Daily Reaction: Indie Games that Changed PlayStation This Gen

Less than a week away from Christmas, the Daily Reaction crew brings you the next installment of the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ carol with ‘Seven Swans a-swimming’. That means today Seb and Dan discuss the effect that the most influential indie PS3 titles have had on the industry, Sony and the future of PlayStation.

Dan: Coming off the days of the PS2, there were only a handful of names in the industry that could be recognized for the titles they had developed. The one name that seemed to resonate more than most was David Jaffe, the creator of the much loved PlayStation titles Twisted Metal and God of War. When the news broke that he was working on a small independent title at the newly formed EatSleepPlay studio, fans were waiting for something big. What they received was a multiplayer cell shaded vehicular game involving cops fighting over arresting criminals and escorting them to jail for points called Calling All Cars! The title released in 2007 sadly to mixed reviews, and lackluster sales. The ability for a major player in the games industry to create smaller independent titles seemed to be dead in the water early on this generation.

A month later, a game developed by a small team in Finland released to rave reviews, and great word of mouth. That title was Super Stardust HD. During a time when the PSN was still relatively new, SSD was able to move over 400,000 copies of the game, making it a fan favorite for numerous PS3 gamers around the world. It showed that not only can smaller titles be successful on the Sony console, but that a PSN game can receive as much support as a retail release. Having later been patched with trophy support, and DLC, SSD eventually moved over to PSP and was even a selling point for the Vita on its release.

Starting a legacy that has generated three of the most memorable experiences this generation on any console, Jenova Chen developed a small flash based game called fl0w. Despite missing the launch of the PSN service, fl0w eventually became a success and was even the most downloaded title of 2007 on the network. It became a title that showed that games are not simply methods to tell tangible stories, but that experience and emotion are as strong, if not stronger vehicles for gameplay – an ideology that has seemed to stay with thatgamecompany, the company that was born out of the success of fl0w.

Thatgamecompany was contracted by Sony to develop three titles, which eventually finished with one of my favorite titles of all time, Journey. With the success of the previous titles, Jenova Chen and his crew were under pressure to succeed in ways that no other developer has been able to replicate. During a time when online experiences meant little more than someone to yell at, thatgamecompany developed a title that explores the bond we create by taking a journey with someone, and how much a stranger can really mean to us. It was a game that pushed the boundaries of what playing online meant, and challenged the fundamentals of game design for its time by forcing players to interact instead of speak.

Seb: Absolutely, I’ve talked before about how much I love Journey and how incredible the experience is, but while thatgamecompany is renowned for their impact on indie development, there are other titles that should also be recognized.

Take Everyday Shooter, for example: a pretty well received game from a critical perspective, with nice visuals and gameplay. Iou’d be forgiven for thinking it was just an ordinary PSN game – but here’s the kicker: the whole game, including the guitar sounds, were developed by one man, Jonathan Mak. That’s one person creating a game for a console, showing the fundamental shift at SCE towards trying to get indies involved in PlayStation. Remarkably, the game came out a year before Apple’s App Store, highlighting just how forward thinking parts of SCE were. Mak has since gone on to develop Sound Shapes.

Later, Sony introduced their Pub Fund scheme, an initiative to help fund the development of indie games on the PSN in return for some form of negotiable timed exclusivity. Early on, this led to the release of Burn Zombie Burn and Joe Danger, the first of which was well received, and the later of which managed to break even on launch day. Last year, Sony pledged another $20 million to the fund, leading to games like Papo & Yo, Payday: The Heist and Eufloria.

While Sony have clearly made big strides this gen to embrace indies – something that has now led to low PS Vita dev kit prices and PlayStation Mobile – some of the most influential indie games remain on other platforms. PC is, of course, the ultimate haven for indie developers with technically no entry barrier but skill, and Steam has managed to profit immensely out of simply providing a secure, stable portal to these games. Mobile – iOS in particular – is also a huge market for independent developers, and more and more new mobile studios are sprouting up as large console firms shut.

Despite these market shifts, PlayStation has managed to remain relevant for many indies, with the high quality of most titles attracting a large consumer base. LIMBO, for example, came to PS3 a little late, but the release helped it to pass a million in sales last year, and it was a fantastic title, winning our PSN GOTY award in 2011.

Looking back at this generation, the amount of effort and money Sony has invested in getting indies on board can’t be underestimated. It has led to fantastic titles and experiences not available anywhere else. One can only hope that they plan on pushing things even further next gen, especially with dev costs set to rise.

Which indie titles have meant the most to you this generation? Do you think we will see more interesting titles next-gen? Or have we seen the golden age for indie games? Let us know the comments below or by telling us we are wrong on Twitter at Seb and Dan.

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