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Indie games have been around forever, but in the past decade, as more and more videogames have become multimillion-dollar blockbusters, the term has come into its own. Indie has grown into a blanket term for anything that is not a shiny, billion-dollar spectacle. And while that’s reductive, indie studios do generally have more freedom (and more desire) to experiment with the medium, or else create the types of games the blockbuster market considers unthinkable.
This isn’t an attempt to create a canonical “best of” list of the greatest indie games ever made. Instead, these are the indie games the PC Gamer team cherish the most in 2017. Consider this the beginning of a conversation, rather than the final word. Each member of our team voted on their top 10 games, and the results below are what happened when we mashed those lists together. With science.
Released: 2013 | Developer: Fullbright
Shaun: Video games aren’t always about mowing down aliens and nazis and trolls in fantasy/sci-fi/post-apocalyptic settings. But most of the time they are. Gone Home wasn’t the first meditative, narrative-driven game, but it arrived at a time when people were more receptive to their possibilities than ever before. Crucial to Gone Home’s success is that, rather than resting on the delivery tactics of film, Fullbright uses the more tactile nature of the videogame medium. Sure, it’s interactive in the sense that you’re wandering through a home and discovering its inhabitants’ stories, but it also asks of the player that they mull over the lives that they’re eavesdropping on. While there are plenty of “walking simulators” nowadays, Gone Home endures because the story it tells is enduringly affecting and important.
Released: 2013 | Developer: David Kanaga
Jody: I like walking simulators, and I use the term affectionately, but sometimes I find it hard to get caught up in their stories. They can feel anticlimactic. Proteus doesn't because its story is one I tell myself. It dumps me on a procedurally generated island and lets me explore, climbing hills and chasing frogs. There is another story in it though, in the sense that there's a sequence of events that you can experience, but it's a subtle one. (I'll give you a hint: it involves the standing stones.) If you want it there's a build-up and climax there, but even without that the relaxing strolls over its islands gave me all the satisfaction I needed.
Released: 2013 | Developer: Lucas Pope
Jody: Games are amazing at letting you experience someone else's life. To pick an extreme example, just like the wriggly controls of Snake Pass give you an insight into what it would be like to be a snake, the rubber stamps and bureaucracy of Papers, Please make you feel like a border guard under a totalitarian regime.Morality's a thing games don't often do well, but by letting you master increasingly complex regulations—Papers, Please has a great difficulty curve, which indie games sometimes struggle with—it gives you power over the hapless citizens who line up to present their documentation. It motivates you to judge them harshly because if you don't, the pay you need to support your family will be docked, but also because the detective work of uncovering fraud is shockingly fun. You discover a contradiction in someone's papers and feel great, then realize what that will mean for the human on the other side of the counter trying to get home and feel awful. Yeah, it's a game about paperwork, but it's so intense that when I was rewarded for my paper-pushing by being given the key to the gun cabinet I wanted to hand it back. I wanted to tell a video game I wasn't interested in its gun.
Austin: I still remember one of the many would-be citizens I turned away in Papers, Please—the old man who repeatedly submits ridiculously inaccurate papers. Sometimes his ID shows the wrong gender or expiration date, sometimes he even has a photo of someone else on ‘his’ passport. His errors get more and more obvious and egregious, but his cheery attitude never changes. Every time I turned him away, he’d just smile and say he’d be back, like I was a server at his favorite local restaurant. Papers, Please is a game about hard choices, but nothing in it made me feel guiltier than denying that old man so many times.
Released: 2016 | Developer: Metanet Software
Shaun: During my first ecstatic weeks spent with N++, I thought it might be the last platformer I’d ever need to play. The slippery, floaty physics are so expertly tuned, and the level design so varied (despite having upwards of 5,000) that I thought it could keep me busy forever. And while I’ve played probably dozens of different platformers since, N++ is the only one I feel compelled to regularly return to.
Even when you’re not winning, N++ just feels good, and its focus on precision and reflexes isn’t as potentially frustrating as it can be in, for example, Super Meat Boy. The whole game has a zen-like quality, from its austere minimalistic art style through to the experimental electronic soundtrack (one of the few, in a platformer, that I’ve never turned the volume down on). This is simply the best pure platformer you can get on PC, a museum-worthy distillation of the genre’s strengths.
Released: 2017 | Developer: Asymmetric Publications
Chris: West of Loathing is just so wonderfully jam-packed with humor, clever writing, and charming characters that it's hard to stop playing even when you've finished the main story, solved all of the (sometimes quite devious) puzzles, and collected every hat (there are more than 50) in the game. Everywhere you turn there's some little bit of descriptive text that will make you smile, chuckle, or laugh, even the the settings menu. It's one of the only games that drove me to explore not for loot or experience, but for words.
Released: 2015 | Developer: Brace Yourself Games
Bo: Crypt of the Necrodancer is a rhythm-based roguelike—a DDR-dungeon crawler, if you will. A head-scratching combination, to be sure, but that's exactly what it is. Dance your way through pixelated depths to the beat of an awesome, rhythmically complex soundtrack. Stay on beat to slay the dungeon's dancing denizens, and don't forget to spend some time with the opera-singing shopkeeper.
Released: 2011 | Developer: Supergiant Games
Jody: There's no game I've had better luck recommending to people than Bastion. Everybody loves its narration and its music, which would be cool independently but become truly outstanding because of how they're integrated. You think you're hearing a beautiful soundtrack and then you discover the musician in the level you're exploring. You think the narrator is a guy with a deep voice telling a story and then he reacts to how you play.
Bastion is an action RPG about a ruined sky-city that rebuilds itself under your feet, nothing beyond the screen existing until you walk toward it. Instead of playing inventory Tetris you choose two weapons from a growing catalogue, and are rewarded for choosing strange pairings with narration snippets and radically altered play. And if you don't like the combat then go into the options and pick a different control scheme. I'm not normally the kind of critic to sing the praises of an options menu but you can turn Bastion into Diablo if you want. Come on, that's awesome.
Released: 2015 | Developer: Sam Barlow
Jody: I used to watch an English cop show called The Bill. Back when it was good they'd sometimes dedicate half an episode to an interrogation, a guest star stamping their mark on the show. That's Her Story, only instead of cops it's you, years after the recorded interview, searching through video clips by entering keywords. Her Story plays out in those videos and that search bar, but it's also played on note paper you inevitably fill with conspiracy scribbles like Charlie from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I didn't bother making notes during Fez (I probably should have), but for Her Story I scrawled pages.
It spread even further after that, into an argument with friends about what really happened which I remain convinced I'm right about. Maybe I got obsessed? It's one of a handful of games I 100-percented on Steam and I don't regret it.
Wes: In tech, skeuomorphic design—making your music player in the form of a cassette tape, for example—is now quaint and frowned upon. But it's a rarely used concept in games, and Her Story uses it to great effect. I'd go so far to say that its dusty CRT computer interface is the best marriage of aesthetic and game design in anything I've ever played. It's immersive in a subtle, well-earned way that makes Her Story enrapturing from its first few moments.
Released: 2011 | Developer: Gaslamp Games
Chris: I'm not typically one for turn-based games, and roguelike RPGs often break my heart when I'm forced to start over from scratch, but Dungeons of Dredmor immediately drew me in with its style and comedy. I've never won a game, never beat or even met Lord Dredmor, never even gotten more than a few levels deep. It's still a joy to play for its writing, humor and surprisingly deep and amusing lore.
Evan: The absurdity goes so far to soften the blows of its difficulty. You can build a Vampire Communist who wields Egyptian Magic, Fungal Arts, or Emomancy to fight hordes of weird robots, carrots, genies, and whatever the hell diggles are.
Austin: I keep coming back to Dungeons of Dredmor because it’s a gamble I don’t mind losing. I’ve never beaten Dredmor either, but generating a random character and pushing the usefulness of absurd skills like Fleshsmithing, Killer Vegan and Paranormal Investigator is always a thrill, even when I die on the first or second floor. It’s a system that rewards inventiveness. You can manually select your skills, but rolling the die and making the best of random skills is far more satisfying, and like the optional but actually totally necessary permadeath, makes every round feel genuinely different.
Released: 2014 | Developer: QuickTequila
Shaun: You don’t need blood and exploding heads in a first-person shooter. Case in point: Lovely Planet, a first-person shooter where you run increasingly complex gauntlets while shooting cute pastel shapes in a floating pastel land. But how, you ask. How can a game about shooting cute pastel shapes (that don’t bleed!) be fun? Because this is basically a platformer—a more-ish precision-oriented runner combining the fluidity of a Quake speedrun with the one-more-try quick respawn loop of Super Meat Boy.
Released: 2006 | Developer: Introversion Software
Tyler: DEFCON is one of those games I could play forever. It's a simple, morbid real-time strategy game in which global nuclear war is inevitable and 'winning' means losing fewer people than everyone else. In the early stages it's about placing missile silos (which double as missile defense systems), airfields, radar stations, and fleets of submarines, battleships, and aircraft carriers. As the war turns hot, the only option is to manage losses and inflict your own genocide, to make paranoid alliances and break them with bombs—ignoring that the fallout will kill everyone anyway. The brutality is rendered with War Games-style vectors, turning cities to dots and people to casualty numbers, emulating the calculated viciousness of modern drone wars.
Released: 2017 | Developer: David Kanaga
James: Oikospiel is a dog opera game about dogs making an opera game. I think. Here’s the plot synopsis according to developer, composer, everything-er David Kanaga: “The Oikospielen Opera is developing an epic global-gaming festival called THE GEOSPIEL, scheduled for the year 2100. The opera's employees, organized by the Union of Animal Workers, are trying to integrate the game dev dogs of Koch Games into their group, but these loyal pups love their jobs and boss Donkey Koch too much! Will there be Unity, or will Multiplicity prevail?”
It’s as strange as it sounds, and it sounds strange—literally—too. With a soundtrack that mimics its frenzied landscapes, Oikospiel is a touching, psychedelic trip through videogame history with a meaningful message about labor.
Released: 2011 / 2013 | Developer: Galactic Cafe, William Pugh, Davey Wreden
Shaun: Are you playing the game, or is the game playing you? So much of our agency in modern games is illusory, or, more gratingly, reductive and binary. Are you going to go the nice path or the bad-arse path? The Stanley Parable is a meta-critique of gaming as a medium, but it’s also a trojan horse existential crisis (and we all love having those). When we don’t take the critical path, the one prescribed to us, what could possibly go wrong? And given the actual opportunity to do so—given the opportunity to deliberately stray from what a game (or The Stanley Parable’s narrator) is telling us to do, is there any point in playing the game at all? Hmmm. Makes you think.
Jody: First time I played The Stanley Parable I did everything I was told to. Knowing it would be meta-commentary, I rebelled by not rebelling. That’s a dumb way to experience The Stanley Parable for the first time. Don’t do that. Sabotage it, go the wrong way, hide in a closet and refuse to leave. It’s a better game if you break the rules other games have taught you rather than the first rule of The Stanley Parable, which is: don’t do what you’re told.
Released: 2015 | Developer: Frictional Games
Shaun: Survival horror too often devolves into repetitive efforts to fend off undead with unwieldy weaponry, but Soma is different. There’s no combat on this underwater research facility, and enemy encounters are few and far between. Most of the time you’re just looking at stuff, but that’s ok in the hands of studio Frictional. They manage to wring an overwhelming sense of dread and despair from a mere dark corridor, not to mention the sprawling sub-aquatic outdoor areas peppered throughout. And the ending of Soma—even if you’re usually ambivalent towards low action horror—is worth the trip alone. It may be more contemplative and less jump scare-oriented than Amnesia, but it’s all the better for it.
James: I’d even recommend those typically averse to horror give SOMA a try. Install the teasingly named “Wuss Mode” mod from the Steam Workshop to make the monsters harmless without losing much horror in the process. Sure, you won’t have to hide, but that doesn’t make their appearance and origins any less terrifying.
Released: 2016 | Developer: Drool
Shaun: Thumper is like an ugly, loathsome, despair-inducing industrial techno song come to life. And that’s a very good thing. In our recent list of you can play right now, Evan described it as “a documentary about the path you take to heaven or hell when you die” which is just about the most alluring description for a video game I’ve ever read. Yes, it’s a tough, precision-oriented rhythm game, but it’s a precision-oriented rhythm game that feels like a collaboration between Gaspar Noe and Laibach.
On the next page: the top 10.
Released: 2017 | Developer: Messhof Games
Bo: I'm a sucker for local multiplayer games, and Nidhogg is one of the best. Somewhat of a cross between fencing and tug-of-war, Nidhogg's 1v1 matches play out over the course of many brief but violent clashes, resulting in a tense back-and-forth that's every bit a battle of wits as it is one of skill. And like all good local multiplayer games, it's easy to pick up and play but has a well of strategic depth that makes it difficult to master.
The recently-released Nidhogg 2 builds on its predecessor with a new grotesque claymation art style as well as a handful of new weapon types that mix combat up just enough to make things exciting without hampering the original's simplistic greatness. The result is a fantastic fighter we keep coming back to—especially if an office bet needs to be settled.
Released: 2012 | Developer: Polytron Corp
Shaun: Fez accumulates more poignancy with age. It’s a puzzle platformer tightly stuck between two dimensions, and harried by each of them. The protagonist is tasked with investigating and hopefully fixing the scourge of a newly arrived third dimension in a happily two-dimensional world, and this could read, from a fairly one-dimensional point of view, as an indictment on progress, a kind of luddite’s journey.
But as time passes—as the world becomes more overtly hostile—Fez’s innocent take on the loss of innocence rings true. As time passes, each of us will realise that certain uncomfortable truths have always lingered just out of our sight, waiting to pounce. And others will persevere, dig deeper (whether wisely or otherwise), for conspiracies and better buried secrets (and boy does Fez have secrets). Fez is a game about the hidden regions of our world that are always there, always mysterious, usually forbidding. It’s a beautiful and serene and sad game, but also, as an aside, really fun to play too. Fez is timeless in the way it can convey a wealth of emotion and contemplation through its systems alone.
Wes: After its fairly simple introductory hours, every discovery and deduction I made in Fez felt like a hard earned victory, or the unraveling of an impossibly complex puzzle. I love the sensation of "this can't possibly be the solution" in a videogame, only to discover that my crazy hypothesis was correct. That's what Fez is all about. And I love how clearly you can feel the immense amount of thought and polish that went into it; it feels every bit the intricate, perfectly tuned puzzle someone spent half a decade slotting together, piece by piece, until everything was just so.
Released: 2017 | Developer: Infinite Fall
Shaun: Some of the most noteworthy indies from the last decade have been adventure games, but it took until 2017 for one of the highlights, Night in the Woods, to emerge. As endearing feline Mae Borowski, you’re returning to the sleepy rural town of your childhood after an unsuccessful college stint. The town is on the decline, and so too, it seems, is Mae’s future. Things haven’t quite turned out the way she (or her family) had hoped, and much of Night in the Woods is about dealing with this mild disappointment. Exploring the township of Possum Springs is a joy in itself, but it’s the way Night in the Woods weaves a universal coming of age tale around an otherwise straightforward puzzle-laden adventure game that is remarkable.
Released: 2013-ongoing | Developer: Cardboard Computer
Jody: I wanted to wait. I wanted all five episodes of Kentucky Route Zero to be complete before I climbed into it and drove off. That's how I played The Walking Dead, and rumbling through that in one week contributed to its effect. I caved in and played Kentucky Route Zero though because a poet recommended it to me, and that's not something that happens every day. It’s obvious why she thought I had to try it, unfinished as it was (and still is). Kentucky Route Zero’s writing is gorgeous, ornamental but also able to get right at the meat of a thing. It's there when someone calls an office bureaucracy "the paperclip labyrinth" or describes topology as "the science of continuous space".
Kentucky Route Zero is an adventure game of the modern kind, where decisions and dialogue rather than puzzles pace your progress. It's about finding a lost highway, but it quickly buries you in a kind of American mythology where mystery roads are the least strange thing. I'd hate to spoil what you'll find, but if you get in an elevator, see a button that says "third floor (bears)" and aren't tempted to press it, then I don't even know you.
Though it feels like being in a novel, Kentucky Route Zero pays homage to games. That explanation of topology takes place in "a twisty maze of passages", a reference to the classic text game Colossal Cave Adventure. So is the fact that the first item you pick up is a lamp. Some of the earliest PC games were about manipulating words because that was all they had. Kentucky Route Zero is about manipulating words because that's a fascinating thing to do. It's hard to explain why encountering its word-hoard has such a potent effect, but I'm just a journalist. They should have sent a poet.
Released: 2016 | Developer: Eric Barone
Bo: There are few games that delight me in the way that Stardew Valley does. I grew up loving the Harvest Moon series, and Stardew takes that formula and applies it to the PC space. Stardew strips away many of Nintendo's puritanical hangups—same-sex marriage and sexual innuendo aren't taboo inclusions, for example—but maintains the charm of tilling fields, planting seeds, and growing crops. There's also a vibrant town to get to know, mines to explore, and tons and tons of fish to fish. I've spent more than 80 hours in Stardew Valley, and I'm looking forward to my next trip to the country.
James: Do you see me now, dad? You didn’t think my mayonnaise dreams would get me anywhere and look at me now.
Jody: Thank goodness I am not the only person making bank off mayonnaise. The quality eggs provided by my hens, Chickity and Nug, are the secret of my success.
Released: 2015 | Developer: Toby Fox
Wes: A friend and I played Undertale in a single sitting. It first inspires curiosity at its quirkiness, then determination to solve its challenging combat without taking the easy way out, then admiration for the delivery of its jokes and the tight meshing of themes and RPG mechanics twisted sideways. Comparisons to Super Nintendo RPG Earthbound, while apt, don't do Undertale justice: it's incredibly smart in how it thinks about the way we play videogames and challenges and surprises with new ideas at every step.
It's a game I genuinely think everyone should play. You'll either appreciate the humor, or the challenge, or the freedom to play through in many different ways, or the painstaking one-off moments, or the ways creator Toby Fox bent engine Game Maker to his will, or the prospect of a "true" ending to earn. It looks simple, but there's so much under the surface.
Released: 2015 | Developer: Squad
Chris: Whether you're seriously into the science and simulation, or just looking for some fun sending adorable astronauts into space (or watching their rockets explode before they get there), Kerbal is a near-perfect physics sandbox. One of the reasons it's such a joy to play is that there's immense satisfaction in the successes, like the first time you reach orbit, or land on the Mun, or safely bring your astronauts home from a mission, but there's also pleasure to be had (as well as lessons to be learned) from your failures.
KSP is both easy and immensely challenging: rockets can be snapped together quickly, and tweaked or rebuilt in mere moments, but conquering the solar system requires precision and know-how. Its charming looks and its detailed physics simulation make it a game for just about anyone, from casual rocket tinkerers to passionate rocket scientists.
Released: 2017 | Developer: Team Cherry
Wes: The best Metroidvania in years, perhaps because developers Team Cherry didn't explicitly set out to make a game in the image of Metroid. They were making a 2D action game, sure, set in a gorgeous hand-drawn decaying bug civilization, but they were mainly concerned with , and the rest followed. "The rest," in this case, is a game that feels fantastic to play, with a character who moves exactly as you want and a weapon that hits with a fast and brutal crack. Combat and traversal stay rooted in the basics of jump, dodge, hit, never scaling too far beyond the capabilities you have from the very beginning. It always favors skill over power-ups.
Hollow Knight rarely tells you where to go or what to do, making palpable the satisfaction and wonder of discovering new parts of the world and new abilities. And it just keeps going. The world is huge, more detailed than you ever expect it to be, and suddenly you're two dozen hours deep and wondering how much you still have to find. The Super Nintendo had Super Metroid; PlayStation had Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Hollow Knight may not be spoken of in the same breath, just yet, but before long I think its place in that lineage will be clear: the PC had Hollow Knight.
Released: 2016 | Developer: Red Hook Studios
Shaun: Ah, dread. It’s what you generally try to avoid in an RPG rogue-like: you want to try to mitigate dread, manage it out of existence. But dread is Darkest Dungeon’s default state. In vague terms it’s a dungeon crawler, but the dungeons aren’t miraculously swept chasms with the odd cobweb and exhumed grave—they’re dank and gross. Add to that, the need to manage your entourage’s sanity (not easy in a game that takes some small inspiration from Lovecraft) and you have an RPG that rarely offers respite. That could sound punishing, but Darkest Dungeon’s mood, and the way that you can invest your emotions in its variables, rather than just your brain and its ability to parse bigger and better numbers, makes for a gripping and bleak RPG.
Evan: I love how martial, not magical, most of the character archetypes are. Apart from the Vestal, there aren't true spellcasters—Darkest Dungeon is acted out in blood, iron, poison, bones, and crossbow bolts. That grounds the game as a whole and adds to its grittiness. The fights that play out, with the help of great 2D camera effects and sound design, feel physical and jarring as a result. It also creates good contrast with DD's monsters, a gang of blood-sucking, spore-sneezing, tentacle-having, spinal column-collecting abominations.
Released: 2008, 2013 | Developer: Mossmouth
Shaun: The first time I played Spelunky I deleted it off my hard drive within ten minutes. Then, later, at the behest of then-PC Gamer scribe Graham Smith’s , I begrudgingly reinstalled it. I can still remember what hooked me this second time: I picked up a gold mask, a rumble filled the air, and then a massive boulder collapsed through the ceiling and crushed a nearby vendor to death. I laughed, it was funny, I woke my partner up. That’s when I became addicted to Spelunky.
A lot has been written about the beauty of Spelunky’s interlocking systems, its propensity for creating stories, and its tough-but-fair difficulty. That’s all been said and written a hundred times before, and while Spelunky is still a relatively new game in the wide scheme of things, it feels like a classic. I often boot it up just to be inside of it, just to soak up its mood. It’s weird to seek the comfort of familiarity in a game that’s always throwing curveballs, but aside from the glory of its systems and stories, Spelunky is a really beautiful, heartwarming game. It also was the first to demonstrate to me, personally, that a small game that originated as freeware could contain so much: so many stories, so many events, so many countless, frankly embarrassing, hours.
Wes: Even after four years, Spelunky's spot at the top of this list is well deserved. The way its hero and items and traps and enemies and random generation interact with one another is still peerless. Just as brilliant, though, is Spelunky's daily challenge, the perfect combination of old school arcade leaderboard and infinitely replayable randomized roguelike. The daily challenge added structure and permanence to a genre that prided itself on not having any, and it works; it's become a must-have feature in any similar roguelike ever since.
See our honorable mentions on the next page.
Listing 25 of the best indie games has not been an easy task. While the list isn’t designed to be exhaustive, there were dozens of games we’d have liked to include. So without further ado, here are an additional ten that we think you should play, and which failed to scrape into the top 25.
Cave Story+ (2011): Cave Story, a beautiful pixel-art Metroidvania first released in 2004, can probably be blamed for the thousands of similarly retro-styled platformers still flooding storefronts. But this game, now available as Cave Story+, still endures as both an indie touchstone and a gorgeous game to boot.
Audiosurf (2008): Dylan Fitterer’s 2008 playable music visualizer (and its equally good 2013 sequel) take mp3s from your music collection and transform them into space rollercoasters. The song’s tempo and beat influence the track’s curves and speed, and the placement of blocks to dodge and collect as you race across it. Made us all play Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ too many times.
Mark of the Ninja (2012): This imaginative 2D stealth platformer endures because it rewards player creativity. It’s easy enough to be evasive in Mark of the Ninja, but being clever about it is much more fun. It’s a joy just to tease the foes in this game, helped by the fact that it’s a beautiful world to spend some time in.
Braid (2008): A timeless example of how a slight twist on an ancient formula—and a whole lot of heart—can create a classic. Jonathan Blow’s time manipulation system worked wonders in an otherwise basic 2D platformer, but it was the subtle yet affecting personal touches that made Braid great.
Hotline Miami (2012): Easily one of the most stylish—and brutal—pixel-art action games on PC, Hotline Miami feels like a puzzle game, in the way it forces players to “solve” each of its grizzly encounters in the most expedient way possible. The soundtrack is untouchable, too.
Stephen's Sausage Roll (2016): It’s a game called Stephen’s Sausage Roll, and it’s about cooking sausages. But for some reason you must push sausages around blocky, psychedelic puzzle chambers in order to grill them. Don’t question it. If it’s a tough puzzle game you’re after, this should be high on your list.
Don’t Starve (2013): Klei’s 2013 survival game is still one of the genre’s best, and is also one of the best things to come out of early access. A playable Edward Gorey book where you might be eaten by dogs or starve during the long winter (the name should have warned you about that possibility), but will definitely have fun either way.
Devil Daggers (2016): A one-level first-person shooter where the level is a hellish arena, and the enemies are skulls and flying snakes and other escapees from heavy metal album art. Takes the speed and circle-strafing of Quake and distills it into 10 perfect seconds, or 20 if you’re good.
Life is Strange (2015): The first episode is rough and honestly so is the last one. But for three episodes in the middle, Life is Strange is a rare and poignant evocation of what it’s like to be a teenager, uncertain and brash all at once. Then it gives you time-rewinding powers that let you undo your mistakes, the supernatural equivalent of adult foresight letting you slowly realize which of your teenage ideas are bad. (All of them.)
Gravity Bone (2008): Games about spies are rare, and so are games that borrow from movies without coming off as pale imitations. In 20 minutes, Gravity Bone makes you feel like you’re in a spy movie without ever seeming second best. Blendo Games’ follow-ups, Thirty Flights of Loving (2012) and Quadrilateral Cowboy (2016) built on Gravity Bone’s, um, bones.
Spelunky creator Derek Yu hinted at something new a couple of weeks ago when he tweeted a screenshot of what appeared to be a new game, accompanied by the hashtag #UFO50. Right around the same time, two other indie developers, Jon Perry and Eirik Suhrke, tweeted different images using the same hashtag. What, we wondered, could it be? Today, the secret was revealed.
"UFO 50 is a collection of 50 single and multiplayer games from the creators of Spelunky, Downwell, Time Barons, Skorpulac, and Madhouse," the website at 50games.fun explains. "Jump in and explore a variety of genres, from platformers and shoot 'em ups to puzzle games and RPGs. Our goal is to combine a familiar 8-bit aesthetic with new ideas and modern game design sensibilities."
The concept for each game in the package comes from a single director, "but everyone on the team [Yu, Perry, Suhrke, Paul Hubans, and Ojiro Fumoto] worked on games they didn't direct and helped with art, programming, and design." Individually, they won't be quite as large as the 8-bit games from back in the day, but each one will be a full game, with estimated total playtime for the bundle running over 100 hours. All of them will have a single-player mode, and roughly a third will feature some form of multiplayer as well.
The games aren't directly connected to one another, but UFO 50 itself is built on the story of a fictional development company from the 1980s, "obscure but ahead of its time," who created them. They also share a 32-color palette "and other restrictions we decided on to make them feel more authentic."
UFO 50 is expected to be ready for release sometime in 2018. Pricing hasn't been set, but the developers say they "want it to be an easy purchase." Have a look at some more (appropriately lo-res) screens down below.
On July 26, Derek Yu, creator of Spelunky, posted a screenshot to Twitter (see above) using the hashtag #UFO50. No explanation, no details, just the screenshot of a Spelunky-ish-looking platformer or sidescroller with a dinosaur head, some happy tomatoes, a gem, and some sort of tiny spaceship (maybe) firing lasers (maybe). Mysterious!
Also mysterious: two other game-makers have posted screenshots using the same hashtag on July 24 and July 25 (see below). The two screens are from Jon Perry, who worked with Yu on tactical card game Time Barons, and Eirik Suhrke, who worked with Yu on Spelunky. They, too, have not elaborated further on their screenshots.
Soooo... what is UFO50? We don't know. None of these screenshots appear to be from the same game, so is UFO50 a compilation of games? 50 games? Is it a collaboration of some sort, wherein one game will have different minigames or modes by different designers? 50 of them? Will this wordless screenshot posting continue for 47 more days? Will I bother to email anyone to ask, or just continue to sit here lazily asking questions? 50 questions?
Okay, I just emailed Yu and I'll let you know if I hear anything back. In the meantime, keep watching the skies, or at least keep watching the #UFO50 hashtag.
Sometimes, a developer’s last game hints at their next one. Other times, the programmer of Spelunky HD announces a basketball beat ’em up. Say hallo to Dunk Lords [official site], jamming our way in 2018. This is a delightful surprise, and not just because of that name. The slam-jamming shakalaka ’em up boasts 2v2 b-balling action with fisticuffs, special moves, and environmental hazards, which sounds a lark. … [visit site to read more]
From beating the game in just 100 seconds, to staggering no gold pacifist runs, Spelunky record-breaking runs are a joy to watch. And with so many working parts, players are still finding new ways to best the already impressive feats, more than three years since the game's release—the latest of which is the work of Kinnijup, whose $3,526,575 money score marks a new world record.
While Spelunky speedruns are undoubtedly incredibly difficult (I genuinely have no idea how players manage to avoid embedding themselves in walls when operating the teleporting device), money scores provide an entirely different challenge. These runs are about perseverance, grind and guile, as players strive to outwit enemies and cover each map from corner to corner, mining every gem possible along the way.
This almost always meaning running the clock down past 2.30, which throws The Ghost into the mix—something which tends to make these runs even more nail biting still. At four hours and 32 minutes, here's Kinnijup's world record-breaking performance and, as you might expect, things get pretty tense towards the end.
To Kinnijup, I doff my cap.
The latest Humble Bundle is pretty darn awesome. Named the Humble Revelmode Bundle (because it s organised by YouTube chap PewDiePie s creator network Revelmode), this collection gathers the likes of Nidhogg, Spelunky, Golf With Your Friends, Roguelands and Rocket League all in the one place via the familiar tiered payment format.
Robot Roller-Derby Disco Dodgeball, Choice Chamber, and Nidhogg the latter of which we described as a brilliant marriage of mechanics, level design and music all befall the pay-what-you-want premier tier; while paying above average ( 4.86/$6.45 at the time of writing) also nets you the Early Access-dwelling Golf With Your Friends, Skullgirls and a bunch of its DLC, Roguelands, and the wonderful rock shelter-swiper Spelunky.
Psyonix's formidable car-ball-cage 'em up Rocket League can also be yours on top of all that, so long as you re willing to fork over 11.30/$15. As always you ve got the option to split your dough between the game creator s, Humble itself, and a selection of charities.
The Humble Revelmode Bundle is live now and runs until July 26.
As much as PC gaming hardware has changed and improved over the years, there’s always been one constant: the limitations of disk space. Granted, it’s far cheaper and easier (no more absurdly tiny Master/Slave toggles) than it used to be to grab a new hard drive, but the rise of ever-faster but more expensive SSDs set things back a bit in that regard. With new mainstream games regularly asking for as much as 30 Gigabytes I remain, as I always have, in a battle for space. Which means I’m constantly uninstalling half-finished stuff in order to make space for the next big thing. Sometimes it’s heartbreaking. But there’s a line. There are a few games I can never uninstall, because it would hurt too much. Granted, they change a little over the years – new ones come in, old ones finally, finally lose their lustre (or I give up entirely on the belief that I will ever go back), but here’s how that list of inviolable treasures looks right now.
Derek Yu is the creator of Spelunky. He was also co-creator of 2007 Metroidvania adventure Aquaria, and the 2002 freeware action adventure Eternal Daughter. He's also the writer of the book Spelunky. Maybe one day there will be a film adaptation of Spelunky. We can only hope.
The best thing about Derek Yu s new book about Spelunky is that it answers all the questions I ve ever wanted to ask about his game. The worst thing about Derek Yu s new book about Spelunky is that it leaves very few questions to ask him directly. Part indie development motivational tome, part technical retrospective, Spelunky (the book) is something fans of the game will devour in one sitting, just as I did.
Published by Boss Fight Books, Spelunky traces the game s origins as a free-to-play browser game built in GameMaker, through to the release of the HD remake on XBLA in 2012 and PC the following year. Back then, major indies arriving on console was still a novelty, Early Access and Kickstarter weren t yet phenomenons, and the roguelike had yet to have its unlikely revival, save for The Binding of Isaac.
Spelunky is a divisive game: those who love it sing its praises at every given opportunity, while those who dislike it do so with a belligerent, unreasonable and frankly alarming passion. When PC Gamer named it the best game of 2013, you better believe there was much handwringing involved. For those who love the game, reading about how and why the Hell Run chain was installed, or what inspired the eggplant, will be required reading. Accessible dives into the logic behind the game s randomised dungeons is also present, as is a sort-of manifesto on Yu s preference for game worlds that are indifferent to the player.
I spoke to Derek on Skype a couple of weeks ago. His book is out now through Boss Fight.
PC Gamer: Was it as difficult writing a book as it was making a game?
Derek Yu: Yeah, it was pretty difficult. I mean, going into it I hadn t written anything over a few pages long in college I remember writing papers that were about three pages long. The sheer enormity of having to write something that long was pretty daunting. Mainly, I just realised I didn t have as many writing tools as I thought I had and I don t mean keyboard. [I mean] the vocabulary, the phrases that one needs to put a book together of that length. You need to find ways of saying things that sound interesting, but you need the variety as well. The final book I think ended up being 48,000 words or something like that, so writing and having it edited by professional writers, I realised how many stock phrases and words I really rely on day-to-day. You need to come up with more interesting ways to say things. Putting your thoughts out there is one thing, but putting your thoughts into a form that reads well and is interesting is another.
Then there s the difficulty of describing game design and gameplay using words and making it sound interesting: I ve always had a hard time with that. In the book I started with how I would introduce Spelunky to people when I met them for the first time. That s always been a difficult thing for me because there s so much in the game, and boiling that down into a few sentences, even for people who are familiar with games, is hard. If you think about a lot of classic games, if you try to describe them in words for readers who have no background with them, [it can be hard]. Like Mario: you re this little guy breaking blocks. It sounds weird and totally not fun at all. That s probably why, when we describe games, we rely so much on it s X meets Y , this is the Dark Souls of strategy games, or something like that. Because it s so hard to describe in words what playing a video game is really like and how that s exciting. All of that was very challenging.
PCG: Do you still play Spelunky?
DY: No, not really. I played it so much during development and immediately after release. I d be interested in how many developers play their games. I mean, every now and again I ll play a little bit, usually just to check something. When I was working on the book and wanted to check something, I d play the game. You have to realise I ve been playing Spelunky since the original freeware version in 2008, and I played it until the release of the PlayStation versions of the game. I d been playing it non-stop.
PCG: Sometimes I think I m done with Spelunky. I leave it for two to three months, but then something happens and I m sucked back in.
DY: I think the other thing for me is that it still hasn t been long enough that I can play it for fun. When I m playing a game I m still always a bit on edge in terms of thinking about it, wondering what s going to go wrong, thinking about how I d make improvements. There s not really much I would improve with Spelunky, but the feeling that I should be looking for those things is still present. At this point if I wanted to play a video game for fun or to relax, I m not going to play one of my own games.
PCG: You say there s not much you d improve about Spelunky, but that implies there are small things. Is that true?
DY: Yeah, I don t really think there are, to be honest. I think Spelunky as it is, is pretty set. Another thing is, as time passes even things that may have been flaws become part of the game. I could say, maybe I want to improve the graphics because I m better at drawing now , but you start to get used to something the way it is and has been, and you don t want to change it because the flaws become part of its character and personality. Aside from maybe some small bugs lingering in the game, I don t think there s anything especially anything fundamental to the design.
PCG: Since Spelunky HD released on XBLA in 2012, Early Access has become popular. It somewhat mirrors the way you initially developed Spelunky in GameMaker, seeking feedback from the TIGsource community. Do you think the rise of Early Access is a good thing, or not?
DY: I think it s good. I personally wouldn t ever do Early Access. At this point I feel like I wouldn t use it unless I really had to for some reason, because I wouldn t want that pressure of having people watch the development as it progresses. It would be more difficult to make the decisions I need to make. It s the same reason I probably wouldn t do a Kickstarter: I think a lot of people do it not just for the funding but for the marketing and promotion, but I think right now, with the sales of Spelunky and Aquaria, I can fund my next game myself and choose not to go the Kickstarter route, even for the promotion. Investors make it harder, and adds more pressure it gets people s expectations going before you really want them to have any expectations.
Expectations are so critical. I think that people s expectations of the remake of Spelunky, based on the original, coloured the way that they saw the game when it first came out. I think there was a significant amount of criticism of the remixed music and graphics, because people were so used to the pixel art and the original music. If that original game didn t exist, those people who didn t like the new graphics and music probably wouldn t have felt the same way, without those expectations. Early Access can be great, but you need to weigh the trade-offs very carefully. For people who need the funding, or for people who need the motivation… I think it can be hard to make a game that no one will see for years. I even released the freeware version of Spelunky as a beta on TIGsource in part because I wanted the motivation. I didn t know if it was good. But you may not need any of those things.
PCG: Late last year there was a lot of chatter about a so-called "Indiepocalypse", and the gist was that it s much harder to get any exposure as an independent developer nowadays, because the market is so saturated. Do you think that s true?
DY: It s hard to say for me, because I ve released Aquaria and Spelunky, and having already released some successful games really makes a huge difference. I mean, I think Jon Blow said it himself about The Witness, that because of Braid a lot of people checked it out. It is hard for me to speak on what it would be like, or what it s like for new developers right now.
Things like Indiepocalypse and this is the end of indie : those kind of phrases I don t really buy into. I think there are definitely a lot of new challenges now that indie gaming and gaming in general is a much larger and more diverse place. That said, I think there are a lot of benefits to that, the tools are better, and I think there are a lot more resources available for people to use to make their games, to distribute their games and to learn how to make games. I definitely don t think indie gaming as a whole is in trouble. I think there are some new challenges but there are some new positives. I think the competition level is definitely higher, but the tools and resources are better.
PCG: Do you think there are too many games now?
DY: It s hard for me to say I wish that there were fewer games . I just want to see more and more games. The more the better. It s definitely more crowded though, and I will say that it was probably easier to get noticed when I was working on Aquaria and Spelunky. That said, it also seemed scarier then because not as many people were doing it. It felt more lonely, it felt more like… what are we doing? Is this even a legitimate thing to be doing as a career? How are we going to sell our game, and will people even want to buy it, compared to the big blockbusters? There were a lot more questions. That said, it also felt very cosy, and when you did meet other indies at GDC or wherever, it really felt like a family. Now I think there are so many more people, it definitely feels more crowded now.
Next page: Derek's favourite Spelunky character, and why deathmatch mode never caught on.
PCG: There s a section in the book called feedback loop where you write that Spelunky was a small idea that quickly grew organically. That seems like an ideal situation for a creative person. Is that a hard phenomenon to trigger? Do you work for it, or does it arrive in a fit of inspiration?
DY: You definitely have to put in the work. Start with small ideas and try making them. What I found is that I d often hit a wall, so I d go back and think about what I m going to do again, find a new idea, mix and match some existing ideas I ve already had and go back at it. You hit a wall, and then you hit another, and eventually you get to an idea where everything seems to fit and you just start flying.
That s kinda how it was with Spelunky: I had all these prototypes before Spelunky, and they were all really exciting at the start but pretty soon you hit a wall. Once I started working on Spelunky I never hit the wall, I just kept going and going, and there kept being more interesting avenues to explore with it. I don t think I would have just come across it without working on the previous prototypes, which meant sitting down and making games. I definitely advocate actually making games, getting your hands dirty, because that s the only way to really figure out what sticks. There are so many ideas that sound good in your head, but when you start working on them they aren t [that good].
PCG: Spelunky's Deathmatch mode is one of my favourite competitive games. You write in the book that you were surprised people didn t pick it up more. Why do you think they didn t?
DY: It s a good question. I think it was because people just didn t play it the way Andy [Hull, Spelunky programmer] and I did while we were developing it, where it was just much more tactical. We didn t chuck bombs all over the place, we d wait for that perfect opportunity and try to take out the person when they were vulnerable. Whereas I think most people who tried deathmatch, and maybe multiplayer in general especially for a game like Spelunky where the deathmatch was never really a part of the core game to begin with I think expectation played quite a big part. I feel like that s on us, to get players to understand how to play the game properly. I definitely don t blame the players or anything like that. I think a lot of people do have a lot of fun with it, as a more casual thing. It may also be that adventure mode is more compelling than deathmatch mode.
PCG: We ve got a tournament going in the office. We play 1v1, 12 bombs, 4 ropes, and everything else on default except the ghost, target and AI is toggled off. We find it very tactical with those settings.
DY: It s possible that there are people out there having a lot of fun with deathmatch and it s just not really being broadcast on the internet where I would be able to find out. I tend not to watch a lot of Spelunky streaming anyways, kinda for the same reason I don t play it: it s just slightly stressful for me. I usually just watch the highlights people send me. I think it s also the case that deathmatch isn t a very well-explained mode. It s just there and it s up to you to figure out what to do with it.
PCG: There have been some impressive Spelunky runs: someone killed the ghost, someone got the eggplant to Yama, recently there was a no gold pacifist run. It feels like the community has done everything in this game, but is there any other devious challenge you could set?
DY: Oh boy. I don t think there is! Nothing that s really within reason. I joked about people playing it blindfolded but I don t really suggest that, actually. I don t think Spelunky has enough audio cues to let you do that without a tonne of luck. I said it in the book: people have already completely surpassed our expectations in terms of what can be done in the game. The limits of the game, or what we thought were the limits, aren t the limits at all they ve been surpassed by people like Bananasaurus Rex. At this point anything people do is new and surprising to us.
PCG: Did you expect Spelunky to be such a great spectator sport?
DY: I didn t, though I hoped that it would. With Spelunky Classic, I really thought the random nature of the game would limit it as a competitive game, but it s not been a problem at all if anything the random nature has made it more exciting for speedrunners and challenge runners. Someone released a speedrun of the original Spelunky and broke down exactly what they were thinking at each spot, and talked about how they used the randomisation to their advantage, how they accounted for the randomisation. There is such a thing as increasing your luck with the randomisation by doing certain things, and that gave me hope that Spelunky would be pretty competitive, despite or because of the randomisation that s involved in it.
PCG: You begin to have an innate feel for how the levels are constructed after a while.
DY: That s the thing that I didn t necessarily know would be true, working on the game. I think I had a certain intuition about it too, it just seems to work because despite the randomisation it s not complete chaos. There s enough in Spelunky that s handmade versus random or procedurally generated that from run to run, you never see the exact same formations, but you find familiar ones.
PCG: I ve found in my time playing Spelunky that the Black Market is the easiest place to kill the shopkeepers, thanks to the Ankh room. It s very easy to lob bombs safely down there. Was that deliberate?
DY: It wasn t deliberate but it s one of those things where I quickly realised that it s easy to get them there. I didn t plan it that way per se, it s just one of those things where it happened to work out, which was the case for a lot of Spelunky. Intuitively I design things a certain way without understanding necessarily why I was doing it that way, but after playing it or having other people play it and watching other people play it, I kinda understood why I did it. As I m working on a game, I don t necessarily have these strict ideas in mind, it s more like feelings. It s why you have to make a lot of games and spend a lot of time doing it, to build up that intuition. Then I think making games feels more like drawing, which also feels more right and satisfying, and you feel like you re putting more of yourself into it. It s better than thinking in terms of nitty-gritty design rules.
PCG: I know that Spelunky is feature complete and you ve moved on, but is there any potential to get Steam Workshop support for it? There are third-party map creation tools out there.
DY: To be honest I haven t thought too much about it. Andy Hull (programmer for Steam + Xbox) would have to want to do it. I m certainly cool with people using editors and stuff to mod the game with, but I don t know about Steam Workshop there would have to be a lot of demand for us to go and muck around in that code again. At this point we re pretty happy to move on.
PCG: Are you working on something at the moment?
DY: Yeah, we re working on a few different things, but unfortunately nothing is far enough along that I can really reveal what it is. The book has taken up a lot of my time during the past year, or over a year. Now that s winding down I m spending more time on games again.
PCG: Are you working alone on the prototyping and conception?
DY: A little bit. It s hard to say that I m in solitude now because I have a daughter, so I feel like I m never alone anymore. I m also working with other people on things. I m doing a little bit of the totally solo prototyping which I did when working on Spelunky, but it s definitely not the same. So much is different now. One is that, like I said in the book, Spelunky really kind of came about because of Aquaria in a way, because I wanted something that was different from Aquaria. That was such a difficult development for me and Alec Holowka [co-creator of Aquaria], so I really needed to decompress and make something very small. I don t feel that as much with what I m working on now, because Spelunky, even though every game development is very challenging, I think the development of Spelunky was a challenge that was much less exhausting for me on a mental and spiritual level.
Spelunky by Derek Yu is available through Boss Fight Books on March 29, in both digital and physical editions. Preorders are open now.
PCG: What games are you playing at the moment?
DY: I haven t been playing as many games as I have in the past. Mostly I ve been playing smaller indie games and mobile titles, because those are the ones that fit my lifestyle more now. Being a parent, I spend a lot of time parenting and when I have free time I want to work, and so my time for playing video games is a lot more limited. I have to sneak it in. Most of last year I played a tonne of Puzzle & Dragons. I think a lot of people saw me Tweeting about that, and thought why are you playing that? It s actually a really good game. It s quite rewarding in terms of requiring a pretty high level of skill to master and all that. There s a lot of variety and the fundamental mechanics of the game are very interesting, it s an extremely innovative extension on basic match three mechanics. I don t play it as much now, but last year I played it a lot.
Other than that I ve mostly been trying smaller games out. Though I was playing The Witness for quite a bit. That s the thing, longer form games I have trouble with because I ll enter a period where I can t play it much and it s hard to get back into. What I played of the Witness was really good.
PCG: Who s your favourite Spelunky character?
DY: You know, I think I usually just play as the Spelunky guy, the main character. I actually like the little purple girl with the glasses.
PCG: She s my favourite, too!
DY: I also like the purple pirate girl. There s something about purple. Usually I play as Spelunky guy, though. But I do like the underdog characters, I like to play the more interesting or underused ones. I used to play Ken in Street Fighter 2 a lot, but I moved to Dudley in Street Fighter 4 because he was a much more interesting and underused character.
For a long time it seemed unlikely that a new Spelunky speedrun record would ever be set. Speedrunner Spelunky God managed to complete a regular playthrough (ie, not a hell run) in 1:41.499 last year, thanks to what has become a mandatory Spelunky speedrunning tool: the warp device.
But whereas Spelunky God only acquired the device in the second level of his playthrough, the new record holder D Tea was lucky enough to get it almost immediately. "In the end luck gets me further than skill," the speedrunner writes in the video's description, which shows the new 1:40.145 run in its entirety. That's only a fraction less than a second compared with the previous record holder, but it's still an impressive feat.
Of course, these runs only visit the (relatively easy) main worlds: there are players dedicated to speedrunning Spelunky's notoriously difficult Hell run too, with the record currently sitting at a smidgeon under four minutes.
In other Spelunky news, creator Derek Yu has written a book about the game, which releases this month. Look out for an interview with Yu in the coming weeks.