For me, 2013 was a year brimming with moments that left me bewildered or leaning over to pick my jaw up off the floor. The majority were positive, such as the continued growth of indie horror, thanks in part to a bevy of new platforms and tools for aspiring and established indie developers. Other surprises weren’t quite as good, like the lack of interest in a sequel to a beloved horror game many of us have been looking forward to for more than a decade.
Today, we’re going to look at all that and more. Read on for my list of six of the biggest surprises of 2013 (horror games edition!)
By far the greatest thing — or things, rather — that came out of 2013 was the significantly expanded suite of platforms, software, and tools for indie developers. Some of these had been around for a while, including the crowd-funding sites Kickstarter and Indiegogo, both of which saw unbelievable success this past year. Others, like Steam Greenlight and the new indie centric Ouya console, were new ideas (and related, as the Ouya was funded on Kickstarter). There are kinks left to iron out — particularly with the Ouya — but it’s never been easier to build the game of your dreams and get it out to an audience that will appreciate it. Much of the excitement was had on the PC side, but not all of it. Even Sony jumped on board with an impressive line-up of indies that will be coming exclusively to the PlayStation 4 (as well as PC) this year, including two high profile indie horror games, Outlast and Daylight.
This is definitely something worth celebrating, but I want to add a word of caution to anyone who plans on providing financial support to these games and their developers, too.
There’s a possible downside to this that’s bothered me lately, and that’s the growing number of paid alphas. Minecraft pioneered the idea of paying for early access to an unfinished game, and now there’s a ton of indie games that are doing the same with the promise of additional content and/or bug fixes. It looks like this isn’t an issue with many gamers, as the creators of DayZ recently boasted the standalone has sold over a million copies (for $35 each) during its first month of availability on Steam Early Access. This is despite their confirmation that the “final” version is still at least a year out. By purchasing a game that’s still potentially a year (or longer) away from being feature complete, you’re putting a lot of faith in the developer — sometimes a one or two person studio, often with limited resources — to make good on what’s usually just the first draft of a game concept, with no guarantee of their ever delivering on it.
2013 was an amazing year for indie developers and the last thing I want to do is take away from the overwhelmingly positive effect that platforms like Steam Greenlight have had on the indie community. I’m clearly not against it, as I often cover crowd-funding projects here on Bloody Disgusting, I only want you to be careful and keep in mind that while most of these developers have every intention of fulfilling their promise, there will be a few that have less admirable intentions.
What Mark Hadley did with his free indie horror game Slender: The Eight Pages was akin to what Markus “Notch” Persson did with Minecraft, though on a much smaller scale. The greatest impact Hadley had on this genre is that he essentially carved out a new subgenre in horror with elements taken from preexisting games. The “Slender Man” subgenre should be familiar by now. In it, the player is almost always alone and tasked with finding items that have been scattered about an unfamiliar environment while evading their hunter. It’s a neat idea and the concept immediately caught on, almost entirely thanks to YouTube, inspiring a wave of indie developers to jump on board the Slender Man bandwagon (Slendermanwagon?) with their own takes on Hadley’s idea.
A few of the games didn’t bother to mess with the formula much (I’m looking at you, Slender: The Nine Pages), while most developers have used it as a jumping off point for something a little different (Faceless, Slenderman’s Shadow, Haunted Memories) or something significantly different (Huntsman: The Orphanage, The Legend, Routine).
As we make our way through 2014 and the myriad surprises it has in store for us, I’m positive we can look forward to a lot less Slender knock-offs as they get replaced by games that try to do something new, using the solid foundation Hadley established with The Eight Pages. To me, that’s worth getting excited over.
I’ve been writing (*semi*) professionally about video games for six years now with a pretty big focus on the horror genre, so I’d like to think I have a decent idea of where our favorite genre is headed. With that said, had you told me back in May, prior to the reveal of Shadow of the Eternals, that a crowd funding campaign for an Eternal Darkness successor from the developers that made the original would fail not once, but twice, I would’ve staked you immediately and set you on fire for being a blasphemous time witch. Unfortunately, I would’ve soon regretted that decision, because it totally happened.
Precursor Games, a start-up formed from former Silicon Knights devs, finally offered the horror game I thought we all wanted. Its announcement as an episodic title was a little jarring, as was the hefty $1.5 million funding goal. When its initial campaign failed to catch on, Precursor shut it down, took a look at it, made a few tweaks, and relaunched it. The decision to drop the 12-episode format for a more accessible 8-10 hour campaign was smart. It’s just a shame it wasn’t enough. In true Silicon Knights fashion, the project and its creators still saw a fair amount of controversy, including the arrest of one of its developers on child pornography charges and a lack of trust in the game’s maligned creative director, Denis Dyack. The worst part is Shadow of the Eternals looked like a faithful successor, and the footage showed a lot of promise.