Thursday, June 13, 2024

Rising from the Ashes

Welcome back! I've been doing a lot of running around recently and waiting for the Star Wanderers proofs to arrive in the mail, so I've not had much time to write here. That said, there have been some strange happenings, one of which I want to speak on today.

We've been speaking a lot about independent spaces where creatives are truly flourishing away from the rote and puerile corpo scene for years at this point. Sure we've gone on puffing our chests and talking about this change, but has there been much in the way of results? While the old industries fall away, is there actually something rising to take it's place?

It turns out that the answer, regardless of what industry you might be thinking of, is yes. If there is any form of art and entertainment you enjoy, there is an example of its independent space dwarfing what the mainstream has to offer. Such a thing would be unthinkable a decade ago and not even thought of as possible 20 years before. Of course these means a lot more curation is needed, an obvious downside to the death of failed gatekeepers, but that is just the reality of things.

The fact of the matter is the duty of gatekeeping industries is to shine a spotlight on quality first and foremost, to allow it the chance to shine and connect with wider audiences. However, the position being warped and used as a way to reward political allies who deliver bomb after bomb to the market while ignoring the rest of the world has repelled the mass audience away from every "professional" space. The trust that had accumulated over the years is now gone, and said industries are on their back foot. A good portion of the will probably do little but shrink and circle the drain until they are eventually dead. This is what happens when you fail to adapt.

Once the audience leaves, they don't come back. Deliberately chasing them out is suicide, and now we see it in full bloom today.

So then what of independent spaces? Are they still looked at as "vanity" projects, or for folks that "couldn't make it" in the mainstream, or has that perception changed? If the audience is walking away from failing mainstream industries, where are they going now?

You might have already guessed it, but the answer is that the independent world is no longer considered fringe or lesser to the majority of the audience that has moved on. It is now seen as a direct competitor, and anyone paying attention not only considers that fact, they also vastly prefer the new space that is currently growing at rapid speed.

Which industry does this refer to? That's the bizarre part--it's all of them. There isn't one creative space where the folks independent from the old system isn't outdoing said old system on just about every account besides budget, and budget has quickly become a dirty word in most artistic endeavors in modern day. The old industries threw too much money, overblew budgets, and polished everything until nothing remained but sheen blinding the audience to anything original that might have once existed. Every old industry is like this now, and they are all dying.

Despite that, of course it isn't all sunshine and roses. Most of the newer alternatives are still scraping by and still gaining steam and support. Again, without a marketing budget or an entire system behind them (as gutted as it has been from misuse in Current Year), these new spaces are still growing about as slowly as the old industries are falling in on themselves. The way the wind is blowing is obvious, and most have either accepted it and made the change accordingly or refuse to face reality.

It might be slow going, but we all know where this is eventually going. The only question is how long it will take to finally get there.

However, one example of an independent space growing so big it has actually pierced the mainstream and seized the wheel, is video games. While every other industry might still be slowly making strides to change itself, games have already done it. In fact, they did it so well that most people have yet to really notice it already has.

As the AAA industry burns to ash in the mainstream, video games have had a resurgence. There has not only been an increase in new ideas and approaches, but also in formerly abandoned genres that were once industry standards but were thrown aside for the AAA slop. Now that is actually acceptable to say how bad the industry is, especially after an entire console gen of literally nothing, audience are now realizing where they are getting their entertainment from, and it's not the big dogs.

Nowhere is this shift more obvious than in the FPS genre. What was once a genre of kings back in the '90s before being overtaken by AAA throughout the '00s, eventually, like everything else, had its core removed, its edges sanded off, and turned into safe corporate AAA product. The days of Duke Nukem and even Half Life were long over. This all changed throughout the '10s, eventually building into a new scene that has just recently finally managed to burst out and take over the landscape.

We've gone over this before, but the scene has only gotten better with the passage of years. If that old piece is hopeful, the reality turned out even better.

Let us go into an example of how things have improved.

The above video at the top of the post is a review of a DOOM II "mod" (and I use the term "mod" extremely loosely) called Ashes: 2063, a completely free download of a post-apocalyptic adventure that has more depth, replayability, and ambition than anything the mainstream is putting out. There are multiple episodes, each offering different approaches and refinements of the original concept, making it a wholly original game that using the term "mod" is almost insulting. They fashioned an entirely new game out of John Carmack's masterpiece of an engine, showing just how ahead of time DOOM really was for its time. Even now it impresses.

For a full breakdown on what the game is and why it's so impressive, I highly recommend watching the above video. Simply putting it into words won't work when a visual comparison or a visual medium will do that much better. Needless to say, there is much more to the project than you might think and it is very representative of how the scene operates today. 

And, again, it's free.

However, that is not all. Ashes is just one example in a wave of new creators taking over from the failing old industry.

On top of the above was a recent stream for an FPS game showcase. It might not seem like a big deal unless you understand hoe much things have changed in a mere few years. This one stream put the last decade and a half of E3 shows to shame on its own. Not only was there 70(!) games presented, all recent and new releases, it's almost all entirely pure gameplay and with minimal filler to be found in its massive length.

You can see this stream below. If you have any interest in video games or the genre you will be blown away by the sheer amount on offer, most of it looking top notch. While the AAA industry struggles to even release games at all anymore, the indie space is putting this out:

For those who don't want to watch or skim the stream, it is several hours long and contains nothing but wall to wall game footage with minimal channel ads for the host. It's almost like a throwback to another age of the industry that no longer exists.

One of the projects shown off is even the newest instalment in the Ashes saga, Ashes: Hard Reset. As someone who was watching when it was shown off, the chat exploded with excitement at the gameplay reveal. It was almost like watching those old E3 shows again. That thrill is still there--it's just no longer in the mainstream.

That's a common theme today. The old spirit still exists, it just no longer resides in the old industry. It doesn't matter what medium this refers to--that is simply the reality of it.

The book industry, while not at the level of video games (we have a lot more work to do to make up for decades of failure, after all) is one such industry that has long since lapped the old one. The visibility problem might be bigger, but that just comes with the territory of operating in a weaker industry. It has to be built up again from almost the ground level.

I highlighted a few crowdfunds at the beginning of the month, and since then there have been a few that have popped up in just the short time. For instance, Cirsova has put out a limited campaign to sell 100 copies of the Illustrated Stark omnibus by Leigh Brackett. Over half have already been sold, so you might want to jump on that while you still can. That aside, there is something new showing up almost every day. No one can really keep up with it all, though that is a better option than the alternative. No one wants to go back to that dead end state.

So if you're feeling discouraged by the state of things, you might want to reconsider exactly where we are and what is going on outside your window. There is a vibe shift happening and we have evidence of it everywhere. Even those who have stuck by the ever-declining mainstream can no longer avoid the obvious and are now changing their tune after years, even decades, of ignoring what can no longer be ignored. The winds of change are blowing harder everyday.

You might want to pay attention to it now, because who knows where it will go next.

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