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Hello, my name is Ben Quintero and I am an addict. I am addicted to explosive gameplay, responsive and clever AI, and high production values. I am addicted to ingeniously designed one-off puzzles as much as I am cutting-edge visuals. I want the whole package in the games I play, but also in the games I create. As you might know, the latter is often the issue.
Games today are developed by a countless number of team members; quite literally in the sense that some development studios will simply list the entire company because they don't actually know who worked on the product. Above and beyond this is the long list of contractors and day-labor that probably didn't even make it to the credits but contributed their fair share of environment props and textures. Some developers are almost bashful to even say and often skirt around the discussion of exactly how many people it took to make their game.
As an independent, it is demoralizing to see this trend. What can one man do with his addiction except quit it all cold turkey? After recently watching the Doom postmortem on Gamasutra and recalling statements made about Wolfenstein, about entire levels being made in a day, I can't help but feel like I was born about 20 years too late. AAA games of today are very much about throwing in the kitchen sink; achievements, co-op, death match, bleeding edge visuals and special effects, face stabs, cut scenes, billions of weapons, more face stabs, and an insane library of animations and actions with unique rigs for every minotaur you slice open to every alien you stick a grenade to. *deep breath*
On the other side of this coin you have the more casual experiences, the Angry Birds and Cut the Ropes and something about an alligator in the sewers; yawn... To be honest I have never found myself actively wanting to play anything in the top 25 on iOS. As someone who really found his stride as a gamer on PC (and NES but come on who didn't own one of those) I've always enjoyed the deeper experiences. Now, as a developer, I see each year that passes as another year where the gap widens in the kinds of games that I like to play and the kinds of games I am able to make.
Though I had spent years making countless demos, mini games, and publisher pitches before this, 2009 was the year I finally decided to forget about publishers ship something. In 2009 I developed an arcade zombie shooter before I knew zombies were a thing. I just really liked Dead Rising at the time but hated the idea of getting pulled around a map, running errands under some artificial time limit. I just wanted to kill zombies. In spite of the fun gameplay and technical achievement of the games' dynamic lighting and shadowing engine, standing next to giants like Forza 3, Assassin's Creed, Uncharted 2, Resident Evil 5, Street Fighter 4, Modern Warfare, was I really going to even make a ripple in that ocean with a PC arcade shooter? This was easily three years in development since I did everything from the code to the art and the sound design.
Before discovering that XBLIG would ultimately turn out to be a failed experiment, I made a couple of games. Again, I aimed for the kind of games I liked to play, not really the disposable experience I think people were paying for on XBLIG. Though this game was still an arcade shooter, it was easily one of my more complex game designs. Unfortunately this game fell flat for a laundry list of reasons. Shooter fans didn't like the RPG progression. Others just played the hater card and called it a clone. Most seemed to think that $3 was extortion and proceeded to piss on it. The lack of exposure for XBLIG games was pretty much the nail in the coffin. This and another XBLIG title added up to another two, maybe three, years.
Right now I am working on another title (not an arcade shooter) with an even more ambitious scope and a story to tell, but I must admit that my passion has waned. In the span of the last seven years or so I've managed to "follow my dream" and develop a short list of games and even write a science fiction novel, and frankly it has only earned me a lot of hate mail and ascii art in the shape of a middle finger. It does make me question who I am doing this for sometimes, but it also exemplifies exactly why I wouldn't care to make a game that I don't want to play for myself.
I read articles and blogs from other indies who are falling over themselves with excitement because they made a profit of $5,000 maybe $10,000. That may sound like a considerable amount of money until you read the fine print; unemployed, living on spouse income or with parents, net profits don't account for any kind of salary to themselves and are over the period of as much as several years of sales across an array of platforms/ports. These are not exactly encouraging numbers. They are made even less encouraging when you understand the conditions under which that money was made. I don't know what to think or say when an Engineer with a college degree is ecstatic that he almost made as much as a part-time high school kid flipping burgers. At what point does it seem ludicrous to continue to follow your dreams?
It seems like the longer I take on a game, the more money I spend to develop it, the deeper I try to make it, the more spectacular the failure. I can only guess at why that may be true, but I know the root of my ironic little problem is that I am trying to make the games I like to play. I have no passion or even interest for mindless click-and-win games and not enough time in the day to make AAA games. Hard place... Meet rock.