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:
"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."
"Samsara 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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"LIM 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."
"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."
"Passage 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 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 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."
"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 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."
"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."
"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
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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! - Ed.]
"Like QWOP, Trials 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!)"