It’s time for an indie revolution


It goes without saying that 2010 was a very eventful year. The General Election and the new Coalition, the rescue of the Chilean miners, the Icelandic volcanic eruption: they’re all events that seem powerful, resonant and unforgettable.

Yet events like these, even the General Election, will probably only leave vague memories. In 10 years time I very much doubt anyone will have the slightest idea what Eyjafjallajökull was and why it kicked up such an awful fuss. Any memory of Nick Clegg will have vanished from existence, unless this generation decides to keep his name around as some sort of synonym for massive bloody hypocrite.

No, in 10 years time people will only remember the important things from 2010; like how incredibly good the games were. It will be remembered as the year Super Mario Galaxy 2 perfected and reinvented traditional platforming games. The year that Red Dead Redemption redefined the boundaries of console gaming.

Perhaps most importantly, it will be remembered as the year in which indie-games made their breakthrough. From the bewilderingly brilliant (yet hideously frustrating) VVVVVV and Super Meat Boy to the surreal, nightmarish puzzles of Limbo, 2010 was the year in which the low budget indies outshone the major studios.

This trend looks set to continue in 2011, with more and more developers leading the indie-renaissance into new, unexpected territory.

This year’s most interesting prospect has got to be the elusive Miegakure, which has been in development for a while and is set for a release this year. Almost entirely unlike anything that has been seen before, Miegakure is based around the semi-famous scientific novella, Flatland, where a 3D observer investigates the strange inhabitants of a 2D world. The game takes this idea up a dimension, and will inevitably screw over thousands of human brains capable of operating in a measly three dimensions.

Miegakure describes itself succinctly as a “puzzle game in four dimensions”, but its ingenious, infuriating game mechanic will no doubt provoke some far from succinct reactions. Reactions involving copious amounts of swear words, obviously.

The equally interesting Fez employs the same dimension shifting mechanic as Miegakure, but in ‘just’ three dimensions. In many ways it’s reminiscent of the last Paper Mario offering, but Fez’s charming 8-bit presentation, lush environments and gorgeous ambient music elevate it above Nintendo’s effort. It’ll be interesting to see which works out better; the mind-blowing but basic looking Miegakure or the simpler but more polished Fez.

Indie developers seem to have some sort of disposition towards puzzle games, but Stacking, Tim Schafer’s new game, seems to transcend that genre and create something quite unique. This is really nothing new for Schafer, the creator of the criminally under-rated and brilliantly original Psychonauts, though hopefully Stacking will get a bit more attention.

The gameplay is pretty self-explanatory; it’s all about stacking Russian Dolls to solve puzzles, by using the special skills of each doll and stacking them in a specific order. The character’s respective skills are typically odd for a Schafer game, too – the trailer shows an aviator doll that flies with helium balloons, a downtrodden chimney sweep that can squeeze into gaps, and a dancer that seduces guards by shaking her entire bottom half. The game’s set in a Russian Revolution-esque scenario that gives it massive amounts of charm, so as long as the Stacking puzzle idea doesn’t wear out too quickly this should be huge fun.

One game which made a huge impact last year was the ubiquitous Minecraft – the apparently simplistic construction game which has inspired people across the world to construct some of the most creative user-generated content ever seen in gaming.

The game basically revolves around constructing bases to defend against the monsters that come out at nighttime, but users have even gone as far as to create actual, working computers by creating the chips from scratch, in-game, with logic-gates.

The fact that these have been made whilst the game is still in beta makes it even more amazing, so the scope for the actual release (due at some point this year) is pretty much bigger than anything that has gone before.

The beta is available now, so if you’ve not picked it up yet it might be worth doing it now before the full price version is released.

There are far too many promising indies to mention, but with a bit of searching it quickly becomes apparent that there’s a much wider variety of indie-games compared to the usual torrent of generic FPS drivel that seems to dominate the mainstream. Take Fract, another game set for release this year, which is a music/adventure synthesis similar to that Dreamcast gem, Rez. Hohokum is a coder/artist collaboration which has the player control an invincible snake creature in an attempt to protect the all too fragile inhabitants of a stunning 2D world. And finally, Bohm is a game that could only come out of the indie-community; it’s about growing a tree, in an obscure artistic environment, in almost real-time. It all looks very intriguing. And it’s Swedish, obviously.

Indie games seem to be getting stronger and stronger, and with several big studios going bust recently, 2011 could be the year when they really break through into the mainstream.

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