One of the happier little trends of the past year has been Ubisoft’s steady stream of smaller games. Titles like Grow Home, Child of Light, and Valiant Hearts: The Great War have stood out as totally unique from their parent company’s other offerings in a refreshing way. Where AAA products are often announced well in advance of progressively louder campaigns, more intimate games like these have almost felt like they simply appeared out of nowhere.
Yesterday’s feature in Kotaku on what it took to get Valiant Heartsproduced is a fantastic reminder that of course games like these don’t just materialize from thin air. As AAA culture focuses increasingly on the security of ever larger blockbuster budgets and returns, if anything, it’s the smaller experiences that can be harder, that can take years upon years of shuffling aside to see through to completion.
There’s also a fascinating argument to consider here as we perpetually wrestle with who may or may not call themselves “indie.” Developed in-house at one of the industry’s biggest publishers, Valiant Hearts is not what we would immediately consider an independent work. And yet the struggle to get it made – the scrounging for resources, the persistent politicking against AAA forces for attention in a hit-focused culture – is undeniably identifiable as an indie effort. Perhaps it’s worth remembering that “indie” as a marketing label can be separate from indie as a shared creative cause.