Oh, E3. Why do you let us down?
No, not just E3. For the last few years, we, the Real Gamers, have been in a constant state of underwhelmed. We watch as Microsoft makes Mountain Dew-Halo tie-ins, and Sony does some augmented reality gimmick with a camera and a book on your rug and Nintendo mutates their controllers ever further in hopes of surprising us into buying new hardware and we have to wonder: who is this stuff for?
It’s clearly not for us. We want interesting game mechanics, well-told stories, solid control schemes. Games that do things that are fun and new, that we haven’t played a thousand times before. Games like Portal. Or Minecraft. Or Phoenix Wright. Or any other game that hasn’t been dumbed down so that “anyone can enjoy it”. Is that so much to ask?
Unfortunately, that question answers itself.
The reality is that most game development today isn’t really for us. It’s for everyone. By the point you've spent millions to develop a AAA title, you’ve put too much into it to aim for a niche. You have to make it something anyone can enjoy so you can sell it to anyone. You have to get focus groups to point out things that are too complicated. You have to satisfy layer after layer of middle management, convinced that a feature is unmarketable. You have to aim for the lowest common denominator.
(You can even still profit handsomely off the niche. You do this with targeted upsells: gamers know them as “DLC”. But that’s a whole other post.)
So we have to ask: is this all there is? As games get more and more expensive to produce, will they always become stupider and stupider? Is this our fate as gamers, to be consigned to the mainstream?
Of course not!
What we’ve discovered is merely that we don’t want what Sony and Microsoft and Nintendo are selling. They’re trying to feed you the age-old lie that bigger is better, that the more development man-hours and money went into creating something, the better it must be. We can escape from that! There’s a huge indie scene out there. Games made by small teams (sometimes, just one person) because they love games as much as you do, and they’re full of amazing ideas. Games that were made because their creators wanted to play them, not because some studio exec thought space marines were popular so we need to make a game about space marines.
I’m going to list a few such games now. All of them were released or updated in the last few years, and every one of them is better than all the sludge that came out of E3 this year. If you see any names you haven’t heard of, please at least check them out. Some of them are even free!
And if all else fails, there’s always Good Old Games.