Hey there, I’m Rob Ottone. I’m new to Chud, but have been lurking around the site for a very long time. I’ll be writing regularly, covering indie gaming and all of its highs and lows. Why indie gaming, you ask? Indie gaming is one of the few places in modern video games where the artist/creator can truly express something or make a statement.
I’ve also been fortunate enough to work in indie gaming for the past few years, having been a member of the team behind the Decay series released on the XBOX Live Indie Games scene. I’ve also worked on a slew of other titles, and presently have two games in development, one with my own indie label (Nice Guy Games) and another with a studio in the UK.
This list is certainly not to decry big-budget game developers, as they, too, can often be thoughtful and meditative on a subject (I’m looking at you, Bioshock), but more often than not, big-budget, Triple-A titles are less apt to be controversial or take risks.
This list is meant to shed some light on the indie gaming scene. These are simply my choices for the best indie games 2011. These are the games I come back to, the ones I recommend to friends who are just discovering indie games, whether through the mass-appeal of Bastion or through the atmospheric darkness of Limbo. That’s my goal here at Chud. To spread awareness of the indie gaming scene.
What defines an “indie” game, anyway? These are games created by small teams without any kind of support from a publisher. Now, a game like Bastion is indie through and through, it was published by Warner Bros. Interactive for console release, but was developed by a small team of designers. For every Bastion, there are countless indies that go unnoticed by the general gaming public. Microsoft and PSN both have their outlets for indie gaming, and new releases drop every day. If you’re a fan of supporting “the little guy”, then by all means, check out these eight titles.
8. Max and The Magic Marker (Developer: Press Play) With sharp, colorful visuals (something I’m a huge fan of) Max and the Magic Marker found its way into my heart. Fantastic platforming action, inspired art design and a charming story of a boy who happens upon a magic marker that brings a monster (born from the boy’s own imagination, a la Forbidden Planet!) to life are all brilliant aspects of this indie adventure. Personally, I’m a sucker for a solid platformer, and while there are plenty of those available in the indie sphere, Max and The Magic Marker wins the day for me due to its original and innovative storyline of imagination gone awry. Available on Steam for 19.99
7. Udder Chaos (Developer: Jusy Lover) Simpsons-like visuals are on order in this 4-player co-op shooter. Very old-school in presentation, with simple crosshairs and smart bombs on-screen, players are tasked with blasting aliens out of the sky before the abduct the livestock on a small farm. What started as a simple trial turned into a full-fledged experience as I annihilated wave after wave of alien invaders. Frantic gameplay in the later levels was a welcomed aspect to the game, as I had saved up plenty of smart bombs. Available on the Xbox Live Indie Games section for 80 Microsoft Points (about a dollar).
6. Battleheart (Developer: Mika Mobile, Inc.) The only true mobile title on the list, Battleheart is a deceptively deep strategy/rpg/hack and slash with beautiful character and art design. It helps that the game is coupled with an incredibly simple control scheme that allow for even younger players to pick the game up and play. The difficulty level ramps up as the player progresses and presents a nice challenge for seasoned vets. Available on various mobile platforms for $2.99
5. The Binding of Isaac (Developers: Edmund McMillen and Florian Himsl) Zelda-inspired gameplay with an incredibly horrific story about a child stalked by his Bible-thumping psychopath of a mother from the creators of Super Meat Boy coupled with an insane difficulty level and randomized dungeons Multiple endings add to the replayability and make for a wildly different experience every time out. I’m not going to lie, this game is tough. What started as an exercise in frustration (the game was gifted to me by a friend through Steam) grew into genuine love after I picked it up through a Humble Indie Bundle purchase. Available on Steam for $4.99
4. Atom Zombie Smasher (Developer: Blendo) Perhaps the most batshit insane entry on this list, Atom Zombie Smasher is a strategy title where the player (using various military units and weapons, as well as a playable helicopter) must evacuate various cities in a fictional Latin American country that has been under siege from the undead. The cities themselves are sparse, simple geometric shapes (not unlike the other titles from developer Blendo), with green and purple coloring to distinguish between humans and the undead, the game makes great use of increasing difficulty and various staging grounds for the rescue missions. The game uses historical entries from the country’s past to discuss famous moments in the zombie scourge, as well as developments in the fight against the undead. Another game that, while difficult, is also incredibly rewarding. As I progressed, I felt like I was running into a zombie buzzsaw, but eventually, evacuations became a touch easier with proper weapon and unit placement. Repetition is key for this game. Available on Steam for $9.99.
3. Revenge of the Titans (Developer: Puppy Games) A tower defense/RTS title that puts the player in control of various planetary defenses fighting the intergalactic Titan forces who are bent on annihilating mankind. Investing in various technological breakthroughs opens the door for more powerful weapons to use in the ensuing invasion. Defending each planet and facing down the Titan forces (which range from simple grunt units to heavy-hitting, skyscraper-sized brutes) is the key to success, blasting away with missiles and laser canons. I was blown away when I picked this game up as part of a Humble Indie Bundle (initially purchased for Braid), it quickly became my favorite of the bunch due to all the reasons mentioned above. Available on Steam for $9.99
2. The Killer (Developer: Jordan Magnuson) A “non-game” I first played on Newgrounds, The Killer is something that’s best experienced rather than talked about. Jordan Magnuson set out with the goal of creating tiny video games based on his experiences backpacking through southeast Asia. The Killer is the result of his experiences in Cambodia, learning about the Khmer Rouge death squad and the countless Cambodians murdered at their hands. The simplest game on here in terms of visuals, but so powerful in every imaginable way, The Killer is a perfect example of games that make a statement. I found my way to The Killer through a friend who knew I was into “artsy fartsy” games, and have been obsessed with Jordan Magnuson’s work every since. Play it here for free.
1. Trauma (Developer: Krystian Majewski) Created as part of Majewski’s thesis project, Trauma is a point and click graphical adventure about a young woman, who, after getting into a car accident, is piecing her dreamscapes together in an effort to understand what has happened to her. Utilizing panoramic photography, full-motion video and disjointed narration, the player is tasked with unraveling bits of mysteries and dreams from within the woman’s dreamscapes. Another game with multiple endings, Trauma rewards players who invest the time in navigating the always creepy and atmospheric dreamworlds to look for every clue in every corner of the young woman’s mind. This was another “bonus” for me when I picked up the Humble Frozen Synapse Bundle (again, purchased for another game, in this case, Trine). Playing the game late one night while my fiancée slept, I became obsessed with exploring the dreamworld and finding every single clue imaginable. A perfect explorative experience in every way, coupled with solid voiceover work and brilliant, beautiful storytelling. Available on Steam for $6.99
Indie gaming is a beautiful art form. There’s a film making the rounds at various fests right now. There’s news that HBO is developing a mockumentary series about game developers trying to make an indie game. To say that indie gaming is on the precipice of glory is an understatement. Keep checking with Chud for more about indie gaming, the good, the bad and the sometimes ugly.