December 30, 2011 6:00 PM | Michael Rose
Some may say that 2011 was the year of the indie gaming boom. For me, 2011 was the year that indie games pretty much became equals with AAA releases, as the likes of Humble Indie Bundle and Steam made indie a more widely accepted culture of gaming.
What does 2012 hold then? I have a horrible sinking feeling that next year will see indie games reaching their peak, as more and more devs jump on board the indie scene, churn out a load of old cobblers, and push the stuff that actually deserves recognition into the background. I hope I'm wrong, of course, and I'm not saying that we should be limiting who is allowed to call themselves 'indie' or not either, or else we'd lose the whole point of the term! But with so much crap to sift through to find the good stuff already, the next 12 months could go either way.
Fortunately, there are already tons of great indie games on the horizon, and here I will attempt to bring 10 of them to the surface. You'll note that I've missed out some obvious ones - essentially, if a game has already featured in a previous '10 Indie Games To Watch Out For' (2010, 2011), then I've left it out here. Looking back, I was perhaps a little too optimistic regarding the release dates of certain games!
Anyway, on to the main spectacle - here are 10 titles that you will (hopefully) be playing next year.
Thatgamecompany is one of the most interesting developers around at the moment. I cannot honestly say that I have enjoyed any of its games to date, and yet I respect the team for pushing the boundaries of what a game can be, and for providing completely unique experiences that the majority of other studios are steering clear of. Journey is another title that, from the sound of it, I don't think I'll enjoy all that much, and yet here I am again, intrigued and ready to check it out.
You are a robed person in the middle of a far-stretching desert, with the simple mission to wander towards a mountain that is in the distance. As you wander, you'll meet other players online who are also walking through the desert. You can't talk to other players, nor do you know any details about them, but you can attempt to work together to get to the mountain. The game is due for release on the PlayStation Network early next year.
The Iconoclasts (Joakim Sandberg)
With every game that developer Konjak abandons, an indie fairy dies somewhere. It's rather good news for the indie fairy population, then, that he decided this year to continue work on The Iconoclasts, after plenty of spirit-raising from his fans. He's now hard at work on a full-blown version, which can only be a good thing - I mean, have you seen this thing? It looks incredible.
In a nutshell, it's a platformer with tons of cool weapons, gizmos and gadgets to find and use. Anyone who has played the original demo will no doubt be ridiculously excited at the prospect of a full version. I'm most likely pushing it quite a bit with my hope that the game will see a 2012 release, but here's hoping we'll at least see a demo or something along those lines.
Gunpoint (Tom Francis, John Roberts and Fabian van Dommelen)
Due for release early in 2012, Gunpoint is a stealth game that revolves around a spy who can do superhuman jumps, hacking-based puzzles and lots of buildings that need infiltrating. The idea is that there's tons of sandbox-style gameplay crammed in, so that levels can be completed in a variety of different ways.
Your spy can rewire anything in the building, such that when it is used by yourself or an enemy, it will then cause something to happen that it didn't originally. Need a locked door opening? Attach it to a light switch. Need to sneak past a guard? Get him to accidentally turn the lights off. No doubt there will be tons of Youtube videos going about post-release, and I will spend many hours just watching the wackiest solutions available.
Owlboy (D-Pad Studio)
Owlboy has been around for, like, ever. Here's a trailer from 2008! Earlier this year, the game finally got a demo, and it was a bit good (the demo is still available from the official site). Like The Iconoclasts, Owlboy is also beautiful to look at and the demo is a joy, fusing platforming action with flighty bits too.
Will it appears in 2012? Perhaps not, but again, I can dream. The official site for D-Pad Studio's other title, Vikings On Trampolines, states "Development on this title will be taken up right after the release of Owlboy... Owlboy is, and always will be, our main priority, until its release!". So that's something!
Botanicula (Amanita Design)
After the beauty of Machinarium, along with Amanita's other smaller but just as gorgeous releases such as the Samorost series, Botanicula is definitely on my radar. It's another point-and-lick exploration game, in which you guide five little tree creatures on a quest to stop an evil infestation that is threatening their habitat.
The trailer + screenshots suggest that we can expect very much more of the same we've come to know and love from the dev team, although the black, furry nasties coupled with the eerie sound effects and music may well provide a welcome darker side to proceedings. We can expect Botanicula sometime early 2012.
Penny Arcade Adventures: Episode 3 (Zeboyd Games)
I didn't actually try the Penny Arcade Adventures games until after it was announced that the rest of the series had been canceled. As I found, they're actually pretty fun RPGs, with lots of good humour and clever yet simple ideas. The various fetch quests I didn't enjoy so much, but there was still enough there that I would have quite liked a part three.
And then in steps Zeboyd Games of Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World fame, ready to take over the reigns and resurrect the Penny Arcade RPG. While no details have yet been divulged (or at least, they don't appear to have been - let me know if there's something I've missed!), I'm very interested to see what Zeboyd does with the series. We should see some more details and a release in 2012!
The Splatters (SpikySnail Games)
The Splatters is another one that has been knocking around for a while, but under the name Confetti Carnival - in fact, the game was nominated for the Technical Excellence award at IGF 2011. Apart from the name change, nothing drastic has happened gameplay-wise, which is a very good thing, given how fun it was already.
The idea is to grab little goo balls and flick them around, causing coloured goo to explode all over the place and cover glowing balls. Cover all the glowing balls in the appropriate goo and you win. That's only half the game though, as you have tons of different stunts you can pull off with the flying goo people. Tis a puzzler worth watching out for!
There have been mixed reactions regarding Scrolls, which really is the least surprising thing that happened this year. Following in the footsteps of something like Minecraft is utterly impossible, no matter how you go about it, and of course there are going to be doubters. Scrolls perhaps looks a little tame compared to the majesty of Minecraft, serving up turn-based card battles on a Chess-style board.
I'm personally excited for it, as the concept sounds solid enough on its own - but its the way the game is being sold that really interests me. There will be a closed alpha stage similar to Minecraft's path to glory (of course, that wasn't closed), during which players can play for free, but must pay money for extra card packs. So essentially, a lot like the way you would play these such card games in real life. Will it work, or will gamers refuse to pay? I look forward to finding out.
Prison Architect (Introversion Software)
Last year's indie games to look out for list contained Subversion, the next game from Introversion Software. Unfortunately, 2011 saw the game put on hold, which was a huge shame - but as it turned out, Introversion didn't simply get stuck in a rut and stop completely. Instead, the team pounced on a different idea, and Prison Architect was born.
Those 44 seconds of video are enough to get me excited. While not many details regarding the game have been divulged, it would appear you are essentially putting a prison together, and making sure it is well built so that convicts don't escape. No doubt there will be lots of crazy events such as breakouts, lockdowns and all that jazz occuring. Another 2012 hopeful!
Pid (Might & Delight)
Pid has some serious style. You are a young boy who is stranded on a remote planet, and must find a way back home. Unfortunately, the planet is over-run by evil robot baddies who want to end our hero's life before he can uncover the secret behind a huge conspiracy.
We've seen some crazy ideas shovelled into platformers in recent years, and it looks like Pid is going to be throwing a lot more our way, as beams of light push you to safety and enemies are tricked into killing themselves. The addition of co-op play with a friend makes this an even more desireable release in 2012.