8-Bit Thought Bubbles

Sometimes in this column I spend a lot of time bemoaning the lack of innovation in gaming and how it seems like a large number of AAA titles are content to just spew out sequels with little to no changes and call it a new game. As Call of Duty has shown, this will make publishers gobs of money because you aren’t cool unless you can shoot someone in the face with aim-assist in the latest and greatest same format.

Well in the past month I’ve rediscovered what you can find if you are willing to take a chance on indie games, pay attention and look for them. Much of this is, in my opinion, due to the PC still being my gaming platform of choice. I’m a bit of a hater when it comes to console fans, but I never tell people they are wrong for using them. I simply think on a console appealing to the Halo kids is the only way to show gaudy sales numbers, and the way that they market indie games is lacking.

Steam – a platform I once hated but now am severely unlikely to buy a game that isn’t on there – has really opened my eyes and does a lot for promoting indie games side by side with the heavy hitters in the industry. I really hope that this will lead to a rise in indie games that are well done and lots of fun.

So what are some of these games that I’ve been playing lately or will be playing soon? Let me walk you through a few of them.

While I was never able to get into it, Minecraft is probably the shining example to indie developers of how a good concept really can sell boatloads even from a small team right now. It has inspired a host of other developers to come up with a cool concept and run with it knowing that massive success IS popular. Some of these games are following the free to play model, while some are just less than the cost of a movie ticket and worth the chance.

The free games I’ve played that are really pretty incredible are Desktop Dungeons and Rise of the Mad God. Desktop Dungeons is a roguelike game and if you want to see the definition of that wiki it! This is to say, it's not for the faint of heart and you WILL DIE often. That said, it's really a lot of fun and – as with the other games on this list – hides a surprising amount of depth under a simplistic interface. Now, it appears that the developers are currently designing a fully fleshed-out version of the game that won’t be free, but you can still get a taste of the gameplay from a free version available on their site.

Realm of the Mad God is a browser based, free to play, micro transaction wonder. It's immensely entertaining, but death is permanent and you have to start over when you do. This may lead you to punch holes in doors and walls as some diaries on sites like Rock Paper Shotgun will show. It's a Diablo-like point and click action-RPG type of game with a heavy emphasis on group power leveling. There's also a social nexus where people can exchange goods and gather to chat in game.

Two games that I’ve spent more time with right now are Terraria and Dungeons of Dredmor. Terraria has some elements on its surface that are very Minecraft-like, but it differs in that it's a 2D-sidescroller and just has a different feel to it. You mine, you fight enemies, you host servers and play with your friends and essentially build civilization from a randomly generated world. It is incredibly clean and runs well, although the multiplayer can be a bit wonky. This one is a little more user-friendly in that you don’t have to play in hardcore mode where death is permanent.

Dungeons of Dredmor is a game built to be played on virtually any machine and is another roguelike game, meaning it's hard to the point of unfair depending on the random dungeon you spawn in. Simple graphics hide the fact that there are a HOST of skill trees you can combine that affect an almost dizzying number of statistics.

With games like Bastion coming to PC soon and Zeboyd Games double pack of Cthulhu Saves the World and Breath of Death VII – games that the developer recently stated sold more in one week on steam than an entire year on Xbox indie developer live – still on the horizon the sheer number of really great indie games out right now is pretty staggering. Have I just been missing this over the last couple of decades as a gamer?

Regardless, I hope this is a wake-up call to developers that system breaking cutting edge graphics are NOT the only way to sell games. Neither are massive budgets needed to come up with good gameplay and innovative ideas. Additionally games that aren’t safe, established IPs WILL SELL if marketed properly and, of course, they are actually good games.

I also don’t think gamers are turned off by death actually having consequences! Does it make you want to cry when it happens? Most assuredly. Do you feel a MUCH greater sense of accomplishment on hitting max level or clearing that dungeon? More so than any other game I’ve played lately.

I’m really happy with this rise of indie games right now and can promise that I will never find myself lost in AAA gaming’s fog of war in a way that will make me lose track of them again. Good on you indie developers, I hope big rewards are coming down the line for you.

If any of my readers happens to have played some other games recently not mentioned above please give them a shout out in the comments. While it almost assuredly won’t increase sales more than a few copies, at least I won’t be deprived of their joy and you will have done a little something to improve the world by informing me.

Happy reading.