Dreaming in Digital

‘Death by white picket fence’. Probably not the most glamorous epitaph to grace the digital graveyard of gaming protagonists. But hey, when the sky uncorks and the heavens rain cultural detritus, from laundromat signage to famous paintings, you don’t really get to choose what random household object signs your death warrant.

This is, ostensibly, the ‘plot’ of The Incident, the latest must-have iPhone time waster, this time from tiny developer Big Bucket Software. Like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or the upcoming live-action Smurfs movie, this portable platformer doesn’t waste time in explaining the eponymous incident that’s caused the horrors onscreen. It’s just about dodging falling garbage as you rack up high scores.

And it’s perilously addictive, turning your iWhatever into an absolutely irresistible slab of one-more-go desire, the sort of game that’ll send you into a numb minded, zen-like state of near comatose that’ll have you burning toast, missing tube stops and sitting on the toilet till your legs go numb – ironically ruining its original intent of making those tiresome activities go faster.

But more than just good time-wasting fodder, The Incident is a solid reminder of just how lucky we are to be showered by digital downloadable treats every week. Little, inexpensive files dropped onto our consoles like a humanitarian food drop. Between melancholy digital-poem Limbo and comedy elf-whacker DeathSpank, or brawler send-up Scott Pilgrim, you can go without retail games for months without craving some high resolution polygons.

It’s also done wonders for the indie game development industry. By making games profitable – properly profitable, pay your bills profitable, quit your job profitable – instead of luckless labours of love given away on PC, services like Xbox Live Arcade and the iPhone App Store have proven that gamers want quality, creativity and unique experiences, alongside their usual dose of brainless action romps.

So, the disarming success of a game like Limbo, Joe Danger or Angry Birds means multi-million dollar budgets and hundred-strong development studios aren’t prerequisites to creating outstanding software. A healthy dose of creativity and a whole lot of effort can translate into both a great game, and your heating bill being paid for a few months.

Plus, it’s no surprise to see out-of-work developers building a digital-exclusive start-up instead of heading off to the next shooter factory, and hardy franchises like Tomb Raider and Red Faction going digital. Because, hey, as sales tank and budgets shrink, Xbox Live Arcade looks less like a curious detour for traditional developers, and more like the source of the next pay cheque.

But while I won’t pretend to know the intricate ins-and-outs of game development, what l can say with conviction is that the most interesting, exciting, refreshing and original games are often digital, downloadable and inexpensive. It’s easy to lose hope and excitement in the medium when the shelves are lined with macho-men holding oversized weaponry, but the best cure is a trip onto PlayStation Network or the iPhone App Store.







2 responses to “Dreaming in Digital”

  1. Markatansky avatar

    I’ve found the Xbox Live Indie Games section a good source of top-notch titles, even if it is starting to get a bit clogged up with rubbish avatar games. They need more coverage (like the awesome Independent Charles Show!) as well.

  2. Jonny/IV DemonJ avatar
    Jonny/IV DemonJ

    I agree with you Marky, from a business perspective going for a in-expensive development cycle and hardy stream of consumers willing to spend (literally) pennies upon pennies on a tidy little game that covers all but minutes of our lives is a sure fire winner when the “ridiculous” budget of such Call of Duty’s aren’t handed to the developers on a whim.

Leave a Reply