Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The best indie games on PSN and Xbox Live

Indie, or Independent, game releases have been gaining momentum and notoriety on the PC for some time now. And over the past few years they have turned into a legitimate force on the two main console platforms as well...

The main problem with Indi games has generally been deciding exactly what an Indie game is. Some people seem to forget that ‘Indi’ simply stands for ‘independent’ and generally try to define the games by their game-play or genre, normally calling anything that’s outside the mainstream gaming gamut and ‘Indie’ game. This never really works though, because there’s nothing to stop an Independent developer making a game which is firmly within the mainstream game style, and some of the major developers have released the odd quirky game over the years..

The grey-area comes in trying to define exactly what an Independent publisher really is, and isn’t. Although, I think it’s faire to define a few (but still rather fluffy) rules...

They are not financially backed by a publisher.
They are generally promoted by small or start-up companies.
They tend to be produced by individuals or groups, who may form small companies.
They generally rely heavily on on-line ‘digital-distribution’ markets.
They tend to have much less (or no) resources and budget than mainstream games.
They are not limited to an allocated budget or development schedule and time-frame.
Development is not generally steered by any controlling (corporate) interests.
They do not require publisher approval: many self-publish.
They often rely on the artistic ability, creativity, imagination, and experimentation
 of an individual or very small team.

Because the average Indie software house or private developer does not need to follow any type of project guidelines, or to comply with the current market forces or trends, independent games gave gathered a reputation for innovation an/or a certain quirkiness that sets them aside from the mainstream. But really that can be just as much incidental as by design. Independent developers don’t have access to the vast graphical and budgetary resources a mainstream, publisher backed, title has. It may take one graphic artist six months to animate a tin of beans in a huge mainstream blockbuster game. An independent programmer may have produced most of (if not all) the entire game in that time.

With these guidelines set, I decided to have a look through what, in my humble opinion, are the top 10 best PSN and XboxLive ‘Indie’ offerings.

So here, in no particular order, are my choices:

By –    Jonathan Blow

On –    PSN, Xbox Live
An obvious choice maybe, but for good reason, this is a very clever time-based puzzle game dressed up as a 2D platform game. Definitely one of the Indi winners, Brade has made a lot of money, and impact. Showing just what can be achieved with little budget and a lot of imagination. It was pretty-much universally audited by the gaming press, an attitude that was passed down through many mainstream gamers.
·  Braid has a simple (and I believe intentionally hackneyed) premise; the protagonist, Tim, must attempt to rescue a princess from a monster; but with an exceptionally complicated game structure. Movement consists of left, right, and jump but with the help of time manipulation you can change the position of objects and even position your previous self in order to gain access to previously inaccessible areas.

By –    Experimental Gameplay Project

On –    PSN, Xbox Live
Originally a Flash game, this took the internet gaming scene, then the wider world of gaming, by storm. Proof, if proof were needed, that a simple but compelling concept can gather all the hype and momentum of a fully publicised mainstream release.
·  The premise, and operation, of Canabalt is simple – Run, run from the crumbling city. Jump when you see a gap... Keep running... That’s it.

By –    Thatgamecompany

On –    PSN
I’ve seen Journey referred to as a ‘semi-indie game’ in the press, although I must admit I’m at a loss as to why it should be ‘semi-indi?’ The makers Thatgamecompany are still a small independent software house after all. I can only credit this to the false belief that any really-good 3D third-person game can’t truly be produced by an ‘Indie,’ which is of course complete and utter nonsense. 
·  Journey is an open-world third-person puzzle-based exploration game. And when I say open, I mean open. The player’s character falls to earth somewhere in a remote and seemingly deserter dessert. The character looks towards a distant mountain and the rest is up to you. No further explanation or help is given. You get a real feeling of remoteness, loss, and loneliness whilst playing Journey, and the shifting dessert scenery combined with the almost subliminal soundtrack makes for a very immersive experience.

Noby Noby Boy:           
By –    Keita Takahashi
On –    PSN
Keita Takahashi works for Namco Bandai and this game was released by them, but I believe it can firmly be called an Indie game because the spirit is truly independent and the game was the brainchild of one man... Who happened to have some contacts, but you can’t blame him for that.
·  Noby means ‘stretch’ (amongst other things) in Japanese, and the premise of the game is to stretch your sausage-like ‘Boy’ as far as possible by eating things. The more you eat, the bigger you get, and the more you can eat...  You have to get as big as you can then give your ‘length’ to the Noby Noby Girl who is stretching her way through our solar-system towards the Sun.
Oh dear, it all sounds so wrong when you write it down!

By –    Jenova Chen & Nicholas Clark

On –    PSN
Another game that was originally released in Flash, it got more that 100,000 downloads within the first two weeks of  release, before being converted to the PS 3. This is one of those games that more-or-less have a goal, but the game is in the playing, not necessarily the achieving. This game is what the first stage of ‘Spore’ should have been.
·  In flow you must guide a small segmented-worm type of micro-organism around an aquatic 2D world in an attempt to consume other organisms, in order to grow without being eaten yourself. How you grow and what abilities you gain entirely depend on your diet, you can even eat and regenerate parts of yourself. A definite case of ‘you are what you eat.’ The game is based on a series of ‘planes’ more-or-less levels that the player can switch between whilst growing their creature.

By –    Polytron

On –    Xbox Live
Fez does for perspective what ‘Braid’ does for time, i.e. it muddles it all up and gets you very confused... But In a good way. Fez is based in a fully formed 3D world, and is basically a platform-based puzzle game. The twist is that you must traverse this 3D world through an ever changing series of 2D screen views.
·  You play Gomez, a two-dimensional character who suddenly finds himself in a 3D world. Again a nonsensical story is used as a backdrop to the game-play. But really we all know you don’t need a complicated (or cohesive) story to hold up game like this. You progress through the game by moving around the 2D plane of view by switching the 3D area around until previously inaccessible areas become reachable, with the goal of collecting 32 cubes.

By –    Thatgamecompany

On –    PSN
Flower is one of those programs that some say shouldn’t technically be labelled a ‘game.’ I would have to disagree, but then I don’t have as tight a definition of ‘game’ as some. There is a goal to Flower, and you do progress through ‘levels’ for lack of a better term. So the game elements are there. What you don’t have are any guns, or enemies to shoot at. This is basically a scenery-manipulator-em-up... But if that sounds dull, it isn’t.
·  In flower you start of as one lonely petal, and you must float through the wind to collect more petals from the flowers that litter the landscape. The more petals you collect the bigger you get and the more of the landscape you bloom. You must bloom all the flowers in each are to progress to the next.

By –    Plastic Studios

On –    PSN
This is a relatively short puzzle based first-person moral adventure game based in a surreal forest. The player isn’t told any back-story and is left to wander the forest and discover the truth of their circumstance. The game was apparently written by the independent house for PSN so I’m not sure if it will ever be released anywhere else.
·  The controls of Datura will be familiar enough to anyone who has ever played a first person game. The puzzles left like of a mixture of early Resident Evil and Myst type problems. There are several unique mysteries/puzzles to solve and you can get a good or bad outcome for each. The final outcome, if there is one, is to finish the game with all the good puzzle endings, and the outcome of the puzzles affects what you see towards the end of each play-through.

By –    Playdead

On –    PSN, Xbox Live
Another 2D side on platform game with heavy puzzle elements, Limbo’s stark visuals, fluid life-like movement animations, and compelling physics based puzzles set it head and shoulders above the crowd. And is possibly the closest contender to Braid’s 2D side-on platform Indie crown.
·  In Limbo you play the part of a nameless boy who awakens in a dark and foreboding forest. You aren’t told much of a back-story, apart from the fact that the unnamed boy is searching for his sister. Basic movements are left, right and jump. When you reach puzzle locations you can perform other actions like climbing, pushing and pulling objects.

By –    Amanita Design
On –    PSN
This is a classic point-and-click puzzle based adventure game, very much in the Lucas Arts style, but with absolutely no dialogue whatsoever, spoken or written. Each hi-resolution scene has been individually and lavishly hand-drawn, as have all character and background animations. This was financed entirely from the savings of the 7 independent developers involved with the project.
·  The game is set in a dystopian future where robots are the only form of remaining intelligent life. The player controls Josef, a robot who has just been dumped in the garbage pile outside a huge city. You must find your way back into the city and find out what has happened.

I realise not all these games will appeal to everyone, but they are all finely crafted examples of their type and fall well outside the current mainstream gaming boundaries.

What would you pick?

1 comment:

  1. Tim, must attempt to rescue a princess download free xbox live codes from a monster; but with an exceptionally complicated game structure.