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Junipers Pruned

Thankless Answers - 4th March 2010 Josh's avatar
I often feel like something of an apologist for Just Cause, a game which I often describe as “the best worst thing I ever played”. Whilst it’s impossible to deny that the skydiving spy romp was full of repetitive missions, stiff animation and gameplay oddities, the seamless and flexible nature of the action was incredibly satisfying and often breathtaking. Like Crackdown, a great deal of the game’s appeal laid not in the linear campaign missions, but in seeing what kind of absurd pyrotechnic escapes you could carry out and generally creating your own fun. The Just Cause 2 demo has just finished downloading to my Xbox 360’s hard drive, and I’m extremely eager to see whether Avalanche has fully realised the potential of the ideas found in the first game, as well as figuring out some creative ways to use the new gadgets. At any rate, I’ll be spending my evening grappling, shooting and exploding my way through what is ostensibly the videogame equivalent of a Michael Bay movie.

On the other hand, some of the entrants into this year's Independent Games Festival awards feel more like the videogame equivalent of an experimental Danish art flick, only with less gratuitous nudity. If you’re at all interested in games which favour esoteric aesthetics and simplified gameplay over glossy explosions and complex mechanics, you’d do well to pay attention to today’s edition of Thankless Answers.

Question: When is the Independent Game Festival 2010?

Answer: It takes places from the 9th – 13th March in San Francisco

The fact that the festival takes place alongside Game Developer’s Conference is awesome, because it gives indie developers the chance to meet with professional developers to talk shop; something which can only have an enriching influence on the gaming landscape. Whilst my earlier film analogy might imply that there’s a world of difference between independent games and published games, I actually think that they’re closer than ever, and it’s clear that major publishers have a watchful eye on indie projects. Yes, it’s true that you have to delve perhaps a little too deeply into the Xbox 360 Dashboard to unearth the Community Games section, but we’re also seeing a great deal of projects realised as commercial releases, as last week’s release of Fret Nice (an IGF 2008 entrant) testifies. Similarly we can expect to see Fez, which won the Excellence in Visual Art category at IGF 2008, make its way to Xbox Live later this year.

That being said, I don’t necessarily think that independent games exist purely as a route to the professional industry for their developers. If anything, the ‘indie’ designation has become just as synonymous with the content of these games as it has an indication of how they are developed. It’s become a legitimised genre (dare I say art form?) in its own right, presenting unique forms of expression that you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find in the mainstream.

Artsy pontificating aside, I’m also very excited about GDC; the first real conference of the year for gamers to turn their attention to. I don’t really consider January’s CES worth following; unless you’re way into the fact that SanDisk are changing the colour of their SD cards from storm cloud grey to naval grey, the insignificant trickle of gaming news is severely underwhelming. On the other hand, GDC offers up all kinds of interesting news, keynotes and occasionally some big announcements. Cliff Bleszinski casually revealed Gears of War 2 during an Unreal 2.5 technology demo two years ago, and there’s a great deal of speculation that the same will happen again this year with the third game in the franchise.

There’s concern that all of this media hoopla detracts from the purpose of the conference; allowing developers to trade ideas with their contemporaries and generally do the kind of business that needs to be done at such events. However, I think that with the growing trend for publishers to hold their own gamer days and the resurgence of E3, the media will tend to regulate itself and focus on events that are specifically focussed on bringing the sizzle.

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