An Interview with Indie Pod Co-Hosts Vaughn and Josh

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By Josh Nichols on February 18th, 2021

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Indie Pod is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a weekly podcast all about indie games. Each week co-hosts Vaughn and Josh go over the latest news in the world of indie games and offer their takes on it. They’re both genuinely passionate about indie games and the people behind the scenes that put an untold amount of hours and energy into creating indie games. Josh and Vaughn try to highlight the journeys indie developers go through to create their games with interviews that are as interesting and personable as they are insightful and informative. 

To further shine a light on indie games, the two hosts are both constantly reviewing the latest indie games to inform their listeners about upcoming releases that are worthy of their attention and love. This is in addition to the indie games that they both play in what little spare time they have, which they also discuss each week. 

Vaughn

Josh somehow also manages to find the time to search for upcoming crowdfunded campaigns for games that listeners may want to check out and donate to. And if that wasn’t enough content they also cover listener questions, topics, and even let everyone listening know about current deals on games. 

Vaughn and Josh do everything they can to ensure listeners know what’s going on in the world of indie games, provide great discussion on indie titles, and help listeners both with making informed purchases and with discovery so they always know what to play next. 

I’ve been a longtime fan so I was happy that Vaughn and Josh were down with an interview and discussion on Indie Pod, indie games, and everything in between. 

Josh

The interview transcript from the phone call is below. Since Josh from Indie Pod and I both share the same name I’m going to refer to him as Indie Josh and myself as Retro Josh. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

——–

Retro Josh: Hey Vaughn. Hey Josh. Thanks for joining me for this interview. I think it’s been really fun to get to know you guys a little bit. Obviously I’ve been listening for a long time and a lot of other people have been too since you guys have been on the air for a while. Vaughn, how are you doing? 

Vaughn: I’m good. I obviously laughed at the idea of you getting to know us cause I was like, dude, we know weird shit about each other like it’s yeah [laughs] 

Retro Josh: [laughs] Yeah that’s a good point

Vaughn: I’m very glad that maybe some more people will know about us after this. It’s gonna be fun. Honestly when you came and were like “hey, can I interview you two” [Indie] Josh and I both were like “what? Why?” [laughs] Why would you wanna do that?” But, hell yeah. This is gonna be great.  

Retro Josh: Dude, you guys are getting big though. You just had Tom Marks on from IGN a couple months ago. That was crazy. 

Indie Josh: Yeah, I don’t think Tom really knew who we were. I think he was just like “oh an indie games thing, okay cool.” 

Retro Josh: Yeah but like that’s still cool that he listened to you guys and was like “yeah I’ll come on there. He didn’t hear you guys and go “Wow. nevermind. Nope.” 

Vaughn: [laughs]

Retro Josh: But yeah so what brought you guys together and got you doing this podcast together? It sounds like you guys have known each other way before you guys started doing the podcast even though I’m guessing that this is probably part of how you met. 

Vaughn: I decided that I was going to do my own indie games coverage because it was a niche that wasn’t satisfied in the industry, at least not to my degree. So I started writing and then Jon, the creator of Parallax, saw some of my stuff and was like “hey, why don’t you come write for my site.” So I ended up going over and I was the senior editor at Parallax Media for a while and that’s basically how I met [Indie] Josh. He was also writing for the site [and] doing some different stuff. And after a little while it needed a podcast so that’s kind of how we got on it. And the funny thing is, if you listen to the first few episodes of Indie Pod, there are many, many more people that were on this podcast. Josh was just the only one that was willing to deal with my shit for two years. 

[Vaughn and Indie Josh laugh]

Indie Josh: It’s very much that uh … that ‘tortoise and the hare’ analogy. I just kind of stuck around long enough to become the main person there. I didn’t really know much about Vaughn in general anyway. Like even though I wrote for the site, I hadn’t interacted with him a lot, as far as editing goes. Vaughn kind of just came to the group of people at Parallax and said “hey, we wanna start a podcast. We’re doing it about indie games. Would anyone be interested?” 

It’s really funny looking back on it because the initial thought of taking a leap into something like this was like “Oh yeah, I guess I have some free time. I guess I could do it.” 

I never thought that what … almost three years now, I’d still be doing this podcast, which is kind of crazy [laughs], or that it would get to where it is today. If you listen to those first couple episodes, we’re [really] awkward. We don’t know each other. It was really weird. I think Vaughn and I would have clicked anyway since we have pretty similar, although I’ll say sometimes very different [laughs], interests as well. [Vaughn laughs] I think it was more or less, you spend a day a week, if not more, with someone for three years, you get to know them a bit.

Retro Josh: Yeah, that’s a good point. And yeah, also like podcasts are like a miracle. The amount of issues that can happen that you have to fix alone will bring you closer.

Indie Josh: It’s interesting too because you would have thought that the pandemic would have killed podcasts a little bit because for me podcasting was very much a ‘drive in the car’ type of thing. Even with the pandemic, we’ve had an uptick in listeners and that might just be because we’re getting better at what we’re doing or it might just because people are listening more because they’re bored inside their houses. It’s really interesting that podcasts are still getting bigger. Almost everyone has a podcast, which also makes it hard right because discoverability is in a weird place right now 

Retro Josh: Yeah, and like you said. I was the same way with podcasts. I still listen to them without commuting right now but I just have less natural time to listen now. I used to kind of keep up with everything I’m trying to listen to but now I’m just constantly behind and trying to keep up. It’s probably a side effect with the pandemic that more people are becoming more loyal listeners. You have the people that want to listen the most because they’re probably having to get more selective with how much they’re listening to and how much less time they have for podcasts. 

There are tons of games. It’s insane. And they release constantly. I remember Sarah Bond from Xbox guested on the Kinda Funny Xcast and was talking about one of the things they’ve heard people love about Xbox Game Pass is the discoverability and the curation aspect. I thought that was a really interesting topic. Do you guys ever feel like indie games get lost in the massive amount of AAA games releasing?  When we were kids, it felt like 10 big games came out in a year. Now it feels like 10 big games come out every other month. 

Hades / Supergiant Games

Vaughn: I mean, that’s actually a super easy question. It’s a guaranteed yes. For every Hades that you hear about, for every big indie game that breaches the surface, like Cyber Shadow, there are ten that go completely unrecognized that nobody’s going to know anything about until there’s some sort of niche following that pops up. Similar to Among Us, which is a perfect example; nobody knew about it for two years. It wasn’t doing terribly. It sold hundreds of thousands of copies. It was doing well but — 

Retro Josh: –but it wasn’t like the biggest game out and like, now it feels like it is.

Vaughn: Exactly  … discoverability is such a massive problem in storefronts, especially when it comes to indies. Honestly it’s somewhat depressing. It’s one of the main reasons I wanted to do an indie games podcast. And that’s why for like the first few episodes we [covered] what indie games were releasing that week but the game list just got too long. And I sucked at naming them. We had to stop. It was done. [laughs] It was so much.

Indie Josh: Yeah, if you’re a long time listener you’ll know about “fries day” and how much I loved it when Vaughn screwed up. 

Vaughn: Now I just screw up in a myriad of different ways 

Among Us / Innersloth

Indie Josh: Yeah I mean that’s always the interesting part of Indie Pod, right? I mean it’s impossible to cover everything, at least from one specific outlet or group. There’s this interesting phenomenon where Vaughn and I will tell someone that we are hosts of an indie game podcast. And they’ll go “Oh cool, so you know everything there is to know about indie games?” [laughs] And we’re like “What? No! That’s impossible.” 

Vaughn and I have a good wealth of knowledge compared to like some random person on the street but there’s games that pass us by all the time. That just goes to speak how much of an easy time that it can be to overlook a game. Even people that are focused on this world are still missing games. And even if we’re not missing things, we don’t have time to play every game out there. I wish I did but I have a full time job, my wife, I have to upkeep stuff around my house, my community and things like that. 

Video games are great and I love playing them but I unfortunately can’t dedicate every single waking moment I have. So yeah the curation of indie games is super important and it’s why Vaughn and I try to talk as much as we can about them so that we can give more coverage to the games that might get overlooked. 

Retro Josh: Yeah, that’s a good point. I’ll bet that feels really awesome when you guys talk about a game and then you see people interacting with you or that you know are playing that game because you guys either got to tell them about the game or put it on their radar. That’s gotta be really fulfilling. 

Indie Josh: Yeah.

Vaughn: That’s one of the most amazing things about us like having started a Discord for Indie Pod. 

Indie Josh: Yes!

Vaughn: I mean it mostly happens with Josh because he finds the weirdest games and then starts to play them, generally roguelikes, but our community has just started latching on to these games that they never knew anything about. 

It’s so awesome to find out that you may have introduced somebody to a game that they fall in love with and play all the time. It’s such a weird thing to know that you can actually affect somebody’s life. That’s why when Josh and I started a Patreon for Indie Pod, we were like “honestly the fact that there’s one person here is amazing.” 

Just knowing anyone thinks what you say is interesting is completely different. It feels weird. 

Retro Josh: Yeah. I’ll bet that Discord is really fun too. 

Vaughn: Yeah, they’re a lively bunch. 

Retro Josh: That’s gotta be really cool seeing people sharing game recommendations in real time with each other. It’s like a living thing. It’s an ecosystem of indie game discussion. You guys probably discover games from people in there too. 

Indie Josh: Yeah. 

Vaughn: Oh yeah. 

Indie Josh: That’s one of the coolest things about it, too. Building that community with people that have that shared interests, with indie games or music … or whatever it might be. There’s been times where they’ll talk about games and I’ll have no idea what the game is. Then I end up checking it out. 

It’s like that conversation we were having before we started recording. You [asked if we knew] this developer and both Vaughn and I were like “no idea” and that’s exactly the community we want to bring up and have. Maybe I don’t know about him, her, or them but someone else does, right? 

Retro Josh: Yeah, that’s a good point. It feels like, I don’t know, people get excited about AAA games too and talk about them. But it feels like people are always especially passionate about an indie game that they love. 

If someone loves Call of Duty, Madden, The Last of Us, or Uncharted, they’ll talk about it, but it just feels like there’s a fire inside someone’s heart when someone is talking about an indie game they love. It’s like it belongs to them. It feels like people have more of a sense of ownership over indie games.

Indie Josh: Yeah 

Retro Josh: I’d like to talk about Hades. It feels like Minecraft when it first blew up. What do you guys think about how Hades will affect not only the genre but also AAA games and the industry as a whole? 

Indie Josh: I think this leap of know indie games becoming more relevant in a bigger scope isn’t anything new. There have been other games that have blown up, like Among Us or Celeste, which people also thought would win Game of the Year [in 2018]. I think there’s obviously an argument to be made for indie games being amazing and getting recognized much more than just Hades but it’s definitely making a big impact. 

The Binding of Isaac / Edmund McMillen

I think it does push the narrative that indie games don’t have to be those pixel 2D flash games anymore, right? There are still a lot of them out there too and I’m not saying they’re bad or anything. I love a lot of games that are like that. But there’s this conception for a lot of people when they think indie game where they’re just like “Ah, 2D platformer. Pixesl. Whatever.” 

And they kind of just dismiss them, right? And this is more or less that we’re getting these games that are getting higher and higher quality as development practices change and assets and resources become easier to work with. Just more and more things change in the gaming space that make it more accessible to those indie folks. I think that’s one of those things where it’s changing the way the AAA space is or the way people perceive it. I don’t think Hades is going to be the one that puts the “indies are different” nail in the coffin. 

I think Hades will impact the roguelike and roguelite genres more than the industry as a whole. I think there’s a lot of people who might be more into this flavor of playing games that are possibly challenging and have that inevitable death in it but being more okay with it. At least I hope so. I love the rougelike/rougelite genre like, this is my jam so when people jumped on Hades at first I had that [laughs] stupid idea of like “I don’t want it to be cool because I liked rougelikes first” kind of thing. 

And that’s a dumb way of thinking but it was like my initial thought,

Retro Josh: Well, I’m sure it was just because you were frustrated because you’ve been trying to get people more into those for a while.

Indie Josh: Yeah exactly. And it’s because Hades isn’t like .. it’s not the only one that has ever done this narrative type of roguelike where the story kind of fits in with you dying and fits within the mechanics of the world-changing around you, right? There are other games out there, like Children of Morta. That’s the example I always use as something that has a very similar feeling. 

Children of Morta / 11 bit studios

But I’m really looking forward to this becoming more of a genre where people I guess put a little bit more into it. I loved the way they did the narrative standpoint in Hades. I want to see us push that envelope and continue to push more creativity into this genre. It’s exciting to see so many people into it. I hope they don’t just look at Hades as a game they like because everyone’s horny. [laughs] … like that’s great but that’s not the only reason it’s great.

Vaughn: But it’s what makes it amazing Josh, jeez [laughs] what’s wrong with you? 

Indie Josh: I mean that may be true [laughs] but there are other good parts, too!

Vaughn: Yeah, I basically have the same answer as Josh. I think indie games are slowly getting more popular and becoming a part of public consciousness as they move further away from being the ‘boiler plate pixel art games.’ People are recognizing them a little bit more. But I feel like it’s still going to be a constant struggle because of discoverability. 

Indie Josh: Yup!

Vaughn: An indie game with the same look and feel as a AAA game, like Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice coming out blew people away knowing fourteen people made it. And it looked so amazing! But I don’t see one or two games really changing things. We’ll need to see a consistent change in the way indie games are made for people to really recognize them. Either that or, I mean … maybe the industry itself changes. 

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice / Ninja Theory

Maybe it becomes more conscious of the smaller things that are coming out instead of just the big ‘top of the barrel’ stuff. We constantly think about how “Oh, things get better through innovation” but it’s possible that the industry itself changes and starts to recognize smaller things. 

You brought up the indie community being different earlier, Retro Josh. When someone falls in love with an indie game, it’s something that they really fall for. Like they might get a tattoo. Less people are getting a Call of Duty tattoo. It certainly happens but less often than we see with indie games. 

Indie games have such passion behind them that you can constantly feel. I feel like indie games aren’t what needs to change. People need to start being more accepting of exactly what an indie game might look like. Just because it’s pixelated doesn’t mean it’s bad. 

Retro Josh: Yeah, like Fez! It looks like it’s just a 2D platformer like Super Mario Bros. but there’s so much more going on with the mechanics. 

Vaughn: Yeah! Like, it’s messing with the mechanics of an entire world. Once you really think about it, it kind of changes everything. It’s kind of similar to Baba is You. [Indie] Josh fell in love with Baba is You

Indie Josh: Yup!!

Fez / Polytron

Vaughn: It’s such an amazing concept but there are so many people who didn’t play it because they might judge the game by its appearance. Its art style is an acquired taste. 

Retro Josh: I’ve had this conversation with people about VVVVVV too! A lot of people dismissed it because of its art style and I’ve tried to tell people they’ll either end up enjoying the visual style or they’ll still like it even if the visual style doesn’t appeal to them. 

People are quick to write a game off because of the graphics, frame rate, resolution, whatever. 

Vaughn: Yeah, exactly. I honestly think Minecraft and Hades shaking things up isn’t because they’re different from other indies. I think it’s because the industry is starting to change and people are noticing indies more, which is amazing. That’s what makes recording our podcast so amazing. It’s so great hearing someone tried an indie game we recommended. I personally think the industry needs to change more than the development of indie games but that might just be me. 

Baba is You / Hempuli Oy

Retro Josh: That’s probably gonna keep shifting too because as technology gets better and better, the scale that’s possible on a smaller budget is constantly growing. Games like Hades are even made without crunch. You can have a better work environment and make your passion project. I’m sure we’re going to keep seeing mid-tier / smaller studios popping up because people are realizing “you know, I know how to do this. I could go make the game I’ve always wanted to make.” 

We’ve seen that with stuff like Shovel Knight. People can leave the AAA/AA side and come to the indie and the … single A? A? Eh? I don’t know what … [laughs] that’s called … that side. 

Indie Josh: Eh? [laughs]

Retro Josh: Josh! I really wanna ask you about the ‘God Bless the Crowd’ segment. So, for anyone who hasn’t listened yet, it’s a segment you guys do every week where you both discuss a crowdfunded game on Kickstarter or I think one of the other big ones is Fig … 

Vaughn: IndieGoGo is another big one, too.

Indie Josh: Yup!

Retro Josh: You always have either good games or weird games … or something in the middle. How do you pick the games out?

VVVVVV / Terry Cavanagh

Indie Josh: Sure [laughs]. The segment was an idea that Vaughn and I had because the idea of crowdfunding is often misunderstood. It’s not the same as buying a game and just getting it. These are meant to be thought of as an investment for a game that you believe in. It honestly makes it super interesting to pick these games every week because at any point these campaigns might be at totally different stages in the development cycle. 

Some campaigns are like “Yeah, we’re pretty much polishing and ready to go. We’ll be shipping this game out in a few months” and then you’ll have another that’s more like “Oh, this is just a couple of images. Maybe some sketches of level design. Some things that kind of give you a feel for what the game might be” and you have to ask yourself if you believe in it as a product and if you think they’ll make it or that they have something there. Right? 

So a lot of this is tough because I have to ask myself if it looks legitimate, if it looks fun, and sometimes I’ll even shout something out that’s already hit the goal because I think it looks cool and I wanna showcase it. I try to pick games that haven’t made it yet though so it can get recognition and hopefully hit its goal. A lot of the times we’re trying to pick those games that are close or maybe halfway there so that we can get them over that hurdle. 

The most successful periods for a Kickstarter are the first and last weeks. Generally in the middle there’s a lull where no one buys as much. For some people it’s a really stressful time and even if the campaign is successful, it’s still stressful because of all the other work that goes into it. 

This is meant to be a look into who is trying to ask for money to work on a cool project. A lot of the times I try to pick something that fits more within our style and preferences but every so often I’ll pick games that are more outside our realm that still need help. But, yeah those are the main reasons I pick a game 

Retro Josh: Gotcha. Yeah, that’s interesting. I try to check out the games you talk about, too. It’s interesting learning about them and seeing if I want to either throw money myself or share them with friends that might be interested. You’re right though. A lot of people don’t know that much about how crowdfunding works. Sometimes you’re taking a chance. It could be like Shovel Knight or Bloodstained or–

Indie Josh: Mighty No. 9

Vaughn: [laughs] Mighty No. 9 [laughs] 

Retro Josh: Oh man. I remember when a friend of mine got his code. I was like “is it good?” and he was like “Eh, it’s fine. It’s good enough.” 

Indie Josh: [laughs] “It’s good enough”

Mighty No. 9 / Deep Silver

Vaughn: I mean we just had Jacob McCourt from the Left Behind Game Club podcast and he said that Mighty No. 9 was the game that broke him. He used to invest in Kickstarters all the time but Mighty No. 9 broke him because he was so disappointed with it. It’s just like [Indie] Josh said: it’s a gamble. Investing in anything is a gamble. I mean Fig is definitely a different story because you can literally invest —

Indie Josh: Riiiight.

Vaughn: –but with Kickstarter and stuff like that, it’s like investing in future happiness versus getting something immediately, which I feel like a lot of people initially have a hard time coming to grips with. Honestly after we started the segment, it took me a while to get into it but Josh got me into the mindset of investing in and falling in love with something in the future. 

I ended up backing a couple different games and have delved into Kickstarter with some different comic books and stuff … It’s a really interesting platform that I believe a lot of people hold in a negative light since they think their money’s just going to be taken.

Retro Josh: I think that’s because of the horror stories or the ones that blow up 

Indie Josh: Yeah 

Vaughn: Yeah, exactly! They don’t tell you about the ten games that came out that are amazing. Most people don’t know that Hollow Knight was crowdfunded.

Retro Josh: I didn’t know that! Wow.

Vaughn: Yeah, yeah! Hollow Knight was crowdfunded and a lot of the additional content was just from stretch goals. Silksong is actually just an expanded version of … Hornet was supposed to be a playable character in the main game as one of the stretch goals. 

There are so many big games that were crowdfunded that they just never talk about. It kind of continues to hold that negative light of people just grabbing their money and running instead of you know, the ten games that actually came out. 

Hollow Knight / Team Cherry

Retro Josh: Yeah, that’s a good point. And the instant gratification thing can be huge. I think that’s half the reason I like digital games so much. It’s nice being like “I bought this game and now I’m playing it.” That’s a tough part of Kickstarter. 

Vaughn: Yeah, that’s what’s nice about there sometimes being beta codes and stuff like that. Because then at least you’re kind of part of the development. Or there’s stuff like, I’m trying to remember what it was called … there was basically a game that we covered in ‘God Bless the Crowd.’ It was The Passenger 2 or something like that. But it actually included you in the lore of the video game as becoming a backer and participating in the beta. Josh, you played it not too long ago. I forget what it was called.

Indie Josh: Yeah, it’s called The Unexplored 2

Vaughn: Yeah, yeah. And it’s like, crowdfunding campaigns do so many weird things that nobody really pinpoints and they can just be so cool. Being included in a game’s lore is so awesome and interesting. And it rarely happens outside of the crowdfunding space. It’s definitely got its positives and negatives. 

Retro Josh: Like the Ouya. I thought that was the coolest thing ever when it was announced and then it came out and I was just like “…oh…”

[laughter] 

The Unexplored 2: Wayfarer’s Legacy / Big Sugar

Retro Josh: What are some indie games that you think have either influenced specific AAA games or just like the industry as a whole? 

Indie Josh: Okay, so if you’re thinking about indies that made an impact, we kind of already talked about the ones that made a splash in the AAA pool, like Hades, but I don’t think there’s a specific game that’s like made that impact and changed everything. I think it’s more of an iteration. It’s a progression thing. 

If I had to pick a couple then I’d say certain ones, like Stardew Valley. That revitalized the Harvest Moon-esque style of games. You could look at Undertale for making mechanics fit around having an actual narrative. 

But I think the biggest impact that I hope to see more of in the AAA space and what indie games already do in general is how the games are designed. It’s the more willing you are to take risks, right? Or talk about deeper subjects. You know, we’ve evolved like from the cliche story of “I’m a hero who saves the princess,” right? It’s an old story, alright? We don’t need to hear it anymore. I’m sure there’s ways you can tell and I’m sure it can still be interesting but like there’s so much more you could do and I think indie games are really taking that in both a narrative and mechanical approach. 

Celeste is the obvious answer but the fact that games are talking about things like Alzheimer’s Disease or depression. These are the things I wanna hear more about because they’re interesting topics for games to handle. And it doesn’t have to obviously be those two. 

Those are topics that probably have a darker tone and not every game has to have a serious tone. But I think it is refreshing to see these kinds of topics in the gaming space. There’s things like Before I Forget which was about Alzheimer’s Disease, which I thought was a really interesting take on playing as a person who has Alzheimer’s and seeing life through their lens. 

Before I Forget / 3-Fold Games

Or you have games like the upcoming Duru. We just did an interview with the developer. We discussed how they’re talking about depression in the game. Duru has a character where you’re like this mole rat who literally has this dark kind of shadow figure which represents depression. It’s a puzzle platformer and the shadow figure’s whole purpose is to be a dick and annoy you. 

Every time you try to put something down to open a door or something, they’ll run over and just kick it! So then the door closes when you try to go through it. And that’s a great representation of saying depression can debilitate you but other people might not actually see it. I think that’s so creative and unique. And maybe this isn’t the game for everyone but I wanna see more people doing this. I think that’s the big impact that you could take away from indie games is there’s more willingness to take risks.

Duru / Twisted Ramble Games

Retro Josh: Yeah, I wouldn’t expect to see something like that in a AAA game. Vaughn, do you have anything to add to that. 

Vaughn: I mean, obviously that was like a perfect answer but–

Indie Josh: [laughs] 

Vaughn: I definitely agree with Josh. I think when it comes to literal mechanics in gameplay, everybody has their own styles like Ubisoft is never gonna stop making the weird ass checkpoint games where you take over a place and then you move to the next … like that’s always going to exist. 

We’ve already kind of seen AAA games start to evolve and really dig deep into storytelling, broached topics, and like really bringing emotions to the forefront. We’ve had God of War (2018), The Last of Us: Part II, and Red Dead Redemption II all take an approach to storytelling that’s about like really feeling your emotions versus, like [Indie] Josh said, and growing past the “boiler plate hero.” We don’t have to be the ‘shoot ‘em up’ game anymore. Now we’ve started taking video game storylines a little bit more seriously and I feel like indie games had a lot to do with that. 

But yeah, the I definitely agree. I don’t think we’re gonna see AAA games take the same amount of “risks” that indie games do. There’s always an emotional component to indie games that I do feel like is slowly seeping into AAA development. They’re continually creating games that are a little bit deeper and mean a little bit more. That’s something I think they’re definitely taking from indies. 

Retro Josh: I like that. That’s good. Alright so Star Wars. It’s not just EA now. It’s being opened up more. Are there any indie developers or indie publishers that you’d like to see do something with Star Wars? You guys were talking about the risks that indie games take. What are some experiences that we could see in the indie space?

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order / EA

Vaughn: We had a very similar question phrased to us on Indie Pod [from a listener]. I think it was Chris Penwell from Active Quest (writer disclosure: that’s the podcast I’m a part of) that asked us if we think any indie developers would be approached to do anything with the Star Wars license. And both of us were kind of like “We don’t really see Disney like taking a leap of faith with an indie studio.” 

Indie Josh: Yeah…

Vaughn: It’s just such a cherished IP. Even though I think indie studios would make something great. Star Wars is such a weird and odd IP in general because what studio do you think is going to take Star Wars and make something that someone else couldn’t have made. I don’t think, and this might just be me, but I almost don’t think the Star Wars fan base would be totally chill with like, a Star Wars platformer or a Star Wars roguelite card game. And I mean, obviously I’m moving into the typecasting of indies but … we haven’t seen a large amount of indie studios delve too deep into what I would imagine a Star Wars game would have to be, which is like a third person action game. 

Maybe we could see Ninja Theory, which was already purchased by Microsoft so it’s maybe not necessarily indie anymore, depending on your definition of indie, but like they could do something interesting with Star Wars. They could follow the lead of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and have Jedi with PTSD or something. In the back of my mind I just feel like I know for a fact that Disney is never going to allow somebody to fuck with Star Wars, especially because when somebody does like we even saw happen with Solo. When someone does start to fuck with the Star Wars formula, Disney ends up kind of correcting and being like “Nah, we’re good. Let’s try to shift things back instead of making something different.” I guess that’s what makes this question so difficult. 

Retro Josh: Yeah. That’s a good point. Cause yeah they originally had the guys that did The Lego Movie working on the Solo movie. Then like halfway through filming, Disney was like “nah, you guys are fired. We’re gonna get Ron Howard in here.” [laughs] They had him kind of steer it closer to what we’d expect from Star Wars, I guess. And like The Last Jedi took a lot of risks and did a lot of different stuff for Star Wars, like nuance and gray ‘down the middle’ stuff instead of just light side and dark side. Then they had Abrams kind of try to correct and change what stuff from The Last Jedi in Rise of Skywalker. I didn’t even really think about that. That’s a bummer because I’d love to see a lot of experimentation with Star Wars and I think indie devs could really bring that. 

Vaughn: Chris asked me on Let’s Speak Geek about the influx of Star Wars content with all of these new shows coming to Disney+. It’s really possible that Disney may allow different kinds of stories and more experimentation in Star Wars as things like The Mandalorian, which is a very different Star Wars story, succeed. It’s possible that they’ll see that’s what people want and start allowing developers and writers to test the waters with different kinds of stories within the Star Wars franchise. But currently, and until we see more of that success, they’re definitely less likely to take risks. 

Indie Josh: I’ll go real quick cause I share the same view as Vaughn. If it was to happen I have a lot of love for the Image and Form team. They make great games. I think no matter what they released, I’d be a fan. 

Retro Josh: They did Steamworld Dig, right? 

Steamworld Dig 2 / Image & Form

Indie Josh: Yeah! They make a lot of games of all different types of genres so I think they’d be a good fit to find something creative to do with Star Wars. It’d be interesting to see a Clone Wars spinoff game but you know, I don’t know what genre you’d pull for. Also, just anything that gets me Knights of the Old Republic III would be amazing. I’d love it. 

Retro Josh: Yes. I absolutely love the first two games. I’m probably going to replay those soon. The one thing that used to stop me from doing replays from that generation was the long load times but backwards compatibility is really fixing that. 

Indie Josh: Now’s the time to do it. 

Retro Josh: Yeah, those are good games. Okay, so I know that one of Josh’s is probably a card game 

[Vaughn and Indie Josh laugh]

Retro Josh: but [laughs] what are some of your favorite indie games? 

Vaughn: I’ll bet you like three of them are card games 

Indie Josh: [laughs] I don’t know what you’re talking about. 

Vaughn: Okay I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that 80% of them are roguelikes and like three of them are card games. 

Retro Josh –and like one of them is a roguelike card game 

Omori / OMOCAT, LLC

Indie Josh: [laughs] I don’t know what you’re talking about. [laughs] Anyone who knows me knows that I am obsessed with The Binding of Issac. It’s such an amazing roguelike. It really has set the bar for that genre. And of course to go with the joke, I’d be crazy not to mention Slay the Spire. I’ve put hundreds of hours into that game. It’s a good damn game. To list a couple others, I recently played and reviewed Omori, which is such a good game. Go into that game blind. Just play it. It’s like a twenty hour game but it is so worth it for the story. I loved it. It is a psychological horror game. 

Retro Josh: Whoa! I just looked it up. It looks amazing. 

Indie Josh: It’s so good, dude. It does have pretty dark themes and is psychological horror.. But if you’re into this kind of thing then you should definitely check it out. And then just a couple others I’d say Wuppo, Battleblock Theater, and Monster Train. There are so many good indie games out there. 

Retro Josh: Yeah there are. Some of my favorite games are indie games. That was one reason I latched onto Indie Pod. It’s fun having an easy way to be able to connect to indie games. I’m kind of involved in games and stuff with writing and podcasting but there are still plenty of games I learn about through Indie Pod. You guys put in the time. There are just so many games releasing. Vaughn, what are some of your favorite indie games? 

Vaughn: Hyperlight Drifter. I talk about that game all the time. I love that game so much. The fact that Heart Machine could tell such an awesome story without any actual spoken dialogue or written dialogue is so amazing. There’s technically a different language within the game that can be deciphered. I love that game though. I still haven’t beaten it of course but another one is Hollow Knight. I still love it though. Gotta love them bug boys but I’m not good enough at games.

Hyperlight Drifter / Heart Machine

Retro Josh: That’s a hard game. I’ve had friends that are good at Soulslike games talk about how hard it is.  I’m pretty good at games and like, that game is still hard as hell. 

Vaughn: Oh yeah. Also, I love the idea that being good at a Soulslike means you’re good at games. If my streams have shown people anything, it’s definitely that you can get through the Dark Souls games even if you eat shit at video games. Like it’s a hundred percent possible but 2D platformers take legitimate skill, especially when they’re pixel perfect, like Celeste. It’s like a different skill entirely to be good at a Soulslike. 

Retro Josh: I need that Nintendo rewind feature from Nintendo Switch Online. I need that in like every game. 

[Vaughn and Josh laugh]

Vaughn: Also, Bastion is another one of the big ones that got me into indie games in general. It hasn’t aged as well. I’d like it to get some kind of a remaster in a sense. Supergiant Games has become such a huge team, especially with the success of Hades

Retro Josh: Oh yeah, they could afford to do that now. 

Vaughn: Yeah and I hope they do. Going back to it, it looks a little rough. But I love the game so much. Caelondia [the world of Bastion] is such a cool environment. 

Retro Josh: And that narrator. 

Vaughn: Yeah, it’s so awesome. He’s got such a grizzly voice. And the music! Everything is just so cool. How the world forms around you, with the cataclysm in the story. 

Retro Josh: I think it’s aged pretty well. I mean it came out in 2012. 

Bastion / Supergiant Games

Vaughn: Oh yeah. Just the art style going back to it … I was thinking back with rose tinted glasses and then went back to it. It’s not terrible. It just doesn’t look as good as I remembered. 

Retro Josh: Games used to look so much more simplistic than what we have now, like games that looked like the very first version of The Binding of Isaac.

Vaughn: Like flash games?

Retro Josh: Yeah, yeah. That’s the word I’m looking for. 

Vaughn: I mean, yeah. Indie studios are so cool because you actually get to see them constantly get better and better. It takes a little bit longer with AAA studios and a lot of it has to do with advancements in technology. I feel like indie studios are very different. Supergiant Games specifically, comparing Bastion to Hades. Just the art style alone is such a massive leap in quality. I adore Bastion but it’s just a huge leap. Even the leap from Bastion to Transistor. You get to see growth on a minute scale with indie game developers versus with AAA studios, who put out a game every few years. They basically churn and spit out developers like no other. But yeah it’s just so different. I mean those are the games that really come to mind. Hyperlight Drifter, Hollow Knight, and Bastion. They’re the ones that I like really, really love. And I plan on getting some sort of tattoo with–see, this is what I mean: I’m not gonna get a tattoo for like, well actually no, I might get a Fable tattoo. I love Fable. That shit’s so good. And then of course, there’s like Psychonauts but it’s ultimately up to you if you believe it’s indie because I mean technically it was self-published but then it also wasn’t self-published. It’s weird. 

Psychonauts / Double Fine Productions

Retro Josh: Thank you guys for joining me. Thanks for doing this and thanks for talking about talking about indie games with me. 

Vaughn: You know what, I feel like we need to very much, while this is on the record. Everyone should know, because we’re absolutely slowly stealing it. We have to say thank you so much to Josh Nichols for giving us the “good jelly, not my jam” slogan cause 

Indie Josh: Oh man, yeah. 

Vaughn: It goes with everything. It’s so good. 

Retro Josh: Oh man. That’s so funny cause I use that a lot and I never thought that anyone else would use it. That’s funny. 

Vaughn: It’s just so perfect. 

Indie Josh: We use it way too much. 

Retro Josh: It’s perfect though. It’s like “this is a really cool thing but it’s not for me.” 

Vaughn: Yeah it’s so good, dude. It was the one time I went on Active Quest with you and you said it and I was like “Oh my God. It sums up everything.” 

Retro Josh: And it’s funny too cause jelly and jam are both preserves or whatever. I don’t know. They’re both part of the fruit spread family. It’s good. It’s fun. Well thank you, I hope that’s my legacy. I hope that’s what I leave behind this world–

Vaughn: –Is good jelly not my jam … dude 

Retro Josh: Yeah. I want it on my tombstone. It will say “Life was good jelly but not my jam.” [laughs] But yeah, thank you again. It was very fun to do this with you and I’m looking forward to the next episode from you guys, as always. 

——–

Indie Pod is a weekly indie game focused podcast available wherever you listen to podcasts. Hosts Vaughn and Josh cover everything they can within the industry and try to make the world a little bit better by sharing indie games with as many people as possible. You can find more information on them on their Patreon, and they even have a fun community for Patrons on Discord. 

Disclosure: I’m friends with Josh and Vaughn and we’ve all been on each other’s podcasts. I also support them on Patreon. That’s because I believe in them and the product but I feel like I should mention that. 

Josh really likes video games. Horror is their favorite but they also like other stuff.

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