Research Shadowruga feature image

Published on February 27th, 2014 | by Nidde


Indie is in the details

A little while ago we ended up butting heads over two titles. Titles that are both in the voting pool, Ikaruga and Shadow Complex. One was prompted as an indie game while the other the opposite, and both claims due to the same factor, the developer. One comes from a developer that has been around for quite a while, the other was one of the first titles for a relatively new developer at the time.

So to solve the issue and try and get a definitive answer, something we’ve already learned won’t happen; but we can still get as informed as possible, we had to start digging. This is something we usually do before we check out a game, but sometimes we need to go deeper, and this was one of those times.

Ikaruga XBLA boxartIkaruga

A bullet-hell shooter with a polarized mechanic. By flipping your ship over you change the color of you vessel, shots, and shield between black and white. This binds together with our enemies, as they are either black or white and fire shots in the same color. They take more damage from the opposite color, but that is also the only thing that can hurt you. So if you’re flipped to white and come across a white enemy you can either chose to stay white and let your shield absorb the shots and charge your super-attack, or flip to black and do much more damage while being vulnerable to the white shots.
It’s famous for its difficulty and is definitely one of the more well known Japanese bullet-hell shooters available.

A title with such wide recognition and releases on several platforms usually get dismissed from the indie tag, simply because it’s too well known. So first of we need to look into the developer, if it’s a subsidiary, and who is the publisher and what they have contributed with. Finding this kind of information isn’t always easy, but we have to rely on what we can find.

The game is developed by Treasure, and actually a small team of only three people within Treasure, with some support in the form of contract work from G.rev. Treasure itself is today a “Kabushiki gaisha“, which translates into “stock company”, with about 30 employees, which is pretty small for a video game developer. They’ve been around since 1992 which is also one of the factors which usually dismisses them from the indie factor, but actually has nothing to do with it. Or would you claim that the single person that’s been building games in their spare time for 20 years isn’t indie just because it’s been along for quite some time? Either way, Treasure is its own company. So next we look at the publisher. Or in this case, publishers. Sega, ESP Software, and Atari have all pitched in. But what have they been supporting with? Ports. Treasure developed and released the original arcade game under their own flag, but since then they’ve seen releases on Dreamcast, Gamecube, XBLA, Android, and recently Steam. Some of them they’ve handled themselves, like the Steam release; which actually went all the way through Steam Greenlight, but not all.

So with all this information we’ve gathered we reach a verdict:
Ikaruga was developed by a single company (aside from some contract work) by a small team within that single company without assistance from a publisher on other things than porting the game to other platforms.

We’re not going to tell you if it’s indie or not, that’s up for you to decide on your own in the end, but we’re not going to lose sleep over playing it within the project.


Shadow Complex XBLA cover artShadow Complex

This is simply put, Super Metroid for the current (now, previous) generation. A metroidvania with 3D graphics and HD resolution that makes you navigate a big map in search of power-ups that allow you to reach sections and places that you previously could not.

Our procedure is the same as with the previous title, but the findings are a little different. It’s developed by ChAIR Entertainment and published by Microsoft Game Studios. Microsoft supported development by supplying their team of game testers directly to ChAIR, so they kept their hands out of the development. This sounds pretty good, but there are other things in play.

The game was released on August 19, 2009, and took 18 months to develop. This means development started somewhere in February 2008 and the details become important. On May 20, 2008, ChAIR Entertainment was acquired and became a subsidiary of Epic Games. It’s not clear if Epic had any effect on the development of Shadow Complex, nor if the game would have come out the same had the acquirement not been made, but it makes us question it enough.

So our conclusion is that we won’t play it, but only ChAIR and Epic know if the game stayed indie or not. You’re free to place it on either side of the line.


The interesting thing is that before we did our research our conclusions were reverse. We thought Shadow Complex was indie by a small developer (which it actually may be) that made a splash with their first title. And we thought Ikaruga was a big title ordered by someone like Konami, but turns out that was not the case. Our findings showed us what misconceptions we had and made us questions the indie status of both titles, but the research made us more confident in our conclusions. Indie or not indie is not as simple as it seems sometimes.

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About the Author

For 500 days, from January 1st, 2013, until May 16th, 2014, Nidde will set aside all AAA-titles and only play indie games to find out if the indie scene can replace the big budget landscape.

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