Editorial: Modern-Retro Indie Games

As time moves forward and triple-A studios stop caring about the quality of their flagship franchises gaming is left in the hands of passionate fans and aspiring developers. What are the commonfolk to play when developers like Square Enix gives them titles like Final Fantasy XV? What happened to the good old days when someone could start a game and play it without having to be subjected to obnoxious voice acting and overlly long tutorials? The people have spoken! Of course by people Adeki actually means one loyal reader. Nonetheless, the people want to read an editorial about the rise of modern-retro indie games and so it shall be.

OK, they may not be entirely innocent but they can be adorable.

Go Quote! Destroy the innocent wildlife.

Since the 2000s indie gaming has taken a rise thanks in part to easier methods of distributing independently-made games online coupled with access to programs and software that makes game development much easier. This has led to games like Cave Story and La-Mulana, both of which were released from Japan in the mid-2000s. Not only this, but both games were made to look a certain way in that the developer behind Cave Story wanted the game to look like the games he played in his youth while La-Mulana was designed to look like games found on the MSX. Keeping in mind that both games have gone through many upgrades over time so these design choices are not as immediately recognizable in their current forms compared to when they were first released. While Cave Story’s largest visual change was seen in Cave Story 3D, other ports add content and upgrade the visuals while still maintaining the overall retro aesthetic of the game. Later on, La-Mulana was remade in the early 2010s with 16-bit style graphics for PC/Mac/Linux as well as the PlayStation Vita and Wii. Although Cave Story proved to be the more popular of the two games, both made it abundantly clear that independent developers could make games that people were more than happy to play.

Or maybe not! Reverse psychology is very powerful.

It will probably make someone flip.

Moving forward a few years into the early 2010s, games like VVVVVV and FTL: Faster Than Light made their way onto the market. Both of which were moderately well-recieved, and like the games mentioned earlier they were made to emulate an older style of gaming both visually and gameplay wise. VVVVVV was designed to be reminiscent of Commodore 64 games visually while from a gameplay standpoint it was heavily influenced by a game named Jet Set Willy which was released for the ZX Spectrum in the ’80s. On the other side of the coin, FTL: Faster Than Light was influenced by older tabletop board games while visually the game does look much more modern. However, both games did prove that not only were people willing to play indie games but they were also willingly to pay the price in order to support the developers. Although now the price of VVVVVV is a mere $5, when it first launched the asking price for the game was a seemingly steep $15 which the developer later admitted put a lot of people off. This did not completely halt initial sales of the game though as it still spread throughout the metaphysical corners of the internet and gained popularity over time. Meanwhile, FTL: Faster Than Light was actually a Kickstarter campaign asking for $10,000 in 2012 and by the end of the funding period the developers had been granted over $200,000. Keeping in mind that this was the same year of Broken Age‘s Kickstarter (known as Double Fine Adventure at the time) which brought a slew of aspiring video game developers to the crowdfunding site. Kickstarter then rapidly became the place of dreams as everyone and their parents rushed to the site to show off their ideas for video games whether or not they had the capitabilites to make said games or not. These campaigns soon became very hit or miss with projects like Yooka-Laylee and the Ouya compared to more well-recieved titles like Hollow Knight and Thimbleweed Park.

But try not to think of the soul-crushing loneliness you feel when you realize you have more friends in a game than in real life. Sorry, Adeki.

The wine! The jams! Think of the money!

To close things out for this editorial it is time to bring it all the way up to the mid 2010s with games like Shovel Knight, Stardew Valley, and Axiom Verge. All of which were designed to bring back fond memories of an era of gaming now long past. Shovel Knight was made to recreate the feel of NES games, Stardew Valley was created in order to pick up where the “Harvest Moon” games dropped off, and Axiom Verge was just a passion project to bring another fantastic Metroidvania into existance. Notice how it is almost as if all the games were made to fill a void. At the time it did not really seem like there would be another game that recreated NES style gameplay and graphics that was not a quick cashgrab based soley on nostalgia. Meanwhile, games in the “Harvest Moon” franchise seemed to do worse and worse in terms of popularity and overall quality leading to Stardew Valley to not only improve on the formula but also to offer the style of gameplay at a much more reasonable price. Of course, as for the case of Axiom Verge it was not until this year that another 2D game in the “Metroid” franchise was announced after it felt like Nintendo had effectively abandoned it. When big developers like Nintendo leave fans clamoring for more without any word on the subject, it makes sense that they would look elsewhere to find a way to feed into their gaming habit, taking their money with them. If only more developers could be like Valve and learn from the success of these independent developers and reward them accordingly rather than shutting down fan projects like Nintendo.

So that is that when it comes to the rise of modern-retro indie games! Did you feel like you learned something new? Were you just glad to read about the success of indie games that do their best to capture the feel of past games? Did you want to learn more? Whatever the case may be make sure to leave a comment below and let us know what you think!

7 Comments

  1. Lusipurr
    Posted 2017.08.30 at 12:05 | Permalink

    Quite a few of the games you mention here get the overall look right but the overall feel wrong.

    Cave Story and VVVVVV for example look like they should, but they feel wrong. Star Dew Valley does as well. But Shovel Knight and Axiom Verge get the ‘feel’ exactly right.

    I’ve been thinking about this for a while and I’m beginning to wonder if it has to do with the granularity of movement. One of the games that makes me think this is Rogue Legacy, which looks exactly right. But the movement has no granularity: it is like the character is ‘sliding’ along the floor and ‘floating’ through the air.

    It is hard to explain. When one plays and watches a Mario game, one gets the sense that Mario is walking on the ground and that he is taking individual steps. There’s also a certain granularity to the controls that is connected to this.

    But with Rogue Legacy, one gets the sense that the character is just sliding along, and that the animation of the movement is happening after-the-fact: sort of like if you click-dragged an animated gif of a clapping child across the level. The animation (child clapping) would not be connected to the movement, although they would be happening at the same time.

  2. Adeki
    Posted 2017.08.30 at 12:19 | Permalink

    @Lusipurr: I think it’s interesting that you mention that because I remember our previous conversation about how the movement in Rogue Legacy just doesn’t feel right especially compared to other games like pretty much any Mario game. As for games like Cave Story and Stardew Valley I find it more interesting when you mention they don’t feel right because of course I’m not familar with how games like that used to play. So while I enjoy these games and understand they’re based off of older titles, I also don’t have the ability to connect them with the games they’re based on so I don’t know if that would in turn affect my enjoyment of them compared to someone who is extremely familar with the games they’re based on and has a knowledge of how the games used to feel when you played them.

  3. Lusipurr
    Posted 2017.08.30 at 13:44 | Permalink

    @Adeki: I was looking at your comment but I couldn’t hear you. Have you tried turning your microphone up?

  4. Adeki
    Posted 2017.08.30 at 14:57 | Permalink

    @Lusipurr: :(

  5. Lusipurr
    Posted 2017.08.30 at 19:03 | Permalink

    Nope, still nothing. Make sure you have the right input selected.

  6. Tanzenmatt
    Posted 2017.09.01 at 23:59 | Permalink

    Oh hey, I read this article, thank you Adeki!

  7. Adeki
    Posted 2017.09.03 at 21:52 | Permalink

    @Tanzenmatt: No problem, thanks for commenting!