Every Wednesday, I write about altgames.
Itching For Thoughts is a series discussing alt games’ place within the industry as a whole, as opposed to focusing on a specific piece.
Alt Games have always been on the fringe of gaming. Whether existing as mods for already made games, hidden away in obscure forums, passed around on USB sticks or even uploaded onto itch.io, Alt Games have remained, largely, unknown. There are a few outliers to this, games or studios which gained a cult following before bursting out into the mainstream’s vision and discussion, mainly through the label which Alt Games’ slots into: Indie Games.
The initial burst of Indie Game’s appeal, seemingly years ago now, brought many large, bigger budget art games into wider culture. I’m talking about Braid, Dear Esther and perhaps even The Stanley Parable. Alt games have completely transformed my entire perception of games as a medium, from one of large, bombastic experiences to a medium that can accommodate a ridiculous amount of variation.
However, from Indie Games, Alt Games spawned. Smaller, experimental games, forged with the sole purpose of exploring themes and ideas the creator wanted, without a thought towards the audience of the games. These games tend to explore a central theme or idea, creating short, focused experiences that push at gaming’s boundaries, using the medium of games as pure personal expression.
However, Alt Games rarely attract a large audience. One of my reasons for writing Itching For More, and subsequently Itching For Thoughts & Altgames’ Innovators [new interview coming next week! — Pip] is to both create more discussion around smaller games and provide a wider view of the community as a whole.
I honestly believe that alt games have a huge role to play in games a whole. They contain some of the most interesting and thought provoking experiences that only games can provide. No other medium has the level of interaction as games, and it is so often taken for granted. Games fell into a rut of rules to adhere to which they seem to only be creeping out of now, with 2017 containing some of the most creative and interesting mainstream releases for a number of years.
So, how, and indeed should, alt games transcend their current small audience?
Whilst I am definitely not the be all and end all of games advice, it is useful to look at what others are doing. For this article, we are going to use two examples, Humble Grove, and the Klondike Collective.
These are two groups who, whilst making smaller experiences, are attempting to push past this boundary and shoot for something bigger. There are interesting differences, and similarities, which I would like to explore.
Lets begin with Humble Grove. Humble Grove are a very new group — described as “a collaborative formed by illustrators/game developers Tom Davison and Hana Lee, musicians/sound designers Derek Daley and Liz Rainsberry, and programmer Nikki Lombardo.” on their website. Humble Grove haven’t released bags full of games in their past, but are aiming for a bigger release of a series/Game called No Longer Home.
Through game jams and personal releases, they’ve created a few beautiful pieces that perfectly show their intent and ability to deliver with No Longer Home, a project that seems to have captured the attention of a fair few people. No Longer Home feels like a larger release, built on the foundation of smaller pieces.
Klondike Collective is very different to Humble Grove. Consisting of around twice the number of people, they feel more like a talented group of friends creating consistently beautiful and interesting pieces of work, a number of which I’ve covered in Itching For More, from its conception to fairly recently. Examples of games you may recognise are Sacramento, Oases and Orchids To Dusk.
Two members of Klondike, Pol Clarissou and Armel Gibson recently released Vignettes, a release that feels more targeted at a mainstream audience than any release of theirs before. However, it still builds on their previous works — it is inventive, beautiful and exciting.
As evidenced above, alt games creators are making an attempt to jump out into the more mainstream, through building on their previous successes and skillsets in order to create an experience which is larger, more cohesive and one which appeals to a broader market. This is all whilst continuing to stay true to the reasons which made their initial experiments so appealing — they were different and pushed at what games can be. Vignettes turns games into a form of interactive toy, but uses a form that only games can. No Longer Home, however, uses games as a semi-autobiographical tool, in which to imprint themselves.
To go back to my original question: “how, and indeed should, alt games transcend their current small audience?”, how has already been detailed. But should altgames try to transcend?
Well, the short answer is yes. More appeal and more of an audience is a benefit to any medium, giving it more credibility, more opportunity and drawing more creators to it. More appeal also means that alt games’ creators can continue doing what they’re doing, but more securely.
However, there still needs to be some work done until we get to the point where alt games are more prevalent than they currently are. Whilst the infrastructure is consistently being built and improved (we ❤ itch.io), the point of the industry at the moment still needs a shift further past where it is.
I believe that we are on the beginnings of this shift. More and more alt games are being released, more jams happening, more creators appearing. In order to keep up with this, mainstream games have begun to become more variable and more exciting, evidenced by the recent Zelda: Breath Of The Wild and Nioh 2, as well as the whole raft of incredible indie games recently released.
We are in the middle of a revolution in games. One that is pushing games to question themselves, to analyse themselves and to break past their box into a more universally and professionally accepted medium, whose only limit is the creator’s ability and imagination.