10 Best Indie Game Developers in 2017 and Their Best Games
The Top 10 Indie Game Developers
The independent gaming industry continues to produce fantastic games of all genres, proving that you don’t need tons of funding and a gigantic development team (looking at you, Ubisoft) to create incredible interactive experiences. From story-driven masterpieces like Undertale or Life is Strange to action games with intuitive and unique gameplay like Hyper Light Drifter or Spelunky, indie devs utilize creativity and freedom to push the limits of the video game medium.
Not as beholden to the whims of a publisher and a deadline, an indie dev has the chance to make the game they want to make. We’ve put together a list of the best independent game developers who are passionate about their games and who will soon be releasing new ones onto the market. Without a doubt, these will be development studios to keep an eye on this year, starting with number ten:
10) Ninja Theory
- Upcoming Game: Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
- Based in: Cambridge, England
- Number of Employees: Between 51-200
- Most Known For: Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
- Official Website
Ninja Theory is a bit large for an indie studio, having well over 100 employees on staff. But perhaps it is this larger workforce that accounts for the measure of quality present in their games. Ninja Theory consistently puts out games featuring graphics that equal or even rival those of many triple-A developers. The NT team has 6 games under their belt currently, including games such as Heavenly Sword, DmC: Devil May Cry, and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. Ninja Theory doesn’t shy away from hiring help from outside the industry either -- actor Andy Serkis (Gollum from Lord of the Rings) lent his voice talents to both Heavenly Sword and Enslaved, while writer Alex Garland (Ex Machina, 28 Days Later) was brought in to work on Enslaved.
Ninja Theory’s current project is Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, which mixes Celtic mythology with the human psyche, by pitting the game’s main character, Senua, against her own psychosis. Senua’s mental illness takes the form of literal monsters and demons that must be fought both within her mind and without.
There are not too many more details available yet, as the game is still in the early stages of development, but Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice will certainly be something to keep an eye on as the year progresses.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West’s story was inspired by Chinese novelist Wu Cheng’en’s Journey to the West.
Senua’s struggle with mental illness is at the forefront of Hellblade’s story
9) Red Barrels
- Upcoming Game: Outlast 2
- Based in: Montreal, Quebec
- Number of Employees: 17
- Most Known For: Outlast. Four million copies sold as of October 2016.
- Official Website
Red Barrels was founded by Philippe Morin, David Chateauneuf, and Hugo Dallaire -- all three of whom previously worked at Ubisoft Montreal, on such games as Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. It might seem surprising that the team went to the horror genre for its first game, especially after a background mainly in action/adventure games. But, David Chateauneuf has stated that he and Philippe Morin had discussed making horror games way back when they were still working at Ubisoft. Their first horror game, Outlast, received widespread praise upon release, and has sold over four million copies as of October, 2016. Clearly, the decision to make horror games has turned out to be a good one for them.
Red Barrels’ next game is a sequel to their first game. In Outlast 2, players will take on the role of journalist Blake Langermann as he searches for his wife in the Arizona desert. Gameplay will be similar to that of the first game, with Langermann hiding from enemies and making use of his high-end camera’s night vision feature to find his way in the dark. Red Barrels’ first game, Outlast, goes back to the horror genre’s roots by putting a protagonist into situations where they are virtually helpless against frightening foes; Outlast 2 will do the same, while adding new wrinkles to the formula, such as providing Blake Langermann with a dependency on prescription glasses to help him see.
With interesting mechanics and spine-chilling atmosphere, Outlast 2 is a game for horror fans to look forward to this year.
In Outlast, players had to investigate the strange goings-on in Mount Massive, a dilapidated asylum filled with dangerous inhabitants.
- Upcoming Game: Absolver
- Based in: Paris, France
- Number of Employees: Between 11-50
- Most Known For: Previous employees at Ubisoft Paris.
- Official Website
Sloclap is another indie dev founded by former Ubisoft employees -- this time from Ubisoft Paris. Most of Sloclap’s founders worked on Ghost Recon: Wildlands or Ubisoft’s more recent IP, Watch Dogs. Perhaps taking a page from Watch Dogs’ emergent multiplayer experiences, Sloclap’s first game, Absolver, is a Dark Souls-esque open-world martial arts fighting game in which players can seamlessly encounter other players to cooperate or spar with.
In Absolver, you are a Prospect, a sort of trainee who will one day join the Absolvers, a peacekeeping fighting force in the world. As a masked martial arts fighter, you must wander a ruined city and pass trials on your way to becoming a full-fledged Absolver. Other online players will match-make with you seamlessly as you progress, with little in the way of communication, unless they are one of your friends. This opens up numerous opportunities for unique player-to-player experiences. Will the stranger you encounter become your new best friend, or will they stab you in the back the moment you let down your guard? Absolver’s combat system is extremely dynamic, allowing you to build your “combat deck,” essentially developing your entire move-set, from stances to attacks, as you play the game. You can even counter your opponents’ move-sets by studying their stances and changing your own to adapt.
With its gorgeous environments and vast customization, Absolver is looking like it will be a must-play game in 2017.
In Absolver, you will need to become a skilled combatant in order to survive.
7) Dontnod Entertainment
- Upcoming Game: Vampyr
- Based in: Paris, France
- Number of Employees: 120
- Most Known For: Life is Strange
- Official Website
Dontnod made their debut with Remember Me, a not-so-well-remembered, third-person, sci-fi action title, which saw mixed reviews when it released in 2013. For their second game, Dontnod opted to take a step back from the action and combat in order to tell a different story. Life is Strange, an episodic, story-driven adventure, sold like hotcakes, bringing Dontnod back from the bankruptcy Remember Me had put them in. It seems that, as a result, Dontnod is finally feeling up to tackling a more action-oriented project yet again, with their latest work, Vampyr.
Vampyr, as its title implies, is a game about vampires, or rather, one vampire in particular. Players will find themselves put in the shoes of Jonathan E. Reid, a doctor-turned-vampire living in Victorian London during the deadly outbreak of the Spanish flu. Reid is a distraught individual, torn between his Hippocratic Oath to do no harm, and his newfound insatiable thirst for blood. This duality will shape many players’ experiences within the game, as Jonathan can choose whether to hunt humans -- or not. Giving in to bloodthirst grants Jonathan new abilities, but negatively impacts his outlook on life and his social status. Choosing to spare human targets allows Jonathan to keep his morality intact, at the cost of his vampiric abilities. These choices, along with others, will help determine the game’s ending and Doctor Reid’s fate.
Vampyr’s dirty, diseased streets will make its bloody debut towards the end of 2017, so sharpen your fangs and be ready to decide just what kind of Doctor you’ll be: One of life, or one of death.
Being a teenage girl is hard in Life is Strange.
London is a dark and scary place in Vampyr.
- Upcoming Game: Katana ZERO
- Based in: New York, New York
- Number of Employees: 10
- Most Known For: Tower of Heaven
- Official Website
Indie developer Askiisoft is a small studio known mostly for its two free flash games, Tower of Heaven and Pause Ahead. Tower of Heaven and Pause Ahead are both platformers that challenge standard game design concepts in various ways. Tower of Heaven gives the player a set of rules they must follow in each level, which is expanded as the player progresses. Pause Ahead uses pausing as a game mechanic, making you invulnerable, and keeping your momentum in whatever direction you were moving when you paused. Askiisoft’s first full-fledged PC game Overpowered similarly played with players’ ideas of how a game should be played. It should come as no surprise, then, that their next game, Katana ZERO, is yet another side-scrolling platformer with unusual game mechanics.
In Katana ZERO, you are a hired assassin who wields a katana. You roam a neon-lit city, dealing carnage to gun-toting enemies in fast-paced life-or-death combat. As a cyberpunk samurai, you have access to a drug known as Chronos that alters your perception of time, allowing you to slow down time as well as predict what will happen in the future. This prediction system is a particularly interesting concept -- It provides an in-game explanation for the number of deaths you experience as you play. While you play, you must mentally plot out your moves. When you die, your character recognizes that their strategy wouldn’t have worked and tries again.
Katana ZERO will begin slashing its way through your computer monitor sometime in 2017.
5) Infinite Fall
- Upcoming Game: Night in the Woods
- Based in: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Winnipeg, Manitoba
- Number of Employees: 3
- Most Known For: Getting Kickstarted in a day.
- Official Website
Infinite Fall is a small collaboration between three creative developers: programmer and musician Alec Holowka, animator and illustrator Scott Benson, and writer Bethany Hockenberry. For such a small studio, the three have created a very deep game.
Night in the Woods is a side-scrolling adventure game, chock full of interesting characters and locales to explore. Mae Borowski is a college dropout who has returned to her hometown, Possum Springs. Mae soon discovers that the town has moved on without her. Her friends have changed, and the town’s coal mines have closed down. What’s more, Mae finds herself caught up in some very strange happenings -- and something is very, very wrong in the woods just outside town.
Night in the Woods explores themes of nihilism and depression through a cast of cute animals and a minimalistic storybook aesthetic. The game is both mature and playful, and Bethany Hockenberry’s writing is superb. It focuses on Mae’s relationships with the rest of the cast, painting a picture of small-town life through the perceptions of Possum Springs’ citizens.
Night in the Woods just recently released on Steam, Feb. 21st. If you’re looking for a complex small-town adventure, check it out. With any luck, we’ll see more from Infinite Fall in the future!
Things aren’t right in Possum Springs, but maybe you can make them better in Night in the Woods.
4) Wizard Fu Games
- Upcoming Game: Songbringer
- Based in: Oakland, California
- Number of Employees: 1
- Most Known For: Hero Bash
- Official Website
Wizard Fu Games is the name of Nathanael Weiss’s one-man game development company. Solo developers are becoming increasingly more common as games become easier to develop. Though when I say easier, it by no means lessens Nathanael’s accomplishments. Being the lone person working on a game means that Weiss is in charge of creating everything that goes into the game -- from music, to art assets, to story content and programming, and more. It is a difficult job, and one Wizard Fu is particularly suited for. After all, Nathanael Weiss made his first game in 1995 when he was only 15 years old, in the form of a small MS-DOS project that didn’t receive much attention at the time. In the past, he has worked on a few mobile games, and even built a development kit for beginners looking to make games for the iOS platform.
Wizard Fu’s first major release is Songbringer, a game that has been described as “procedural Zelda”. The game’s pixelated graphics are reminiscent of recent indie hits such as Hyper Light Drifter. In this game, players will take on the role of Roq Epimetheos, a party-loving space wanderer who accidentally stumbles across a magic humming sword, and must use it to fight against an ancient evil. As Epimetheos, players will travel the galaxy fighting enemies and solving puzzles with unique items in gameplay, similar to that found in The Legend of Zelda series. However, unlike most Zelda games, Songbringer’s levels are procedurally generated so that no two play-throughs are alike -- and not even Nathaniel Weiss knows exactly what you might find out in space.
Although its release date has been pushed back, expect Songbringer to hum into being sometime in 2017.
Hero Bash takes the popular MOBA genre to mobile.
Eating psychedelic mushrooms can open up new paths in Songbringer.
3) The Fullbright Company
- Upcoming Game: Tacoma
- Based in: Portland, Oregon
- Number of Employees: 8
- Most Known For: Gone Home. Sold 50,000 copies in the first month.
- Official Website
Fullbright is best known for Gone Home, a story-driven first-person exploration game about a young woman returning home from overseas and discovering that home isn’t what it used to be. It’s no surprise that Fullbright chose to set its eyes on the first-person exploration genre, as senior members of the team worked previously on both Bioshock 2 and Bioshock Infinite -- titles that have been praised for their capacity to tell a story from a first person viewpoint through the exploration of the game’s environment. Gone Home sold 50,000 copies in the first month and received rave reviews.
Fullbright’s second game, Tacoma, follows in its predecessor’s footsteps, while adding new gameplay elements into the mix. In Tacoma, you play as Amy Ferrier, a young woman exploring a space station (Lunar Transfer Station Tacoma) in an attempt to uncover what happened to its former inhabitants. Transfer Station Tacoma is a quiet, sterile place -- but not so quiet as to be silent. There’s a ghost still lurking in the machine, a soft-spoken recorder of past events. Tacoma’s AI (artificial intelligence), ODIN, remains the only other intelligent entity aboard the station… as far as Amy knows.
ODIN serves a unique purpose in Tacoma. Not only is ODIN a character with his own cryptic personality, but the AI also functions as a gameplay element. Amy can interact with the AI to view recorded holograms of the employees who worked on Tacoma Station. This way, she can voyeuristically watch events in the past, so as to better understand Tacoma’s present. Amy can pause, rewind, and fast forward these holograms, allowing the player to experience the story from any angle and any time. In order to uncover the truth, Amy will have to follow each character throughout the story to see everything they saw and know every action they took. It’s a compelling and creative way to tell a story -- one that could only be replicated in an interactive medium, such as that of a video game.
Players can look forward to Tacoma’s zero-gravity adventures in voyeurism in Spring 2017.
Coming home is a strange and emotional experience in Gone Home.
Lunar Transfer Station Tacoma spins silently and mysteriously through space in Tacoma.
2) Supergiant Games
- Upcoming Game: Pyre
- Based in: San Francisco, California
- Number of Employees: 12
- Most Known For: Bastion. Sold 3 million copies by January, 2015.
- Official Website
Supergiant Games has a reputation as an indie developer -- one of quality. Their first two games, Bastion and Transistor, ooze with personality and polish. Supergiant is known for heavily featuring voice actor Logan Cunningham’s smooth voice in its games, whether as narrator or partner to the protagonist. These games feature soundtracks by Darren Korb (featuring vocals by Ashley Barrett and often recorded out of Korb’s closet, for lack of a better locale), writing by previous GameSpot editor, Greg Kasavin, and beautiful hand drawn art by artist Jen Zee. Their games are exemplars of how much can be done with a small team of people.
Supergiant’s next game is Pyre. Set in what Supergiant has called a “vast, mystical purgatory,” you play as an exile, who must wander the land of Downside. You perform in the Rites, a kind of team-based challenge that must be won in order to return home. In the past, you and everyone else in Downside did some (probably) terrible things, and for this you have been exiled. Succeeding in the Rites can get you and your team out -- but what will happen to everyone else you meet on your journey? Do they deserve their fate? Pyre will see the player making choices as they go, which may determine who makes it out of Downside, and who does not. Players will take actions and make decisions as their party travels between Rites, mentoring teammates, scavenging for supplies, and generally doing everything they can to keep their party together.
Pyre’s gameplay is a bit different from Supergiant’s standard fare. While retaining an isometric view of the player character, Pyre eschews traditional combat to instead focus on the game’s Rites, which are like magical games of basketball. As the Reader, you control your three fellow exiles as they compete, switching between each as you pass an orb between them, with the goal of getting the orb to the opposing team’s pyre to quench it. The exiles have auras around them, which temporarily eliminate enemies they touch, and can be used as a ranged attack. Each exile has special attributes and abilities that make them more suitable for various roles. Jodariel is large and slow, but can block enemies with her large aura and can stun enemies by stomping the ground when she jumps; Rukey is small and quick, capable of darting between enemies to score goals more easily; and Hedwyn is medium-sized, and can attack with his aura from greater distances. You will have to utilize each exile to achieve your goal and win the rites to finally escape from Downside.
Look for Pyre’s release sometime in 2017. It’s sure to be a fun ride.
Logan Cunningham’s gritty, drawling voice follows players throughout Bastion.
Pyre’s environments seem to be lit by a mystical flame, an aesthetic that sets the mood for the game’s strange journey.
1) Playtonic Games
- Upcoming Game: Yooka-Laylee
- Based in: England
- Number of Employees: 26
- Most Known For: Banjo-Kazooie. 2.20 million copies sold.
- Official Website
Donkey Kong Country. Diddy Kong Racing. Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Banjo-Kazooie. If any of these game titles resonate with you, it is because of Rare, a company that is in many ways directly responsible for the great success of the Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64 consoles during the 1990s. While Rare is widely considered to have gone far downhill since its glory days with Nintendo, a new company has sprung up, comprised of former Rare developers. They now call themselves Playtonic.
Playtonic is made up mostly of veteran Rare employees who worked on Banjo-Kazooie, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and Donkey Kong 64. You might notice a pattern here: these are people with quite a bit of experience working on 3D platforming/adventure games. Fittingly, Playtonic’s first game is Yooka-Laylee, a spiritual successor to the wildly popular Banjo-Kazooie games. Yooka-Laylee is a 3D platformer in which you play as a chameleon and a bat, or Yooka and Laylee, respectively. Gameplay is similar to that found in Banjo-Kazooie. Purple Laylee sits atop green Yooka’s head, performing actions such as flapping wings or helping to attack, while Yooka runs around on the ground guiding the duo. Together, Yooka and Laylee will run and jump through a vibrant world full of charming and goofy characters, ranging from a pants-wearing salesman snake to a polygonal retro dinosaur. Yooka and Laylee must venture into various themed worlds on their journey to stop the evil Capital B from absorbing all the literature in the world and selling it.
Yooka-Laylee releases on April 11, 2017, to the immense anticipation of many Rareware fans.
Yooka-Laylee’s vibrant worlds are brimming with character, and Laylee seems almost as cheeky as Kazooie.
Each of these independent developers are pushing the envelope on what can be created with small teams of brilliant people. If this article has piqued your interest, take a look at what these devs have to offer. There are many indie studios out there, toiling away -- I encourage you to investigate on your own, and help these people out if you can, by backing them on Kickstarter, purchasing their games, and generally supporting their efforts. These people love what they do, which primarily means building things for the purpose of entertaining gamers just like you.
Article written by user RickyH
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