Independence is the key to success in the gaming world
To be an independent game developer implies the freedom to be able to make a game with a group of like-minded individuals that can unapologetically make the experience they want without answering to one of the big AAA video game publishers that more often than not want to alter, change and in some cases kill your work altogether. The developers often have the original vision and foresight as to what the game should be. The big publishers who usually finance and distribute the software feel they know better and have the proven formula for a great game and/or to make the game more appealing or saleable in the marketplace to a larger audience, but do they?
The answer is complicated because sometimes it’s YES, they do but for the most part, we have seen what starts as a very interesting idea get chopped up and rearranged into often playable yet empty husks of what it should and could have been. The emergence of game launchers like Steam and Epic for PC plus the console marketplaces have allowed the lesser-known independent dev teams to get their product to you without interference. Let’s look at a few companies and their IPs that you may or may not be aware of, shall we?
Askiisoft is a collective developer of some really well-received independent games. The most recent and objectively successful offering is Katana ZERO in 2019 available on Steam, Xbox, and Switch. You play as the assassin ZERO in a neo-noir intense action platformer made even more intense by the instant death mechanic. ZERO slashes, dashes, and takes out enemies with not only his intense sword-fighting skills but his ability to fast forward and rewind time to manipulate the situation. It is a blast to play with its seamless cinematic scenes, pixel-perfect look, and over-the-top situations, definitely worth the playthrough. While you’re at it check out Askiisoft’s other offerings Overpowered (2014) and flash game Tower of Heaven (2009).
Night School Studio was formed by a collection of former telltale and Disney employees in 2014. Night School’s biggest success to date is their supernatural thriller Oxenfree in 2016. You play as a group of friends, who all have their role to play throughout the course of the game, who mistakenly open a rift full of ghostly apparitions while camping in a small mysterious town. The gameplay is unique with an intelligent conversation mechanic that alters the story and the relationships with your friends by the decisions you make, a neat communication mechanic that allows the main character, Alex, to communicate with the ghastly specters that mysteriously inhabit the town. Oxenfree has intriguing characters and multiple endings depending on your own actions. No one, who is a fan of this unique genre, would regret giving this game multiple playthroughs. Night School also offers another unique experience with their 2020 offering Afterparty where you try to outwit and out drink the devil, who could ask for more?
Mobius Digital was interestingly founded by Heroes alumni Masi Oka and after hiring Alex Beachum in 2019 released the critically acclaimed open-world space mystery, Outer Wilds. You play a character trapped in an endless time loop inside a universe where the sun explodes every 22 minutes, think of Zelda’s Majora’s Mask only with 71 hours and 38 minutes less time to fix things. Outer Wilds’s graphic and art styles are unique and presented in a way that completely transports you into this world of beauty and imminent devastation. If you can successfully solve the exploding sun problem and make the day last longer than 22 minutes on the Dark Brambles who knows what the future may hold. Mobius has two mobile offerings for you to experience, Beacon 38 and Terra Chroma available on both Google Play and Apple’s App Store.
JacktoStudios has one game currently in “early access” on steam, probably has the smallest team of any previously mentioned developer, and is definitely the most obscure on this list. What makes them worth mentioning? That one game in early access is Night of the Dead, the open-world zombie survival/ tower defense hybrid mystery with online PvP, Co-op, and single-player experiences that is as unique as it is fun to play. Spend your mornings scavenging junk and taking out wandering undead, your evenings turning junk into materials for making machines, traps, and reinforcements at your base to then spend your nights utilizing your labor to defend your humble base against hordes of zombies, who are no longer wandering but seek your warm body out with fiery purpose. For about 20 minutes in real-world time, your base will get pounded by waves of various mutated zombies that get progressively nastier each night that follows. It’s a fun game at a good price that Jackto regularly adds updates and improvements to, most definitely worth a play.
Independent game developers may be the savior of the gaming industry as many people expect hot and cold flowing content streamed to them regularly. We will always get hyped for the next big release from Nintendo, EA, Sony, Microsoft Studios, Epic, and others that regularly produce a top-notch gaming experience with a proven method and properties that the masses will love for the foreseeable future.
Your CODs, Fortnites, Final Fantasies and Halos will continue to trickle in to your consoles and PCs at a regular rate, but to fill in those gaps it’s nice to know we have hard working independent developers from all over the world feeding us gamers new content with no fear of experimenting with new gameplay techniques releasing almost every week. There are dozens of these independent developers and publishers, such as New Blood Interactive, that specialize in publishing independent games. If you’d like me to dig up a few more indie devs and give you the rundown on a game you may not have heard of yet or not sure if it’s worth your hard earned dollars, I would be happy to do that for you. Goodnight and game tight!