Among Games, Blockbuster Hits Coexist With Indie Gems

(Bloomberg) -- It’s not every day that the animation of a pair of horse testicles in a video-game prompts me to write a newsletter, but that is the uncomfortable position I find myself in today.

There’s been a lot of fuss in the world of blockbuster games this month, chiefly concerning Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2. This wild west-themed adventure epitomizes what modern interactive storytelling is capable of, with its ludicrously realistic graphics, deep storytelling, compelling characters and engaging action sequences.

It took seven years and almost 3,000 people to create RDR2. The game reportedly generated almost a billion dollars in sales during its first weekend, and was met with universal critical acclaim. Downloads and copies totaled 20 million. A New York Times opinion called it “true art.”

With such an enormous global team and timeframe for development, it’s perhaps unsurprising that few details were left on the cutting room floor. The most celebrated example is the aforementioned pair of horse testicles. When your steed gets cold, a keen-eyed player will notice the stallions’s gonads shrinking. It serves little narrative benefit, but underscores the possibilities granted by extensive development resource and unrivaled budgets.

This hit home for me on the day of Red Dead Redemption 2’s release because I spent most of that day finishing another game, a five-year-old title called Life Is Strange. Developed by an independent French developer with a budget of between just 10 million euros and 15 million euros, it was just as compelling as the new blockbuster title, just in a different way.

The emotional power of Life Is Strange’s story — about the unusual lives of teenage girls Max and Chloe — moved me close to tears on several occasions. The graphics are no match for current hyper-real games, but its appeal lies in its storytelling, voice acting, pace and mystery. Thematically, it sits somewhere in the middle of Venn diagram containing gaming’s Broken Sword, TV’s Stranger Things, and cinema’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Throw in a bit of teenage drama for good measure, and your favorite murder mystery novel. The game was also a huge commercial success for developer Dontnod Entertainment, and spawned a recently-released sequel.

I played the final portion of the game on a flight home from a conference, and its heartbreaking final act reminded me starkly that the beauty in modern video-gaming isn’t exclusively confined to the biggest blockbusters on the store shelves, nor are they just born from enormous budgets and thousands-strong development teams. It’s just like the film industry — you have your blockbusters and your sleeper indie hits.

So when considering your next purchase — or game studio investment — keep in mind that it's easy to assume the titles or developers with the greatest potential are the ones with the resources to pay attention to the smallest graphic detail. But for every Rockstar and Red Dead Redemption 2, there are dozens of lower-budget gems below the surface equally worthy of your money. You’ll just have to use your imagination if any of them involve taking an animal out into the snow.

And here’s what you need to know in global technology news

A tariffic holiday season: President Donald Trump suggested that 10 percent tariffs could be placed on mobile phones, like the iPhone, and laptops made in China. Apple drops.

Jack Ma,  $38.4 billion communist.  That is, the founder was officially confirmed as a member of China’s Communist Party in a state-backed newspaper recognizing business leaders for their contributions to the country’s development.

Microsoft > Apple? The software maker is looking like the tortoise in a technology world obsessed with hares

Exposed: Leaks and trial tribulations between Facebook and a bikini-app developer.

Googlegoogleplex: Alphabet’s Google has closed a $1 billion deal for a 51.8-acre business park next to its Mountain View headquarters.

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