Published on October 26th, 2014 | by Kevin Lawson

Indie Games Radar #1: An Intro to the future of Indie Gaming

Back in the 80s and 90s Indie games were the province of the über dorks. Often the work of a single designer coding on a Commadore 64 and later a Net Yaroze or PC, the amateurs who produced these games would often spend years of their life working in their bedrooms hoping that the final product would be met with more than suspicious questions about “what have you been doing up there?” from their parents.

The quality of the games varied widely; some were just poor facsimiles of existing titles, whilst others were intensely personal works that found a cult following. All required hours spent deciphering often poorly written installation instructions, a desire to find workarounds for bugs and, most importantly, the imagination that helped these worlds truly come to life. No matter what type of game they’d made, every designer’s goal was clear: to find an audience big enough to turn their hobby into a profession.

Whilst these motives remain the same, in the modern Indie gaming industry the aim for a talented amateur is no longer to just make a living, it’s to make a fortune. Following the recent sale of Minecraft to Microsoft for $2.5 billion and Rovio’s Angry Birds funded media empire show, successful Indie game designers are rock stars and Mark “I’m CEO bitch” Zuckerberg rolled into one.

In fact the popularity (and by extension distribution network) of post-millennium, virtual stores like the App Store, Steam Greenlight, XBA, Kickstarter, Nintendo and the PSN have managed to tempt entire team of industry professionals away from the safety of their corporate jobs to start their own game companies.

With them they’ve brought a wealth of exciting ideas deemed too ‘risky’ or ‘ambitious’ by the profit obsessed publishers and the technical ability to pull them off. There are still copycat merchants out there – mainly copying Nintendo – but at least users no longer have to run the gauntlet to get a game to install, or struggle with poorly designed controls.

The only real problem with all the success stories is everyone wants to code the next Candy Crush Saga and the marketplace has been flooded, meaning that getting a game noticed early and in the most popular ranking essential for success. The worry about being lost in the noise will led to many developers taking upfront money to make their game an exclusive on one platform, leaving them unable to reach the widest possible market.

Despite this shortcoming, the modern Indie game landscape is in something of a ‘Golden Era’ where developers have the creativity and talent to not only redefine genres but invent new ones too. Listed below (each month thereafter) you’ll find games which are pushing the envelope of interactive entertainment in ways that no one expected or thought possible with a small team of developers.

No Mans Sky (Released Summer 2015) 

Perhaps the best example of this brave new world for Indie game developers has to be Hello Games who – with just ten employees – have created the not just an open world, but an open universe that contains a possible 18 quintillion planets. The disparity between those two numbers is down to the coding voodoo used to procedurally generate the entirety of fictional space. Details about the narrative remain scarce, but as the winner of ‘Best Original Game’ award at this year’s E3, No Mans Sky looks like the sort of space exploration game that gamers have dreamed of for years.

Elite Dangerous (Beta out now)

If next summer is too far to wait to explore space and you’re just not interested in Eve Online, then the latest sequel to Elite – the game that started the genre – is available in a public beta for the PC. Created by world-renowned designer and coder David Braben, Elite Dangerous, as the title suffix suggests, has an emphasis on combat as well as the traditional exploration and trading. It’s early days but according to early adopters dogfights are amazingly tense and tactical affairs, which require players to balance defence (shields) and attack (firepower). 

Rime (TBC)

With the Last Guardian seemingly lost in development hell (at this stage I’m not sure I ever want it to come out and ruin the good name of team Ico) it seems that Tequila Works adventure/puzzle game Rime will have to fill the void. With its stunning art direction and an endorsement in the form of a cover story from Edge Magazine, this looks ready to be a critical hit.

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