This came up in both my Twitter-watching recently, and in my blog perusal habits. In particular, it’s Nels Anderson’s post on the topic that got me thinking about it particularly. The quick run-down on the issue is the question posed in the title of the blog post: Why are so many indie “darlings” 2D platformers?
The article suggests a lot of reasons, and I tend to agree with a lot of them. I’ll add one more to the list.
The state of the AAA game industry being what it is, there’s a lot of varied dissatisfaction with it roaming around. One of the high points of that dissatisfaction that I hear most often is an unfavorable comparison with something of a golden age of gaming, when tech wasn’t riding nearly as high and “realistic graphics” was a laughable concept, more or less. In short, “they don’t make them like they used to” is almost an indie battle cry being sung from hilltops in some corners, and it’s not something I can particularly disagree with. It’s worth noting that this isn’t necessarily the opinion of the developers alone or even primarily. The position the players tend to take is almost more important, and a lot of those players are looking for a “retro” experience that reminds them of the “classic gold” games they grew up with or have heard so much about.
If you look at the games put out during those periods—we’re talking the 8 and 16-bit generation—there are some common threads that emerge. Bright colors, lush character designs, fantastical environments… and in a lot of ways, the poster children for the era are predominately platform titles. The Marios and Sonics and Mega Men and Castlevanias.
In short, my personal theory on why so many of our most notable indie games seem to be platformers lately is simple. There’s a desire to recapture an era of the industry that many—among developers AND players—feel was a better time. That period had a very large number of really good platformers (though of course there were other games!). It’s only natural that we’re going to see a lot of the indie success stories come from the platforming genre. It’s the intersection of developers developing and players playing. We’ll almost certainly see more variation come along. It’s already starting to happen in bits and pieces.
I want to say this is the same way that things went back when I was a kid. But I couldn’t tell you, because I didn’t start caring about games as an industry until we were well past that particular bit of history. Makes me wish I’d known more at the time, but we all do that.