Indie Games are the Particle Swarm Optimization

I just read this wonderful article: Brain Wave: The PhDs Changing Games and had to write a post about it. First of all, it’s reassuring to hear that others are scrutinizing things at the same level of detail as I do. Second, for the shock to keep you reading, this article is completely incorrectly titled. It should read: “Brain Wave: The PhDs Making Games the Same”

Consider the search space of all possible video games. The AAA studios that have the resources to do what this article discusses start in one place on that space. There are several starting points based on genre, but they start with the tried and true. That fundamentally means that the absolute best they can do is find a local optimum. They will spend millions of dollars moving up the optimization hill, when just across a valley there might be a mountain they could climb to many times the height.

“It does make it harder for indies to keep up with that because they don’t have the same kinds of resources and the same kinds of labs,” he says.

Indies don’t need to keep up. And the gaming world does not want indies to keep up. It would be a horrific tragedy if indies just focused on keeping up. Why?

There is a near infinitely sized search space of video games. AAA titles put enormous amounts of resources into developing a title.  They can’t take major risks. But indies can. Indies can do anything. They can create a zero player game. They can create a game where all you do is hit the screen occasionally. Probably with your forehead. Really hard. They can explore game concepts that AAA studios can’t even dream of.

Indie developers are the particle swarm optimization to continue the search for global optima.

Each indie developer can start anywhere in the search space. They could build something that seems utterly absurd. Will it be at a local optimum? Certainly not. They don’t have the resources to do that. But it might be 1/4 of the way up a huge mountain. And that huge mountain may be so high, that 1/4 of the way up is already higher than the hill that the AAA’s are so expensively trying to go the last little distance to the summit (remember 80/20 rule).

It’s likely indie developers don’t even realize that they’re part of this global search process. I think it’s wonderful. I’m very grateful that I get to be a part of it. So, my fellow indie developer, if you ever get discouraged, remember you really are part of something larger. Something global in scale–the global improvement of games in general. The fact that you’re a randomly chosen point in the search space and the function might not be differentiable… well, it’s ok. We love you anyway.

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