Since the alphabet is the building block of our language, the Powet Alphabet is the building block of what makes us geeks.

indieNow I love the mainstream as much as anyone. Like most other gamers worth their salt, I get a rise out of blowing someone away in Halo, running a touchdown in Madden, and carjacking and gunning my way to 6 stars while playing Grand Theft Auto. The current state of video gaming is great, and with new advances in gameplay and graphical technology, it’s only going to get better. However, if you look closely, there is a movement going on beneath the surface. Not only is the mainstream taking strides forward, but so is the independent scene. In the past few years alone, many independently developed releases have become just as critically acclaimed as the biggest mainstream releases, and with indie titles being released on outlets such as Steam and Xbox Live, there is greater incentive than ever. Far from being simple mods, independently developed games often feature innovative gameplay mechanics and presentation. Lets look at some aspects of the independent scene, and hopefully some of you more creative poweteers will get some inspiration.

Tools of the Trade
The recent rise of the independent game development movement is due to the emergence of open source software which is freely available, easy to learn, and fully featured. Packages such as Blender (a 3D rendering program), Gimp (a 2D image manipulation program) and the Eclipse IDE are every bit as capable tools as their more expensive counter parts. Microsoft’s XNA, a game development driven framework which uses c# (pronounced c-sharp) and LOVE, an LUA driven 2D game engine allow developers with programming knowledge to make amazing works. Ready-made frameworks such as the Retribution Engine and Reality Factory allow players with little to no programming knowledge to create complex games as well. At the bottom of this article is a list of tools you that are commonly used by developers.

Developers and Distribution
Compared to more mainstream development studios such as a Bungie, Square, or Rockstar, independent developers usually function in much smaller teams, as little as one person in fact, as is the case with Everyday Shooter’s Jonathan Mak. Back in the days, smaller game developers didn’t have the leverage of bigger budget titles, so independent developers have had to either form their own game companies, or sell their works to bigger companies for any distribution. Thanks to the internet, it has been easier than ever to distribute one’s efforts. Most independent console developers prefer to develop for PC and Mac, as they are more accessible than consoles. Traditionally, console software development kits from companies such as Nintendo and Sony carry high price tags for both licensing and royalty fees, and the console developers usually take out royalty payments. However, some breakthroughs have been made on this front, as Microsoft’s indie games network only requires a $99 annual creator’s club membership with Microsoft only taking a 30 percent profit. Also, console manufacturers have snatched up independently developed efforts for release on their console’s digital distribution networks. Examples of these titles include the aforementioned Everyday Shooter, and Jonathan Blow’s Braid.

But Why?
Of course not everyone is lucky enough to get their effort snatched up by Microsoft or Valve. Surprisingly, not everyone wants to either. So with the long and complex process that goes into a game, and little or no financial reward, why does one do it? Several reasons actually. It’s quite gratifying to have your own product out where others can enjoy it. Also, game development gives you hands on experience with various tools and programming languages, enabling you to build a portfolio to show potential employers. Most importantly, independent game development allows one to share their vision with the world. While I won’t go into the whole ‘games as art’ debate, many independent releases such as Limbo and the Path have a unique presentation style that forces players to form their own interpretation of the game’s message. On the other end of the spectrum, games such as Super Columbine Massacre are quite blunt about their message, forcing players to think about taboo events in a new way.

In the DVD documentary Beef, rapper DMX says that while the money is in the NBA, streetball players are have the best skills. If mainstream companies such as Capcom and Electronic Arts are the pros, the indie developers such as Jonathan Mak and 2D boy can be considered the street. Just like in music and movies, the independent scene is the go-to destination for gamers who want something different. Keep a close eye on these games, because a big name always starts as a small one, and you could be seeing the next great superstar right here.

Tools and Resources – Blender, an open source 3D Modeling Suite. – Makehuman, an open source tool for making 3D characters – Love, a 2D game engine which utilizes LUA – The XNA Creator’s Club – Gimp, a free 2D image manipulation program on par with photoshop
Retribution Engine– The Retribution Engine, a free tool for creating FPS games – Spring, a frame work for creating real time strategy games – Cube 2 Sauerbraten, a multiplayer/single player FPS with an in-game map editor