Indie games and realism

I’m going to write about something that has been moving around my mind for some time.

One of the main differences between an indie developer, and a triple-A developer, is the available budget. That difference is usually huge, some people create great games alone with no money, and some companies create AAA titles that cost millions.

How is that even possible? Why do companies have to spend millions to get a game shipped, while there are people making games with a budget close to 0?

The expensive part of making games, is making them realistic. The more realistic a game has to feel, the more money it will need to be completed. And that amount grows exponentially.

Hey look! Nice buildings!

And I’m not talking just about graphics. I’m talking about trying to recreate any real-world, tangible experience in a game, being graphics, physics, sound, even traffic-simulation in a city-building game, and so on.

And… why is a realistic game expensive? Because we are trying to copy something else (reality), in a platform with much lower specs than reality (a home computer or console). It’s just like trying to port Battlefield 4 to a Gamecube, and trying to make it feel as close to the former as possible. There will be a point in the development where the effort to make it look a tiny little bit more like the “real” experience will cost too much. The decision is, where do we stop? And nowadays, triple-A companies really push it, and spend a few more millions to make it feel more realistic than it’s competitors.

But when you copy something, everyone will compare your product to the real thing to see how well you did it. And when what you are trying to copy is reality, it’s hard and costly to copy it correctly. Also, the standard of what is a good copy of reality, keeps going up trough the years, and if tomorrow any big company launched a game with Call Of Duty 1 graphics they would be laughed at, while a few years ago everyone was praising how realistic it was.

Crysis established a benchmark for game realism back in its day.

I believe there is a problem with many new indie developers, and it is that they want to make realistic games. That is, a 3D world with graphics, physics, effects, models, textures and systems as close as the real thing. With a team of three.

I’m afraid to say, that big-budget companies already have that spot of the industry well covered. By far. With millions on their back, with hundreds of people, and thousands of man-hours, and they will definitely make an experience more realistic than a team of three can make. There is just no way to compete in there.
But while AAA-companies have their multi-million realism arms race, they are leaving behind a lot of possibilities. They are leaving behind every non-realistic world, games with their own laws of physics, games that do not attempt to imitate reality, because they occur in a whole different world.

Super hexagon is not realistic. It is comparatively cheap to develop; 88 score in Metacritic.

The possibilities for non-realistic games are endless, they are easier to develop, and critics receive them well. And that’s because they aren’t trying to imitate anything else, there is just no possibility of comparison with anything. You can’t say “Hey! Super-Hexagon has bad graphics”, because it has its own graphics, and is not attempting to imitate anything else you know. It is a novel world, and exists by its own.

The developers of Monument Valley didn’t have to spend lots of money in a realistic physics engine.

To sum it up, I believe that we are in a moment with lots of opportunities for us, indie-devs. There is a vast spectrum of unexplored possibilities out there, of worlds that follow their own rules and create their own experiences, that aren’t trying to imitate the real-world, because their point is something else entirely.

Let’s not waste it. Let’s create something crazy :)

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