The third annual Indie Games Uprising launches this week, as developers band together to cross-promote titles on the Xbox Live Indie Games (XBLIG) channel. Have you, perhaps, never heard of the XBLIG? Well, that’s why they’re having an uprising!
When Microsoft launched the XBLIG in 2008 (then called the Community Games Initiative), there was reason to be excited. While adventurous PC gamers had long enjoyed a constant stream of bedroom-coded wackiness, indie development on consoles was only for companies big enough to afford expensive development kits. The XBLIG changed all that, merging the open creativity of the PC world with the accessibility of consoles. It was a great way to show off the Xbox’s chief advantage: A straightforward Visual Basic programming framework that made shifting from development to release much easier than on other platforms. It also acted as a farm team for the game design stars of the future.
Unfortunately, the service suffered from all the problems that beset any open platform: tossed-off junk outnumbered quality titles, consumers found it too hard to find the good stuff, and with no big marketing budgets on the line Microsoft quickly lost interest in letting players know the service existed. When the new Xbox dashboard buried the XBLIG behind several layers of clicking, it looked like the service would be allowed to die alone, unmourned, and unloved.
And that would be tragic. Sure, there’s lots of Minecraft clones and lame strip-poker simulators on XBLIG, but there’s also quite a few masterpieces. In The Pit, a game with no graphics, Audiball, a puzzle game played with a Guitar Hero controller, and Weapon Of Choice, a heavy-metal inspired Contra-on-PCP freakout are all demonstrations of how much fun gamers could have if they just looked.
So for the last three years, indie developers have banded together to give a curated suite of games a single promotional push, in the hopes that a bigger mass would be more visible in the distance. The first year’s Uprising was a well-intentioned bust, with several of the games not even getting released on time. But the second time was the charm. Microsoft promoted the Uprising on the front page of the Dashboard, blogs took notice, and a few titles sold well into five figures.
In keeping with the XBLIG tradition, this year’s games are sometimes graphically crude, sometimes unpolished, and occasionally derivative, but they’re also cheap, clever, and sometimes intriguing. The lineup includes the beautifully mournful City Tuesday, which applies the time-travel principles of Majorca’s Mask to a terrorist attack, the freaky 3-D puzzle game Entropy, and the minimalist first-person whatsit Pixel, along with management sims, 2-D platformers, dungeon crawlers, and, yes, a Minecraft clone (though with some interesting outer-space twists). Best of all, you can get all 11 games for $11, a great deal even if you only play the games for a few minutes each.
Microsoft seems to be continuing its policy of semi-benevolent apathy towards the service. Co-organizer Michael Hicks told a reporter from Wired that Microsoft can’t promote them on the Dashboard because of vague “legal reasons.”
But the developers behind the Uprising are undeterred, pushing ahead with community growth even on Microsoft’s cold soil. Hicks told Wired, “We’re really trying to raise awareness for everyone. It would feel great to see other non-Uprising games benefit as well from what we’re doing.” Mobile developerment studio Eleventy-Aught is lending a hand with the XBLIG Companion, a donation-supported app for Android and Windows phones that lets users browse and rate games on the service, as well as view trailers and queue up downloads directly from their phones.
It’s unlikely that anyone in the Uprising will make more than ramen money, and the rough edges of the games mean they’re aimed at the people willing to look past the occasional bug in search of creativity. But the do-it-yourself spirit of the Uprising should inspire anyone with a thumbstick and a dream, and if just one person makes this the first time they play a game made by a team smaller than a military platoon, it’ll all be worth it.