Game Informer’s Feature on Gaming Accessibility, Featuring Yours Truly

Remember when I said that Game Informer had interviewed me for a feature on gaming accessibility? It was published in last month’s magazine, and is now free to view online.

Go have a read: Gaming For All: How The industry Is Striving To Accommodate Disabled Gamers

Thank you

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Six Years Later

Did you know I was 21-years-old when I started Indie Gamer Chick on July 1, 2011? It’s true. I turned 22 ten days later, but technically I still made it in under the wire. I really didn’t think that six-years-later and I would be here, typing this annual tear-jerker of mine.

None of us are the same as we were when we were 21. I certainly ain’t. People wonder why I don’t write reviews very often these days. After all, I was “the girl who saved XBLIG” using sometimes scathing, and sometimes positive in a still scathing kind of way reviews. I’m probably still to this day the person most associated with Xbox Live Indie Games. I always felt I was miscast in that role. That it should have been a developer. And make no mistake: XBLIG produced one hell of a generation of game developers. Guys and gals who lived in the trenches, pouring their hearts and souls into games that would be lucky to sell one-thousand copies at $1 a pop. They were the heroes of the platform. I was someone who consumed their games and shared my opinions on them. Without them, there would be no me. Their lives would have been no better or worse without Indie Gamer Chick. But for Catherine Vice, her entire life is better because she was accepted into a community that she had no business being in.

I know I’ve said this before, but I need to say it again, with tears streaming down my cheeks as I type these words: thank you to the entire XBLIG & XNA community. My life is so much richer for having been welcomed into your world. New XBLIG games no longer are published and their point of sale will close forever in just a couple of months. I am so proud of you all, what you accomplished. I wish more of you had found fame and wealth on the platform. But, there are people today who are millionaires because of what they accomplished on XBLIG, and many more who got their start there that are on the cusp of that level of success. I wish we could come together one last time as a community and toast to their success, because it’s our success too. No development community was ever as united as XBLIG’s. I’ll cherish the memories you all gave me. I hope I did right by you.

I know my aim was sometimes off, and this resulted in hurt feelings. There’s a company called Silver Dollar Games that found a niche in the marketplace making wacky pseudo-games. They were controversial in the XBLIG community because their products seemed to take minimal effort to make, but still got more attention than most XBLIG devs could ever hope for. I had no business calling them out on their business. They did nothing wrong. But I did call them out, and I’m ashamed that I did. People ask me why I don’t take down stuff like the Silver Dollar editorial, stuff I wouldn’t stand-by today. The reason is because I can’t pretend I didn’t do it. I caved into peer-pressure to unfairly call out a group of dreamers who were just trying to make it in the marketplace like anyone else. I regret it deeply to this day, and to Silver Dollar Games, I am genuinely sorry. All I can say in my defense is I’m not the same person I was when I wrote that piece.

I recently started a spin-off site of Indie Gamer Chick: Indie Gamer Team. A place for my friends to mess around with my review format, learn to write reviews without relying on arbitrary scores, and have fun with a fun-but-informative format. And for reviews, my main rule I gave them is “review the game, not the developer.” It’s a lesson I myself had to learn the hard way, by hurting feelings and being too personal when I did my write-ups of not so great games. One of my best friends is Shahed Chowdhuri. He’s actually a big-shot at Microsoft these days, but I first encountered him as a nameless, faceless developer of an XBLIG I didn’t particularly like. While I stand by that opinion (sorry Shahed, it was pretty bad), and there’s never a nice way to say a game sucks (unless you’re IGN, in which case you give it a 7 out of 10), you can be brutally honest without being mean or personal. I did both. This was about four months after I started Indie Gamer Chick, but it was the first time I knew for sure I had genuinely hurt someone with my words.

Shahed taught me a lesson: that there is no such thing as a nameless, faceless developer. There are real human beings behind every game. But, Shahed took my review with good grace and humor. That’s how the vast, vast majority of indie developers handle criticism. After over five-hundred reviews, over half of which were ultimately negative, I can count on a single-hand the amount of developers who I would classify as completely non-receptive to feedback. And I’d still have unused fingers. Unfortunately, “developer takes bad review with good grace” is hardly attention-grabbing. Thus, the public perception of indie developers is that they can’t take criticism. It’s total bullshit stoked by a fraction-of-a-fraction of developers who poison the well. Read my review of Shahed’s Angry Zombie Ninja Cats again. The guy behind that game is now someone whose friendship I treasure. Shahed is an exceptional human being, but his response to my criticism was not unusual at all.

We’re all on the learning curve. Those that aspire to improve on all facets of their life never get off that curve. I’m not the same person or writer I was on July 1, 2011, when I started Indie Gamer Chick. I hope I’m a better person. And if I am, I owe that in large part to the indie game community. You all inspire me to be better at what I do. Not just as Indie Gamer Chick, but as Catherine Vice. I actually didn’t have a lot of friends when I started IGC. If the barometer of your growth as a person is the friendships you grow from the ground up, then I’ve done pretty good over the six years. William, Nelson, Elijah, James, Becky, Jon, Sam, a strangely bizarre amount of guys named Marc/Mark, Jesse, Jim, Shahed, Nate, Tim, Kris, Allen, Dave, Cyril, Kyle, Jeff, Dave, Dan, George, Steven, Laura, Jerry, PSP, David, a different guy named David, Rose (I miss you so much), Matthew, Ed, Jason, Bob, a few guys named Brian that aren’t my Brian, Rami, Gary, Ian, Brooks, Mike, Shaun, Graham, Simmer, Will, Brad, Carolyn, Bill, Jean, Ryan, Jourdan, Amanda, Nathan, and even a guy named Thor (1990 Nintendo World Champion, no joke!) and so many more that if I keep going this will look like one of those “Baby Names” books. I went from no friends to that many friends and more. The little girl who started this blog on July 1, 2011 never in her wildest dreams could have imagined that. They all met a blogger who called herself Indie Gamer Chick. But they all became friends with a girl named Cathy, who is grateful and humbled to tears. I love you all.

And of course, my Brian. You inspire me, and you challenge me, and I love you unconditionally. Thank you for convincing me to do this Indie Gamer Chick thing, and to stick with it, and to be my editor for all this time.

I know I haven’t been updating a lot recently. I’m sure some people think I’m close to being done. But I’m not done. Not even close. I’m not the same person I was when started Indie Gamer Chick. But I am Indie Gamer Chick. For keeps.

-Catherine Vice
June 30, 2017

IGC on Gaming: June 4, 2017

Informed Access

The July, 2017 issue of Game Informer magazine has a special feature on gaming accessibility. I was interviewed for the piece by the very generous Javy Gwaltney. Mega thanks to him and Game Informer (and my good friend Ian Hamilton for recommending me to GI for the piece) for the opportunity. I was given an advanced copy of the feature and was very happy how it came out.

My stance on accessibility often surprises people. Being a gamer with epilepsy is tough, and sometimes missing out on a game because it’s a risk for my condition can be demoralizing. But, I’ve always strongly advocated that a developer’s creative vision has to come before anyone’s accessibility needs. Once that vision has been met, accessibility options can then be added in a way that doesn’t compromise it. A lot of times people don’t understand why that’s important. Isn’t playing any version of the game enough?

No. It’s really not.

I have the perfect analogy to prove this. When I was twelve years old, long before I developed epilepsy, I had the rare privilege of riding Space Mountain at Disneyland with the lights on and the special effects turned off. For those that don’t know, Space Mountain is an indoor roller coaster with the gimmick being that you can’t see the track in front of you. The actual ride itself is fairly tame as far as rollercoasters go. Relatively slow. No inversions. It’s sort of neat to see how well-used the space the coaster is set in is, but otherwise it’s kinda boring. The thrill of Space Mountain is entirely dependent on the darkness and the special effects.

The sense of speed with the lights on is almost non-existent. It leaves one of the most thrilling experiences in the park a toothless bore. For some games, the types of accessibility features needed for specific medical conditions can completely alter the intent of the developer. I’ve often wondered why some disabled gamers would want to play a stripped-down version of a game that doesn’t remotely reflect the developer’s vision.

I have epilepsy now. I’ll probably never be able to ride Space Mountain again (insert Ric Flair joke here). Disneyland actually does accommodate multiple disabilities. They can help people in wheelchairs or other mobility-related conditions to have access to most of the rides in the park. Some rides have features for the hearing-impaired. But, when it comes to Space Mountain, Disney can do nothing for my specific condition, epilepsy, except make the ride experience worse. Now here’s my question: wouldn’t I just be making more problems than I need to for the people at Disney to say “I still want to ride it” when I can just ride something else? Some people say that it’s up to game developers to include accessibility features, or else. Or else.. what? If you have a disability that prevents you from playing a game, and that game can’t possibly be tooled to suit your specific needs, well I’m sorry but not everything is accessible to everyone.

Despite what haters might believe, I’ve been a diehard Golden State Warriors fan my entire life. I never in my wildest dreams imagined we would play in three straight NBA Finals. How much does it suck for me that I can’t ever attend a game, see Steph Curry and Kevin Durant in person, because indoor sporting events are like epilepsy dirty-bombs with all the flashbulbs and strobey team introductions? It sucks quite badly. But the Warriors can’t ban flash photography for the other 20,000+ fans in attendance so that people like me would be able to attend. If you would even think to ask that, I’d actually consider you a bit of an asshole, ya know?

My mascot Sweetie has her game-face on.

I advocate for developers to include accessibility options. But that’s not always possible or viable. Sometimes those options would add significant time to the development cycle, which costs money. For something like survival-horror games themed around bright, flashing lights, the options I would need would completely remove the game’s atmosphere. And ultimately, even if they cover my specific triggers, which are the most common in the world, they’ve only lessened the risk for about 25% of the photosensitive-epileptic population. Nobody can possibly include features for everyone’s specific disability. If you get pissy at a developer for that, I’m sorry but you’re the asshole, not them. Ask for accessibility OPTIONS, but if they can’t be included in a way that retains the developer’s intended experience, find something else to play. Having epilepsy does not entitle me to play any game, nor does anyone who has any disability have any entitlement to demand anything of any game developer. In the immortal words of Frank Underwood, you are entitled to nothing.

Questions and Answers

I love doing these.

My amigo David Jagneaux asks: What are some of the most common, but easily avoidable, mistakes or mishandlings you see in modern indie game development?

Poorly handled difficult curves. I’ve editorialized on this before but it’s been a while.

Indie developers often forget they’re the best players at their own games. They play their own stuff over and over, get really good at it, forget that they’re making a game for everyone, and ramp up the difficulty to challenge themselves. This phenomena isn’t exclusive to indies. I was contacted by someone involved in the production of the original NES Battletoads who told me that game’s notorious difficulty spike was a result of that very issue.

The solution is simple: do whatever you need to do to get third-party testers. Do NOT offer them help playing your game. Just sit down, shut up, and watch. Offering them solutions defeats the point unless you plan on including a clone of yourself with every copy you sell at retail.

Runner-up is spongy enemies or busy-work design. Don’t mistake sponginess for difficulty. There’s no reason why a first boss in a platformer should take 20+ hits to kill. It’s padding. Inadequate checkpoint systems, lack of saving, forcing players to start full stages over, etc. There’s more to a game’s pace than level-design, and stuff like I mentioned kills the flow of a game.

Guacamelee! is probably the worst offender I’ve played in terms of busy-work combat. It could have, SHOULD HAVE, been one of the best indies I’ve played. Good level-layout, inventive story, fun upgrades. It’s everything you want in a Metroidvania. But the combat is a spongy, cheap, aggravating chore. It turned what should have been an all-time indie great into a frustrating slog.

Gorkon666 asks “All time favorite horror game?

Horror games are sort of a tricky thing with me. I was one of those kids whose parents didn’t allow her to play M rated games as a kid, afraid that they would turn me into a foul-mouthed, blood-thirsty psychopath. The results speak for themselves. By time I was old enough to play such games, I had epilepsy, which is about as compatible with horror as Pixy Stix are for a diabetic.

If Resident Evil 4 counts as horror, that would be it. If not, Eternal Darkness. I haven’t gotten to play stuff like Five Nights at Freddy’s or the Fatal Frame games and probably never will get to.

@DJ_Link asks “Can you name one or more things that games try to borrow from older games as nostalgia/homage but doesn’t suit well nowadays?

Lives systems are kind of pointless, and always have been for home video games. They make sense for games that cost a quarter-per-play at the arcades. At home, they’re busy-work sinks at best.

Rabite890 asks “What series (any company or system) is the most abused and which is the most neglected?

Most Abused: Sonic The Hedgehog, obviously. Hell, I’ve done my share of it myself with my Sonic CD and Sonic 4 reviews. I didn’t grow up in the Sonic era, when the games were revolutionary and 2D platformers ruled the day, so I can’t play them in the same context they were cherished under. If I had grown up when Genesis was new, I’m sure I would have enjoyed Sonic. I know this is probably true because ten-year-old me liked Sonic Adventure and 12-year-old me liked Sonic Advance. 20+ year old me? Not so much. Sonic’s last gasp of relevance was when he was announced as a tackling dummy in Smash Bros. Brawl, but really, has there been a consistently worse 3D platform series than Sonic’s games? Maybe the character’s speed-gimmick doesn’t lend itself to good 3D platforming, but actually I think the second stage of Sonic Adventure shows there is something resembling potential there. Sega really ought to pull a Tomb Raider and give the franchise’s 3D reins to someone with an inspired idea, and the 2D reins to an indie developer like Image & Form that knows what the fuck they’re doing.

Probably doesn’t help that they keep remaking the same game over and over. Nintendo does that too but at least the games they remake were good to begin with.

Most Neglected: I have never played a Punch-Out game I didn’t love. So why the fuck are there only three? Now granted, Punch-Out is a series based entirely around punching ethnic stereotypes in the face. We now live in an era where college students scream profanities at their professors for suggesting that Pocahontas Halloween costumes aren’t necessarily racist. Shit like Great Tiger or Piston Honda is not going to fly in 2017.

If only there was a solution. I mean, in theory Nintendo could remove all the possibly offensive ethnic caricatures and replace them with their iconic franchise mascots (the most famous of which is a possibly offensive ethnic caricature but hey, I’m going somewhere with this). This would actually make the Punch-Out!! concept much more desirable if Little Mac was facing Link or Kirby in a boxing match instead of Disco Kid or Mr. Sandman. But Nintendo obviously isn’t going to release a game based around their cash cows beating the living shit out of each other so that idea is a non-starter.

IGC on Gaming: April 19, 2017

Clarification on Back When it was Gooditus

The NES Classic, Virtual Console, Mario All-Stars, Modern Warfare Remastered, etc. are not examples of Back When it was Gooditus. While there are no doubt nostalgia-loving types who will swear that those represent “when games were good”, there’s no public perception that those franchises are on the decline. They’re quick cash-ins, not apologies for waning quality or whimpering reminders of a time where they were relevant.

A re-release of a game like Resident Evil 4, so soon after #5 or #6 hit, serves as sobering reminder that the series was once good and isn’t anymore, reinforcing the perception that the best days are behind them and thus future installments are likely to be mediocre as well. When that is the case, that’s Back When it was Gooditus.

Hell, you can’t even call this a cash-in since Nintendo pulled the plug long before they stopped making money on it. It should have been shaped like a penis because it was a dick move.

Despite the fact that such a perception benefits nobody, some games actually market based around the concept of “gaming was better way back when.” Take Yooka-Laylee, a game that raised funds on Kickstarter and was marketed under the guise that gamers would believe that 3D platformers were better during the N64 era. And it worked! It set crowd-funding records and had the type of buzz most games could only dream of. Then it released and, while almost nobody is calling it a bad game, it seems to have underwhelmed most people. Of course it did. It’s based on recreating the feel of games from twenty-years-ago. Twenty! It’s okay to reminisce about the good ‘ole days, but actually going back to them almost always disappoints. Gaming has come a long ways.

Why do your Shovel Knights or your Steamworlds, games that try to invoke that bygone era, rise above that? Because it’s more about using nostalgia as a framework for something newer and fresher. Shovel Knight has no lives system, a darker tone, and works as an emotional narrative, something 2D platform games of the 80s or early 90s simply didn’t aim for. Yooka-Laylee seems to make the same mistake so many modern attempts at stoking that nostalgic fire do: copy the gameplay instead of paying tribute to the essence.

I Don’t Get Nostalgic

A few years ago, I got Shadow of the Colossus HD on PS3 for Christmas. Oh, and Ico was included. I never liked Ico to begin with. Baffling to me that gamers all agree that escort missions suck and NPCs with bad AI suck, but a game based around escorting an NPC with bad AI through a series of overly long and complex puzzles while fighting the spongiest busy-work enemies ever is somehow considered a masterpiece.

Ico is the Japanese word for “boredom.”

But hey, Shadow of the Colossus! One of my all-time favorites!

And then I played it.

“Christ, I remember being frustrated with the horse. I don’t remember wanting to kill and eat it.”

“Christ, did the bosses always shake this much when you were holding onto them?”

“What the fuck was the point of making the world so big when there’s almost nothing to do besides shoot lizards?”

I didn’t really enjoy any aspect of that play-through. Yet it was the exact same game I played six years earlier. Did it change? No. Had I? Not really. So what was the problem? The simple fact that I had already gotten everything I could out of it. The sense of wonder and discovery that drove me forward in 2005 could never hope to be re-created. I already knew what came next. There was nothing left to see. There was nothing new to explore. In 2005, upon entering the lair of every Colossus, I would be downright awestruck as the giants started to move, wondering how on Earth I would be expected to slay them. The second time around? I knew what they looked like, I knew how they moved, I knew what their weaknesses were.

Everything I hated about my 2011 play-through of Shadow of the Colossus was there in 2005. But, those faults were drowned out by the scope and scale and the sense of discovery. Without that freshness, the flaws stood out that much more and nothing could distract from them. I wish I had never replayed Shadow of the Colossus. It could never have hoped to be for me what it had been in 2005. Maybe it was unfair to expect it to be.

“You know that game we cancelled? Let’s just uncancel it and fix nothing about it that got it cancelled in the first place. What could go wrong?” My worst game of 2016 winner, The Last Guardian.

That was pretty much my last experience trying to recreate the magic with a game I had previously loved. I had done it in 2008 with Banjo-Kazooie’s Xbox 360 re-release, and then again in 2010 with Perfect Dark on XBLA. Even with HD upgrades and online play for Perfect Dark, the thrill was gone. Memories are a bitch to compete against. Memories of games are always a little brighter, always a little more happy, always a lot more refined and sharper, than reality is. I got Banjo-Kazooie on my 9th birthday, before experiencing work or relationships or anguish or pressure of any kind. Of course my memory of it is going to be as rosy as an alcoholic’s nose. My life was easier back then. I didn’t have other things on my mind. More important things. If you’re an adult playing games today with bills and drama hanging over you, of course you’ll be thinking “didn’t games used to make me happier?”

Actually, they didn’t. You were happier before you had to worry about stuff. It’s not the games that got bad. It’s you that got older. Games are better than ever. If you don’t believe me, the next time you’re completely stress-free, sit down with a quality game that you’ve never played before. I bet you anything it grabs a little of that old-timey game-induced happiness you used to feel and don’t anymore. It’s not the games. It’s you.

Mailbag

@mocliamtoh wants to know “Are there any genres you would describe as distinctly or inherently indie?

Inherently? No. Distinctly? No. Crafting games are generally associated with indies, but I’m not so sure they define the community. If any genre does, I would say it’s the 2D platformer. It makes sense when you think about it. Most indie developers grew up in the NES/SNES/Genesis era, when platformers ruled the day. They probably began to dream of making their own game around that time, and logically that game would be based on what was the meal-ticket of that era. Indie 2D platformer might be over-saturated, but people need to realize that they’re not just games. They’re dreams being realized. That’s why they’re the surest bet for quality on the scene.

Back When it was Gooditus

Resident Evil 7. While it’s doing well commercially, it’s one of the most quiet best-sellers in recent memory. Maybe that has to do with the perception that the game is a flop. In February, it finished second to the well-marketed but incredibly ho-hum For Honor. Capcom projected four-million units sold through March. When they came up about a million short, their stock fell. Meanwhile, 2017 is arguably the best year in gaming history at this point (and we’re only in April) and nobody is buzzing about Resident Evil 7.

And it’s seriously amazingballs. Like Resident Evil 4, the seventh sequential Resident Evil is a radical departure from the foundation the franchise has laid. A first-person game that’s more Texas Chainsaw Massacre than the zombie-schlock Day of the Dead as run by Walmart top-heavy mythology that we’ve come to expect. I can’t even play survival-horror games in the proper lights-out setting thanks to my epilepsy, and I was still enthralled and genuinely on the edge of my seat playing through Resident Evil 7. While #4 makes fewer mistakes and has some of the best pacing any game has ever had, I actually think Resident Evil 7 might be the best entry in the series. The suspense and horror were white-knuckle, the writing wasn’t so cringe-inducing that you look prune-faced by time the credits roll (good writing in a Resident Evil? Come on, NOBODY saw that coming), and while the pacing is more stop-and-go than a loading Ferris Wheel, it never becomes a slog. Ever. It’s what I always wanted Resident Evil to be and never was. Everyone in my circle of friends who has taken the time to finish the game tells me exactly that.

In the case of Resident Evil 7, it’s more like “oh shit oh shit oh shit, they’re not buying it.”

So why is nobody talking about it?

I don’t think it has to do with Resident Evil 6 being bad. Don’t get me wrong, it is bad. But worse than being bad is being forgettable. It’s not even remembered as “the one with the four mediocre campaigns.” It’s not remembered at all. Even when my gaming friends and I talk about the Resident Evil series, it never comes up. At least for my circle of friends, we tend to think of Resident Evil 5 as the last “real” RE game. And that edition is known for being “like #4, only not as good.” The spin-offs are even worse than #6, with Operation Raccoon City and Umbrella Corps finding near-universal scorn. Thus, you have to go back to 2005’s Resident Evil 4 to find the last “good one” in the series. Twelve years ago. And one that was remastered and reissued a few times in the years that followed, indicating that Capcom themselves are aware that it’s the only desirable “recent” game in the series.

And that’s the issue. Not that fans are burned out on Resident Evil. Clearly that’s not the case. It’s more about the perception that the best days of the series are long behind it. In the twelve years since Resident Evil 4, new entries in the sequential series have been mediocre or worse. The spinoffs have been either forgettable or horrible. The best releases are reissues of older games, creating what I call “Back When it was Gooditus.” Why did fans chomp at the bit for the Silent Hill collection that was broken without hope of patchwork? Because it was the series “back when it was good.” Back When it was Gooditus is tough to recover from. Resident Evil 7 was the first game of the year contender to hit this year, but nobody is talking about it.

Resident Evil 7: it only took fifty years for video games to finally adapt Hide-and-Seek in a satisfying way. Maybe there’s hope for Duck Duck Goose yet.

So why not call it something else? Don’t say “because new IPs are tough to sell.” RE 7 was beat by a new IP, For Honor. Was it because Capcom was lazy, even by their own standards, in marketing it? Runaway horror games are scorching hot right now, and Resident Evil feels like the first big-budget mainstream attempt at one. But, attaching the Resident Evil name means you actually have to show that distinction off. Capcom didn’t do that. Their marketing was essentially “it’s the seventh Resident Evil. Need we say more?”

Um, yea. You really do.

Because the name Resident Evil is not synonymous with quality. Not only that, but the Resident Evil’s traditional brand of horror is considered archaic by today’s standards. The taint of RE 6 and the spinoffs, not to mention those God-awful Milla Jovovich films. Throw in the triple-whammy of Capcom endlessly flogging and remaking the previous games, inadvertently creating Back When it was Gooditus, and you have to wonder if Resident Evil 7 ever stood a chance. It reminds me of Red Steel 2, which is never a good thing. I wasn’t as in-love with it as many people were, but it was certainly a step up from the Wii launch abortion that was Red Steel. Considering that the original was universally despised and the sequel didn’t feature the same theme or setting of the original, I still can’t figure out why Ubisoft bothered tying the two together. It would be like serving a moderately tasty New York Strip steak with a week-old Big Mac and saying “well, they both have meat and thus basically the same thing.” Although my tongue was firmly in cheek when I suggested the name Spooky Creepy Scary Horror House 2017, SCSHH’17 comes with no baggage. Maybe it would have got people talking.

IGC on Gaming: April 17, 2017

So I haven’t been updating a ton lately. That’s mostly due to health issues. I do have a lot of games in my queue to review, including sequels to high-ranking IGC Leaderboard titles such as Bleed 2 and Gunmetal Arcadia. Look for reviews of them soon. By soon I mean 2017. Keeping my window for it wide.

Indie Gamer Chick has primarily been a review site since its launch in July of 2011, but being unable to write as many reviews as I wish I could has left me in a predicament. Thankfully, I’ve built up a decent following in the last five years and those people, for whatever reason, care about my thoughts on other gaming related news. So, why not turn it into a regular column? Let’s hit it.

Is 2017 going to be the best year in gaming?

Resident Evil 7.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Nier: Automata.

Persona 5.

In a weaker year (think 2014, where the pretty good but unspectacular Shadow of Mordor ran away with nearly every Game of the Year award), any of these four games would have swept the competition and walked away with game of the year. It’s April. We’re not even a third of the way through the year and there are four games that are in the hunt. After playing Breath of the Wild, I would have bet it would cruise to a sweep next January. But, within weeks, Persona 5 and Automata hit, both of which I liked more.

It got me thinking: it’s April and we’re already debating among multiple titles for the year’s best, not to mention one wildly disappointing would-be contender (Mass Effect: Andromeda). These discussions are usually reserved for the Christmas season, yet children aren’t even on summer vacation yet.

Is 2017 set to be the greatest in gaming history?

Honest question: if this had been called anything BUT Resident Evil 7, would people have reacted differently to it? It’s really good, yet a lot of people I talk to need a lot of convincing to even try it on the basis of “meh, another Resident Evil.” They could have called it Spooky Creepy Scary Horror House 2017 and lured in more people.

Maybe I’m overrating Resident Evil 7 (to my credit, I’m not even a real fan of the series and liked #4 only), and maybe Pesrona 5 doesn’t have the type of wide appeal that Zelda does. But it’s already a debate. When was the last time we could even talk about a year in gaming at this time of the year? Before we’ve had this year’s E3, before many of the big holiday tent-pole games even have release dates, if nothing else came out at all in 2017. Wow. By any standard, this would have to be considered an amazing year from an artistic standpoint.

Still to come in 2017 is the sequel to what I consider the best game ever made (not my favorite game, just the best game), Red Dead Redemption. The first Mario game that has stoked my imagination since Mario Galaxy hits the Switch this year. Sony is giving one of my favorite unsung gems, LocoRoco, another kick at the can in 2017. It’s almost hard to believe that at least one more spectacular game could hit this year, let alone many. I think 2017 will be a year gamers will talk about for years to come.

Switch Thoughts

It’s alright.

NES Classic

Nintendo finally released hardware that became the most in-demand retail item they’ve had in generations. No, not the Switch. Everyone knows that I’m “anti-nostalgia”, which isn’t remotely correct. If you’re going to do nostalgia, something like the NES Classic is fine with me. And Nintendo seemingly struck gold with the Classic. Stores couldn’t keep it in stock, or the extra-controllers for it. After failing to capture any mainstream love with the Wii U, or outright being antagonistic towards their own fanbase with their anti-YouTube attitude, Nintendo finally came out with a product that serviced their fanbase and became desirable to casual gamers.

Naturally, they cancelled it after only five months of production.

A friend of a friend is a regional inventory manager for a top big-box chain. He informed me that department managers got more inquiries about NES Classic availability than any other product in the consumer-electronics department, starting months before the release and continuing well after the Switch. Consumers wanted this product. They wanted it badly, if prices on Ebay are used as a barometer. Discontinuing the unit when so little demand for it was met is the latest in a long series of middle fingers Nintendo has given to fans and non-fans alike. And, it would seem, Nintendo has finally gone too far. This is one “fuck off and die” that even the most rabid fanboys are feeling the sting of.

Mind you, I’ve met people who got copyright-striked on YouTube by Nintendo for videos that were gushing love letters to the company. Some of who tearfully apologized for overstepping their fandom and having the fucking gall to show footage of their beloved Nintendo franchises. Nintendo stomped them for being fans, and they thanked Nintendo for setting them straight. They accepted that. At that point, I would think nothing short of Nintendo sending people to burn their house down would make them realize how much contempt they are held in, and how ungrateful Nintendo is for their patronage.

Nintendo didn’t allow their sales force to accept pre-orders for the Classic, leaving them to base their inventory order on how similar platforms like the Atari Flashback were received. So, here’s a picture of Black Widow on Atari Vault, mostly because I don’t want to post a picture of a Nintendo character and get sued.

Those fans, the ones who were unable to get their hands on an NES Classic, are not happy campers today.

Sure, it’s kind of amusing that the thing that made them realize Nintendo isn’t their bestie isn’t having them say “the money your videos earn really belongs to us because you showed a clip of our product”, but rather Nintendo saying “yea, we don’t care if you wanted to give us money, we don’t want your money for this product anymore.” But, the cancellation of the NES Classic is indicative of a greater problem: Nintendo doesn’t do fan service anymore. Oh sure, they’ll bring out franchise titles Mario Kart or Zelda. I’m sure a new Smash Bros is in the works that will license a couple of third-party mascots and get the diehards lining up. But that’s not performing a service for their fans. That’s just products.

As recent as a decade ago, Nintendo bent over backwards for their fans. They put out relatively high-risk franchise revivals like Kid Icarus or Punch-Out!! They had their wonderful Nintendo reward system that let people register their games for free Nintendo swag or sometimes even games. It would be hard to believe Nintendo would release a product like the NES Classic and then pull the plug after meeting less than 10% of the demand for it. And it has nothing to do with them not wanting to compete with their own Switch console. The two products were not in competition with each-other. Non-gamers who grew up in the 80s were chomping at the bit to snag the Classic as much as the slobbering fanboys. It was simply a matter of stores couldn’t keep it in stock. With Father’s Day fast approaching and a product tailor-made for such a holiday, Nintendo simply saying “no” to more inventory is kind of shocking. I was never a fan of Iwata’s business sense, but even I can’t believe he would say no to mountains of cash with relatively little overhead that the Classic presented. A feel-good product that stood to introduce a new generation of gamers to the titles that made them synonymous with gaming. Nintendo took that, and managed to turn it into the latest in a long series of dick moves. Unreal.

Q&A with my Readers

We’ll close this experiment with some Q&A from Twitter.

@religiousgames asks: “How do you know if a game is indie?

After five years, I still don’t really have a clear definition for what makes a game indie or not. Self-funded? That would exclude games that used Kickstarter or Sony’s Pub Fund, so that can’t be it. Self-published? That would exclude games by small studios who were found by houses like Adult Swim Games, so that can’t be it. In general, I use the definition “games made by small studios without creative interference by AAA publishers.” But even that won’t be universally true. Hell, I still get people to this day questioning whether I should count 2012’s Journey as an indie or not. Ultimately, it’ll be up to you to decide what you consider to be “independent.”

@iamtenith asks “What is the most common mistake you see in many indie games?

Proper difficulty curve, easily. Most indie developers forget that they, themselves, are the best player at their own game. They struggle to get proper testers, or they handle their testers incorrectly, and ramp up their game’s difficulty to challenge themselves and not everyone else. In some cases, they’ll get good testers but then hover over them and explain to them how to finish parts of their games. Sometimes I’ll announce I’m reviewing a game and the developer will tweet or email me to offer help to make sure I don’t get stuck. Unless they plan to include a clone of themselves with every copy of their game, they really shouldn’t offer help to reviewers. If you feel the need to talk someone through parts of your game, you really need to go back and fix it, because it’s broken.

@riobux asks “What singular thing in a game trailer can deflate your enthusiasm and interest in a title like a needle through a blown-up condom?

I actually don’t base my purchasing decisions on trailers, so I wouldn’t be a good person to ask. Everyone will mention showing cut-scenes without gameplay footage. I was going to, but then I remember that Grand Theft Auto III’s ads when I was a kid were among the most effective commercials in gaming history and they had nearly zero gameplay footage.

For indies, an over-inflated sense of importance is always annoying. If you’re a no-name developer on their first game, you seriously do not need to release multiple teaser-trailers, then primary trailers, then final trailer, then DLC trailers. No, seriously, do not. You need one trailer a minute-or-less in length that addresses what genre the game is and what the game’s audience is. If you present your trailer properly, games sell themselves. The worst thing you can do is leave it too ambiguous when nobody knows who you are or what you’re working on. You only get one chance to make a good first impression.

From the Team

William reviewed Bleed 2 and Butcher

Marc explained how a company can own the video game rights to the word “Super”.

For more features, be sure to check out IndieGamerTeam.com, a place where my friends post reviews and editorials. They’re already better at this shit than me.

We’re currently preparing for the follow-up to #IndieXmas on social media, tentatively titled #IGCParty. It will take place July 10 – 14, with ten featured games and thousands of free games being handed out on Twitter. Stay tuned.

Yes, Twitter, this is the official website of @IndieGamerChick

Indie fans anxious for me to return to get back to reviewing full time, yes, I’ll be back to that soon.

In the meantime, my ego just can’t handle not having that little checkmark by my name on Twitter. So to verify, YES TWITTER whoever, I am the real Indie Gamer Chick, @indiegamerchick on Twitter. That is me. Please verify me. You guys have given out those checkmarks to people who couldn’t influence a person with a cold to sneeze properly. I think I’m slightly more influential.

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