Right now, if you are an independent game developer, you’ve never had quite so many opportunities for showing off your skills, though you’ll likely be up against some rock solid competition – some of the best games of the last few years haven’t come from the giant mega-corporations, but rather from much smaller companies (and in some cases individual ‘bedroom coders’). Xbox Live Arcade, Steam, Flash gaming portals – there’s so much exposure out there right now, and it has resulted in a surge of innovative new gaming titles. Indie games are definitely in.
As a modern gamer, I never used to be that into indie games. I thought they were mostly short, pretentious experiments that didn’t have the same appeal as the latest FPS blockbuster, or sprawling RPG with the cutting-edge HD graphics and mammoth production values. But as I learned more coding skills, particularly in Flash, and had a go at making some simple web-games of my own, I started to appreciate their efforts a lot more. The truth is, in the last year or so I’ve developed a big squishy soft spot for them. It’s probably because some of the best games I’ve played in the last few years have shown me something new and original – big companies often play it safe, and the result has been a glut of tediously similar games with no real ambition. Indie developers are much freer to make what they want, they can run with a risky idea that would otherwise scare off a suit looking to make sure his company maximises its profits next quarter. Indie developers are often made up of a tiny team of semi-professional, or even amateur coders and artists simply creating what they love in their spare time. Some of them become so successful, however, that they make a career out of it.
Minecraft for example, is being developed by one man. Since starting the project, he’s had over 50’000 sales of his game which isn’t even out of alpha yet. That’s 50’000 multiplied by about $8… a few weeks ago he made £8000 in a single day. It’s no wonder he gave up his day job in order to focus on Minecraft on a more permanent basis. Another game we’ve been playing a lot of lately, Alien Swarm, started off as a free downloadable mod for Unreal Tournament 2004. That team caught the eye of Valve, and they hired them to work on their own games, before releasing the up-to-date remake last month. Portal and Left 4 Dead both came from similar backgrounds, too, as a matter of fact.
One of the best places to get your indie fix is Xbox Live Arcade’s own Indie section. There’s dozens of new games added to that per week, many of which are total crap, but there’s plenty of gems to be found in there, and you couldn’t get a more varied selection: Try Not to Fart is an immature yet strangely charming comedy that tells the sweet story of a couple as they develop an everlasting relationship, despite the man’s horrific flatulence. The Impossible Game is one of the simplest, and trickiest puzzle platformers I’ve ever seen: you are an orange square, and you must avoid the black triangles. My friend’s have had it for months now and still haven’t reached the end of that awesome techno song… Then there’s the Decay games – the scariest indie game series I’ve seen on there yet, it’s a point and click adventure featuring a creepy doll and some clever puzzles. There’s just so much choice.
There are of course other bigger hitters which have found life very comfortable in the Xbox Live Arcade. Tom Fulp and co, the creators of Newgrounds, followed up their excellent Alien Hominid with a brilliant take on the 2D side-scrolling beat ’em up, Castle Crashers. It’s fully 4 player co-op (online or local), features some beautiful hand-drawn animation, and addictive action gameplay which sees you and 3 friends killing hordes of different enemies, all unique to each level. You gain experience and find new weapons as you play, and it’s pure uninterrupted fun from start to finish.
It’s clear that indie games are here to stay, and I for one am cheering them all the way. Thanks to these big gaming platforms supporting the smaller developers, it means I get to play more brilliant games like Limbo, Toy Soldiers, Trials HD, Ezmuze, Splosion Man, Machinarium, Zeno Clash, World of Goo, Braid, Multiwinia, The Misadventures of PB Winterbottom, Audiosurf, Sleep is Death, Penumbra, and VVVVVV… I can’t wait to see what these guys do next.