Interview: Super Rare Mixtape and the future of indie game preservation

Ryan Brown of Super Rare Games talks to us about his passion project and his love of indie games.

In the last ten years, the rise of independent video games has been meteoric. At the beginning of the Xbox 360 generation – and with the advent of Xbox Live Arcade – small games made by teams of a few people established themselves as must-play experiences alongside the biggest games in the world. In the decade since, their prominence has only grown. Where once confined to the digital-only realm of console marketplaces, in recent years, a movement has grown to preserve these titles in physical releases of their own. 

Ryan Brown, who cheerfully calls himself the “Head of Saying Stuff” at Super Rare Games, has long been a champion of independent video games. At Super Rare, he oversaw the launch of many physical versions of digital-only titles, establishing Super Rare as a strong voice in the games preservation space. His latest project, the Super Rare Mixtape, is dubbed as a “a curated collection of indie games from some of the best and brightest up-and-coming developers.”

Ahead of the reveal of the Super Rare Mixtape and its first entry, I sat down with Ryan to talk about this passion project, the struggles to get it made, and what he envisions for the future of the series.

Emily is Away (Kyle Seeley)

What inspired the Super Rare Mixtape? 

Talented indie developers! I’ve been invested in the smaller indie game scene since before it boomed and became commercial with the launches of Super Meat Boy, Braid, and Fez. Some of the most unique gaming experiences I’ve ever had are from this scene, so it’s always been infuriating to me how overlooked they all are. If this can put the tiniest spotlight on them for even just a bit, I’ll have considered this a success.

As for its aesthetic look, that’s more or less what I had in my head for years, although George and Stu here, and even my partner Tom, who coded the custom games launcher, really helped shape what this looked like and it’s beyond my wildest dreams.

It’s an idea I’ve had for a shockingly long time, but never had the means to actually do it on my own. I mentioned it in passing in the office, which quickly became an offer to properly pitch it, which was immediately and unanimously approved. I’ve been properly working on it since January. It’s impossible to overstate just how bloody lovely everyone is here at Super Rare – while partially the project was approved and funded because we believe in it, want to support smaller indies and physically preserve these overlooked games, part of it was definitely the team just wanting to support and back me. I’ll always be grateful for them giving this a shot, whether it finds an audience or not. I’d never, ever have been able to do it otherwise.

While releasing physical copies of independent games is nothing new to Super Rare, I was curious about the process of curating only 30 titles, and how Ryan went about pitching his idea to the developers. 

The curation process was the most fun part! My hope is that each volume has a really nice variety of games, with their genres, art styles, and current discoverability. I’m not overexaggerating when I say that there are literally thousands of games I’d like to preserve with Mixtapes in the future, so fingers crossed we get that opportunity. Contacting developers was mostly really easy, although I’d definitely advise that all indie devs uploading games to itch.io have some sort of social handle, email address, or searchable contact point available, because you never know what opportunities are out there.

These are all developers whose games I already played and loved, so it’s been a real honour to work with them, and every one of them was immediately so excited by the idea. Their games get nowhere near the attention they deserve, so even things like the Mixtape getting a PEGI age rating on the front felt so validating for some of them. I actually have a private Discord set up with the developers so I’ve been easily able to keep them up to date without taking up too much of their time, which has been a blast! Just for the developers to be able to hold a physical copy of their game in their hands, that honestly makes the whole project worthwhile to me.

No Players Online (Adam Pype)

While a compilation like this is noble on the face of it, Ryan was sure to emphasize how each of the developers involved would be compensated.

We’ve compensated developers for each game included, with the exclusion of the commercial game demos, which developers kindly went above and beyond to contribute to this. The payments aren’t for ownership, of course, it’s just for the permission to include it in the set – so they’ll still all be available online and devs can expand on them, sell them, publish them with other partners, etc. So on the boring legal side of things, it’s basically as if the Mixtape never happened. I also didn’t want developers to have to do much work on this, which hopefully is what made this a really attractive idea and an easy decision to make. 

Despite 1,000 copies going for sale, we’re actually printing 1,100 to make sure developers can have a physical copy of their own game. This is a passion project through and through, so while we’re not expecting to make a lot more than breaking even on our side, it was really never about that.

After years of ideation and a lot of hard work, the Super Rare Mixtape is ready to be revealed, but I was curious as to whether sees this as the start of a collection of mixtapes and whether a future entry in the series may end up on another platform. 

Ohhh, yes. My initial idea all those years back was to make quarterly mixtape volumes, so hopefully if there ends up being an audience, we’ll be able to make 3-4 volumes a year. I’ve also had the idea of themed Mixtapes swimming around my head, but of course all of this is thinking way too far ahead. There’s just so many games from this scene I want to physically preserve and show off to the world!

While it would have been nice to make this a Switch cartridge collection, it’s unfortunately just not really viable. There’s too many games, too many licenses, and it’d cost more to port them all than makes sense. Hopefully this is still as accessible as possible to a lot of people.

Good Morning Drifter (Lowpolis)

The Super Rare Mixtape goes on sale on August 19th at 6pm and is limited to 1000 copies. I concluded my discussion with Ryan by asking what game he’d recommend anyone who manages to secure a copy should play first.

That’s a tough one, as they’re all so varied for different tastes, but I’m going to go with Paint Game. It’s basically a virtual colouring book where you can walk around a 3D environment, then pause and paint on it like it’s Microsoft Paint, then continue walking around the environment with your artwork now a part of it. Everything from the sky, to the trees, to the cloud and bees can be painted on. It’s actually the game I used as a primary example of the sorts of unique ideas in this scene when I pitched the Mixtape concept internally.

The Super Rare Mixtape launches on August 19th. 

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