Declaration of Independents | Arts & Entertainment | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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Culture » Arts & Entertainment

Declaration of Independents

A new compilation allows independent video-game developers to show the world their stuff.

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Sarah Borchers remembers a time in gaming when the independent spirit and drive of game developers was the norm rather than a bothersome exception to most big game companies.

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“Entertainment software was born out of independent developers’ work. A developer would make a game, put it on a floppy disc, put it in a plastic bag and take it to computer stores to have them sell it,” says Borchers, the CEO of Minnesota-based Moondance Games. “But as the market grew and larger companies … entered the scene, many smaller developers were squeezed out because they couldn’t afford the movie, TV or cartoon licenses and didn’t have the marketing and publishing support.nn

That’s where Moondance comes in'to share games with the rest of the world that are long on innovation but short on star power and major-studio backing. In late September, the company released Independent Games Volume 2, a PC title featuring more than 20 of the best independent video games of the past year.

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The games in this collection may represent genres you’ve seen before but never experienced in their purest and most innovative form. As happens with products in most industries, store shelves have become cluttered with derivative products. There was a time when we lauded the innovation of games like Grand Theft Auto, before 25,000 imitators came behind it and offered little more than controversy and stereotypical characters. There may come a time when game studios jump all over the great titles in IG2 and create volumes of mindless clones. The opportunity to see games like this now'in their virgin incarnation'makes the compilation even more valuable to gamers.

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“These are games built on great game-play. They are fun,” Borchers says. “Since the games’ budgets don’t include money for 100 artists, a movie license and a symphony orchestra, the indie developer focuses on making the game fun to play first, and then focuses on the eye candy second. … Sometimes the big publishing houses are more interested in putting out a pretty game rather than one that is actually enjoyable to play.nn

The best of the games featured on IG2 would individually be worth a $19.95 asking price. Kishi Kawaii (Cute Knight) by Hanako Games is one of the simplest-looking but most challenging role-playing games I’ve ever tackled. The goal is to take a young girl on her 18th birthday and help her find her life’s path by her 21st birthday. You can train her to become a knight or a sorcerer or even a cook at the Inn.

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Kishi Kawaii and another title on the disc'Morning’s Wrath by Ethereal Darkness Interactive'provide a niche ignored by mainstream games: strong female characters. Even for a guy playing the game, the game play and characters are enthralling. These complex titles show that a game can target women and not be condescendingly dull.

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The Goat in the Gray Fedora by Pinhead Games is a completely entertaining mystery-solving “action” game where it doesn’t really matter that it’s nearly impossible to lose. The game makes you laugh out loud and just enjoy yourself for the half hour or so it takes to play it; the last game that made me laugh out loud was 25 to Life, and I don’t think that was the point of that title.

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Finally, two other games warrant mentioning, although all are worth playing. Unipong (Large Animal Games) is an entertaining sports game where a young boy dreaming of Ping Pong dominance invents a game in his basement to help get him ready for the career ahead. In Dodge That Anvil (Rabid Lab), you are a rabbit charged with harvesting local fields of their veggie goodness without being clobbered by the occasional falling anvil. Dodge is one of the rare indie games that not only offers top-shelf game play but also pretty impeccable graphics.

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What this disc brings to the gaming table is a compilation of games for every type of gamer in every possible genre. It shows that the future of gaming is very bright'as long as it is given the chance to shine.

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INDEPENDENT GAMES
VOLUME 2
Moondance Games
PC
$19.95