Lets face it. Whether people find value in arguing about it or not, I’m sure everyone who has ever been interested in anything relating to independent games has had at least 7.24 arguments (scientific average) about what it means to be indie. “Indie means independently financed”, you say. “Indie means creative and innovative!”, your friend responds.” Another friend cries “Who cares!” , and in the background, your mother calls “Come and help with the dishes!”. After rolling your eyes, you take off your headset, close the group video conversation on Skype, and help your mother clean the kitchen.
People could argue about what it means to be indie until the cows come home. If they were fans of Ian Bogost’s Cow Clicker, they could then proceed to click every single one of them, delighted in the knowledge that they don’t have to wait another 6 hours to do so. Though I had my fair share of arguments on the topic before eventually deciding, like many other people, that indie was a pretty useless label (it doesn’t actually describe anything at all about my game), I know that I didn’t always feel that way.
So what’s the point of this post? Hazard was featured on IGN again (the last time it was featured was for standing out at E3), and in the feature, there’s a bunch of discussion about the value, or lack of value, of putting things into boxes. You can see from the comments threads for the article that there’s a bunch of people who find value in the discussion, and a bunch of people who cry “Who cares!” (though, the article probably interrupted their session of Call of Duty!).
This is definitely something I’ve spent time trying to get around. Though Hazard started as a mod, I never considered myself a modder, and though I was working on it as a student, it wasn’t intended to be a student project. When people tried to fit the game into any particular box, I’d argue that they’d put it in the wrong box.
The first trailer I made back in August 2009 drew countless comparisons to Portal, simply because the player had a gun and was solving puzzles. The second trailer from March 2010 aimed to explain the game more to avoid people calling it out for being a Portal clone (given the game is hardly like Portal), but gave people other reasons to classify it as one thing or another, often incorrectly. After spending a lot of time thinking about it, I’ve come to the conclusion that my best bet with the next trailer is to explain nothing and let people make whatever judgements make it easy for them to understand, and simply not care one way or the other.
People will always find the game hard to understand, simply because it doesn’t fit within any of their boxes of what a game is. I’ve had many stories from people who’d played Hazard at a conference, went home to try to tell their friends about it, and totally failed at communicating the experience. Not because the game was bad, but because nothing they could really say to try to explain it was necessarily accurate or useful. I still remember TimW first describing it as being “like Portal meets Braid (minus the portals and time manipulation stuff)”, which is another way of saying “Hazard is like nothing”.
I’ve tried to avoid classifications, so that people could see the game on its own merits (hence my tongue in cheek description of it as an MAWPFPSPEPAG), and as I stated in the IGN article, I don’t think there’s any inherent problem in labeling things if it helps you understand them, but I always die a little inside when people ask “Is it like Portal?” and I ultimately just have to say yes, knowing that if I actually explained the game more accurately, I’d lose their interest for being too hard to comprehend. It’s just something that needs to be played.