For every AAA game developer, there’s a dozen indie studios–many just one guy with a business card–contributing fun and innovation to the field. While I could make a series from this article (and hey, maybe I should), here are four great indie titles worthy of your time.
Gathering Sky is an exercise in minimalism, trading competition and explicit goals for atmosphere. Players begin as a single bird in a painterly sky, accruing a flock while flying around on jet streams, chasing will-o-wisps, and pinging cloud crystals. A dynamic, orchestral score follows the tempo of your actions, and simple-but-lush visuals keep the mood meditative. Available on most mobile platforms, Gathering Sky is best played with headphones on a train.
Winner of IndieCade 2015’s Impact Award, Consentacle is a cooperative card game in which, as described by developer Naomi Clark, “two players take on the roles of a human being and a tentacled alien trying to negotiate a romantic encounter.”
As both a Japanese-American and member of the queer and trans community, Clark commandeers the tentacle trope to explore intimacy and trust in a non-normative context, posing the game’s mechanics as a division to overcome rather than means of destruction. Gameplay involves moving Trust and Satisfaction tokens through an Intimacy Pool, action cards like “Envelop” and “Penetrate,” and combos such as two opposing “Gaze Cards” to create “Meaningful Stare.” Verbal communication between players (essentially, disclosing which cards each hold to coordinate the encounter), is just the practice mode, with actual games depending on eye contact alone.
The result is something unconventional, progressive, and extremely sexy.
Tribal & Error
In Tribal & Error, winner of IndieCade 2015’s Interaction Award, players control a time-traveling tape recorder sent back to save cavemen from an impending Ice Age. To do this you must communicate the secrets of survival, and to do that you must first learn the cavemen’s language.
The game presents a system of glyphs, either within speech bubbles or painted on cave walls, and challenges you to infer their meaning by interacting with cavemen. The experience is one of… trial and error… as you acquire new glyphs, speak them to cavemen, and observe the cavemen’s reactions, stringing together sequences to reach higher concepts.
Since the interface is entirely textless, and players input the glyphs’ meanings themselves, Tribal & Error is universally playable, somehow transcending language while exploring it.
Try it yourself on their site.
Into the Stars
Into the Stars developer Ben Jones described this open-world single-player experience to me as Oregon Trail in space. As captain of humanity’s last colony ship, the player navigates a hostile galaxy in search of a sanctuary world, managing the ship’s crew, passengers, and resources while evading alien hunters. Combat is real-time, content is randomized, and crew permadeath cranks the stakes. There’s even a Sim City-like mini-game for your passengers’ living zone, which better keep them happy if you want to make the trip.
That’s my haul, but the indie world has much write about. Tell us your favorite gems in the comments below.