Monday, May 30, 2011


This is a great, great day.

I'm fortunate in that there are a decent number of developers who read the blog. I've e-mailed back and forth with them over the years, and they are almost uniformly personable and gracious, particularly the indie developers.

They're easy to root for, and I have to tell you, I'm cynical enough that I don't say that very often.

So there's this group of indie developers I know that I really, really wish would hit it big.

Tarn Adams is one of them, although I don't think he really cares about making it big and is quite happy with just making enough to continue working on Dwarf Fortress. So in his own way, he's already made it big, and if there was only one game I could take with me to a deserted island, it would be Dwarf Fortress.

Vic Davis is one, and he's almost there, with two terrific games (Armageddon Empires and Solium Infernum) that have a devoted following. I've been fortunate enough to play the beta of Six Gun Saga for the last few days, and I think it might be the game that really vaults him forward financially, because it's both highly entertaining and far more accessible than his previous games (and I'll be writing about it soon).

Gary Gorski is another, although he's fighting bravely against the dying of the light in the text-sim genre. But he's made some deep, interesting games--actually, everything he's made has been interesting, including (most recently) the Draft Day Sports and Total Pro Golf series. And Total Pro Golf has an incredible amount of potential, particularly if it was enhanced and ported to mobile devices, because it would be a perfect fit there.

Fredrik Skarstedt is in this group, too. Fredrik is just ridiculously versatile--he created a prototype for a game called Switching Gears  that was about a funny little robot (which won an award in a game design contest), and the game world had a  terrific, clever visual design. He also created MMO Baseball and (most recently) Heroes vs. Evil, both of which were interesting games that never quite reached ignition in terms of audience size.

He's on the cusp, though, which is always the hardest place to be.

There's another guy, only I can't give you his name (well, I can give you his first name--it's Jeff). His game, which is still unreleased, was on my Top Ten Games of 2010, because I played an earlier version for 40+ hours. Yet he was willing to step back, take a look at what he had, and go for much more, expanding the gameplay and greatly improving the graphics. This game is going to stun everyone when it does get released, and like all the other guys on this list, he's a tremendously interesting, thoughtful person.

So I have this list, and if one of these guys ever hits it really, really big, it's going to make my month, maybe my year.

Except I haven't mentioned one guy yet, and his name is Ian Hardingham.

Ian's e-mailed back and forth with me for years, and he's always been one of the guys on this list, just plugging away in the netherword of indie games. His first game, Determinance, was unique and interesting, but it just never caught fire, and for an indie game to really take off, some external event has to happen.

Someone big has to notice.

Last year, he sent me the multiplayer beta for Frozen Synapse, and I played it and mentioned it on the blog. It was a game that took chances. For one, it was incredibly distinctive visually, and I knew immediately that players would either love or hate the look--there was absolutely no middle ground.

I loved it, because it had a TRON vibe, very neon, and incredibly beautiful.

So I played the multiplayer, and then, the game disappeared while they added the single-player campaign, which took almost a year. I don't think anyone's ever developed a game in quite this manner, and it was a big risk, because all the publicity about multi-player had long since dried up.

A few weeks ago, he sent me the single-player campaign, and I was shocked at how much depth they'd been able to put into the campaign. And it was slick, incredibly slick, not just for an indie game, but for any game.

When an indie developer makes a cool, interesting game, though, it's not enough.

They need help.

They need to achieve critical mass, and the only way to do that is through external forces, and 99% of the time, it doesn't happen.

This time, though, it damn sure did.

The game was stealth released on Thursday. On Friday, Eurogamer reviewed it. That's a big deal, for an indie game to even get a Eurogamer review, but not as big a deal as getting a "9" from Eurogamer. There are 911 reviews in the Eurogamer database, and do you know how many games have gotten higher than a "9"?


Also on Friday (seriously, how does this shit happen all at once?), Tycho mentioned Frozen Synapse in his Friday news post, and asked Paul Taylor (Ian's partner with Mode 7 Games) to talk about the game on Monday (which is here). That's unprecedented, in my memory.

A giant challenge for every indie game is publicity, and in just seventy-two hours, Frozen Synapse slew that giant.

I haven't even asked Ian how it's selling, because I know it's selling like crazy. That kind of publicity in such a short period of time, combined with an excellent game, creates the financial equivalent of a breeder reactor, although in this case, it's breeding money.

Maybe in a week or so, when he finally gets to sleep more than two hours a night (if he's getting that much), he'll be able to celebrate.

In the meantime, I'll do it for him.

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