Indie game developers don't just make games -- they play them too. Prominent indie game developers told Gamasutra sister site IndieGames.com about their favorite games of 2012.
Last year saw hundreds of games released, many of which were developed by a single person or small team. Many of these games could easily and inadvertently pass under the radar of even the most avid follower of video games, lost among the noise of big-budget campaigns and high-churn app stores.
Luckily, we have access to some of the most prominent indie game developers, each of whom are deeply ingrained in the development community. Here's part one of a two-part series about the indie games that indie developers loved in 2012.
The Sea Will Claim Everything creator Jonas Kyratzes' picks:
Dys4ia by Anna Anthropy
"A painfully honest look at life in today's society from the perspective of someone demonized by that society so it can keep ignoring its actual problems. Classic game mechanics illustrate human life with elegant simplicity."
Frog Fractions by Twin Beard
"A game made with enthusiasm and carefully deployed insanity."
Proteus by Ed Key
is a game that doesn't care about categories; it only cares about beauty. Proteus
reminds us that games have the ability to be places. Proteus
is prettier than Skyrim
Kairo by Richard Perrin
"A strange, mysterious place to explore, abstract yet full of character. Exciting in how quiet it is."
Lone Survivor by Jasper Byrne
"This game is frightening because it's intensely personal; its claustrophobic horror isn't just a marketing strategy. Real people have nightmares, and this game was made by a real person."
Samsara by Meg Jayanth
is a game of mellifluous sentences and complex ideas, set in a world that is not an imitation of an imitation of an imitation of Peter Jackson's imitation of D&D's imitation of Middle-earth. I want more of it."
Super Hexagon (pictured at top) by Terry Cavanagh
"Terry Cavanagh is an annoying person. Not only does he have the ability to come up with the kind of ideas that make everyone go 'why hasn't anyone thought of this before?,' he is also ludicrously kind and humble despite his success. Unbearable! I am grumpy and terrible at Super Hexagon
, but that doesn't keep me from appreciating its genius."
Twine by Chris Klimas
"I'm cheating, of course, but the explosion of Twine games we've witnessed in 2012 is as important as the games themselves. "Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people," wrote Adrian Mitchell. The same is true of games and game design; Twine is an antidote to that problem. May all game development tools learn from it."
Unmanned by Molleindustria
"Do you know the official definition of the term 'militant,' according to the Obama administration? 'All military-age males in a strike zone.'"
Vesper.5 by Michael Brough
"Michael Brough is an alien who makes games for aliens that humans can also enjoy. Vesper.5
is a game about pilgrimage and meditation - very simple, and yet completely unlike anything else. A game about time - your time."
Dys4ia creator Anna Anthropy's picks:
LIM by merritt kopas
reminded me that violence in video games can be harrowing, can make me feel things, can connect with my own experiences. The violence in this game affected me more than that of any hyper-masculine shoot man game. Violence isn't chainsaws and sniper rifles most of the time."
Howling Dogs by porpentine
"Twine has been an important platform for game design anarchism: Anyone who can write a story can make a Twine game. it's helped create a space for the voices of those marginalized in mainstreams games culture. Howling Dogs
is an initial attempt to thread that hypertext labyrinth of feminine expression."
mainichi by mattie brice
is undeniably a straight white man's story. Jason Rohrer's stand-in character meets no resistance as he wanders the sprawling plain that is his life, faces no threat except death by old age. If you were someone different - if old age is the last thing you have to worry about, what would your game look like? What would it say?"
Goblet Grotto by thecatemites and j chastain
is the game as a maze, or rather, it is about how the game allows a story to be a maze. This game is texture, crass and arcane. In pow-wows with friends, we told stories of the grotto: Did you find the giant mech? The real estate sim? The race track? The battlefield? The game that we haven't played contains the game that we have."
Vesper.5 by Michael Brough
is a game about time, not in the way video games usually demand it, hours at a time (80-plus hours of gameplay!), but once a day, every day. Every day you make a single choice, a simple choice -- up, down, left or right -- a choice that would be trivial if it wasn't a day until your next. These choices become agonizing. I find myself thinking about this game when i'm not playing it, staring at the screen after I've taken my day's turn, wondering."
Resonance developer Vince Twelve's picks:
Dustforce by Hitbox Team
"Ok, so I actually suck at this game. It's a smooth, stylish platformer with some levels requiring faster reflexes than I possess, but I love the hell out of the soundtrack which has become a staple of my work-time playlists."
Dys4ia by Anna Anthropy
allowed me to feel the frustrations and emotions of a life that I would not otherwise have experienced. And it did so in a personal and experiential way that can only be accomplished through the medium of games."
Offspring Fling by Kyle Pulver
"A solid and polished platformer with gameplay and a presentation that bring me back to my formative years as a young wanna-be game maker. And again, what a soundtrack!"
Fez by Polytron
"My love of games that require note-taking goes all the way back to Myst
. (Try playing What Linus Bruckman Sees When His Eyes Are Closed
without taking notes.) With brilliantly-colored graphics, great puzzles and a mellow pace supported by the (again!) amazing soundtrack, Fez
was one of my favorite experiences of the year."
Botanicula by Amanita Design
"I played this one with my kids and they loved clicking on anything and everything because every click would result in some funny animation or sound. Endlessly charming."
Super Hexagon by Terry Cavanagh
"Ear thumping, heart pounding, six-sided goodness. I spent entire plane trips trying to beat a single level. I may never get more than 18 seconds on Hyper Hexagonest, but I'll keep trying until I do."
FTL co-creator Justin Ma's picks:
Awesomenauts by Ronimo Games
"The developers were able to distill a lot of the MOBA genre's fun and merge it with other game mechanics quite successfully."
Mark of the Ninja by Klei
"I was truly impressed with the elegance and solid mechanics of this game. Definitely a must play."
Hotline Miami by Dennaton Games
"Although the ultra violence isn't my style I got quickly absorbed by the unique atmosphere, intense gameplay and amazing music of this game."
Spelunky HD by Mossmouth
"The original Spelunkly
quickly became one of my favorite games of all time and was a huge inspiration for me."
Journey by thatgamecompany
"This was truly a beautiful experience and I enjoyed every moment."
FTL co-creator Matthew Davis' picks:
Legend of Grimrock by Almost Human
"Awesome old-school fun and challenge. Difficult but fair puzzles are hard to find in games nowadays but they pull it off throughout the entire game."
Mark of the Ninja by Klei
"Super tight design and controls. Reminded me that the stealth genre could still be fun after I failed to get into Dishonored
Hotline Miami by Dennaton Games
"Pulled me in immediately and I finished it in one sitting. Intense game."
Orcs Must Die 2 by Robot Entertainment
"Many hours spent playing this with my girlfriend. Great co-op fun. It does count as indie right?"
**For "I only played an hour so far last night but I'm really enjoying it" - Lone Survivor by Jasper Byrne
... I hope it keeps up. We need more good horror games!"
Frog Fractions developer Jim Crawford's picks:
Best archaeological mysteries to solve with your sister: Fez
was slated for release during the week my sister was visiting from San Diego for a couple of family birthdays. I'd played her Rich Vreeland's live performance of Adventure,
and she'd told me 'I want to play the game that this is the soundtrack to.' Upon its release, we spent several days straight doing almost nothing except play Fez
together, taking pages and pages of notes, deciphering clues, and just soaking in the atmosphere -- both the atmosphere that Polytron crafted, and that of playing games together like we hadn't done on a regular basis in probably a decade."
Most deserving of the term "murder simulator": Hotline Miami
"I'm utterly convinced that if I actually ran into a house full of thugs with baseball bats and actually tried to murder them, it'd be exactly
like Hotline Miami
. Minus the restart button, of course. The game exudes filth, and I don't know if I've felt any grosser in my life without actually being physically dirty. It's kind of stupendous."
Most unexpected source of social anxiety: Journey
"I went into Journey
hoping for a Legend of Zelda
experience: the solitary, almost wordless exploration of a desolate landscape, picking through the ruins of a long-dead civilization. Journey
sort of provided that, but its unexpected co-op partner was a continual distraction. I stopped taking in the landscape and wondering what was behind the next hill, and started wondering whether it was rude to hang back and explore when dude-from-PSN ran ahead... I came away from the whole thing considering whether I should maybe look into anti-anxiety medication."
Most unnecessarily chaotic co-op: Spelunky HD
"The decision to lock the camera to a single player in Spelunky co-op is a continual source of frustration. Some game developers might have added split screen, or zoomed out the camera like Super Smash Bros.
Derek Yu's solution is emblematic of Spelunky's overall design: make the players cope with it. The resulting slapstick inspires so much more delight than a sanded-smooth experience would've been."
Best not-game: Dys4ia
is one of those games that doesn't really qualify as 'game' in the classical sense. 'Winning' is trivial and rewards you with no fiero whatsoever, and yet the experience it conveys is powerful in a way that couldn't be replicated in a non-interactive medium. It's also a particular experience that is rarely dealt with in any medium, which makes it all the more valuable. A useful contrast to make here is To the Moon
, which starts with an extraordinarily powerful story and then tries to integrate it with gameplay that adds little and often."
Most authentic way to break your neck a hundred times in a minute: Trials Evolution
[Sure, Redlynx is owned by Ubisoft now--but we'll let it slide!
is an almost autistically authentic rendering of a very specific physical activity. Unlike QWOP
, in Trials
it's actually possible to internalize the physical rules to the point where you can deliberately succeed at the activity. Trials
feels like you're mastering a real-life skill, and even if it's an illusion, that's a potent feeling. (Only now do I look back and notice how similar my appreciation of Trials
is for my appreciation of Hotline Miami
. Good job Hotline Miami
for making me feel super gross one last time!)"