How Do Indie Developers Balance Nostalgia With Innovation?

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How Do Indie Developers Balance Nostalgia With Innovation?

The indie market is rediscovering a new hit in recent times. As already mentioned in the course of this article, indie developers have the difficult task of balancing nostalgia with innovation, so as to be able to create a product that is able to count on both the nostalgia effect and the possibility of adding something new and never seen until that moment. Balancing these two factors is not easy at all, but with some tricks, developers can achieve this.

What are the strategies to balance nostalgia and innovation?

Balancing nostalgia and innovation is a challenge developers must be able to master as they develop the game. If nostalgia allows developers to leverage the memories of the players, it is true that there is a need to always offer something new that is able to capture the attention of users. We have identified some of the strategies that we believe are most important to be able to balance nostalgia and innovation.

  • Identify the main elements of the nostalgia factor: Being able to identify what in a game manages to evoke the nostalgia effect in the players is probably the most important strategy to implement. Furthermore, it is also vitally important to understand why some things succeed better in this aspect than in another. In short, the main thing to do is to conduct studies and research that allow you to identify the main elements of the past on which to focus in order to guarantee yourself an (almost) sure success.
  • Use familiar game mechanics: another very important aspect that can leverage the nostalgia effect of users is to create a game that makes use of familiar game mechanics. It is a fact, in fact, that if players find similarities with what have been the great classics of the past, they are more inclined to develop memories and therefore a nostalgia effect from the past. At the same time, however, adding something innovative to long-tested mechanics can help create something unique and innovative that manages to blend the past with the present.
  • Graphics and sound design: often indie games try to balance the past with the present also making use of pixel art graphics mixed with modern sound design techniques, for example. Finding the right combination between the two allows developers to package a nostalgic and innovative product at the same time.
  • Using new technologies: it goes without saying that the use of new technologies within a game is synonymous with innovation. Integrating concepts such as virtual reality or augmented reality is an excellent trick to being able to rejuvenate a title and making it as current as possible.
  • Community: As a final strategy, we wanted to indicate paying attention to the community. More and more players express their ideas about a game, and it could be an interesting (as well as useful) initiative to listen to what players are looking for in the first place, in order to succeed in balancing nostalgia and innovation.
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Some examples of games

To further clarify the concept, we have decided to name some examples of indie games that have succeeded in the mission of balancing nostalgia and innovation well. Among these, we cannot fail to mention games such as Celeste, Undertale, and Cuphead.

Celeste (which we talked about in more detail in this article) takes its inspiration from the classic platformers of the 16-bit era that turn out to be complex to complete and that need some dedication. The gameplay is very solid and incorporates all the main mechanics of the games of the past, leveraging a sophisticated narrative that deals with very current themes such as mental problems and personal growth.

Undertale is a pixel art RPG inspired by great classics such as Final Fantasy and EarthBound. Although it has graphics and some game mechanics that plant their roots in the past, the Undertale developers have managed to find the winning formula by introducing innovative combat mechanics within them, as well as decision-making choices that will actually affect the course of the story.

Cuphead is an action game that refers to the old 30s cartoons for the graphic style and that boasts quite complex gameplay. Although the graphics have the task of triggering the nostalgia effect in users, the gameplay can count on game mechanics in step with modern times with bosses that are difficult to defeat and platform sections that require painstaking precision.

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celeste undertale cuphead

What are some challenges indie developers face?

In trying to achieve their goal of better blending nostalgia and innovation, indie developers face several challenges. One of these is certainly having access to limited resources. Since these are small development teams, they do not have many resources in terms of money and personnel, so being able to create a good product that succeeds in all its key points is certainly a challenge.

Furthermore, we must not overlook the expectations of the community. In the paragraph where we talked about the community, we highlighted the fact that listening to its feedback is very important for the success of a game. So, it's important to point out that the nostalgia effect can cause expectations to be really high and this is something that can backfire.

Finally, it may seem trivial, but the most difficult challenge to face is precisely that of finding the right balance between nostalgia and innovation. It's not a simple thing, because you risk leaning too much on one side rather than the other, just as it's very easy to make this mix not work as it should.

Indie developers are called to face many challenges, not only those that derive from the right balance between nostalgia and innovation; one above all that is being able to establish themselves on the market and not be crushed by large productions which, inevitably, tend to arouse the interest of most players. Despite this, there are many development teams that have managed to establish themselves, thanks to the launch of well-packaged products on the market that have been able to captivate the public.

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How Do Indie Developers Balance Nostalgia With Innovation?
Diana D'Estefano
Diana has been a huge fan of video games since she was a child. She started her "career" with Nintendo and then moved on to other platforms as well. Although she is a big fan of horror games, she plays almost all genres fearlessly. She writes news, reviews, guides, and features about both AAA and indie games.