While they might not come with the same fanfare as upcoming games from the Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto franchises, indie games provide a deep selection of content on Xbox Live, often for just a dollar or three. With thousands of titles to choose from, those wanting to know which games they should throw that hard-earned dollar toward head to Cathy Vice, the 23-year old San Francisco Bay Area resident known as the Indie Gamer Chick.
“I needed a hobby. I’d never thought about blogging or anything like this before,” Vice said. “My boyfriend encouraged me, saying that I was really opinionated on gaming and I should do something like this to express myself. It was around the same time that the summer gaming drought was in full effect, which led to us rediscovering Xbox Live Indie Games. I had only previously played a couple, but they were totally off my radar. The thought occurred to combine write-ups on those with a gaming blog and that’s where Indie Gamer Chick got its start, July 1, 2011. By the end of August of 2011, Indie Gamer Chick was the most read Xbox Live Indie Games site in the world.”
Vice’s love for video gaming goes back to her early childhood, thanks to an interactive encounter at a retail store display.
“My father had a Nintendo and Super Nintendo, but games weren’t important to me until Christmas of 1996,” she recalled. “Right before then, I played Crash Bandicoot on a PlayStation kiosk and I was hooked. That’s all I wanted Santa Claus to bring me, and he did. Games became the main thing in my life when I got a Nintendo 64 for my 9th birthday, July 11, 1998. Again, the want for it happened from playing a kiosk. This time, it was Banjo-Kazooie. From that point forward, gaming was primary form of entertainment in my life. I never lost my love for it.”
Even though Vice has experienced numerous generations of games, she says they have all contributed to her gaming journey.
“Great games all work in collaboration to define what shapes us as gamers,” she said. “Do I say Crash Bandicoot had the biggest impact because it opened the door to gaming for me or Banjo-Kazooie, the first game I truly loved? The Final Fantasy games opened my eyes to gaming as a story-telling medium. Games like Goldeneye or Perfect Dark were one of the few windows for social activity I had as a child. There is no one title that has defined my love of gaming. I’m shaped by every one I play. I think we all are.”
Today, as the Indie Gamer Chick, Vice says she is often reminded of the earlier days of video gaming, before game development included large staffs and even larger budgets.
“When I started Indie Gamer Chick, I thought I would be playing tons of weird, never-attempted before experimental game types,” Cathy stated. “In fact, that’s rarely the case. Most indie games seem to be rooted firmly in the past. I’m sticking with indies because it’s where you most often see creativity without restraint. Your average mainstream title might be a more complete, polished experience, but indies feel more personal, like a labor of love. Often that’s exactly what they are.”
With a huge catalog of game titles, Vice says that many good Xbox Live Indie Games fall through the cracks. As part of her Indie Gamer Chick website, she aims to bring attention to the titles she feels deserve more attention.
“Until recently, Xbox Live Indie Games were buried on the dashboard and hard to reach on the marketplace,” she added. “The last dashboard update put them in a more visible spot and subsequently they are doing better numbers, but not much. There is a perception among the general gaming population that XBLIGs are shovelware at best. Unfortunately, there’s a handful of developers who gleefully live down to those expectations. Make no mistake, the vast majority of XBLIGs are very poorly designed, and most consumers aren’t willing to give developers an A for effort. People don’t want to pay money for bad games. Because so many of these low quality titles make up the top selling list, it has created a fogging effect. In reality, there are many great games on XBLIG. You just have to look below the surface.”
When asked for some specific titles she feels are better than their sales figures show, Vice was quick to mention several titles.
“Escape Goat is sort of a modern version of Solomon’s Key with some really clever puzzle design and the best platformer play control of any Xbox Live Indie Game I’ve played yet,” she noted. “I consider it the best XBLIG ever made. Gateways features the most insanely complex puzzles ever designed for a video game. It’s like Portal, only with old-school 2D graphics and more elaborate gimmicks. We Are Cubes is probably the most overlooked game on the entire Xbox 360 platform. It’s like Tempest meets Buster Bros, and features crisp vector graphics but with modern special effects. Most importantly, it’s a damn fun game, one of the few XBLIGs I play on a regular basis.”
To date, Vice has reviewed over 400 game titles on her site, more than 350 of which are Xbox Live Indies. She states she is happy to have gained a public following from her no-holds-barred reviews.
“What’s been most rewarding is how I’ve been accepted into the development community,” she said. “I don’t make games, and I stay out of the testing process. Plus, I’m not exactly the most tactful reviewer. I believe a critic needs to focus on negatives in a game to legitimize what is positive about it. Otherwise, a critic is just a cheerleader and that benefits nobody. I’ve found that the vast majority of developers aren’t looking for kudos and nothing else. When I say something is wrong with a game, the most common response I get is ‘I wish someone had told me this stuff when the game was being developed.’ I think most developers were mortified by me at first, but I try to be easy to work with and my real personality is vastly different from my writing style. I value the friendships I’ve made through Indie Gamer Chick, and I’ve made a ton.”
Cathy Vice’s Indie Gamer Chick reviews can be found at www.IndieGamerChick.com and she can also be found on Twitter @IndieGamerChick.
The author of this story can be found on Twitter @OriginalPSP and on PatrickScottPatterson.com.
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