With cheaper and more easily available development tools like Unity and the Unreal Engine, making your own games has never been easier! This can be seen pretty easily with the rise of indie games in recent years. Games that are developed by one person or a small group with a small budget and normally without a publisher. Indie games are great though because often times they take a lot of chances that bigger game publishers wouldn’t, giving us far more original and creative games. This extends to horror games too! Some of the best selling and most influential horror games have been indie games. Games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Five Nights at Freddy’s and Outlast. However, for each of these big successes also comes an avalanche of copy cats and shameless rip offs, which does more harm to the genre then you might think…
As I was saying earlier, not being held back by a publisher that needs the game to make money is the biggest advantage of indie games. Indie developers can try more creative things this way since there’s no one to tell them not to because there’s no evidence a game like that will sell or some other excuse to not be innovative. It also means that indie developers can go back to older genres or styles that still very much have an audience but might be “too outdated” for a publisher to take a risk on. This is why a lot of indie games go back to retro style games with some modern twists put on them like Shovel Knight. Those games never stopped being fun, publishers just stop green lighting them! This goes double for horror games. There was a very long drought of horror games from big publishers for a good while. Just look at the PS3 and PS4 eras compared to the PS2 era when it comes to horror games being published. It wasn’t till the end of the PS4 era when the Resident Evil series bounced back with Resident Evil 7 that we started to see horror games come back a bit more. But before that, if you wanted a good horror experience, you needed to look to indie games!
I feel like indie horror really blew up when Amnesia: The Dark Descent hit the scene. The game is what I like to call hide and seek horror. I talked about this kind of horror before but I’ll give a bit of a refresher. Hide and seek horror is focused on not being able to fight back against what is chasing you no matter what. You are mostly helpless and need to find a way out while solving puzzles and hiding from your attacker. And despite similar games with that exact style coming before it, even from the same developer Frictional Games, Amnesia is the game that really popularized this kind of horror. This is mainly because it was a rather refreshing take on horror at the time and because it became an extremely popular game to play on YouTube right around the time “Let’s Plays” were becoming the new big thing on the platform. I’d argue this is where most of it’s popularity comes from actually! But I didn’t brush the game’s quality under the rug either.
It’s hard to argue that Amnesia wasn’t a revolutionary game though. It would mark a change in horror games for awhile as many people, often indie developers, would try and chase it’s success. And this is where the big problem with indie horror games comes in. When something does really well there will always be copy cats. And while that might not seem like a big issue since every successful thing has imitators, for horror it’s a bit more complex. If horror gets too repetitive it becomes boring and predicable. People need something fresh in order to be scared. Predictability is one of the biggest threats to horror in general. So when lots and lots of horror games follow one trend it ends up poisoning the well in a way as even the more quality releases become cliche. Just look at the sequels to Amnesia. They never truly reached the heights of the original because we were all so tired of seeing those kinds of games. Which I can only imagine was more than a little frustrating for the original developers.
It’s always a shame when you see a fresh idea get over saturated by others simply trying to follow a success without really doing much to make it their own thing. Because there is nothing wrong with taking inspiration from something! But it all falls apart when you can’t think of a way to give it your own personal spin. However, sometimes that over saturation doesn’t come from just the community around the game, but the original developer themselves. This is very much the case with Five Nights at Freddy’s, a very original and minimilistic horror game about checking cameras and watching your doors to make sure the creepy animatronics don’t get to you before the morning comes. Now I know that there are a lot of people who really don’t like the FNAF games and I totally get that. I’ve never really been a fan of them myself, but credit where credit is due. The games were very original at the time and were surprisingly scary despite how simple it all was. And you can’t deny their success either. A lot of people were very much into the game when it first released after all. However, people got horribly burnt out on the series quick and it wasn’t due to all the copy cats. This time around it was due to the developer himself, Scott Cawthon.
You see, Five Nights at Freddy’s was a simple game, it was basically a series of moving images with barely any animation. Meaning it wasn’t too hard to develop and produce. How do I know that exactly? Well maybe because the sequel, Five Nights at Freddy’s 2, came out literally two months after the original. This was something that was met with shock from quite a few people including fans of the original game. And despite there being plenty of new things in the sequel it still had people pointing out how similar the two games still were making the sequel feel kind of like a cash grab that was shoved out to try and make the most money it could while the series was popular. But it could have also been that Scott was just really excited to work on a sequel after the original did so well, we’ll never really know. FNAF 2 was certainly successful too but I doubt it came close to the original as some people had already had their fill of the game and need some more time to actually want a sequel. It’s kind of like when you finish a really good meal. You might feel like you want some more right away but in reality you still need to digest what you just had. Because if you try and go back for more too quickly, you’re just going to end up sick of the whole meal in the end… Hopefully Scott would realize that this time around. Sadly, however, he did not. It took only four months for Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 hit the scene after the second game was released! And this is really where the burn out started to show.
Scott only continued the trend from there as the fourth game came out after another four months after the third game released. After that, some restraint was shown as it took a full year before the fifth game was released and each release following that would get spaced out a bit more. But it was too little too late as burn out on the series was well underway at this point as Scott managed to completely kill a rather original and creative take on horror games by pumping out sequel after sequel far too quickly. FNAF showed that despite having a small budget and minimal game play, you could still have a very interactive and scary game! However, no one wants to touch that style of game now. To this day I feel like people will still react to a game made in that same style with, “Oh just another FNAF game then?” Which shows how much trend chasing and over saturation can really kill a creative concept.
This is why indie horror games can really feel like trying to find a needle in a hay stack! The truly original and creative games often get buried under cash grabs and rip offs. Despite all that though, this should not stop you from looking into indie horror games! The main reason I wanted to bring this issue up is exactly that. Indie horror games can be some of the best in the business. You just might need to dig through a lot of hay to find the good ones. There may be a hundred shameless clones of Amnesia standing in your way, but if you keep digging you’ll eventually find something super unique like Doki Doki Literature Club! Feeling burned out on more modern feeling horror games? Check out anything from developer Puppet Combo! Each of their games, of which there are a lot, are unique and are made in the style of an old PS1 era game! And not just in the visuals but the game feel as well. And despite coming out with a new game so often, each one still feels different from each other. Which just goes to show you that if you’re creative enough, you can pump out games as fast as you want without burning out your audience.
Now, despite a lot of this post being rather negative, I really do hope that it inspires people to give the indie scene a try when it comes to horror! The digging and searching can be a slog but it’s almost always worth it in the end. Because indie horror games is where creativity really does come from no matter how much hay is in the way.
That wraps this spooky post up though! Next week, we’re going to keep going along with Spooky Month and talk about coop horror games! Something that might not sound like it can work but I feel has a lot of missed potential…
But what are some of your thoughts on indie horror games? Feeling inspired to go out and find some now? Have you played any good ones that you’d like to recommend? I’d love to hear your thoughts so don’t be shy!
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