Quark’s Corner: PlayStation & Xbox: Indie Games as Art
I have written about indie games on the Xbox before. Some good, many bad, but never before did I cross into the indie game offerings on PlayStation. I hopped on my PlayStation and was filled with emotions that few video games have brought me. The feeling of mystery in Journey or the feeling of wonder and discovery I felt in Proteus. Before I compare the two different systems, let me talk about the Xbox Live Indie Market Place, which is where anyone can publish a game akin to the iOS app store.
Astralis-One of the few good
One of the many shooters to be found on the XBL Indie Marketplace, I went in with low hopes, ready to shut it off within 30 seconds. However, I went until my demo ended due to a time out and was pretty bummed. I was hesitant to buy it, but priced at only $1.00, I was sold. The graphics aren’t great and everything looks like a piece digitized clay from a computer from the early 2000’s. However, graphics can’t be judged as it’s just an XBL Indie Game. Gameplay is your standard “shoot monsters” affair, however the long empty hallways make it pretty creepy if you have the lights out. Also, there’s a sense of morality in the game that makes you actually read the dialogue instead of just skimming through it. Astralis, for all that it does right, is only sitting at 173 Facebook likes as of writing. Meanwhile, one of the more popular Xbox Live Indie Games has almost ten times that on its Facebook page. However, numbers lie, as Apoc Z represents the digital wasteland that is the Xbox Live Indie Marketplace.
Apoc Z-One of the many bad
Currently one of the most popular games on the XBL Indie marketplace, Apoc Z failed to capture my attention. Apoc Z feels like a poor man's State of Decay/Day Z with none of the fun associated with the two. While those games were clearly passion projects by their respected studios, Apoc Z feels like a cash grab on one of the biggest genres today: zombies. Games like Apoc Z makes me wonder when the zombie bubble will pop. The Walking Dead has plateaued in popularity and so has the media inspired by its success. Once the imitators come then you know it’s time to go. It’s reached the point where zombies have gone past niche. They have reached mainstream culture where games like Apoc Z are being played instead of big name titles like Call of Duty. However, Apoc Z does nothing for the genre or the indie game scene in general and just further emphasizes what I’ve been saying all along: the XBL Indie Marketplace is a cesspool, where the people swimming in it would rather buy inferior cash grabs over that of the superior original.
Xbox Live indie Game Marketplace Final Thoughts
I’ve now spent three articles on this issue and it’s finally time to put it to rest. The XBL Indie Marketplace isn’t really a place for inspiring developers. It’s where greed and unoriginality beats out those with ambition, and Microsoft knows this. There’s a reason they don’t promote any the games in there, and why the TRUE indie games are put into the XBL arcade. Most games in the indie game marketplace are shovel ware, which, on more than one occasion, made me say “no wonder some people think video games aren’t art”. While it’s nice to have so many games, the lack of quality control makes it so that for every Astralis, there are 100 Apoc Z’s. The Playstation doesn’t have its own indie game marketplace. Their indie games are just available to buy, are more like that of the Xbox Live Arcade and not the IOS store.
Indie Games On PlayStation
While the Xbox finally seems ready to embrace true indie games, Sony seems to have a better pulse on it, this is in part thanks to PS Plus. No, this is not another PS Plus love session, but more of an observation. While all companies are out to make money, Sony seems to have more integrity on how to handle indie games. Microsoft in the past has mistreated developers such as the guys who created Super Meat Boy. Meanwhile, Sony is releasing Indie games for free on PlayStation Plus. These are games I would have never played but finally get to thanks to the service. Hotline Miami for example, was one of the most addicting games I played in 2013. Meanwhile, other games on the PlayStation make the case as to why games ARE art.
Before I make my claim, I am in no way trying to define what makes something art. If there’s one thing I learned from one of my professors in college, it’s that art is something that is indefinable, yet everyone tries to define it. I will not be one of the those people to give a general definition of art. But my own personal definition for art is as follows: if something evokes a feeling or emotion, then it can be argued as being art..
Proteus / Journey
Proteus, a game I had never heard of until getting it for free, was the very game that made me want to write this article. A game that has no obvious goals or any enemies, does not give you a clear idea of where to go, and the main point is to simply explore the world. Within five minutes devoid of any clear direction, I was hooked. I wanted to know about the randomly generated world that had spawned, about the secrets that were out there, and what the riddles within each of the game's trophies meant. This was the game where I stopped to enjoy a virtual sunset and paused in fear to look at a sea of dead trees. This was the moment I knew I was playing art. The dopamine that was released in my brain made feel a way very few games can make me feel; a feeling of wonder, happiness, and dread. Furthermore, it would be a crime to bring up gaming as art without mentioning Journey. Citied by some to be the 2012 game of the year, Journey changed gaming. While I did not love it like many did, I appreciated the game for what it was trying to be…a journey. And to me, that’s all Journey is, a journey that isn’t even that fun gameplay-wise, but one that stays with you long after you're done.
The aforementioned games were all played on the PlayStation, but that is not saying Microsoft wouldn’t promote an artistic game like Proteus or Journey, although it does seem unlikely. One of the first indie games I remember Xbox heavily promoting was Braid. While it definitely is art, and is one my favorite games of all time , it still has action, puzzles and a story. Proteus really has none of that. It takes a certain amount of confidence in a company to pay a developer so that they can give away their game for free, and clearly Sony had confidence in Proteus. Will Xbox be the one-stop shop for the biggest and best indie games? I hope so. All competition is good for business, and their E3 showing looked promising, but for now, Sony has the edge.
Edge in terms of artistic integrity. While all games are art, it is determining which pieces of art to display that determines the integrity of the company. There is a reason why Sony does not allow just anyone to submit a game to it’ store. This is the very same reason we don’t have Apoc Z on PlayStation. The Xbox may have hundreds of pieces of art in its indie game marketplace, but what’s the point when most of the art is worthless?