved exponentially. (search “Doom” Wads and “Starcraft” Maps anytime on Google.) And yet, a whole other sub-genre brought out the open source to independent games themselves, such as the legendary dungeon crawl games “Angband” and “Nethack,” spawning countless variants in the newly-created genre, based off one of the oldest, simplest, and most-addicting of independent games to exist. And thus, the “Roguelike” genre was born.
As the 90s rolled on slowly, shareware and open-sourcing brought new games and newer life to older ones, when Flash became a major player in game creation. Newgrounds.com was the initial host for many potential developers, but it spawned countless other sites dedicated to the growing Flash community. After all, the games were exceptionally easy to access through a connection to the Internet and an open browser window, allowing for millions to play a single game and garner recognition for the developer all at once. This gave confidence which increased the interest and skill of thousands, which eventually went on to self-contained game developing programs, such as the translated “RPG Maker” system from Japan by Don Miguel, as well as Game Maker, Ika, and Sphere game systems. Fully enclosed and heavily modified with custom menus, systems, music and more, whole fractions of the Internet branched off to explore this new way of developing. Eventually, their culminations brought about several meeting places, such as Newgrounds or Madmonkey, and smaller communities such as the RMN, but the most inclusive and developing in recent times is the Independent Gaming Source.
To this day, the independent gaming scene has achieved great strides. “Cave Story” is a legendary game translated from Japan, and is coming for the Wii’s Virtual Console soon for console recognition, much like the flash game “Alien Hominid” did on the Gamecube, and, on every major system, these innovative titles are appearing from “N+” to “Flow” to “Castle Crashers.” Thanks to Paypal, the time of shareware days have passed as new games like “Cortex Command” and remakes like Spiderweb Software’s “Avernum” have taken the scene at a cheap price and an enjoyable gaming experience. An independent company, Telltale Games, with the power of attorney, wrestled “Sam and Max” from LucasArts for more episodic insanity over the course of two seasons, with another on the way. Names like Darek Yu, Daniel Remar, Pixel, Duplex and Yahtzee Croshaw-yes, that Yahtzee with his four adventure games and one stealth-actioner- are growing to a new realm of respect and notice in the gaming community. This is a new age of innovative gaming from outside the big boys, and I hope you’ll dive right in.