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f13.net  |  f13.net General Forums  |  The Gaming Graveyard  |  Gaming Conferences and Conventions  |  The Schild Chronicles '06  |  Topic: Day 9 [4/19/06] - An extension of yesterday. Indie Console Games? 0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.
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Author Topic: Day 9 [4/19/06] - An extension of yesterday. Indie Console Games?  (Read 6309 times)
Posts: 57709

on: April 20, 2006, 03:45:34 AM

So, yea, Indie console games. Do they even exist?!

I'm sitting here watching the Disgaea anime (what? It's pretty awesome thus far - even if it can't follow the original story), and trying to come up with indie console games. I suppose they simply don't exist. Blaming the publishers would be too easy - and wrong. Blaming the developers makes no sense. The only people you can blame are the folks at SCEA, Nintendo, and Microsoft who say what can and can't be put out on a system. You want your game to run on a console, you have to go through them. They quote things like "marketability" and "keeping the quality high across the board." Yet, continually we see shit that exists merely to sell alongside a movie. And most of it doesn't make any goddamn sense - so little in fact that they've started packaging movie tickets into the case so people think of it as some sort of 'deal.' Release the movie game on Wednesday and release the movie on Friday. BRILLIANT. Or is it? it fills the marketplace with an unbelieavable amount of shit. It's only recently that we're starting to see any sort of remotely "indie" presence on the XBL Marketplace and who knows what kind of restrictive controls Microsoft will exert (probably no different than the regular retail sector) and what sort of scum will choose what is and isn't fun and worth putting online. I'm still waiting for a console version of Gish for that matter.

But is any of it truly indie? It's all pretty much distributed by Microsoft. They're walking a dangerous line, do they let the marketplace get flooded like some sort of online gaming candy store? Or do they very carefully control it so it doesn't cannibalize retail sales? Would that be a bad thing? Does anyone really need another X-Men game based on the goddamn movies?

Once upon a time there was a company called Tengen. Rebels, I suppose. "Fuck the Official Nintendo Seal of Approval," they said, "We'll distribute our own carts!" Yea, that went well. Let's turn to Wikipedia. I've clipped the first part describing how they're an arm of Atari:

Tengen unsuccessfully tried to negotiate with Nintendo for a less restrictive license that would allow them to release more than five games per year and that their games would not have to stay NES-exclusive for two years. Nintendo was not interested, so Tengen agreed to their standard license in December of 1987. In 1988, Tengen released their first (and only) three cartridges licensed through Nintendo - RBI Baseball, Pac-Man and Gauntlet. Meanwhile, Tengen secretly worked to bypass Nintendo's lock-out chip called 10NES that gave them control over which games were published for the NES. While numerous manufacturers managed to override this chip by zapping it with a voltage spike, Tengen engineers feared this could potentially damage NES consoles and expose them to unnecessary liability. Instead they chose to reverse engineer the chip and decipher the code required to unlock it. However, the engineers were unable to do so, and the launch date for their first batch of games was rapidly approaching.

In desperation, Tengen turned to the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Their lawyers contacted the government office to request a copy of the Nintendo lock-out program, claiming they needed it for potential litigation against Nintendo. Once obtained, they used the program to create their own chip that would unlock the NES. When Tengen launched the unlicensed versions of their games, Nintendo immediately sued Tengen for breach of contract. Eventually Tengen was forced to admit its duplicity and pay damages to Nintendo.

Tengen faced another court challenge with Nintendo in 1989 in copyright controversy over Tetris. Tengen lost this suit as well and was forced to recall what was estimated to be hundreds of thousands of unsold cartridges (having sold only about 50,000). (See Tetris for more.) Later on, Tengen received the seal of approval from Sega, and they began to make games for their Game Gear and Genesis. But this wasn't enough to save them. Tengen, depleted by the costly court battles and defeats, faded into the history books by the mid 1990s. The refusal of many retailers to sell Tengen's games (due to Nintendo's threat to stop supplying any retailer that would carry Tengen's products) also contributed to the company's demise.

Tengen's unlicensed NES game cartridges do not come in the universally recognizable semi-square grey shape regular Nintendo licensed games come in, but instead are rounded and matte-black, more resembling the original Atari catridges.

Now, mind you, it's not exactly "indie" but it is the single most indie-style attempt to get games onto a system. Anyway, point being, there's just no way for a completely independent house to get games published on consoles without going through the creator of a console. I realize the controlling interest the big 3 have in this situation, but what I don't understand is why they don't allow any company to release whatever they want. It'd still be reasonable to have strict rules - a certain amount of QA, proper release candidates to be test, etc. Yes, there is merit in having games be of a certain quality (though that doesn't explain games like Alias, Aeon Flux, Catwoman, Bad Boys: Miami Takedown, a good 50% of the sports market, and probably near 60% of the entire market). I don't understand SCEA's rules against ports, 2D titles, or localizations of old games. I don't understand how that helps them in the marketplace. All I see is that it's cheap, missed opportunities, and it eventually led to the downfall of Working Designs.

Now, obviously, Microsoft has no problems with ports, in fact they seem to welcome it (YEA, WE NEEDED JOUST AND GAUNTLET AGAIN GUYZ). But if they're going to allow old shit like that, I don't understand why they don't just open the floodgates as long as anyone who wants to put stuff on the marketplace goes through the process. It seems it would be in their best interest to have games coming out every week and gobble up more and more of the mindshare before the PS3 and Revolution come out. But that doesn't seem like it's going to happen.

So, where are the indie games? Will consoles ever be privvy to some of the gems that never see boxes? Will Sony open up the PSP like folks are speculating? What company is going to take the first big leap and allow a completely new market to emerge from the current one? Because, right now, I'll admit it - the retail market is trash. It's a Hollywood lifestyle out there. Line up early, pay for shit in advance - have our entire buying process dictated by the retail outlets.

One other thing I'd like to mention is Nintendo. What the hell are they doing back there behind the curtain? They're talking about releasing an iTunes for games or someshit. Technobabble aside, their machine is nowhere near as insane as their opponents, perhaps they'll be the first ones to allow indie dev houses (or even single people) to put together games and distribute them.

It really all comes down to piracy worry. People can copy optical discs too easily. So pain in the ass copy protection is put in place that single handedly creates the modchip market. There are a great many people are would have loved to run homebrew shit on consoles but simply don't. Are they being tin foil hatty at the gaming companies? Is piracy that big a concern? Is it even reasonable? How many people KNOW how to copy a PS2 disc? How many people have dual layer DVD Roms? How many people will have blu-ray writers when the PS3 ships? Napster didn't destroy the music industry. Hell, free music by any band ever found easily over the net hasn't really hurt the music industry. iTunes probably did more damage in the long term to the whole retail distribution of CDs and such. So, where's the tipping point? How desperate does a company need to get to allow homebrew code to run? I can already by a GP32 (and it's new child), and that shit is completely open source.

When does the industry wake up and realize hey, piracy may not be that bad if we open up systems. I certainly wouldn't stop buying games, but I'm by no means normal.

Anyway, just thought I'd put that out there. I suppose I could put a list together of indie console game developers, but having thought about it while writing this thing, I just don't know what to say. I don't think there are any. If you have the ability to work a game on the big 3 enough that they'll allow you to release it, you're by no means "indie."
Terracotta Army
Posts: 1729

Reply #1 on: April 20, 2006, 04:03:35 AM

Indie games for consoles need an environment like Steam.  Digital distribution is pretty much the most hopeful route for success on that front.  Nintendo sounds pretty open to having games arrive exclusively through Revolutions online service, and Microsoft already has a fully capable place for such things in Xbox Live.  I guess it mostly hinges on desire to make an indie console game over sticking with PC and how open the console companies are towards indepedant developers.

Oh, and the last "indie" game I heard of being developed was that Chrono Trigger remake for the cube that was Foxed, or something.
Posts: 17379

sentient yeast infection

Reply #2 on: April 20, 2006, 04:16:30 AM

Indie games for consoles need an environment like Steam.

Steam was written by Hitler, and Valve is run by robots.

"Nice attempted blast about my "drinking".  I do enjoy a nice cuppa, but that is because I am a bon vivant of gregarious nature and cheery disposition." - Ab
Terracotta Army
Posts: 1729

Reply #3 on: April 20, 2006, 04:21:37 AM

And yet steam is the answer for avoiding all the bullshit baggage that comes with the big publishers like EA and Vivendi.
Posts: 7697

Reply #4 on: April 20, 2006, 06:00:26 AM

Alien Hominid?

http://azazelx.wordpress.com/ - My Miniatures and Hobby Blog.
Posts: 21059

Reply #5 on: April 20, 2006, 07:21:45 AM

I'm having a bit of trouble following your argument since you mention so many things and cover such a long time span but I think you are saying that console makers are very restrictive in the game licenses they grant because they are deathly afraid of piracy and hence this stifles "indie" console developers.

First of all Activision was arguably the first indie console software developer back in the Atari 2600 days. Next, your Tengen story disproves your theory since end user piracy was not an issue during the cartridge era (at least I didn't know anybody that had their own cartridge EEPROM burner). So back then, at least, something else was motivating companies like Nintendo to keep a tight rein on game developers. These days piracy is a big concern however I don't see how granting more game licenses makes the problem any worse than it already is. It is clear, however, why the console makers don't want to open up their hardware so that anybody can develop software on them without a license -- they at best make a small amount of money on console sales; the vast majority of their profits come from licensing and their own software sales.

The real problem for indie console developers was how to distribute their games. Even if the console makers were willing to give out licenses to whoever was willing to pay the cost you still had the problem of competing for shelf space with all the other titles which meant they would have had to partner up with a major publisher if they wanted exposure for their games. It really wasn't until the advent of the Xbox with its built in hard drive and Xbox Live Marketplace that indie console developers had a viable way of distributing their games without needing a traditional retail publisher and the success of Xbox Live Arcade and games like Marble Blast Ultra proves that. So actually things are looking up for indie console game developers.
Posts: 21059

Reply #6 on: April 20, 2006, 07:32:47 AM

Alien Hominid?
They have publishers (one for NA and a different one for Europe).
Xilren's Twin
Posts: 1648

Reply #7 on: April 20, 2006, 09:36:21 AM

I certainly wouldn't stop buying games, but I'm by no means normal.

Sig line!


"..but I'm by no means normal." - Schild
Posts: 4615

the y master, king of bourbon

Reply #8 on: April 20, 2006, 12:59:08 PM

I think you're also failing to consider the cost of supporting developers; I know Nintendo employs people whose entire job is to field calls from game developers working on Nintendo consoles and work with them to solve the problems they're having. These people (and most of the rest of the console division) are paid for via the sales of development kits, support contracts and (naturally) publishing licenses.

In order to allow indie development, they'd have to make some sort of devkit available that can compile their native assembly languages, as well as a connector between PC<->console, as well as whatever DRM keys are necessary to get stuff to run on there. And if these are made available for low/no cost, you can bet your bottom dollar that small- and medium-sized houses would start eyeing the 'indie' kits in an effort to save money.

That doesn't even touch the issue of enabling indie development on a non-final console; I hear the PS3 development test-box is around the size of a desktop PC and costs five figures per.

What they could do is provide an x86 or x86-64 emulator for their native hardware, thus allowing people to burn indie games to CD or DVD without having to release all the support tools. Of course, you have to pay the developers to do that, and then support the product, as well as get their code onto the console and run it, while still providing a strong incentive for non-indies to actually buy devkits/licenses...

The phrase 'morass' comes to mind. It's far easier for an indie to deal with a PC, where any chucklehead with some knowhow, a copy of gcc, and the OpenGL SDK (freely downloadable) can make a 'game'.
Posts: 23938


Reply #9 on: April 20, 2006, 01:03:52 PM

Indie games for consoles need an environment like Steam.

Steam was written by Hitler, and Valve is run by robots.

There is also Stardock, whose service might be a tad more complicated to use but I don't hear anyone complain about.  They seem to have a more realistic position on piracy than most; reference recent sparring with Starforce thugs.

I was reminded of the anticipated third-party NES, but one quick Google later I find that it sucks.  I guess I need to find someone that can repair my NES, since Nintendo doesn't seem to be in that business anymore.

Quote from: VintageComputing
Castlevania III doesn’t even work at all (just a blank green screen).

This happens to be the cart currently taking up slot-space in my NES.
« Last Edit: April 20, 2006, 01:07:27 PM by Yegolev »

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