World of Goo/Braid/N+: Independent Games and their Contributions to the Gaming Market

With the advent of the newest generation of consoles, the Wii, PS3, and Xbox 360, the gamer population has grown to an unbelievable size. Naturally, the gaming market has grown indescribably as well. Back in the days, when it used to be the NES and Famicom, the gamer’s market was not a widely known or even widely appreciated one. Many remember playing The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and admiring it’s beautiful graphics. Even I remember those days. The Wizard is still a classic movie (meaning horrible, horrible, horrible) for those of the time. Even Tron was a great breakthrough!

But now, Gaming has become a commodity. It’s not that such a state is bad. For the gamers out there who enjoy games, more games ultimately means more fun. The problem, then, lies in originality or the framework of these games.

Gaming is much a template nowadays. Most notably seen in Nintendo, there is a constant stream of utter garbage that floods the market, making that one gem even harder to find. In fact, for the once renown makers of Zelda and Mario, the reputation garnered by the sewage material spewing from this source is enough to send Miyamoto straight to Hell three times over while being tarred and feathered, in a chicken suit. Apart from that though, because gaming is now more capital focused than ever, the focus is on producing faster and making things look prettier. Quality is less of a factor, nor are aspects such as storyline, music, gameplay and the like. Of course, some games are still high quality masterpieces, balancing story, gameplay mechanics, control, music into blends of greatness. Some of the template games are still marvelous as well. In fact, some games are good enough to compensate for the incessant amounts of horsepiss that clogs the gaming market. The problem that many gamers face, obviously, is that these diamonds in the dust don’t appear as often as they should in comparison to the sheer number of games being produced.

Of course, it must be acknowledged that game developers, especially larger companies, are forced, by precedence, to release a certain type of game, to stay their course and creativity. As a result, many long term gamers find certain dullness, repetitiveness to these games. Examples, of course, include Zelda, Final Fantasy, and Tekken. The brand name, having been so popular, causes development of similar products following a format, a template, a frame. Because of such, innovation, though possible, is limited. Zelda may have cool new toys, but the old ones will always remain. Final Fantasy will still use the Fire, Fira, Firaga series of spells. Tekken will always be a normal 1v1 fighting game with complex combos. Development can happen, but the frame will not be altered. If it is altered, much like Mario and Sonic have been, the successes will generate another template and the failures will just cut the reputation. I’m not, in any way, bashing these titles. Personally, I love most of the games that I listed above. It’s just that now, after more than 20 years of gaming, brand names are beginning to be viewed as repetition.

This is where Independent developers must butt in. These games, such as World of Goo, Braid, N+, Portal and more, are creative masterpieces in the world of gaming. World of Goo is a structural design game where goo balls ARE your structure. They branch out forming trusses and beams to support themselves as you stack them higher and higher to reach pipes. The puzzle possibilities, alongside the hilarious script and obvious memetic references, increase as you progress the levels. This is the same for Braid, except with a different mechanic. N+ is a puzzle game based solely on skill and Portal, the most well known of them all, is the crowning achievement of the genre. Fathering a few very well known memes, alongside a great side market for popular culture, Portal is the game involving some hilarious dialogue, warp portals, and cake. These games of independent make are the jewels that litter the gaming world. The only unfortunate aspect, is that these jewels are located in a single genre. But, even by showing their amazing potential, these independent game developers are issuing a challenge to the big companies of gaming. They are challenging the innovative minds of these companies to bring out a product that will trump theirs in fame and fortune.

These are the independent games that will bring about a new generation of games. Hopefully anyways. More and more, new ideas are being brought onto the table and slowly, the gaming market is being redesigned. Games with new battles systems such as The World Ends With You or just an incredible mechanic period (Scribblenauts) are being released and are slowly find their way into the gamer market. As these games slowly proceed up the ladder, hopefully, the market will be more innovation oriented than now. This slump is but another step to overcome.

Kun Woo

The guy who played Braid too much.

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One Response

  1. Kun Woo,

    You hesitated to call one particular large game developer, but I won’t. Electronic Arts (EA) has been the bane of many gamers, buying up smaller game companies and ruining many of their games. My main example is Westwood Studios, maker of the famous Command & Conquer line of Real-Time Simulation (RTS) games. The original C&C and Red Alert were well-designed and programmed, with immersive storylines and balanced forces. However, once EA bought Westwood, things changed. EA chose to instead focus on developing cutscenes with Hollywood stars (e.g.: James Earl Jones as the general in C&C Tiberian Sun), all of which made the game bloated and distracted from the gameplay.

    EA has also ruined many of its own games over the years, such as The Need for Speed (NFS). Originally, NFS was a realistic driving simulation game that was even endorsed by Road & Track magazine. However, EA felt that it wanted to create a driving game centered around modification and “ricing.” As a result, the driving game enthusiasts abandoned NFS and the market came to be dominated by Polyphony Digital and its Gran Turismo series.

    At Northwestern, engineers have to take a series of intro classes called Engineering Analysis (abbreviated EA) that are fairly tedious. The inside joke among Northwestern engineers concerning Engineering Analysis can be applied to Electronic Arts: ‘you can’t spell death [to a good gaming franchise] without EA.’

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