December 24, 2016 7:27 AM | Thomas Faust
Ah, to be an indie developer. It is the fast track to fame and fortune. Just slap some assets together, launch a bunch of games, and you're set for life. Right?
Well, apparently not. Otherwise, we'd have more millionaires and less talk of the dreaded indiepocalypse. Lost Decade Games' Indie Game Sim tackles the difficulties of game development and the underlying strain on your mental wellbeing.
The game has you starting out as a lowly developer, building your first game from a toolbox of assets and uploading it to a Steam-like distribution system. Publish game, get reviews, sell some copies, repeat. You can buy new assets and other interesting stuff from the money you made, so your games will become more sophisticated with time. Indie Game Sim is obviously not as polished as a Super Mario Maker, but it's certainly charming enough to play around with. It also actually gets you thinking about level and game design, forcing you to employ the minimal tools at hand and create platformers worth playing. Adding fancy assets and effects increases the production costs, so your early creations will be limited in scope. It's quite the challenge to create something interesting under these conditions, and while initial progress feels rather slow, it's fun and rewarding.
However, you not only try to leave your mark on the gaming world, but also fight crippling self-doubt and depression, with the dreaded impostor syndrome rearing its ugly head and trying to lead you astray. Developer Matt Hackett explains why the inclusion of "the darkness", the game's recurring antagonist, turns Indie Game Sim into a very personal game:
"For as long as I've been making games there's been this voice in my head saying that I'm not good enough or not smart enough. When I started working on this concept of a meta game about making games, at first the gameplay was just the basics of creating your games and selling them. This rough analog of the indie game developer experience felt incomplete without a nagging voice of uncertainty.
The last couple years have been rough for [Lost Decade Games], and since I worked on Indie Game Sim in isolation, to me the darkness is probably a mix of imposter syndrome and depression. To others, the darkness could be internet trolls, harsh critics, or unimpressed family members. The game never clearly defines what it is, though, and my hope is that players will apply their own inner demons to the darkness, and revel in defeating them."
This should sound very familiar to a lot of people out there, and the fact that such an innocuous game harbors this deeper, darker level of meaning might distract a bit from its game-building aspect. But then, it gives you a sense of purpose. Becoming a successful indie game dev while pushing the darkness back to wherever it came from turns Indie Game Sim into so much more than just a small game about making pixels move in fun ways.