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Independent game devs pick their favorite games of 2013 (part 1)
Independent game devs pick their favorite games of 2013 (part 1)
January 7, 2014 | By John Polson

January 7, 2014 | By John Polson
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More: Console/PC, Social/Online, Smartphone/Tablet, Indie, Design



Sibling site IndieGames continues its tradition of checking in with the top indie game developers of the year, this time asking the top 10 of 2013 what they hope from the industry in 2014, along with what their most memorable games were. Today's developers include some of the creative minds behind Ridiculous Fishing; Device 6; Papers, Please; and Guacamelee.

Greg Wohlwend, artist for Ridiculous Fishing on 2013's top games:

Gone Home: What BioShock and all its deformed children should have been. It's a game with the courage to rely solely on exploration without any bullshit cutscenes or gimmicks. Just you and a house: explore. Brilliant work in a class with Myst.

Spelunky: I beat Hell in 2013. I played once a day (not completely true) and it took me over a year. I still play. I still learn. It's still my game design teacher. Losing or winning a close 1on1 death-match (you should never play anything but 1on1) makes me scream my last name loud enough to wake the baby above our office.

Samurai Gunn: The poker of fighting games. Anything less than three buttons and three bullets would be too little. Four is clutter. It's honed in a way that forces the other player's movements to the front of your mind and settles your own movements and fundamentals back deep in your reptilian brain. You're inside the game naturally within minutes of first touching it. No move list, no combos. The challenge is where it should be: getting inside your opponent's head.

Kentucky Route Zero: I don't know why but Kentucky Route Zero is the most beautiful game I've ever played. After playing its first episode I felt the same reverence I felt after seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey in my freshman dorm room. I needed a cigarette and a quiet street lamp. That continues with each installment.

Greg W.jpg30 Under 30 dev Greg Wohlwend, artist for Ridiculous Fishing

2014 wish list for the industry:

Open the floodgates: Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo: let anyone pay $100/yr to publish on your console. Curate that with some smart human beings. Don't hide it like XBLIG. Obviously it's more complicated to execute this and maybe some of my figures are off but the sentiment remains. I'd love to see a console that stopped chasing the 5 year old "Wii market" with a kitchen sink of headless features based on fear. Apple already has that market cornered.

Rather, the next game consoles should take a confident stance on serving up the best video games by empowering developers of all types. Apple's App Store is full of creativity but it has a serious ceiling as far as controls/audience go. The best games fit each platform naturally. Since Sony and Microsoft make controllers so well, it'd be nice if they allowed most everyone to try and utilize them in their natural habitat.

Apple TV console: Maybe it's harder to change the system than it is the technology. Apple's system works well. It's not without holes, but for the most part it's a hell of a lot better than XBLIG ever was. If Apple entered the game controller market somehow with Apple TVs... The hardware isn't up to snuff there currently so maybe an entire beefing up of Apple TV is in order to make a proper minimalist game/app console. I'd also love Spotify on my Apple TV. Open the Apple TV!

Apple rescinds statement about political games: It'd be great to see Paper's Please up on the App Store and then maybe they'll take that dumb line back about books and movies being the only form of art suited for cultural criticism.

Kickstarter & The Indie Bubble: Kickstarter is more popular than ever and that has people saying "indie" is going to burst. It won't. Maybe we won't use the term "indie" at some point, but will we miss it? It's a label... Art isn't a "bubble". Kickstarter's bottom line is about cash. It's easy to equate that with a trend like dot com booms or housing markets. It's all about economics in those fields. But games are and always have been art. Humanity always want stories new and old. Told a little differently from one side or many others.

That isn't to say it's not changing. We're always changing, but if something does "burst" it's likely that the prime directive of those creating it wasn't honest creative expression but instead: cash. *cough* candycrushhaydaydragonvaleetcetcetc *cough* Those types of markets do burst, but as artists (especially indies) we will always adapt and find new mediums/platforms to express ourselves with.

graham guaca.jpgGuacamelee developer Graham Smith of DrinkBox Studios

2013's top games:

Antichamber: Antichamber took the first person shooter and turned it inside out, playing with all of the rules that one normally expects from the genre. I really loved the sense of discovery while exploring and trying to figure out the rules of this bizarre world. Easily my favorite game of the year. Alexander Bruce is an insane genius.

The Stanley Parable: I don't know if The Stanley Parable was intended to be an experiment in storytelling, or a satire about the illusion of player choice in games, but I was completely engaged from the moment the game presented its two initial doorways. For me, the game gave me a feeling of rebellion, as if the narrator was an opponent that I needed to beat at his own game.

Device 6: Device 6 appealed to both my love of exploration and puzzle solving. This iOS game reminds me of the old-school classics The 7th Guest or The 11th Hour, but replaces the bad CG graphics with a unique text-based take on exploration and navigation. The way the game spins itself as a clinical trial for a new piece of neuroscience technology was like the icing on the cake.

140: A fantastic fusion of platforming and music from some of the talented folks that brought you Limbo. I think 140 flew under the radar of most people, but it is definitely one of my favourites of the year. It also has the best title screen of any game ever.

Ingress: I sunk more hours into this Android-only game than any other game this year. Published by Google, Ingress is an augmented reality territory control game in which two teams battle over real-world control points using a modified version of Google Maps. This is the only game I have ever played that caused another player to physically run outdoors in the real world in an attempt to stop me from destroying his virtual objects.

2014 wish list for the industry:

As a gamer, I would really like for game portals to improve the discoverability of games that I might like. For some portals, e.g. iOS, there are hundreds of new games a week. Finding a new game that I will enjoy should not need to involve sifting through tons of shovelware, or leaving the digital store and using a we browser to search reviews from people I trust. These platform holders should look at how Amazon or Netflix use their customer base's buying habits or ratings to influence recommendations.

As a developer, I'm hoping that releasing a digital game on consoles becomes easier to do in multiple territories without having to work through many of the same processes multiple times. I also hope that digital sales reporting gets better on consoles. Steam does a fantastic job of this with their near real-time sales data and graphs, and I would love for other platform holders to try to do this as well.

simon device 6.jpgDevice 6 developer Simon Flesser of Simogo

2013's top games:

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds was the best videogame I played all year. There's so much to say about what this game does right, from level design to amazing sound design, but what really stood out was the amazingly fine-tuned stereoscopic visuals coupled with 60 frames per second and the rubbery resistance of the 3DS Circle Pad. It made the game feel fluid like no game has ever done before. It's not often you get to play a game in which character movement is so enjoyable that you'll want to spend time just walking around.

NES Remix is another game that I will remember very fondly from this year. I really love the idea of taking games we know so very well and putting them in new contexts. And while many of the games it creates challenges around are very good games, some haven't held up as well - but NES remix even manages to make those games fun by carving out small delicious pieces from them.

Other games released 2013 that I particularly enjoyed were Tearaway, Divekick, Pokemon Y, Steamworld Dig, Pikmin 3 and Animal Crossing: New Leaf.

2014 wish list for the industry:

My only wish for 2014 is that all game creators will focus on making unique, well-crafted and surprising experiences, and by doing so encouraging others to do the same!

lucas papersplease.jpgPapers, Please developer Lucas Pope

2013's top games:

PuzzleScript

PuzzleScript isn't a game on its own, but it's such a great tool, and it's spawned so many great games that I think it's one of the best things to come out of 2013. Stephen Lavelle (increpare) has a near perfect sense of how to create mind-bending puzzles and he's funneled his experience into this tool for others. Some of my favorite PuzzleScript games in no particular order:

Sokoslam (Aaron Steed), shoving (Aaron Steed), Cratopia (CHz), Explod (CHz), Heroes of Sokoban Series (Jonah Ostroff),Take Heart Lass (Kevin Zuhn), Dang I'm Huge (Guilherme Tows)

Non-traditional Games

This is a style of game that I find the most interesting personally. For small or solo developers, non-traditional games are a great way to do a lot with very little. It's more about changing what's considered a game than matching the art or programming resources of a bigger team. Expanding the concept of what defines a game is also an important role for smaller, more nimble developers.

You Can't Javascript Under Pressure (usvsthem), Nested (Orteil), Last Words (frankbsad)

Subversive Games

Another type of game that I really enjoy. These can also be considered non-traditional but there's a particular technique of setting up some mechanics, then subverting them later on that I like.

Notes (Droqen), Dragon Drop (Tom 7)

Point-n-click Games

I'm not a huge fan of point and click style adventure games but I do enjoy them from time to time. This category is basically just for one developer though: JO99 & Kronsilds. Their two games are kind of loose mechanics-wise with the typical pixel hunt and nonsenical object usage. But the visuals, audio, and overall presentation are so rich that they stuck with me for a long time. I really felt transported to a strange world when playing them.

The Queen of Snakes (JO99, Kronsilds), Humanoid 47 (JO99, Oliv. Kronsilds)

Action Games

A good action game grabs me immediately and keeps me hooked till the end. Unfortunately, most action games are Windows-only and I work on a Mac. Every once in a while I'll fire up a Windows VM to check out the more talked-about games.

SUPERHOT (Piotr Iwanicki, Jakub Ziembinski, Lukasz Spierewka, Marek Baczynski, Konrad Kacperczyk, Dawid Adamkiewicz, vxd555), Exposure (zillix)

Narrative Games

If I had to sum up 2013, I'd say it's the year of the Narrative Game. The Stanley Parable is probably the longest indie game I played in 2013 and struck me as the perfect narrative game. The structure of player decisions and narrative branches perfectly builds on the core mechanic of just walkin round. Gone Home doesn't have the choices but it nails the narrative depth. There's a special quality of a good narrative game that sets up a well-defined world but leaves enough things out that the player has to fill in the rest with their own imagination.

The Stanley Parable (Galactic Cafe), Gone Home (Fullbright), Icarus Needs (Stillmerlin), A Duck Has An Adventure (Daniel Merlin Goodbrey)

2014 wish list for the industry:

With so many great digital distribution platforms and the console maker's willingness to embrace indies I think the distribution situation is in really good shape. If you've got a good game idea, you can find interest and sales without the huge marketing budgets or PR machines that were necessary a few years ago. Technology has also reached a nice plateau and the process of making games is easier, cheaper, and more accessible than ever. I don't want to make any precise predictions about the future, but if things just stay on the same trajectory as 2013 then we can look forward to lots more great indie games. Especially in my favorite categories of non-traditional, subversive, and narrative games I expect more and more creative people to produce more and more interesting games.


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