10 Indie Game Development Studios and the Games that Made Them Famous
Life isn’t easy for independent game studios. The competition is tough, the work is tougher and the budgets are tighter than Spiderman’s spandex. Even if you do manage to get your game ready to ship, there won’t be much money left over for essential stuff like ‘marketing’ and ‘publicity’. The options are simple; find a way to grab attention or end up in the dustbin of the internet. Here are ten game development studios that defied the odds and made games that no one could ignore.
1. Blendo Games — Quadrilateral Cowboy
Blendo Games earned their reputation for keen storytelling, well-crafted gameplay and gorgeous worldbuilding. Oh, and they also scored a whole trophy case of awards for games like Thirty Flights of Loving, Atom Zombie Smasher, Quadrilateral Cowboy, Gravity Bone, and many more. But it was Quadrilateral Cowboy that really hit the spotlight, winning Grand Prize for Best Independent Game at the 19th annual Independent Games Festival and the Seumas McNally Grand Prize in 2017. Way to get that hardware, Blendo.
2. Extremely OK Games — Celeste
With a name like ‘Extremely OK Games’ you’d like to assume they have something really clever going on, and you’d be right. They came out of the gate hot with their first studio game, Celeste under their original company called Matt Makes Games. This game was all about making the most of every moment. Even typical actions like running, jumping, and climbing feel more satisfying when you hit the perfect rhythm. It’s the little things. Don’t believe us? Check their credentials. It took home the 2018 Game Award for Best Independent Game, and the 2018 Games for Impact Award.
3. The Fullbright Company — Gone Home
If you want to talk about the ‘little game engine that could’, then look no further than The Fullbright Company’s Gone Home (2013). This game got so much attention, it caused a massive internet argument over whether or not it even counted as a game. The debate got so heated, it coined the (now affectionately used) term ‘walking simulator’. No press is bad press, am I right?
Hardcore FPS fans aside, this game amassed a huge and loyal following, and there is no doubt why. Gone Home provides a rich, and beautiful interactive storytelling experience with a hyper-detailed immersive environment. Walking around an empty house sounds boring, you say? Clearly you’ve never snooped around in someone else’s drawers. Gone Home is intimate, curious and absolutely fascinating. In fact, it was so groundbreaking that huge developers like Naughty Dog cite it as inspiration for their environmental storytelling in games like Uncharted: Thief’s End. Gone Home is proof positive that good writing and simple design can be enough to knock people’s socks off. Oh, and of course, it won a bunch of awards: Best Debut Game by BAFTA Game Awards in 2014. Not bad for a walking simulator.
4. Heart Machine — Hyper Light Drifter
Sometimes, you can get by on charm and charm alone. In 2016, Heart Machine captured fan’s attention and imagination with it’s signature title, Hyper Light Drifter. Heart Machine developed a unique style of gameplay and spared no attention on the beautiful artwork, making Hyper Light Drifter as fun to play as it is to look at. Sure, 2016 may have been a bad year for gorillas and democrats, but it was a great year for Heart Machine, who brought home an award for Original Action Game and Original Light Mix Score, New IP by NAVGTR in 2017. Sometimes, pretty goes an awful long way.
5. Edmund McMillen — Super Meat Boy
If you haven’t played Edmund McMIllen’s Super Meat Boy, then you have no idea how fun frustration can be. With it’s elegant controls, gorgeous graphics, and diabolical level design, Super Meat Boy will have you joyfully screaming at your system with every gory mistake. The story is simple; a young boy made of only meat goes looking for his bandage girlfriend, but must contend with a landscape of deadly obstacles to do so. You will feel for his exposed body every time you accidentally navitage him into a buzzsaw, which will be often. Painfully often, With a wild sense of humour, and an even wilder gameplay, the game cleaned up at the awards, bagging Control Precision, Control Design 2D or Limited 3D, Original Light mix score, New IP and the Best Original Action Game. Super Meat Boy was Edmund McMillen’s first official launch title, serving as the identity of his company, Team Meat, and was featured in the 2012 documentary, “Indie Game: The Movie”. That’s a pretty big win for a tiny lil’ meat boy.
6. MegaCrit Games — Slay the Spire
It’s one thing to get on top, it’s another thing to stay there. MegaCrit Games Slay the Spire has remained a top indie title, and for good reason. The content is endlessly entertaining, the gameplay is excellent and the unique enemies will keep you coming back for more. And don’t get me started on the music, which has the power to loop in your head until the end of time. We’re not the only ones who think so. The title has earned awards for Best Music for an Indie Game from Game Audio Network Guild Awards, a Fresh Indie Game by The Game Awards and a NAVGTR award for Game Engineering. Now that is how you slay the game.
7. MossMouth — Spelunky
Look, there’s a reason that Lynard Skynard always has one fan yelling at them to play ‘Free Bird’. Sometimes, you just want the classics. MossMouth knows it, and delivered the hits with it’s super popular game, Spelunky. It has everything you need for a classic, arcade-style video game: the scrolling, the levels, the bad guys and, of course, the music. It gives you that familiar feeling you love, with all new content to explore. The game was nominated for three awards at the Independent Games Festival and won an award for Excellence in Design. It was also noted as Destructoid’s Console Exclusive of the Year, Wired.com’s Top Ten Games in 2012, Top 10 in the Edge Awards of 2012, winner of Game Stop’s Platformer of the Year, XBLA’s Game of the Year, and many more.
8. Night School Studio — Oxenfree
Sometimes the most creative product comes from leaning into your limitations. When you don’t have the budget to go big, going small can be just as effective. Night School Studio’s story-based title Oxenfree is the perfect example. It boasts an elegant narrative and lively characters that hook the viewer and don’t let go ‘til the end. It’s as playful as it is terrifying. But hey, we can’t say much more, or we’ll spoil it. Oxenfree is the studios most successful game, Nominated for BAFTA’s Best Debut Game and Best Narrative.
9. Studio MDHR — Cuphead
If you like games, you’ve probably heard of Cuphard. If you haven’t, you really should. Studio MDHR’s very first game employs an off-the wall, acid trip style artwork reminiscent of the 1930s cartoons like ‘Steamboat Willie’ and ‘Felix The Cat’. If that isn’t enough to get you in the door, maybe you’d be interested in unbelievable boss brawls or it’s merciless gameplay. Cuphead has made a place for itself in gaming culture, showing it’s weird cupped face all over the pop culture sphere, including (but not limited to) an expensive ‘Fall Guys’ costume. The game has earned many awards ranging from Best Art Direction, Best Independent Game, Best Indie Debut Game, and the BAFTA Game Award for Music. Play it. Then play it again. And again. This is an acid trip you’re going to enjoy flashing back to.
10. Subset Games — FTL: Faster Than Light
There’s no shortage of space games out there, from Asteroids to Outer Worlds, but Subset Games’ very first game, FTL: Faster Than Light, manages to make its mark. Sure, the narrative is pretty typical; you keep your spaceship running and save the galaxy, but where the game shines is with it’s enriched visuals and strategies. FTL: Faster Than Light is proof that when it comes to games, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel, providing you have an eye for detail. The game has won a whole host of awards, including the Excellence in Design and Audience award at the 15th Annual Independent Games Festival in 2015.
That’s it. Ten rock solid examples of games that defied all expectations. They leaned into their limits, and proved that it’s possible to do more with less. Whether you’re strategically navigating your space ship, digging around in a teenager’s bedroom or throwing your meat man into a woodchipper, these games provide a well thought out experience with strong graphics, unique gameplay elements, and a strong story. Each of these games managed to stand out in a crowded game market, making them notable even years after launch. It’s possible to make it in the cutthroat world of indie games, all you need is the passion, creativity and guts to do something worth talking about.