MOST CREATIVE INDIE GAME STUDIOS
Many students who enroll in our online game design course have dreams of starting their own indie game studio. For this reason, we wanted to create a blog post about indie game studios in general and profile some of the most inspirational game studios out there right now. So let’s jump in.
More and more indie game studios these days are eager to bet on innovation and creativity when designing their indie games. Knowing that their resources and possibilities usually are not enough to compete with the big titles, they have to grab people’s focus on other planes, such as the story, art and mechanics. A dire need for innovation amongst indie game developers is often a result of the domination of triple-A games on the market and the merciless criticism of the players. To get noticed, indie developers have to come with something new and daring but at the same time adequately appealing in reception. Of course having a solid video game marketing plan in place is of paramount importance. But there is no video game advertising service in the world tha can make a bad game great.
There is no doubt that with the innovation also comes a challenge of carving your spot on the ever-changing game market, but this is the risk that small gamedev studios have to take. Without that risk, we wouldn’t have aesthetically pleasing and ground-breaking games, such as Journey by Thatgamecompany and Baba Is You by Hempuli Oy both of which received a huge recognition amongst the players all around the world.
In this article we will present you a list of indie game studios that moulded the most innovative games of all time, and explain the reason for their success. Without further ado, fasten your seatbelts, and get ready for a dose of blissful refreshment in the world of video games!
Imagine a game with no rules. Ok… that may be a little bit of an exaggeration since any game has to have certain technical and gameplay boundaries imposed by the developers. Instead, try to imagine a game where you are the one to create the rules. Now that’s more likely and certainly sounds like fun! Baba Is You created by a Finnish indie developer Arvi Teikari, also known as Hempuli Oy, is one of these games which offer you tools and allow you do with them whatever you want.
Baba Is You is a puzzle game which puts you in the shoes of a pixelated white rabbit with the goal of capturing the flags in each and every level. To do so, you have to manipulate and rotate word blocks appearing on the game screen, including the given utterance “BABA IS YOU”. Try removing “BABA” from the phrase and replacing it by any other name of the object on the map, for instance a “ROCK”, to turn yourself into a rock and reach your goal much easier. The options are as many as there are objects on the map, so it leaves you with plenty of ways how to go through the levels.
Just like the majority of independent game developers, Arvi considered the industry as nothing more than just a hobby, and it remained his hobby even after he won Nordic Game Jam 2017 with Baba Is You. This is the reason of his success. The sheer purpose of creating a clever and outstanding puzzle game while using minimal resources. Instead of making the players obey the rules inscribed into the game, they have a chance to make their own rules by rotating, moving and manipulating word blocks the way they want. Proving again a golden rule of the indie industry that “less means more”, Hempuli Oy managed to create a game with highly innovative gameplay and plenty of freedom, which gained a visible recognition even amongst the most demanding players all around the world.
If you’re fan of interactive puzzle games, then we have something that will hit your taste just right! An independent, Swedish Android and iOS game developer Martin Magni, recently brought to life 2 innovative brain-triggering games named Odd Bot Out (2015) and Mekorama (2016) and is currently working on the third game Fancade. Both released games put you in the shoes of a robot who tries to find a way out of the building complexes and labyrinths filled with traps, platforms, ledges, hallways and dead ends. Both games also make you push the limits of your logical thinking of how to figure out the puzzles in order to help your clumsy robo-pupils.
In Odd Bot Out, a platform puzzle game, your goal is to help a cute little robot named Odd in escaping the factory after he failed a standardised test and nearly ended his short existence in a recycle bin. The core of Odd Bot Out is a gripping yet simple in its form gameplay that require from you a lot of thinking and planning on multiple levels of how to help your robot-protagonist in various situations. The environment of the game is highly interactive. You can push, pull, pick up and drag objects, levers and other robots you meet on your path.
Similarly to Magni’s debut game, in Mekorama you are helping a clumsy robot named B (apparently because of its bumbling movements and yellow and black paint job) on his way getting through the towers, labs, houses and other 3D generated structures. To do it right, you will have to help him remove obstacles from the way by tapping on the game screen and move blocks marked with circles. You can also rotate the view by 360 degrees, climb on different elevations, open doorways and poke other gawky robots to clear out your path.
What’s so special about both of these games is that they are not guiding you by the hand. There are barely any hints available, and most of the time you will have to work out the solution on your own. Even though every level is different and challenging in its own way, the gameplay remains the same, so despite initial frustration, there will be a moment in which you will get used to the gameplay. Both Odd Bot Out and Mekorama are great examples proving that interactive puzzle games with appealing yet simple mechanics are still doing well in the times of huge, triple-A games that govern the rules of today’s gaming industry.
Finding a great horror game today is nearly as impossible as watching a truly scary film, and we’re not talking here about jump scares or other tested means of evoking distress and disturbance in the audience. Fortunately, there is Limbo (2010) and its spiritual sequel Inside (2017), two independent games created by Playdead – a Danish indie game development company, that will let you dig deep into the very heart of darkness. In this review, we will describe both games simultaneously, due to their striking resemblance in the general atmosphere.
Both in Limbo and Inside you play as young boys that are lost in a dystopian, dark world. Don’t expect, however, in any of these games a masked guy chasing you with a chainsaw or a situation in which you will stumble upon a horde of brainless zombies. The horror in Limbo and Inside is far more genuine than that. The gameplay is utterly bleak, dark-toned graphics are depressing and there is barely any sound to hear. Everything is maintained in a very minimalistic, yet at the same time disturbing theme which perfectly blends with the story of being lost in a dangerous, unknown environment.
The story is told not through dialogues but through the exploration and our very capability of connecting the dots of what we see on the screen. In both games we have 3 interactive actions that we can perform: run, jump and grab. Thanks to them we can solve puzzles and advance to next levels. The games offer you little or no hints at all. This is what increases the feeling of being lost and devoid of all hopes. If you ever played any Dark Souls game, you might feel almost at home.
If you’re searching for aesthetically pleasing side-scrolling platform puzzle games with elements of horror, Limbo and Inside by Playdead should be your best bets. With little resources utilised, both titles prove the highest quality and the capability of indie gamedev studios in creating small in scope, yet at the same time so deep and genuinely imposing stories told solely by exploration, discovery and realisation.
There is no doubt that the most important goal of a video game producer is to make sure that the players will enjoy the gameplay of his or her product. A game without a gripping story can inspire you, but it won’t hold you for long. This is why many past and present games struggle at maintaining a happy medium between the gameplay and the story. Thankfully, there are some games that managed to tell a gripping tale as well as employ an adequately interesting gameplay. One of these is an adventure game named Journey by Thatgamecompany.
Just like the previous titles created by the studio, Journey carries out the central philosophy of Thatgamecompany, namely evoking thorough and profound feelings and emotions in the player. Journey tells a tale not by dialogues, but solely through the visual effects. The story in the most part base on the journey through life, but certain elements are free to our very interpretation.
In the game you become a mysterious robed figure dressed in a long scarf, whose central goal is to reach a top of the mountain, glimmering in a distance. Having little of explanation by the game itself, you begin your Hero’s Journey through life with its ups and downs. Early game areas appear to be more blissful, emphasising the juvenile period in one’s life. Other, are much darker, marking the hardships that we all have to face until we can eventually emerge into the light. After reaching your final goal and learning what’s the life about, your journey won’t end there, since from then you will become a guardian angel of another player, who you will guide on their own journey towards their life goal.
Journey is an example of an indie game that unlike the majority of video games today fills up with profound and genuine emotions rather than offers us a feast for eyes and ears only. The fact that we are not given with any premade information at the beginning of our adventure, we learn of our purpose only once we have gone through our path from bottom to top, and so we can carry that knowledge to other players, who are lost and seek their own purpose just like we previously did. The combination of artistic graphics and a minimalistic scope of the game, makes it a pure example of how well indie game developers can weave their idea for a game and employ their very own message into it.
HIGHEST QUALITY OR FRESH IDEAS?
The reason why indie game developers are more eager to come up with more innovative products is quite simple and straightforward. If we don’t know what’s it all about, it’s usually about money, and here the thing is no different. Studios that create triple-A games do not want to or simply cannot bet on innovative and untested ideas because of the risk of losing money. They need press for their video games. And somtimes, being innovite doesn’t translate into sales.
On the other hand, however, independent game creators that work on a budget don’t have much to lose but have a lot to win if their product gain recognition amongst the critics and the regular players alike. By choosing triple-A games, we usually have a certainty of quality, but if we are hoping for a change in the industry, we should put our trust in the budding indie game developers that may come up with fresh and innovative ideas.