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14 Jan 2015

Indie Developers: Finding Your Indie Game’s Voice

If you have ever been tasked with writing a short story, an essay, or something where you have to write creatively, then you have been told at least a few times that it’s vital to find your own voice. But what does that really mean? Moreover, why is it so important?

It’s difficult to describe exactly what your indie game’s voice (or heart, if you prefer to call it that) is until you’ve actually found it. It’s a lot like going to the optometrist for an eye exam. We’ve all been there: we have to look through an expensive (and heavy) piece of equipment while the optometrist asks us which image looks the clearest (“One or two….one or two. I’ll do it again: one or two…one or two.”). The optometrist knows the results they want: which images look the clearest in each eye. Until then, they have to continue the exam until they get the end result they need.

Finding the voice of your indie game is the exact same way. Sure, you know you want the indie game to have awesome dialogue, a great setting, killer gameplay, cool visuals – the whole shebang. None of that happens automatically, though. You have to know the voice of the game before you can even think about adding these elements to your game.

Quite literally, your indie game’s voice is one of the foundations of your entire game!

Think about it: how awesome would a game like The Last Of Us be if it kept the same gameplay but had the cartoonish visuals of Rayman Legends and the non-serious dialogue of Grim Fandango? I have faith that Naughty Dog could make it work, but it wouldn’t be nearly as critically acclaimed as the original.

All of these games work because they found their voice! The Last Of Us has to have a gritty, hopeless voice in order for us to get lost in the moments of the game. The dialogue, environment – everything about the game – comes together in one, complete package because the developers found the game’s voice and ran with it.

No matter what type of indie game you are developing, finding the voice is vital. Even if it’s a simple platformer with no story, knowing exactly what type of action you want in the game, the enemies, the playable character(s), the environment – every detail about the game has to be traced back to its voice. A game without a voice is nothing more than a giant mess filled with randomness that has no purpose; and a game without a purpose pretty much defines itself (i.e. there’s no purpose for it to exist).

Finding the game’s voice is usually a no-brainer, but it can also be difficult if you have no idea what type of indie game you want to develop. Going back to The Last Of Us for a moment, the voice of the game is pretty self-explanatory: it takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland starring people trying to survive, so of course the game is going to be serious, gritty, with a dash of depressing.

Then there’s the Fallout series. It’s essentially the same setting as The Last Of Us, but there are moments of wit and comedy throughout the games. Sure, it seems depressing, but it doesn’t seem as hopeless as The Last Of Us.

In the end, knowing and capturing the voice of your indie game is vital to the success of your game. It’s the foundation for every facet of your indie game, so before you begin developing your game, sit down and think about how you want the player to feel as they play the game. Always keep this in mind, and you will develop an indie game that is exactly what you envisioned from the start.

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