Indie Gaming, Sandboxes, and More!

What the heck is “Indie Gaming”? Is it like… regular gaming, only acoustic, with lyrics that don’t rhyme, and can only be played while smoking and wearing a beret? No, wait, that’s something else entirely. “Indie Gaming” is a phenomenon that (in the grand cosmic scale of video game history) has begun only recently. Ironically, in an effort to better define what “Indie Gaming” is (okay, I’m not using the quotes around it anymore)… I looked it up on Wikipedia, only to find that it says that there’s no widely accepted definition. Thanks for nothing, you digital know-it-all. But basically, indie stands for independent, and game stands for… well, you know. So these games are independently created and generally rely on online electronic distribution to spread their amazingness. Now I know what you’re thinking: indie games that can only be distributed electronically? These are the games that only hipsters play, right? No one’s heard of them, and that’s the way they like it. Well have you heard of… say… Minecraft?

Hooray, Minecraft! I use blocks to make blocks that mine other blocks!

Minecraft is probably the giantest of giants in indie gaming, but it’s not alone! Games like World of Goo, Braid, Dungeons of Dredmor, Terraria, and (most incredibly insanely notable of them all) Dwarf Fortress. I’m just going to say that Dwarf Fortress is a good example of what indie gaming is all about. Link to download it at the bottom, but I wouldn’t suggest it. Why not, you ask? Isn’t Dwarf Fortress a totally amazing game? I hear so many people talk about how FUN it is! Folks, when you foolishly download this satan-spawn of a game, it lets you in on a little secret: “Dying is fun.” So, the next time you hear someone say, “Hurr hurr, Dwarf Fortress, it’s so FUN, hurr hurr” and all their friends chuckle sadly through their tears of frustration, you know what they’re talking about.

This is your dwarf icon. They die by the dozen. Isn't that FUN?

But if it’s so bloody difficult, how can it be awesome?? Welcome to the crazed world of indie gaming. One of the best things about many indie games is that they don’t really teach you how to play. This is especially true with Dwarf Fortress and, famously, Minecraft. These games use a “do or die” approach to gaming, because if (and when) you die a lot, you pick up a little tip or two on how to survive from deriving the exact cause of your untimely demise. Other games like Terraria and Dungeons of Dredmor have basic tutorials, but a lot of the game’s functions and its special items/events/mechanics/cool stuff is left to the player to figure out through trial and (often fatal) error. Another option is to look it up on the cutely organized and user-friendly Wiki that pretty much every indie game has, to save the casual gamer from getting a concussion by beating his or her head into a wall.

The next question on everyone’s lips (or fingers…?) is “Well how do I win??” The answer is, simply put: you don’t! Welcome to the equally crazed and often overlapping world of “Sandbox Gaming” (okay, no more quotes for you either). Sandbox Games are basically a game developer telling you: “Here’s a huge world, full of stuff. There’s a set of rules you have to abide by, and a ton of things for you to discover. What can you do with it?” Sandbox games have gained a ton of popularity because of their immense freedom, despite the constraints of the rules the developer’s put in place. Since I was never actually successful at playing Dwarf Fortress, I’m going to explain this in Minecraft terms (because Minecraft is perhaps the most popular sandbox game in existence [yay!]). So you start out with absolutely nothing, and your achievement system slowly teaches you “Hey, try punching that tree till it gives you a block of wood!” (I wish I was joking about this part, but true story). You then discover how to make tools. You make yourself a domicile, a farm, an extensive underground mine, a second house made entirely out of pumpkins, and so on and so forth. This whole thing takes a long while, and you feel very accomplished when you’ve completed all of it.

Case in point.

But the fact of the matter is, there is always something else to do in the game, and the only person who decides what that is… well, it’s you! You could build a cathedral of glass. You could build a skyscraper. You could build an enormous 200m-tall replica of the Master Sword. Simply imagine it, and you can do it, provided you have enough time and resources. I’ll include links at the bottom to a couple of videos that I’ve found absolutely mind-boggling (yeah, I use that word a lot but the truth is, there are a lot of things in gaming that ARE mind-boggling. Deal with it). So that’s the joy of sandbox gaming. That’s the joy of Minecraft.

It’s pretty obvious I love these games! I mean, can’t you tell just from reading how FUN (hurr hurr) Dwarf Fortress is? And let’s not forget about Dungeons of Dredmor, or Terraria, or Minecraft. And by the way, the thing these 4 games have in common is: their worlds are all generated algorithmically. If you’re not mathematically inclined, it basically means that there is a complex mathematical formula that generates the world that you play in, making it unique every time. That, dear readers, is a truly incredible development, and it makes the gaming experience very personal. The only downside to all these amazing games is… they all cost money. I would say that for the six games I’ve mentioned (World of Goo and Braid plus the 4 above), they are all worth every penny, and they are a great deal cheaper than a game for XBOX360. As a matter of fact, one could buy all of them together for just over the price of Mass Effect 3 (+ the DLC).

But I’m not advocating you buy all that because I’m not an advertiser for any game company. I just thought I’d mention that tidbit, because I hate it when people tell me on their blog, “in conclusion, you should buy this game, it’s only 40 cheap dollars!” Whatever. Gaming is based on your budget, and mine is remarkably cheap, so there you go. I’d love to let you experience the joy of indie games for free, but as it is, you should only buy these games if one of them has really piqued your interest. I can almost guarantee you won’t be disappointed (unless you die a lot. Dying a lot is not actually fun).

So, dear readers: did I leave anything out? What’s your favorite indie game? (And don’t you dare say Dwarf Fortress. I don’t care how FUN [hurr hurr] it is!)
~Another Gamer


Dwarf Fortress. The Antichrist of indie games.

Video Links:

Yes. Yes, that is the Starship Enterprise made of Minecraft blocks.

Holy crap, these guys are amazing. If you click on no other link I ever post, please click this one.


About Isaac Smith

I write about music, technology, video games, and probably many other subjects that don't bear mentioning here. Either way, most of it's worth reading, and you may even enjoy yourself!

Posted on March 9, 2012, in Classic Games, Miscellaneous and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. MinecraftServed

    Minecraft is the game of games.

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