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Independent game devs pick their favorite games of 2013 (part 2)

Independent game devs pick their favorite games of 2013 (part 2)

January 16, 2014 | By John Polson

January 16, 2014 | By John Polson
More: Console/PC, Social/Online, Smartphone/Tablet, Indie, Design

IndieGames follows up with more of the devs behind the top 10 indie games of 2013, asking what they hope from the industry in 2014, along with what their most memorable games were. Today's collection includes members from The Stanley Parable HD, SteamWorld Dig, Sharecart1000, and another from the fabulous Ridiculous Fishing team.

Ridiculous Fishing developer Rami Ismail of Vlambeer

2013's top games:

Let's get the obvious picks out of the way first. There's no way of overstating just how important games like Papers, Please, Gone Home, Antichamber and The Stanley Parable HD were to the mainstream acceptance of our little corner of gaming. On mobile and handheld, Device 6 made a big impact on me, and The Legend Of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Animal Crossing: New Leaf and Persona 4: Golden all weaselled their way into my daily ritual in ways I haven't experienced since I started making games at Vlambeer.

rami fishing.jpg
We had a wonderful year for Local Multiplayer, with both Samurai Gunn and Towerfall likely to have caused many game developers favourite moment of the year. I want to mention The Last of Us if only for that tremendously impactful introduction, and I loved the fluidity of combat in DMC: Devil May Cry. On the other end, I think the jam scene had an amazing year. Ludum Dare 28 spawned both The Day The Laughter Stopped and Titan Souls, the first being perfect as is and the second leaving so much room to grow into a full project.

Earlier this year, Vlambeer's co-hosted 7DFPS game jam led to SUPERHOT, which I still think has potential to be something really interesting. And is The Iconoclasts out yet? No? Maybe next year then. With how that game is shaping up, it is going to be on one of my end of years lists, I can promise you that.

2014 wish list for the industry:

I argued a week ago that 2013 was a year of buildup, a year of positioning pieces in a way that allow the industry to really make progress in 2014. We'll see a new wave of indie games launch on all platforms, ranging from phones to consoles, platforms that are all increasingly accessible for developers - and hopefully the platforms continue to evolve in the direction of inclusivity. While I expect triple-A games to become even more overwhelming, defining themselves more and more by a set of defined content rather than just graphical prowess, I do also believe that larger indie studios will become increasingly capable of competing with them directly. I think indies will become more confident, hopefully somewhat reverting the race to the bottom of yesteryear, but I also think the term 'indie' has become so fragmented that it's usability is about to expire or evolve.

I also hope that we'll find a new platform that can handle all the up- and coming indies now that other platforms are focusing on the more experienced develoeprs. seems like it might be that platform, essentially being a Bandcamp for games, and I expect great things of the service. Finally, my hopes are that there will be more progress regarding the topic of diversity, whether it is gender, race, or sex-related, but also from a socio-geographical perspective - emerging territories in the Middle East, South America, Africa and Asia deserve a larger podium as well.

And for all that talk in 2013 of an indie bubble? If they mean that ongoing changes in the industry mean that some established developers are going to have to adapt or disappear, and that others will have the ability to create new and wonderful things, I'm all for that. We've seen what stagnation brings, and the worst thing that could happen is that at the end of 2014 we look back and think 'wow, nothing really happened this year'.

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The Stanley Parable's Davey Wreden (top) and William Pugh of Galactic Cafe

2013's top games:

Limits and Demonstrations, The Entertainment: Kentucky Route Zero is an amazing game, but I'm particularly compelled by the two interlude pieces they've created between central Acts of the game. These interludes do not simply exist on their own, they occupy a nebulous liminal space between Acts, which are themselves liminal spaces between spaces. The fact that these games can contextualize and support a bigger game while still being utterly compelling as games on their own is a remarkable feat of narrative design.

A Dark Room: This year saw quite a few watch-the-number-go-up games achieve popularity, but A Dark Room stood out for us because of the emotional core it brought to this very frivolous mechanic. The number-going-up is not the game's raison d'etre, it is a conduit for a story about discovery, surprise, and loss. A tremendously human experience laid on top of a frivolous mechanic, we love it.

Antichamber is like a big melting pot full of everything we love about games. we think it's pretty profound and smart and very very clever. But where a lot of other very clever games detach you emotionally from their experiences, we felt incredibly wrapped up in Antichamber's sprawling blanket of warmth and genius. Exploring it's twisting hallways felt like a conversation with both a magnificent prankster and a very good friend.

Proteus creates this wonderful space for your mind to live in - even if it's just for a while. It's super rare for a game to provide such a lasting and rich feeling of peace and tranquillity for such an extended amount of time. It's a real adventure for us - it brings us back to going on walks in the woods with my mum. It's so rare that we find a game that really fills us with such child-like awe and joy. Proteus is brilliant!

Papers, Please: We often see discussion about how Papers, Please is a game of oppression, evil, drudgery and hardship. But much to the contrary we personally feel that it's an incredibly hopeful game! It's so bursting with life and humanity, it evokes such a complex range of emotions. It can be harsh and oppressive, but it can also be redemptive, surprising, optimistic, and at times incredibly funny! In yours truly's opinion, a game that so celebrates the spectrum of human emotion could only have been made with genuine love and affirmation for that spectrum.

2014 wish list for the industry:

I'd love to see more promotion done that actually stems from the same design sensibility used to create the game itself. As in, I'd really like to see marketing that is as thoughtful and deliberate as the game it's promoting, for creators to be able to get their name out and make a living without sacrificing the integrity of their design.

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Alexander Martin (droqen), co-creator of Sharecart1000

2013's top games:

Corrypt: I don't think I have anything clever to say about Corrypt except that its world is beautiful & fascinating, and I wouldn't change it for anything.

It's at the top of my list for a reason, though, so it'd be a shame to leave it at that. When you gain power it's seductive and powerful; a resource to be managed and purchased; collected and not wasted. It's some really potent stuff, granting you the power to break through any obstacle in the game -- or a few at once, if you're really clever about it. That ability's inter-room potential alone has been really inspiring, but once the honeymoon phase of MAGIC wears off... that's when the real Corrypt starts.

FJORDS: Whenever I watch people unfamiliar with platformers play platformers I find myself a little frustrated: most commonly (and most strangely) I see a reluctance to jump and move at the same time, resulting in awkward, too-short jumps. When FJORDS came along it treated me to a thoroughly alien 'platformer' experience. I came into it with certain expectations: I should be able to get around by jumping, for example. Quickly I had to let that one go -- because if I hadn't, I would have never made any progress. Instead I had to throw myself headfirst into its strange modes of moving.

Plus I'm really a fan of maps, and it's one of the few games I fully mapped out this year. For pizza.

Save the Date: You make a choice in a game, and it ends terribly. Game over. Clearly, you made the wrong choice somewhere along the line -- you'll make another choice next time, The Right Choice, and there won't be any ninjas and nobody will die. In most games save-stating or simply restarting the entire game allows you to explore every possibility until you find the best one: the much-desired GOOD ENDING.

Save the Date plays with a lot of these concepts and instead of putting up a facade, it deals with the reality; and it does so very well. It goes beyond being a self-aware game: it affords you the ability to be a self-aware player.

SpyParty: In an entirely different category than the above games, Spy Party is a really unique 2-player competitive game about picking a spy (human) out of a crowd of unaware partygoers (AI). It's weird to me that there might still be people out there who haven't heard of this game, but it's a very involved asymmetric game the likes of which haven't really been seen before. If I could trick myself into making more multiplayer games, Spy Party is one of the first games I'd look to for inspiration.

Papers, Please: I think games are great at a lot of things, and until Papers, Please came long I felt like one of those things was definitely not 'convincing interactions with humans'. Clearly the interactions in Papers, Please are limited -- you can stamp a passport with yes or no, and you make a few other choices now and then and that's it, but precisely because of those restrictions I found it to be the most genuine sort of human-human experience I've ever had in a game.

This is such a small part of why so many other people like Papers, Please; but it's the most important part for me. Certainly there are other reasons why it's great, but look up or down and you'll probably find them. I love it for the framing of face-to-face human interaction that made me not pay so much attention to the boundaries themselves.

2014 wish list for the industry:

I save hardly any of my brain for thoughts about "the industry"! - it's an everchanging fabric of games to me and everything I want out of the industry is the games that come out of it. I want people making games to take the leaps we've already made and leap further. The games I mentioned above are good examples (I think!) of interesting leaps that have come out of people who make games this year, but they're not the only examples.

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SteamWorld Dig developer Brjann Sigurgeirsson of Image & Form

2013's top games:

Year Walk: Everybody's hailing Simogo for Device 6, and rightfully so - it's a masterpiece. But incredible as it may seem, they actually made an even better game in 2013, and this is it. Rich yet lean, atmospheric, understated, enigmatic, beautiful and downright shockingly frightening at times.

Papers, Please: Well, obviously this disturbing and thought-provoking game must make the list. Games don't have to produce adrenaline or euphoria to be great, they can be a joy to play anyway. There's been discussion whether Papers, Please lacks fun, and that's a non-issue. Just get it.

Guacamelee: Beautiful, clever and irresistible, and for some reason pitted against SteamWorld Dig in a lot of handheld GOTY discussions. DrinkBox is picking up just as many of those awards as we are (or more), and those bastards have the audacity to be wonderful guys too. Wonderfulness must be encouraged.

Stick It To The Man!: What, I don't get to nominate yet another Swedish title? I'm afraid that Stick It could fly under the radar for a lot of people, so it must be mentioned everywhere. This crazy, wonderful game is sort of an action puzzle platformer, but that's not relevant. Rather, the game's 100+ insane characters and the marvellous dialogs - and seemingly endless monologs - make it a must-have.

Chess: OK, chess maybe wasn't released in 2013 - or anytime in the past millennium for that matter - but it's my list, and it'll be the best game on the planet any given year. The only game I've played for at least an hour every day for the past four decades, and I always want to play more.

2014 wish list for the industry:

Come on Apple, it's urgent: The App Store may be shock-full of games, but that's not enough. Do one of these things immediately - or both:

(1) Come back to being the most inventive company in the world, and solve the App Store problems of near-invisibility and frozen top charts. Make it easier for consumer to find *great* games, and stop focusing on subpar monetizers for non-gamers! You will not only entice talented indies to return to iOS, but you will also establish yourself as a premium-content platform. I believe the base content for this "shift" is there already. Keep the sales charts as they are, but also establish a genre-specified "best-of" or "gamers' choice" chart, where the highest-rated games (with some pretty high minimum number of user reviews) can be put on parade. Yes, this list will also be quite static, but games already bought could be grayed-out and only briefly described. That way we can tick off that list one game at a time. And with all the great games coming out, we'll never stop buying!

(2) Start moderating the torrent of content for quality. It's *your* platform, *you* should decide which games make it. I don't think developers would be discouraged by raised quality standards. I'm positive your consumers won't be.

[Originally posted on sister site]

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