Today is an auspicious day.
Many great things are independent. The United States of America celebrates its independence every year on July 4th, by blowing things up, drinking beer that tastes like water, and eating large quantities of red meat. Many other independent things are great as well, of which I’d like to talk about during this Indie Day celebration. No, I’m not referring to independent voters, independent films, or even independent rear suspension.
We’re talking indie developers today, on July 3rd. The folks making some of the best games in recent years haven’t been working under the gun of the AAA publishers, but on their own. Depending on who you ask, they (along with Nintendo for some reason) are the only folks making good games these days as well. Regardless of whether or not indie developers are the sole source of innovation and memorable games however, these game development studios deserve recognition for their hard work and risks they have taken to pursue their dreams.
Known for: The Long Dark.
I’ve made it no secret that I’m a huge fan of Hinterland Studio and their first work as an independent developer, The Long Dark. What I have not spoken of is their pedigree as a development studio. The team in Vancouver has collectively worked on titles ranging from Far Cry 3 to Turok. Their technical director, Alan Lawrence, worked on several Volition titles, and therefore has become my personal hero as well.
What sets the Hinterland team apart from the gaming industry is that while they’re working on fulfilling their vision for The Long Dark, they’re still working with their fanbase to deliver on suggested changes. Their flagship title has changed much since it originally began as a sandbox alpha, but the quality has only improved. In the meantime, they’ve made great efforts to maintain communication with players, and are probably one of the most engaged developers that I know of. Maybe it’s because they’re a Canadian company?
Known for: The Flame In The Flood.
The Flame In The Flood team may not be on the radar with the rest of the superstar indie developers, but their first title is one worth picking up. The folks that make up The Molasses Flood have worked on shooters, fighting, and music titles chose to make a game that blends the rogue-like genre with a catchy soundtrack and a terrifically brutal experience.
Like Hinterland Studio, they’re a small team with little to their new name. They’re a very small team working out of a tiny Boston office; and they deserve to have their modesty and forthrightness called to attention. If their recent work and character are of any indication, their next game has a bright future in store.
Also, The Flame In The Flood is part of the Xbox Game Pass library now, so check it out if you get a chance!
Known for: Firewatch.
Like the other comapnies featured here, Campo Santo is a small studio whose first game to their name is a smashing success. The San Francisco developer’s game, Firewatch remains one of my personal favorites, and helped form my belief that independent studios like Campo Santo are more than capable of changing the industry for the better. Firewatch‘s unique approach to the delivery of narrative eschewed traditional exposition and radio conversations in favor of a system that left conversational doors open for the player to walk through, without requiring them to endure every line if they chose not to.
In the end, Firewatch does what it did so well throughout the story, it left the door open. Still, those that craved an open and shut narrative were left with a feeling that they were left hanging, but I feel that the nature of Firewatch‘s closing moments follow well in the path that had been tread throughout the rest of the game.
Known for: Penumbra (Overture, Black Plague, and Requiem), Amnesia (The Dark Descent and A Machine For Pigs), and SOMA.
Ah, Frictional Games. I own many of the Swedish-based developer’s games, yet don’t have the stomach to finish any of them. Their games tend to follow a similar concept, through and through, yet somehow it hasn’t worn thin. In each game, combat takes the back seat in favor of cowering in the corner while attempting to not piss yourself. True, Penumbra did include some combat, but it was horribly ineffective by design.
My belief is that Frictional Games is responsible for the rebirth of the horror genre of games, when the traditional heavy hitters like Resident Evil and Silent Hill have faltered. They’ve consistently been the creators of terrifically horrific games that I have never finished. Mostly because I’m a pansy and can’t handle stress very well.
I still need to finish SOMA…
Known for: LIMBO and INSIDE.
Playdead is… Well, they’re kinda messed up. The Danish developer’s games are excellent, but Playdead makes it abundantly clear that they want to make you as uncomfortable as possible. They accomplish this by allowing you to die in a number of horrifying manners, whether it’s by being gunned down in the mud by guards, impaled by a gigantic spider, or dogs ripping into your torso.
This is all despite LIMBO and INSIDE not being horror games (I think). Still, Playdead has been consistent in their quality of design and gameplay, delivering simple yet tremendously engaging content.
Known for: Kerbal Space Program.
It’s true that Squad has signed on with Take-Two Interactive, which means that they’re technically not independent anymore, but I want to recognize them as an indie studio anyway.
That said, Kerbal Space Program is a marvelous game. The Squad squad calls Mexico City home, and have done what I would’ve considered to be impossible. They crafted a game that houses a massive star system, and gives their players the tools to explore the vast reaches beyond Kerbin, the Kerbals’ home planet. Players begin by attempting to get a rocket off of the dirt launchpad, but can branch out from there.
In my numerous attempts to get somewhere in the game, I’ve managed to get as far as Mun, and delivered many satellites into orbit, but the rest of my time has been spent dealing with exploding rockets and aborted missions. Squad’s humor shows well in KSP, and they’ve shown extensive support for it.
Indie Day All-Stars
The studios that I’ve mentioned are definitely not the end-all-be-all of the indie industry, but rather a small group of developers whose games I’ve been fortunate to spend time with. These are people that have followed their dreams and put everything on the line to make those dreams a reality.
Like many indie developers before them, these companies have changed the way that the gaming industry has progressed over the years. Now indie developers are influencing the way that AAA developers design their own games, and more folks are transitioning to developing their own games as well.
So let’s celebrate the success of these indie devs!
Did I miss any studios that you feel should be mentioned? Go ahead and call them out in the comments below. Or better yet, take a moment to write your own Indie Day post!
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