Looking back at all of the games that I have played over the last year or so, a huge amount of those are indie titles. Jazzpunk quickly became one of the most memorable games that I have ever played. No matter how good indie games are, they never have the production values of a AAA game. That’s not to say indie games don’t look and play great, but it is clear they didn’t have a multi million dollar budget behind them. Having picked up Hellblade yesterday, it seems the divide has been bridged. An indie game with the production values of an AAA title and it is absolutely fantastic.
Hellblade is made by the same studio that previously produced DmC: Devil May Cry and Heavenly Sword. In terms of the studio itself, they are by no means an “indie” studio. They have produced AAA games and know this side of the industry, but unlike their past games, they self funded the development of Hellblade. The publisher has not paid for the development like they normally do with AA game. This makes Hellblade an official indie game and not only that, it is the first ever AAA indie game.
What makes Hellblade special is that it has the quality we have come to expect from AAA games, but it goes in a very unusual direction with the content. Typically with high budget AAA games, the publishers get to control a lot of what goes on because it is their money and they want to make sure the studio doesnt make something that wont sell. This often results in creative freedom being taken from the development team in order for the publisher to make more money. Take the publisher and their profits out of this and we end up with a studio that can do whatever they want. No rules or restrictions, no one to tell them they cant do X or to change Y. This sort of thing is not common in the world of AAA video games.
Typically the budget for a normal AAA game would be in the region of $50 million dollars. Standard indie games can be a few thousand dollars. Hellblade is said to have cost the development team $10 millional dollars. This is by no means a small sum of cash, but it is 5 times less than the aferage. How they managed to raise that much cash is as impressive as the game itself. It was such a huge risk for them to take this on and from my time spent playing the game, it has paid off.
Taking business out of things, what we have now is an independant studio that have been able to produce a game with the production values that match the best of games we have. Imagine what this could mean in the future if more studios are able to achieve this. Video games that are completely out there, like nothing we have seen before. Games that can tackle difficult subjects through the narritive or attempt to come up with completely new gameplay styles. All of these things that we love about indie game with the visual quality and polish we get from games like Horizon: Zero Dawn and Uncharted. It will be exciting to see what could be created.
Based on the early reviews and feedback, Hellblade has been highly popular and seems to have done a great job at opening peoples eyes to mental illness. Hopefully the figures match this success and the huge risk this studio took ends up paying off for them. The future of indie gaming is already a bright one, with more studios like Ninja Theory, the indie industry could see some incredibly growth. For now, if you have not played this game, you should check it out and more importantly, wear headphones!!