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Time to play

Independent games creators and studios are not owned by, or dependent on, a major publisher like Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony. This allows them an increased level of freedom to experiment with game forms and mechanics.

In this step, we look at a handful of influential, interesting and important games. It is a starting point for you to begin exploring the kind of games that indie developers make. Go play!

  1. Minecraft Game successes don’t come much bigger than that experienced by Markus Persson, known as Notch, who created Minecraft. The achievements of Minecraft are all the more remarkable as it was initially developed by a single game developer. Released on Mojang, the studio which Notch founded with early sales from the game, it was later acquired by Microsoft in 2014 for a stunning £2.5bn. There are many modes of play in Minecraft, and the core gameplay is based on sandbox world made up of 3D blocks - such as stone, dirt, water, lava - which can be moved around, mined and used as a resource. Why is it interesting? It was a HUGE commercial success.

  2. Monument Valley Monument Valley was released by UsTwo games, a relatively new games studio, in 2014. Played on phones, it pushed the boundaries of what that genre could do and be. Set in an isometric world, Princess Ida finds her way through optical illusions and strange objects, and the “art was designed so that each frame would be worthy of public display”. The visual language has a beauty and serenity that some consider to be art, unlike so many of the games that preceded it. Monument Valley abandoned the traditional mechanics of the casual phone game entirely and reinvented what a casual game could be. Why is it interesting? It redefined what a casual mobile game could look like, feel like and be.

  3. Pokemon Go Okay, so Pokemon Go didn’t come out of an indie studio but it has been hugely influential in the indie sector. It also has been a huge social phenomenon, and the first game of its kind to be played out on mobile phones. Pokemon Go uses real-world mapping and AR to place Pokemon into the world around you, and your task is to go out and capture them with your poke balls. It has attracted gamers and non-gamers alike and brings together strangers in the real to play through raids (collaborative play) together, making gaming more visible to all. Why is it interesting? It made casual gaming a massively collaborative real-world activity.

  4. Gone Home You play the role of Katie, who is returning from a trip to her rural Oregon home and finds her family are gone, leaving her to piece together what happened through the exploration of the house. Gone Home is verging on horror, certainly spooky and remarkable for its treatment of the story and characters which has a long-lasting and affecting impact on players. The game was also praised for addressing LGBT issues, also rare in games. Why is it interesting? It achieved the deep levels of emotional engagement with the simplest gameplay techniques.

  5. Papers Please Developed by Lucas Pope, in Papers Please you play an immigration officer working at a fictional border checkpoint in the early 1980s. Your job is to check the immigration papers of those passing through and you’re rewarded for processing people and punished for mistakes. The game requires players to make moral decisions and is understood to be one of the finest examples of an empathy game. It allows players to inhabit the character’s emotional world and explore their real-world ethics and motivations within the safety of a game environment. It’s been praised for the depth of immersion into the world and succeeding in creating an intense emotional reaction in players. Why is it interesting? It enabled players to explore moral issues through deeply affecting gameplay.

So there’s the tiniest taster of some great games. Spend a bit of time (or a lot) exploring these games and others from the same creators. If you can’t access the game, you can watch gameplay on YouTube. What did you enjoy or think was worthwhile in these games? Are there games you think your fellow learners should experience?

Remember, there is no right or wrong answer. This is a totally subjective step. Share your experiences!

Have your say

To get you started thinking about indie games and the communities involved in playing and creating them, what do you think are the characteristics of an indie game? How do you think indie games are different to games produced by large studios?

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This article is from the free online course:

Introduction to Indie Games

UAL Creative Computing Institute