HomeTech Pushing buttons: Big studios are making big cuts, but indie gems like Animal Well still exist

Pushing buttons: Big studios are making big cuts, but indie gems like Animal Well still exist

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Pushing buttons: Big studios are making big cuts, but indie gems like Animal Well still exist

YoIt’s a deeply unhappy time for game developers, as anyone who pays attention to the games industry this year will know. Thousands of jobs have fallen victim to corporate cost-cutting, as games in progress have been canceled and award-winning studios have been shuttered. The mood is furious and despondent.

“I feel so desperate for the medium I love,” one reader wrote in response to last week’s newsletter. “The layoffs have been very disheartening because of the potential that is being wasted in the name of even more grotesque levels of profit-taking, not to mention the impact this is having on the people who actually make the games.” He asked: “Do you see any way forward for developers to create fantastic games on a decent budget and pay their staff a living wage? Some hope would be appreciated.”

One of the many tragic ironies about the year in gaming so far is that, at the same time as all of these cuts, closures, and layoffs, we’re also seeing an extraordinary number of big hits. Nobody expected much from the satirical and militaristic shooter Helldivers 2, but it has sold 12 million copies since February. Palworld may have made me feel vaguely gross, but it made money. Balatro, the poker roguelike that stole a whole week of my free time, had a million sales and was made by one person. In early access on Steam, we had medieval township sim Manor Lords and Supergiant’s incredible Hades II racking up huge player numbers.

We’ve had so many brilliant and interesting indie (or indie) games this year that it’s been hard to keep up. Off the top of my head, there was the PlayStation-1-style horror game Crow Country, cartoonish underwater souls like Another Crab’s Treasure, the sci-fi survival road trip Pacific Drive, the stop-motion puppet adventure Harold Halibut, a Relaxed vintage puzzle game. Botany Manor… and we’re not even halfway through the year. As the successful, corporate end of game development seems to be increasingly difficult to survive, we’re at least seeing more small and medium-sized releases succeed. That should offer at least some hope.

Incredible… Hades II. Photography: Supergiant

This week I’ve been playing Animal Well, which I’ve been looking forward to for a while, and it’s another top-notch example of a smaller game that does everything right. If you’re longing for a pre-internet era when games seemed mysterious and unknowable, this is for you – although, naturally, a squad of incredibly dedicated players on Discord are working hard to uncover all of its hidden secrets. It has the lo-fi look and limited color palette of a forgotten game once played on school computers, but with exquisite lighting, sound, and visual detail that goes far beyond what any game from a bygone era could achieve.

You play as a mass with eyes, born in an underground labyrinth full of creatures that mostly want to eat you, but you don’t fight them; you have to hide from them or outsmart them. One of the first creatures I encountered was a terrifying, crooked-legged ostrich that staggered toward me, emitting unacceptably distorted squawks. I yelled at the TV, then jumped through a hole to hide from it, only for its beak to follow me to the crevice I was hiding in. It was the perfect combination of hilarious and disturbing.

I’m loathe to share more details of my time with Animal Well in case it ruins an “ah-ha!” time for anyone else. It’s magnificent, and so far I’m successfully resisting the temptation to get sucked into Reddit threads about all its hidden facets, so all my discoveries are my own.

Animal Well is one of many reminders this year that even in the worst times for the games industry as a whole, there are always, always something interesting to play, because people will always be motivated to create. When that is the goal, rather than maximizing profits, there is always room to succeed.

What to play

Lorelei and laser eyes. Photography: Steam

If you thought I’d already covered all the big indie games of the past few weeks, surprise: art studio Annapurna is about to release another one, called Lorelei and laser eyes. It’s a Lynchian, mostly monochromatic detective puzzle game of interconnected puzzles, set in a haunted mansion where time folds in on itself and architecture has no interest in following the laws of physics. Atmospherically, it reminds me a bit of 2002’s Eternal Darkness, the GameCube psychological horror game. The kind of game that will make you fill a real-life notebook with looping thoughts and theories that seem insane.

Available in: PC, Nintendo Switch starting May 16
Estimated playing time:
About 12-15 hours

what to read

Psychonauts 2. Photography: Double fine
  • There have been many reports in the last week about Microsoft’s Xbox division following the reported closure of Tango Gameworks and Arkane Austin. The edge reports increased scrutiny by Microsoft’s top bosses over the Xbox division, following the $7 billion Activision merger, leading to “prioritizing high-impact titles.” Worrying words for all the formerly independent studios that Xbox has bought in recent years, such as Double Fine (Psychonauts, pictured) and Ninja Theory (Hellblade). As kotaku He put it in his report about a meeting held at the company: after buying studios, Xbox management says it does not have the resources to manage them.

  • Following the PS5-exclusive release of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, square enix has canceled some games in progress and has suggested that it will all their cross-platform games in the future. This would end decades of close relationship between Final Fantasy and PlayStation.

  • Our gaming correspondent Keith Stuart couldn’t resist stirring the pot with a list of Top 15 UK Gaming Magazines. I won’t spoil the rankings, but it was encouraging to see GamesTM there, the magazine where I started as an editor in 2005. RIP to a real one.

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What to click

Question block

Shenmue III.

Many of you wrote in to answer last week’s question about video games set in believable real-world locations, so instead of answering a new one, I’m going to take the floor.

Reader Ethan highlights an underrated British game: “They’ve all gone to the rapture It was really the first time I felt a strange impression of normality represented in a game; Nondescript sidewalks and telegraph poles, an outdoor picnic table, correct fountains on traffic signs, and uncut grass were well-observed details that combined to evoke a sleepy town I felt I might have passed through at some point. .

There was a lot of appreciation for the 1999s. Shenmue and its sequels (a special game for me as a teenager; I consider it the spiritual predecessor of Yakuza). “From real-life weather data taken from Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan in 1986 when the game is set, to real-time day/night cycles, footsteps that change sound depending on the terrain, hundreds of characters that have full biographies and game times that You may never interact with the player… this game has it all,” Nathan wrote. “The original is set in Yokosuka in 1986, and when I was 15 at the time, the game made me fall in love with Japan,” Benji says. “When I met my (now) wife in Japan a few years ago, she took me to Yokosuka and even today there are places that I recognize in real life that I visited digitally all those years ago. “There is a sense of belonging in Shenmue that is almost unrivaled to this day.”

Meanwhile, Jeanne admires the New York version of Insomniac on Spiderman. “Insomniac’s Spider-Man games perfectly convey the feeling of Manhattan! According to friends of mine, the only thing they didn’t get right was the subway.” Mark agrees: “The strangest valley for me is the various versions of New York in the games, particularly Grand Theft Auto and the increasingly detailed Spider-Man games. When I went there on vacation, I had the strange feeling of having already been in the city. Likewise, when I played later, I would find specific places that reminded me of vacation. …

“Even stranger was the incredible recreation of the school in Hogwarts Legacy. When I was a kid, I was an extra in movies, and watching my friend fly into a courtyard in the game, I was overcome with an overwhelming feeling of, ‘Wow, I’ve been to that exact place…’. Quite an experience for a child. virtual world to remind me in the real world that I am in a… fictional world.”

Kenny writes: “I thought I would pass along what a Polish colleague recently told me. She said the wedding in The Witcher 3Stone hearts The expansion perfectly captured those I had attended as a child. She is a fan of the game in general, but when I mentioned that she had recently picked it up, her eyes lit up and it was this detail that she couldn’t wait to share.”

I’ll answer a new question next week. If you have anything to ask about the questions block, or anything else to say about the newsletter, hit reply or email us at pushbuttons@theguardian.com.

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