Home Tech Forget AAA, Innovative Indie Developers Were the Real Stars of Summer Game Fest

Forget AAA, Innovative Indie Developers Were the Real Stars of Summer Game Fest

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Forget AAA, Innovative Indie Developers Were the Real Stars of Summer Game Fest

YoI’ve talked a lot about the declining state of the gaming industry in 2024: after a cash injection during the pandemic, when everyone was looking for safe ways to distract and socialize indoors, and the growth of the gaming industry slowed. temporarily overfed, this year has been an overcorrection. Studios and corporations that expanded too quickly, made too many hires and acquisitions, have been laying off staff and closing studios. Developers looking for work have found fewer opportunities. And games whose development was disrupted by the pandemic have taken longer to get out into the world, resulting in a comparatively thin slate of titles this year compared to the 2023 bonanza.

One could see Summer Game Fest, the smaller event in Los Angeles that de facto replaced E3, as a reflection of this decline. What was once a huge, expensive sensory assault of a trade show in the cavernous halls of the Los Angeles Convention Center is now a small cluster of buildings a few blocks from Skid Row. What were once splashy press conferences are now live streams of 90-minute trailers that you can watch on your laptop. I found it hard not to feel sad on my first day in Los Angeles last week; I felt like the games industry’s best days might be behind it.

But maybe there is another way to look at it. Last weekend in Los Angeles, host Geoff Keighley kicked off the Summer Game Fest showcase with a chart showing the best-selling games of 2024 on Steam, and almost all of them are indie (or indie) games. These included Palworld, January’s big hit Pokémon with weapons; Helldivers 2, the team shooter that Sony surely didn’t have high expectations for; Hades II, the artistic action game with a Greek mythology flavor; Manor Lords, about running a feudal society; Balatro, the diabolical poker game of fever dreams; and, uh, Supermarket Simulator. These are the most successful games in terms of units sold, but creatively, as I wrote last month, we’re also in a brilliant period for indie games.

The successful end of the gaming industry is in the doldrums. Soaring budgets and high-profile flops like Microsoft’s Redfall and Warner’s Suicide Squad are resulting in a really boring approach, where seemingly every game has to be tied to a huge, long-running franchise or a live service designed to capture the attention. taking money from players for years. There is too much at stake to take any kind of risk. The big publishers that participated last weekend at the Summer Game Fest (Ubisoft, EA and Microsoft) confirmed it: the main games in the Microsoft showcase were Call of Duty Black Ops 6, DOOM: The Dark Ages, Perfect Dark, Indiana Jones and Gears of War: E-Day, all part of decades-old franchises. Ubisoft had Star Wars Outlaws and Assassin’s Creed, a series that began in 2007. EA had Dragon Age: The Veilguard, which revived a franchise last seen 10 years ago, and Skate, also old. These games all looked good, as you’d expect from entertainment products that cost hundreds of millions to make, but they’re nothing. new.

UFO 50, a collection of 50 games. Photography: Mossmouth

Fortunately there were hundreds of more new games at the weekend’s many preview showcases, and playable in Los Angeles on the small campus where Summer Game Fest was held this year. I played UFO 50, a collection of 50 different, surprisingly substantial games presented as an 80s alternate history anthology; Tales of the Shire, a game about cooking meals for your hobbit neighbors; Fear the Spotlight, a 90s-flavored horror game; Arranger, a surprisingly unusual RPG that reminded me of Crypt of the NecroDancer; and While You Wait, a dark comedy cartoon game about wasting time and the essential futility of life that looks like a playable nihilistic comic strip. Watching the Summer Game Fest show and other live streams over the weekend, I saw hundreds more.

We’re not seeing much innovation from the larger companies in gaming right now. But as that list of this year’s top 10 Steam hits shows, the next notable games may not come from them. Innersloth, creators of the pandemic-era megahit Among Us, announced during Summer Game Fest that they were creating a new fund (oddly named Outersloth) for indie developers with good ideas. Meanwhile, horror movie maker Blumhouse is getting into video games with its own label of low-budget horror games, starting with a slate of six. I see signs of creative regeneration at this end of the scale and that makes me optimistic.

During E3’s heyday a decade or more ago, the event represented a gaming industry that always seemed to be on the rise. Everyone was competing, creatively and technically, to be the next big thing, to outdo everyone else with splashy reveals and splashy events. It was flashy and often in bad taste, but was exciting. Today, the games industry is already the next big thing: it’s a mature entertainment industry where the pace of change is slower and the biggest games and companies are unimaginably bigger than before. The most successful gaming companies (EA, PlayStation, Nintendo, Epic Games with Fortnite, Riot with League of Legends, 2K with Grand Theft Auto) don’t. need spend millions on a flashy event when they already have millions of players. There’s less competition, less push from game publishers and console manufacturers to prove themselves.

But there are also many more people involved than before: more players, more games, and more game creators at all scales, all over the world. Los Angeles in June is no longer the center of the gaming universe: the next big thing could come from anywhere. It’s easy to see stagnation, assimilation and repetition if you only look at the top end of the games industry. If you want to feel excited about the future, all you have to do is look elsewhere.

What to play

Star Wars: Hunters. Photography: LucasFilm Games/Zynga

While you wait for Ubisoft’s epic open-world adventure, Star Wars Outlaws, you should definitely check it out. Star Wars: Hunters. Just released on smartphones and Nintendo Switch, it’s a team-based arena shooter, letting you take part as various creeds from the Star Wars universe, including Jedis, bounty hunters, Wookiees and Jawas, all with their own weapons and abilities, for supposed. Hunters is beautifully presented, featuring recognizable locations from the films and plenty of familiar sounds and music. Mobile gaming veteran Zynga has ensured that the surprisingly intuitive controls make it accessible to fans, regardless of their shooting skills.

Available in: Nintendo Switch, iPhone, Android
Estimated playing time: 20+ hours

what to read

Not a gun in the place… Catto’s Post Office, one of the cozy titles featured on Wholesome Direct. Photography: In the Shambles studio

What to click

Question block

Elden Ring… no swimming. Photography: Namco Bandai

This week’s question comes from oli boyhalf of Extra points podcast that asked in X:

“When interacting with water that kills the player, at what point should it kill them? Instantly? When does it cover their heads? Can’t you intervene at all?

Within this seemingly simple question lies one of the most important dichotomies in the modern game design process: is a video game an immersive role-playing experience in which authenticity is paramount, or is a game a gaming machine? , such as a Monopoly board or a pinball table, where the failure state (i.e., drowning) must be as brief as possible so that the player can play again. If the first is more important, then we have a lot of problems: when a player falls into the water, the game has to do a lot of calculations about his weight, whether he has the ability to swim, whether there are strong currents, etc. and then calculate the result; in this case you would get a potentially long drowning animation, but it will get boring after a while. That is the problem of reality. Look at fast travel – it’s not realistic that you can instantly go from one point on the map to another, but it helps to enjoy the game. Then what do you do?

Many games provide visual clues to the water’s potential mortality: shallow, safe stretches may be lighter in color, for example; In the 2D era, traversable water was often transparent, telling the player that it was part of explorable space (Sonic the Hedgehog, for example), but if it was opaque (Aladdin) it was death juice. So there can’t be a definitive rule, because different games have different design approaches and priorities. It seems crazy that your characters in Elden Ring or Dragon’s Dogma can’t swim and immediately drown, while Link can explore the waters of Hyrule as long as he has some stamina. In a realistic RPG, we should at least get a short, authentic drowning animation when the player character is exposed to deadly water, which would provide the player with both a lesson and a punishment. But in an online team shooter, it should end as soon as possible so you can get back to the game.

If you think this issue is trivial, the TVTropes website has a great wiki about which games do or don’t allow swimming, while the Elden Ring subreddit has long discussion threads about the lethality of aquatic domains, with one user casually stating that “swimming lessons are expensive in the Between Lands.” Ultimately, most players don’t seem to care if their character is subjected to a gruesome drowning animation or simply dies the moment he hits the surface. As in any area of ​​game design, or indeed life in general, people just want the rules to be clear and applied consistently.

If you have any questions for the ask block, or anything else to say about the newsletter, hit reply or email us at pushbuttons@theguardian.com.

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