Radical Plaything

Indie Games and Why You Should Play Them


Alex Higgins, contributor, ah299711@ohio.edu

I’m Alex Higgins, I hope to be a regular contributor to Beta Fish by covering the indie game scene. Indie games are video games created without financial support from publishing companies and are usually made by individuals or small teams or companies. While most media coverage and public discussion is on high-budget, professionally published video games, the vast majority of indie games are overlooked by the public at large. Personally, I think that this is a shame. Most people, including game enthusiasts, are missing out on some truly exceptional work.

Most experimentation with the medium occurs through indie games. The lack of publisher constraints and need to appeal to a wide audience provides indie developers with greater creative freedom, so their games tend to be more innovative and more diverse than their mainstream counterparts – subgenres such as art games, not-games, punk games, and interactive novels are almost exclusive to the indie scene. Although I am very fond of the video game medium as a whole, I find indie games to be the most exciting part of it and, as a hobbyist game developer myself, the most inspirational. I write about indie games hoping to share my love of them and expose people to some amazing interactive stories that they would otherwise overlook.

Want to play? Here’s an incomplete list of a few of the “essential” indie developers, mixed in with some of my personal favorites. Half of these guys release their work for free, so check it out!

  • Pixel – This guy spent five years making a game entirely on his own, and by the end of it had produced the platformer Cave Story, now widely considered to be the archetypal indie game.
  • Jason Rohrer – The creator of the short game Passage, one of the most often mentioned examples of an art game.
  • Increpare – Stephen Lavelle has created over a hundred short games. About half of them are clever and highly original puzzle games, while the other half are interactive narratives or art games. Digging through all of his games is a chore, but there are some real gems in there.
  • Cactus – I’ll just let his games speak for themselves.
  • Terry Cavanagh – The creator of the puzzle platformer VVVVV.
  • Auntie Pixelante – The creator of a dozen or so games.  I especially recommend the auto-biographical work dys4ia.
  • Christine Love – Creator of Digital: A Love Story (which is phenomenal) and a few other interactive novels.
  • Daniel Remar – Creator of Iji, a game similar a game similar to System Shock and Deus Ex and one of my personal favorites.
  • Jasper Byrne – Creator of Lone Survivor, one of the best horror games I’ve played.
  • Supergiant Games – Creators of the action-RPG Bastion, a personal favorite.
  • Superbrothers – Creators of the adventure game Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP, also a personal favorite. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
  • Chris Crawford – Not historically an indie developer, but he is one of the most visionary in the industry and a personal hero. He is best known for his Dragon Speech in 1992 in which he calls for game developers to use the interactive medium to tell meaningful stories instead of making mere playthings. He has spent the past couple of decades working on interactive storytelling software called Storytron.

In addition to writing for Beta Fish, I also write about games (including my own) for my personal blog, Sassy Echidna Software. If you’re a gamer, please check it out!

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3 thoughts on “Indie Games and Why You Should Play Them

    • Well, that depends on what you want to make and how many people you are working with. For example, there’s this game competition called Ludum Dare that happens every three months or so where indie developers make a short game over the course of 48 hours, but those games are usually pretty simple in the audio-visual department and usually take less than 10 minutes to play.

      On the other end, polished, full length games like Cave Story and Lone Survivor took 5 and 2 years to make respectively, but they were both made by a single person. A really ambitious game like Black Mesa, a remake of Half-Life with modern graphics, took an entire team 8 years to make.

      Generally, production time for a modestly ambitious game will be measured in months if you’re working by yourself. I’ve been working on a game for three months now, and at this point I have created the entire game world, and have animated and programmed a player character, but to be fair, I have spent weeks at a time not touching the game file. I think I’ll have the thing finished in 3-4 months. Some other games I’ve completed have taken as low as 2-3 weeks to make, although they are considerably smaller than my current project.

      This has probably been more info than you wanted, but if you’re interested in making a game, just let me know and I’ll happily point you toward some software. Don’t be intimidated by any of the numbers I’ve given; it’s always good to start small anyway, and some of the best games I’ve played are short ones.

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