Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Why Naut?

Sorry everybody who doesn't care, but this one is going to be another gaming post.

I've noticed, over the past year or so, that there seems to be an obsession with the term "naut" in indie gaming titles these days. Zombie NautsXenonautsRigonauts,  and even Paranautical Activity  are all either currently available or in development, and the rumor mill has spit up other names of upcoming ____nauts  games soon to come. I must admit I find this rather curious. Psychonauts  (not an indie game) came out in 2005, and was the first use of "naut" in a game title outside of the standard astronaut/cosmonaut terminology of which I'm personally aware. Nothing similarly titled followed on its heels, though, and the game itself, while well-reviewed, did not succeed financially until later re-releases helped it to establish a solid cult following.

Instead, the trend can probably be traced back to the 2009 release of Scribblenauts  (also not an indie game) on the Nintendo DS. Since that time, it's come into regular use, and for some reason it's been exclusively applied to indie releases over the past couple of years. Maybe that's because Scribblenauts  and Psychonauts  both operated in kind of a quirky, cartoonish fashions that had more in common (each in their in their own ways) with the creative gameplay espoused by many indie titles than with the high-end graphics and flashy combat of typical AAA releases. Whatever the reason, developers soon jumped on the back of this particular naming convention and have begun happily applying it to whatever suits them.

The best and most popular of the indie "nauts" titles is 2012's 2-dimensional MOBA Awesomenauts.  It intrigues me that there are now, in addition to the slew of lesser games trying to ape a more successful title (which can be found at the feet of every successful franchise, from The Legend of Zelda  to Angry Birds ) actually three reasonably successful and totally independent titles that have used this type of name. Not only are these games separated by several years in terms of initial release times, they all came from different developers, display different styles, and fit into different genres. They really have nothing in common other than their similar names, which is somehow all the more maddeningly strange to me. So just for fun here's a quick look at each those big three titles, because, well, [obvious pun redacted]

Psychonauts  (2005)

Scribblenauts  (2009)

Awesomenauts  (2012)

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