Great ideas are exhilarating. When we have them, we turn them over and over in our heads like glassmakers folding molten silica, shaping our glowing gems. They stick to us. But then comes something agonizing: actually realizing them. Doubt and fear creep in. What if it doesn't work? Experimentation is risk .
Brave independent game developers have the freedom to take that risk, and we love when they do. After witnessing a magnificent indie showing earlier this month at PAX Prime, we gathered a list of the boldest new ideas being crafted by indie studios. Some of these games were new to us only weeks ago, while others have been forming for a while, but they're all built on ideas we're excited to talk about.
What is it? A first person horror game that takes helplessness to a new level
What's the hook? You play as a two-year-old baby in a spooky, empty house and points beyond
Who's making it? Krillbite Studio, out of Hamar, Norway
The latest trend in horror games is to go against the grain of the long-standing trope: kill all the bad guys to win. Offerings like Amnesia and Slender limit the player's power to affect their environment, in some cases stripping it away almost completely, to create a sense of helplessness and leave you only with the option to flee and/or hide (and/or die horribly.) Among the Sleep takes this trend further by putting you in the shoes (well, booties) of a child so young, you couldn't even defend yourself if you came across a .50 caliber machine gun. I can't wait to be that baby. T.J.
URL www.krillbite.com/ats ● ETA When it's done.
What is it? A deceptively simple first-person puzzle game
What's the hook? The most tenacious, infuriating obstacle you'll face throughout the game is yourself
Who's making it? Alexander Bruce
An exit sealed by a clear, impermeable barrier. A chasm that's impossible to jump. Stairs going up and going down but both leading back to where you began. Frustrated? That's the first clue that Antichamber has caught you in a trap of your own design. It takes your assumptions about how the world works and turns them against you.
In order to navigate its warren of Möbius hallways and impossible spaces, you'll need to disassemble your own logic and rely on experimentation and intuition--environments are left deliberately stark to remind you that the barriers are actually in your own head. Solutions are dazzlingly simple, and lead to bursts of exhilaration as Antichamber shows you over and over again how to defeat the most insidious enemy of all: the creature of habit. LD
URL www.antichamber-game.com ● ETA 2012
What is it? A 2D sidescrolling shooter
What's the hook? Metal Slug in a destructible sandbox with high-fidelity physics
Who's making it? Data Realms, headed up by Dan Tabar
In the roughest way, Cortex Command is Terraria and Red Faction rolled up with the satisfying ballistics of Metal Slug. It has the most granular physics you'll see in a 2D game - and part of the joy of playing it is delighting in the hilarious physical accidents that arise when rocket shuttles, grenade launchers, bipedal robots, and buried gold all share the same planet. The other layer of fun comes from the concrete bunkers you build yourself: nesting your control node (a brain in a jar) deep underground, then defending it with a team of droids you arm yourself feels like being the commander of a sci-fi ant farm. EL
URL datarealms.com ● ETA Launching soon on Steam
What is it? A 3D steampunk city-builder
What's the hook? Dwarf Fortress made modern, with hints of Lovecraft
Who's making it? Gaslamp Games, the eccentric Canadian creators of Dungeons of Dredmor, our favorite indie game of 2011
Dwarf Fortress, wondrous and intricate as it is, has some inherent barriers to entry. A few games have attempted to modernize the ASCII classic with mixed success, but none arguably found a way to make DF user-friendly while still preserving its penchant for producing horrific, hilarious fail states (see: Boatmurdered ).
There's every sign that Clockwork will find this balance, partly by pursuing a more original steampunk context that DF's spirit can comfortably inhabit. Lovecraftian horrors will crawl over Clockwork's world: cultists, scientists-gone-mad, sea serpents, even Elder Gods themselves. Atop this, Gaslamp is contributing technically-impressive procedural building technology that'll allow for personalized factories, cathedrals, dwellings, and other structures as your 18th-century colony churns on. Check out our recent preview for more. EL
URL www.gaslampgames.com ● ETA Q4 2013; “When it's done”
On the next page: four-sided cowboys, asteroid chucking, and hull breaches...
What is it? A first-person “Twentieth Century Cyberpunk” infiltration game
What's the hook? Virtual virtual reality
Who's making it? Blendo Games
Quadrilateral Cowboy casts you as an old-school Hollywood hacker - the kind who wears leather, has piercings, and routinely walks around in virtual reality simulations - who pays the DSL bills by helping corporations infiltrate and sabotage their enemies. But you don't commit the crimes yourself: you just show them how.
You do this by donning VR goggles and exploring a simulation of your target's environment. Once you've identified and examined its internal security systems, you exploit their weaknesses with a virtual laptop (more precisely, a virtual virtual laptop) that lets you plot a path through or around them with command-line instructions: open door, stop at laser barrier, wait for two seconds, run like hell, etc. Then you kick back and watch a test-run unfold. After several fits of pensive trial and error, it's impossible not to feel awesome when you code a perfect run and make a clean, invisible, virtual getaway. LD
URL www.blendogames.com/qc ● ETA 2013
What is it? A spiritual successor to classic RTS Total Annihilation
What's the hook? ...In spaaaaaaaaace. Throw asteroids. Use moons as weapons platforms.
Who's making it? Uber Entertainment. Jon Mavor is Uber's chief technical officer—he wrote Total Annihilation's graphics engine and served as lead programmer on Supreme Commander.
Alas, we aren't living in a golden age of RTSes. Rebooting a strategy game - even one as beloved as Total Annihilation - is still hideously risky in an environment where StarCraft II, Total War, and Relic's output seem to be serving us perfectly well. Doing things the way they were done in 1997 won't cut it. Luckily, Uber has two things on their side: a ludicrous idea, and the right funding platform. We're very ready for an RTS with the insane scale of a 4X game, played across multiple heavenly bodies that themselves can be weaponized. PA should become Kickstarter's third most-funded game when it closes in two days. Read our reveal for the details. EL
URL Kickstarter page ● ETA TBD
What is it? A first-person shooter, only not at all
What's the hook? Your gun shoots code instead of bullets, reconfiguring the game world while teaching you game programming fundamentals
Who's making it? Primer Labs, founded by Alex Peake
URL www.primerlabs.com/codehero ● ETA Alpha build out now
What is it? A roguelike spaceship simulation
What's the hook? Lots of games give you a cockpit and pilot's license, but what if you want to be Captain Kirk? That's FTL.
Who's making it? Justin Ma and Matthew Davis, developers based in Shanghai, China
FTL: Faster Than Light simulates space combat from the engineering room outward, to the lasers and missiles setting the void alight in bursts of violence. It's not a pilot sim, it's a captain sim: manage your crew (and try not to let mantises eat them), your ship's systems and supplies, and all the tactical laser beaming that comes with exploring deep space. Confront the kind of adversity that inspired repeat Star Trek lines like "Get to engineering!" and "Target their weapons!"
Like some other roguelikes, FTL is a story machine. When it's out, we'll be sharing tales from its randomized universe over whiskey, talking about the good men, women, and aliens we lost, the close-calls and heroic last-ditch- sorry, I have to go, my shield generator is down. Get to engineering! TW
URL www.ftlgame.com ● ETA September 14th, 2012
On the next page: snipers, spies, heists, and cephalopods...
What is it? A physics-based adventure extolling the virtues of fatherhood through destruction
What's the hook? You're a surprisingly complacent octopus wearing dapper clothing, skirting suspicion, and masquerading as the father in a typical, nuclear American family
Who's making it? Young Horses, a gathering of ambitious student developers first formed at GDC 2011.
Dadliest Catch actually represents the followup to the original Octodad released in November 2010. Although games harnessing the power of physics charmed our brains in the past with engaging puzzles and thought-provoking challenges, we can't discount the inherent slapstick silliness of flailing objects about like a gleeful toddler. Dadliest Catch capitalizes on this simple concept with one of the wackiest premises ever encountered - an octopus wearing a three-piece - but it works, and just watching it makes us laugh. OP
URL www.octodadgame.com/dadliest-catch ● ETA 2013
What is it? A top-down, co-op heist game
What's the hook? Team stealth action with distinct roles. Be Ocean's Eleven.
Who's making it? Pocketwatch Games
I daydream about it all the time: the perfect heist. The target is an oddly colorful bank. I have the blueprints and I've assembled a team of professionals: The Locksmith, The Hacker, The Prowler, and me, The Cleaner . I'm the guy with the chloroform and the plan. Even the security has security here, so if we want to liberate our prize, we have to work together like the springs and gears in a Swiss watch. Hm, a Swiss watch -- Hacker, jot that down in our heist ideas journal.
Seriously, what a fantastic idea: a top-down caper simulator. Everyone has a role, and it's not just a different way to shoot at monsters -- with real coordination and cunning, we and our friends can virtually live our shared Hollywood heist fantasy. TW
URL www.pocketwatchgames.com/Monaco ● ETA TBD
What is it? A two-player sniper vs. spy game
What's the hook? The sniper has one shot. The spy has subtlety.
Who's making it? Chris Hecker, a key developer on Spore
A sniper is perched outside a rowdy soiree. He has one shot to hit one target: a spy which has infiltrated the festivities. He doesn't know what the spy looks like, only that he's there, and that he shouldn't be.
Spy Party is sort of a reverse Turing Test - the spy must mimic AI partgoers while completing objectives, and the sniper must suss out the reveler who's acting just a little too human. Subtlety and inductive reasoning are not common skill-tests in competitive games (unless there are nuances to assault rifles we're not seeing), and the concept could result in one of the most tense games to both watch and play. That's probably why EVO co-founder Seth Killian invited Hecker to bring Spy Party to the 2012 tournament, an impressive endorsement for the beta version of a non-fighting game. TW
URL www.spyparty.com ● ETA TBD