We've got our eye on you
This week, GamesRadar is celebrating independent development in gaming. Were talking to some of the most important names in the business and showcasing some exciting upcoming indie games. But as our "Ask an indie developer" series proves, its important to know the people behind the games. And theres always new talent worth learning about.
Youve likely heard of famous indie superstars like Braids Jonathan Blow, Fezs Phil Fish, and Super Meat Boys Team Meat, either from stories online or from the great film Indie Game: The Movie. However, the indie community is filled with promising new faces youve likely not heard of; to fix that, weve collected eight of our favorites out there. Some may have just finished a Kickstarter for their first title; others mayve been around for years and are about to make a splash with their next game. But all of these developers are worth remembering.
Yacht Club Games
Shovel Knight might be the first project from Yacht Club Games, but the teams background is hard to argue with. The group was formed recently by former members of developer WayForward, with Sean Velasco heading up the team. At WayForward, Velasco was director on 2D throwbacks like A Boy and His Blob, BloodRayne: Betrayal, and Double Dragon: Neon. All those games had clear affection for retro titles, and Velascos new team at Yacht Club looks ready to embrace those sensibilities with even more gusto.
Those previous WayForward games had lovely hand-drawn graphics, but Shovel Knight ditches those clean lines for the warm, hard-edged nostalgia of pixels. The looks seems particularly fitting when the game appears to be such a love letter to NES classics like Mega Man and Castlevania. But if Yacht Club hits it big with Shovel Knight, will their next game be as economically retro? Well be watching closely to see how Shovel Knight does when it hits PC, Wii U, and 3DS soon.
Thomas Was Alone made some waves when the experimental platformer got a proper PC release in 2012, and Mike Bithells lovely title was introduced to a whole new audience a year later when it came to PS3 and Vita. The charming narration, subtle score, and progressively challenging puzzles made players invested in characters that were simple squares and rectangles. If Bithell could make us care about such simple shapes, it makes you wonder what he could do with more detailed characters, which hell likely do in his next game, Volume.
Volume is a stealth puzzle title, but one where the unnamed lead takes a non-lethal approach. Players will use different distractions to get around guards and navigate twisty maps. Though much of the story is still wrapped in mystery, a big aspect of the game is community involvement, with Bithell asking players to design maps of their own, and even redesign the core levels of the game. While we wait for more info on Bithells promising next creation, get to know the man better in this fascinating piece on the creation of Thomas Was Alone.
Gears for Breakfast
At one time, 3D platformers like Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie were the biggest thing in gaming. But the collect-a-thon genre (as the Gears for Breakfast team calls it) has virtually disappeared from gaming. Perhaps its Rares fault for adding too many collectible doodads to titles like Donkey Kong 64 and Star Fox Adventures, but Gears for Breakfasts head Jonas Krlev isnt ready to give up on that style of game just yet. Thats why he brought together a handful of developers from across the world and started work on A Hat in Time.
The graphics are comparable to Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, but the open world level design would be at right home on the N64. If nothing else, Krlev and the Gears team has won our interest by recreating a style of game that many had abandoned. After a very successful Kickstarter, the team is working hard on getting the 3D adventure ready for a PC release, with their eyes also on a potential Wii U launch, a system that would make a fitting home for A Hat in Time.
This team might have put out the most games of any dev on this list, but by our estimation, not enough people are paying attention to Capybara. Luckily, we think thats about to change. Named after the largest breed of rodent in the world, the Toronto-based studio got its start making iOS games for several years before impressing PS3 owners with a port of the rainbow-vomiting Critter Crunch. The team then rebranded Might & Magic as a smart puzzle game across multiple platforms, and followed that by releasing Superbrothers, which appeared on multiple lists of best iOS games. The team is now gearing up for two big releases thatll likely make them one of the most high-profile indie devs around.
First up is Super T.I.M.E. Force, a totally tubular 90s-style shooter with a chronological twist: versions of yourself from previous timelines back you up as you battle monstrous bosses. Then theres Below, a title we know little about, but is one of the leading indie games coming to Xbox One. In fact, Microsoft is so gung-ho about Capybara that Xbox exec Phil Spencer wore a shirt with the teams logo during the E3 2013 press conference. If Microsoft thinks Capy is worth their attention, shouldn't you give their games a chance?
Young Horses Inc.
We doubt most of you would want to share your college projects with close friends, let alone the whole world (we know we wouldnt). But it was a student gaming project that brought a number of DePaul University students together to form Young Horses. The group made headlines at GDC 2011 with a little game called Octodad--so much so that some of the classmates quickly formed a team to release the project officially. Thus Young Horses was born, and theyve been working to refine Octodad ever since.
While many big-name indie titles have their roots in iconic retro classics, Octodads strange approach to environmental puzzles is entirely unique.The undersea creature just wants to be a good father, but his floppy, sticky arms arent making it easy for him, both in the original game and its follow-up Octodad: Dadliest Catch. Young Horses has been working on the game for some time as a PC title, but their undersea stepfather is now headed to the PS4 as well, a development that was announced when the developer took the stage at Sonys memorable E3 press conference in 2013. The team looks ready to lead the charge of Sonys next-gen indie titles, so PS4 owners better get their suction cups ready.
This Canadian trio of developers came together to create a title at a game jam in Toronto, and the three men have stuck together since 2011. Matt Hammill, Jamie Tucker, and Adam Winkels' first project was the simple ninja skydiving game Shuriken Skies, which made falling through the sky a frantic, multiplayer competition for the last parachute. Asteroid Base looks to continue that commitment to cute visuals and intense multiplayer with Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime.
Lovers is a space shooter that depends on quick thinking in co-op, and was born out of a desire to recreate the frantic scene from Star Wars with Luke and Han rushing around the Millenium Falcon to shoot down TIE Fighters. Only now, there are multiple turrets, and you and your friend get to fight over which one of you is Han. Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime has been earning positive buzz at multiple gaming expos, and its one of the famous PAX 10, a group of indie titles that get special attention at Seattles Penny Arcade Expo. If youre headed there, be sure to say hi to the developers for us.
Licensed games are known for being pushed out to retail as quickly and cheaply as possible, so you'd be forgiven for overlooking Ubisofts GBA version of the ninja turtles game TMNT. The brawler was made by a small team within Ubisoft Montreal and took clear inspiration from the arcade game that older TMNT fans loved. After that nostalgia-tinged game, the teams next project seemed perfectly tailored for them. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was a comic book and film for gamers and by gamers, so its fitting that the video game adaptation was a River City Ransom-style beat em up that paid homage to the source material.
After making such retrotastic creations for Ubi, the team decided it was time to go independent and not invest all their retro gameplay into someone elses properties. Shortly after forming Tribute Games, the appropriately monikered group put out Wizorb, and then began work on their next title, Mercenary Kings. Already available through Steam Greenlight, the in-progress title has impressed us by combining pixelated graphics, Metal Slug gameplay, and Monster Hunters approach to boss battles. And the game is getting even more notoriety as one of a handful of indie titles coming to the PS4. Tribute may have its eyes on the past, but it sure looks to have a rosy future.
Another member of Canadas growing independent community, Compulsion is based in Montreal, though it has a very international sensibility. Studio head Guillaume Provost worked for FPS dev Arkane before forming Compulsion four years ago. His other team members have worked on titles as diverse as Far Cry 3, Too Human, and Darksiders II, and the collective wanted their next game to stand out from the crowd of AAA releases. Contrast certainly should, as we doubt many other titles star an imaginary friend and visuals that combine film noirs shadowy style with vaudeville routines of the 1920s.
Contrast has been the focus of Compulsion since it formed in 2009, and the shadowy puzzle games striking look stands out from the pack--as does its mysterious, tragic narrative of a broken family. Its planned for the end of 2013 on PC, PS3, 360, and PS4, passing on Microsofts next-gen system. And Compulsion was one of the first indie devs to comment on Microsofts slowness at making Xbox One development units available to independent studios. Its heartening to see a rising studio that isnt afraid to make waves on the way up.