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Minecraft, Fez, Spy Party And More: The Future Of Indie Games

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Posted November 1, 2011 - By Guest Writer


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Minecraft Introduces Snowmen

The Future of Indies

Indie games have absolutely exploded in recent years, aided by the phenomenal success of mobile platforms, PC download platforms and the console downloadable services. While big games get bigger (in terms of scope and budget), the indie scene has blossomed with smaller games, titles that take risks and experiment with everything from controversial themes to crazy mechanics to funky art styles.

In fact, many established developers have been striking off from the so-called big leagues and going indie. The greater creative freedom afforded by smaller studios (sometimes even one or two-person teams) has made for a renaissance of more provocative titles that eke out new territory in the land of interactive entertainment.

Indie popularity and accessibility has never been greater – and the best indies have become blockbuster hits – just ask Mojang (Minecraft) or Rovio (Angry Birds) about the “starving artist” stereotype. It’s a fast-moving landscape, with enormous innovation.

Here are a few of the brightest new games set to launch onto the scene in the coming months – indies that will change the industry in one way or another.

Face Time: Minecraft Creator Markus "Notch" Persson »


MineCraft

Didn’t this come out in 2009? Well, sort of – the game is still technically in beta, even though it already has its own conference (Minecon). Minecraft is so revolutionary that it spawned its own genre, popularized an incredible, consumer-friendly business model, and created an army of block-loving addicts, some of whom are making truly incredible things in the game, like a computer processor and an entire Zelda-style adventure.

Major milestones will include the game’s official release date on November 18th, 2011, and its delivery to Xbox 360 next year, proving that gamers of every stripe want to get in on the block-crafting action.

Fez

Fez

Fez is a little bit like the Duke Nukem Forever of the indie world – in one (and only one), regard. It’s been in development for a long, long time – years (eons in downloadable game cycles). However, unlike Duke’s unfortunate return, all signs point towards a bright, fresh puzzle-platformer that blends indie charm with accessible mass-market appeal. How’s that for a long wait?

A 2D platformer set in a 3D world; Fez stars a cute little avatar named Gomez and his desire to see the land. Players need to twist the world around him to traverse the clever stages - the mechanic isn’t unlike Crush3D or Super Paper Mario, though it’s employed much more steadily throughout the game. We featured Fez in last week’s “Future of Platformers” article as well, with good reason – its fresh, perspective-shifting gameplay is set to revitalize the genre when it launches next year.

Retro City Rampage Official Trailer »


Retro City Rampage

Notable for both its scope and its incredible, ambitious take on the 8-bit “new retro” style, RCR is an 8-bit “open world” game in the style of Grand Theft Auto III on an NES. In fact, that’s originally how the project started, but creator Brian Provinciano saw the opportunity to do so much more.

The whole game is a parody of older titles – there are references to everything from the expected River City Ransom all the way to Super Mario, but structurally, this is a real sandbox title, with story missions, minigames, and the ability to mess around. For pushing the boundaries of what a retro-style game can be and mixing old and new so elegantly, Vblank’s debut will no doubt mark new territory upon it’s release early next year.

Journey Gamescom 2011 Trailer »


Journey

It seems everything that comes from ThatGameCompany (Fl0w, Flower) deserves a spot on an influential indies list, and that goes doubly so for the upcoming Journey. Sporting a unique aesthetic and truly new co-op gameplay, the title sees players taking over an avatar in a sandy, stylized desert. You must cooperate with another player – without using any sort of traditional means (there are no mics in Journey) to make it through to a tall mountain in the far distance.

It has an incredible pedigree – Flower, in particular was a polished, intriguing experience, and the team has proven to be no slouch in the innovation department – and it plays like something truly rare and new. It serves to show that indie design sensibilities don’t need to come attached with rudimentary graphics or sound (all of the studio’s titles can easily be called gorgeous and polished), or inaccessible gameplay to truly make a statement.

Spy Party First Look Preview »


Spy Party

Chris Hecker (Spy Party’s sole developer) previously worked with Will Wright at Maxis (notably on Spore), making him something of a poster boy for the AAA to indie movement. His hotly anticipated title places asymmetrical competitive play at the very center of the experience – players take the role of either an assassin (with one bullet in his/her sniper rifle), or a spy in a glass-walled party, interacting with other guests. The spy needs to accomplish certain goals without giving herself away, while the assassin needs to figure out just who the spy is in a sea of similar-looking avatars.

It’s a simple concept that will no doubt prove easy to grasp and near impossible to master (that’s Hecker’s goal). He’s spending a great deal of time balancing the experience to ensure that neither hunter nor hunted has the advantage, and breaking new ground for truly engaging and fresh asymmetric play.

The Witness

The Witness

The Witness is a unique new 3D puzzle game from Jonathon Blow (Braid), with a focus on first-person exploration and a complex storyline. It’s all set on a mysterious island, and Blow is keeping the details close to the chest, while promising a non-linear game full of “magic moments” of puzzle solving zen.

Blow is focused on the impossibly hard-to-quantify experience of using your own noggin to figure things out, which is a huge part of what makes The Witness stand out. Careful, clever design and a disregard for conventional wisdom will set this apart next year when it arrives on PC and iOs devices – and you can bet that other games will crib from it as well. The Witness may well do for the first person puzzler what Braid did for the puzzle-platformer just a few short years ago.

Danielle Riendeau is a freelance writer, digital media professor, and nonprofit web ninja from Boston. You should

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