Creativity and Independence

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Team Meat, the very-specifically titled development team behind the quirky and wondrous Super Meat Boy, were recently interviewed by Brutal Gamer. It's a great interview, discussing not only the game and future projects but also advice for prospective indie developers. Their suggestion that indie developers not go to college for programming or art design warms the bitter, manipulative cockles of my heart because, hey! I didn't go to college for either of those things! Yet here I am doing both!

But their ultimate reason for saying that wasn't what I expected. I initially thought that Team Meat's rationale for dropping that little counter-cultural firecracker was to suggest that four years of learning programming or art design all by yourself was just as valuable as doing four years of it in college.

However, I was surprised to find out that Team Meat was asserting that colleges teach fairly orthodox ways of thinking and doing things, and that four years of working on your own encourages not just independence (hey, that's what "indie" means!), but also creativity, originality, and individualism.

That caught me a little off guard because it's completely true, and a way I'm not accustomed to thinking. Everyone - including yours truly - gets into game design because they play a OMG super cool game and want to recreate that game, but better. Better gameplay, better story, neat ideas for levels... you name it, your imagination is already turning the dial up to 11. After all, mimicry is the most nascent (and often exciting) form of learning, as evinced by the behavior of not only babies, but everyone from newbie game developers to major studios. Look at the gaming shelf of your local Best Buy and you can see how iteration is how the industry works.

Creativity, originality, and individualism mean breaking out of that cycle. It means being honest with yourself. Making a cool first person shooter would probably be fulfilling, but will it be unique? Will it stand out? There's nothing wrong with iterating, but there are tons upon tons of viable avenues out there for stamping your name on something truly original.

When I was working on the Prometheus Engine, I planned on using it for a super neato horror game. All well and good, but I abandoned it for Project Squish, which I hope prospective players will reward for its sense of humor and creativity. I'm happy that I'm following Team Meat's advice, but it's also somewhat jarring that I could just as easily have gone in a different direction, down the road much more traveled by.

Avoid that route! Be vigilant! And be creative.