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Bastion

(Note: This article contains spoilers for Pyre, Transistor, and Bastion.) 

2017 is a year that has made me want to escape, preferably to a part of the wilderness where no one would show me a newspaper or a tweet ever again. Since I get cold easily and I’m not as great at hunting live animals as Far Cry would have me believe, I opted for another source of escapism: videogames. In these often scary times, Supergiant's games Pyre, Transistor, and Bastion helped me stay sane.

Pyre drew me in with its candy-colored visuals and mustachioed dog, but just like Supergiant's previous games, it explores the very questions I was trying to ignore—how to bridge the differences in opinion that threaten our peaceful lives together, where the desire for drastic change comes from, and how to act in a time when the threat of war gets casually thrown around every other day.

Freedom and faith 

Mechanically, Pyre is a sports game. In its world of exiles trapped in limbo, you direct a lovable and diverse team of misfits through 'rites', which are athletic competitions in which you fling an orb into the opposing team’s pyre. Winning rites eventually means one of your team is freed from exile. If you lose, one of your opponents goes free instead. Either outcome is valid, which releases you from the pressure of competition entirely if you let it. I could just throw a mystic basketball around a court for a few blissful hours.

The most frightening antagonists are the ones we can relate to in some way

Greg Kasavin

Once invested in the world and its inhabitants, I got to know an imperfect society both from the perspective of those who still lived in it and those who do not. Exile in Pyre is their one-stop solution for a variety of crimes, and the reason for this harsh punishment lies in a divine prophecy that might be all based on a misunderstanding. Questioning what your characters previously took for granted can end in your team being instrumental in nothing short of a revolution. How you finish the game, even whether or not you win, is not as important to its makers as giving you something to think about.  

Supergiant writer and designer Greg Kasavin sums it up: "Pyre’s story is an exploration of the relationship between freedom and faith, and what freedom and faith mean and entail," adding that the role these forces play in the lives of many people applies in the real world across countries and cultural boundaries.

In Pyre, your role in events is passive. You can't send yourself home. Instead you play for others, and have the inexplicably strong feeling of cheering someone on from the sidelines. It’s an empathy that seems to largely be missing in those marching the streets with tiki torches, demanding solutions that benefit themselves first and others never. The crisis of faith at the centre of Pyre is also a very modern concern. Changing a belief you have held onto for a long time, religious or not, can be difficult. 

The society in Pyre seemingly works, for the most part. Many of the game’s exiles want to return to it, but that doesn’t mean it is always fair and wouldn’t benefit from diversity. Exile makes everyone outcasts, and it’s from this new position of equality that they can attempt to overhaul the system if they keep working together, challenging previously established conventions.

It's important to Kasavin to not create black-and-white stories with clearly defined villains. "I think characters are far more interesting and believable if there's something about them that you can understand or relate to," he says. "At the least, you should be able to understand why they've made the choices that they've made, even if they've made poor choices. The most frightening antagonists are the ones we can relate to in some way, and see that whatever unconscionable choices they've made may have been well-intentioned somewhere down the line."

The Process

Supergiant’s 2014 game Transistor shows this best. The virtual metropolis of Cloudbank where it's set is being slowly eaten away by a virus called the Process, and it’s implied the Process was previously used to repair and alter parts of the city by its creators and civil servants—a tool made with good intentions taken too far.

I think it's important for the story to invite the player to be introspective about it

Greg Kasavin

A group of such people called the Camerata feel their well-intentioned solutions going unappreciated, which leads them to drastic actions that pose a threat to the city's inhabitants. Even though they are established as antagonists, like all the characters you meet the Camerata share a strong identification with their home. It's only fear that separates you.

Transistor’s playable character, Red, is a popular singer and a muse to many. I believe the choice of occupation is deliberate. In our own "post-facts" era, faced with the fear of losing a national identity to globalization, many have started looking to public figures and national icons to help us form our opinions. But at the very beginning of Transistor, Red is silenced. She's the only one listening in a world where everybody seems to be talking.

Unlike Pyre’s team of magic basketball players, Red ultimately chooses not to try and save her home, overwhelmed by the losses she has endured. Some players have criticized this finale, but as unaccustomed to sad endings as we still are in videogames, I think this shows it‘s important to be realistic about what a sole person can accomplish and how much power we give an individual. While in Pyre you are part of a larger circle working to achieve change that includes everyone, Red is one person with the responsibility for many. Her position is not unlike that of the Camerata, who chose to destroy Cloudbank in the first place. 

Build that wall

The predicament of the Kid, the protagonist of Supergiant’s first game Bastion, is similar again. In Bastion you get to be a kind of cowboy, saddled (sorry) with the responsibility of rebuilding his world after a catastrophe wipes it out. Just like Red, the Kid has to question whether his world is worth saving. He begins this task before he knows the catastrophic event, called the Calamity, was caused by his own country and meant to end a war over territory with their neighbors.

When I ask Kasavin why despite this you don't spend most of Bastion fighting real people, he tells me it’s always important not to trivialize violence. "It's not an accident that death is not a subject taken lightly in any of our games," he explains. "It's not something I'm comfortable making light of, and if one of our games is going to have a lot of killing in it, as in Bastion, then I think it's important for the story to invite the player to be introspective about it."

How do you act when you know it was your own country that did unspeakable things to win a conflict? Bastion explores the motivations of the people caught up in this and even suggest the monsters you fight as you try to restore order may be trying to stop you to ensure past mistakes aren't repeated. In the final moments of Bastion, you can choose to turn back time or to learn from those mistakes. Both decisions will affect those around you.

Supergiant’s three games all helped me consider the role of the individual and our relationships with each other in different ways. They made me see how hard it can be to challenge your own perceptions and how this can only work if we try to stay open-minded. They made me see how the wrong decision can seem like the right thing to do and how easy running from consequences rather than accepting them can look. 

Most of all, in Supergiant's games every decision has its origin and reason. If we try to listen more, even if it’s to a story a videogame tells us rather than the next newspaper horror story, that can motivate us to try to find ways we as individuals can deal with what’s happening around us. In a time where "be nice to each other" sounds like terrible advice, this team of game makers keep unflinchingly repeating just that. 

And if that’s too heavy for you, it’s also fine just to throw a mystic basketball around a court for a while.

Machinarium

Every week, we ask our panel of PC Gamer writers a question about PC gaming. This week: what's your favourite game soundtrack? We also welcome your answers in the comments. 

Evan Lahti: Cuphead

I'll go with the best soundtrack right now, and surely of the year: Cuphead. The ragtime, '30s jazz looks to Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway as big influences, but it's so much more than an attempt to put a period-authentic sound into a game inspired by the animation of that era. Cuphead's music is inseparable in its style and tempo, and the big band/jazz sound enhances the calamity of its boss fights and platforming, where you're meant to feel off-balance and improvise to stay alive.

This great Paste interview with composer Kris Maddigan (who'd never written game music or this style of music before), highlights one unique approach they took to recording, too: "... [I]n most of the big band tunes you'll have some ensemble piece which is written out and then you'll have a section where someone takes a solo and then you'll have another ensemble section, and what we did with all the solo stuff is we recorded all of that separately," Maddigan says in the interview. "Once we had completed all the big band sessions we brought in half a dozen soloists and we recorded them playing over top of a lot of the solo sections on the charts. So that's why you might have one tune but six different versions of it. So each tune, you can have the same tune but it's going to have different solos on it, just to keep things interesting in the game. So if you die at a boss, if you leave and you come back to that tune, it's going to be the same tune but it's going to have somebody else soloing over it. We were conscious of it that way, too, trying to maintain a certain amount of interest on repetition like that."

It's also almost three fucking hours long. Runners-up: Any of the Crypt of the Necrodancer soundtracks, Samorost 3, Doom 2016, and Brigador.

Phil Savage: Command & Conquer: Red Alert

Obviously the correct answer is a Command & Conquer soundtrack. But which one? Clearly not Tiberian Sun. Its brand of dark, ambient electro is pleasantly late-'90s, but I played that game for tens of hours and I can't remember a single one of its tunes. Red Alert 2 is strong—Grinder is arguably the best bit of menu music in PC gaming. But HM2 is just a touch overproduced, and I'll be damned if I'm calling a soundtrack with the second best version of Hell March my favourite.

It's between the original Command & Conquer and Red Alert then. I have a lot of love for the former, mostly because of how weird and experimental it is. Act On Instinct is a legit good industrial pop song, soundtrack or not. And Just Do It Up is just amazing. Yes. But, if I'm honest with myself, there's something that feels slightly off kilter and embarrassing about it all, sort of like that time in Nine Inch Nails' Pretty Hate Machine where Trent Reznor—for no particular reason—recited the nursery rhyme “rain, rain, go away” and it felt inherently silly but we all collectively agreed to pretend it didn't happen for 28 years. So: Red Alert, the Broken to Command & Conquer's Pretty Hate Machine. It's full of driving, churning aggression trapped inside a harrowing machine, which is probably a metaphor or something. Also, it's got Hell March, so obviously it's the best.

Jody Macgregor: Bastion

Darren Korb calls the soundtrack for Bastion "acoustic frontier trip-hop", because he's a musician and they say things like that. It's a mix of folksy guitar, sampled beats, and instruments from all over the world that sounds unique to its fantasy setting. It's excellent enough on its own, but even better in context.

You're exploring and rebuilding fragments of a broken city, and one of the vocal tracks, Zia's Song, has an entire level built around it. You walk across rusted train tracks, cross wooden beams connecting floating islands, and as you do the music gets louder. Vocalist Ashley Barrett's singing gets clearer too, cutting through the reverb. And then you realize why—this isn't just a soundtrack you the player are listening to. It's being sung by another survivor, a lament both sad and hopeful, and at the level's end you meet its singer.

Bastion's music isn't just good stuff to listen to while you smack monsters with a hammer or shoot them with a bombard cannon. It's a part of the game that matters to its characters the way great music matters to us, that allows them to remember their past and look forward to a better future even while their world's in ruins. The soundtrack is available at Bandcamp

Wes Fenlon: Neotokyo

Here's a bit of an odd one: Ed Harrison's soundtrack for Neotokyo, a years-old multiplayer shooter mod for Half-Life 2. It's not that the music is odd—it's just a slightly strange pick for me, because I've never actually played Neotokyo. I once went hunting for moody electronic music that evoked cyberpunk, and I came across Neotokyo. It's the more menacing alternative to Deus Ex's peppier score, and for years one of my go-to soundtracks to write to. I could put it on, lean back into it, and enter a cyberpunk trance. 

You can listen to it for free on Bandcamp, and I especially like disc one of the double album. It all blends together for me—I can't call out any particular tracks—but if cyberpunk to you is more ominous than Vangelis, you won't be disappointed.

Austin Wood: Nier: Automata 

I love Nier: Automata's soundtrack for its quaking, operatic ancientness, but I'm highlighting it here because, like the game itself, it gets better with age. Automata's layered endings gain poignancy with each subsequent play through, and the music piles on verve in kind. Composer Keeichi Okabe did a fabulous job of not only keeping pace with Automata's replay value and preventing the music from getting repetitive, but also leveraging that design with a truly dynamic OST. On top of orchestral and vocal variants, there are low, medium and high intensity versions of most tracks—which add up to roughly six hours of music altogether. There are some real bangers tucked away in the song list, and the way versions build on each other is a tidy echo of Automata's central themes. 

Andy Chalk: Machinarium 

The one soundtrack I always seem to come back to is Machinarium, by Czech artist Tomáš Dvořák, also known as Floex. All of Amanita's games are beautifully musical, but this is the one that that's stuck with me. A lot of it is mechanically percussive, and some of the songs are really upbeat—the Robot Band Tune comes to mind—but what I particularly enjoy is the distant dreaminess of the ambient electronica in tracks like The Glass House With Butterfly or By the Wall. Wonderful game, wonderful music.

The soundtrack is available for purchase or free listening here: http://store.floex.cz/album/machinarium-soundtrack

The bonus EP is a free download: http://store.floex.cz/album/machinarium-soundtrack-bonus-ep-free-dwnld

Steven Messner: Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn 

MMO soundtracks are massive, messy beasts meant to accompany an entire world's worth of themes and flavors. But Final Fantasy XIV's soundtrack deftly explores new sounds and styles while still feeling true to Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu's original work. There's a stunning breadth of genres on display, but each becomes a piece of a mosaic that colours in the wider world of Eorzea. And like the best Final Fantasy scores, each composition becomes a part of the area it accompanies. I love the quiet, comforting piano that plays as I walk the streets of Ul'Dah at night.

One other aspect that deserves being recognized is how incredible the boss fight music is. It turns every raid fight into a WWE match, where the boss steps into the area accompanied by a theme that becomes inextricably linked with their persona. That music sets the tone and makes each raid fight feel climactic. Again, there's an amazing breadth of musical flavor on display, from the raging tempest of guitars that accompanies Garuda to the rousing and catchy Lakshmi theme.

Samuel Roberts: Silent Hill 2

If I had to pick a single entry from Konami's once-great series, it'd be Silent Hill 2. Akira Yamaoka's score is somehow extremely chilled out despite being the soundtrack for one of the best horror games ever made. The highlight is probably The Theme of Laura, as embedded above, but there are tons more great instrumental tracks that make for perfect working music. Heaven's Night, for example, or Restless Dreams

The series has fantastic music across the board, particularly the title tracks. A special shoutout for the grunge-infused and deeply mid-'00s Cradle of Forest from Silent Hill 4: The Room, which is a personal favourite, and obviously You're Not Here from Silent Hill 3. I saw Yamaoka and his band play a bunch of these live two years ago, and it was an amazing experience. 

My only gripe: Konami appears to have pulled Silent Hill 2's soundtrack from iTunes in the UK (you can still get it in the US), so even though I've bought Theme of Laura to listen to on my phone, I can no longer redownload it because they stopped listing the album, which is...shit. Ah, the digital future. The music's amazing, though. 

What's your favourite game soundtrack? Let us know in the comments. 

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Wolfenstein 3D

Last week, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds smashed the Steam peak player records. The previous record-holder, Dota 2, while admittedly made by one of the world’s biggest and most powerful games companies, began as a Warcraft mod. These days, we barely blink an eye at the idea that a game can come from nowhere and shake through word-of-mouth, clever concepts, a bit of cool technology like Portal’s… well, portals… or simply by hooking into some reservoir of good feeling, and accomplish more than any marketing budget can dream of. Minecraft is this generation’s Lego. Undertale is one of its most beloved RPGs.

Indeed, the world of indie development is now so important that it’s hard to remember that it’s only really a decade or so old. That’s not to say that there weren’t indie games before then, as we’ll see, but it was only really with the launch of Steam on PC and services like Xbox Live Arcade that the systems were in place to both get games in front of a mainstream audience, and provide the necessary ecosystem for them to quickly and confidently pay for new games.

In 1979 Richard Garriott set out on his path to buying a castle and going into space by selling copies of his first RPG, Akalabeth, in ziploc bags at his local computer store

The massive success of indie games on Steam has of course come with attendant pitfalls. The early access program gave small studios the ability to beta test their games with player numbers they would not otherwise never reach, and gave players the ability to take part in shaping games. However, a lack of guidelines left players and developers with very different expectations as was seen in the reaction to a paid expansion being released for Ark: Survival Evolved while it was still in early access. Steam Greenlight made it easier for indie games to get on Steam but became a popularity contest that was easily gamed, leading Valve to replace it with Steam Direct.

All this is largely taken for granted these days, with the big challenge for modern indie games being to stand out. Simply getting onto Steam back then could set a studio up for life. These days the market is full to bursting, with most new releases disappearing from sight almost at once.

In both cases though, it’s a world away from how the market began.

Back to the start

The exact definition of ‘indie’ has never exactly been cut-and-dry. To some, it’s an aesthetic, best summed up by the classic bedroom coder. To others, it’s a more commercial distinction, of working without a publisher. To others, it’s ultimately about the work, with an indie game standing out more for being not the kind of thing you get from a commercial company, rather than really focusing on who made it. 

There are many definitions to play with, and few hard lines to draw. The poster-children of ’90s shareware, id Software (who you may know courtesy of a little game called Doom), began working under contract for a company called Softdisk, cranking out games like Dangerous Dave in the Haunted Mansion, Hovertank 3D, and Catacomb 3D, before moving on to make games with/for shareware giant Apogee.

In the very early days of gaming, just about everybody was indie to some extent. In 1979 Richard Garriott set out on his path to buying a castle and going into space by selling copies of his first RPG, Akalabeth, in ziploc bags at his local computer store (one of those copies then ended up in the hands of California Pacific, who offered Garriott a publishing deal). Sierra On-Line began in 1980 as just husband and wife team Ken and Roberta Williams, making simple adventure games like Mystery House that nevertheless pushed the boundaries of what people expected from games at the time—like having graphics—before booming to become one of the biggest and most important companies in gaming history.

What do you do if you don t have the money for big boxes? Ziploc bags are your friends.

Companies could emerge from almost anything. Gremlin Interactive began as a computer store called Just Micro, while DMA Design, originally Acme Software, which would make its name with Lemmings and much later become Grand Theft Auto creator Rockstar, began from its founders meeting up at a computer club in Dundee and ultimately signing with Psygnosis. Whole genres were created from a single game, such as Football Manager in 1982.

The speed of all this took many by surprise, with Balance of Power creator Chris Crawford saying in 1984, "We have pretty much passed the period where hobbyists could put together a game that would have commercial prospect. It’s much more difficult to break in, much less stay in. If you want to do a game, do it for fun, but don’t try to do game designs to make any money. The odds are so much against the individual that I would hate to wish that heartbreak on anyone."

The shareware revolution

But of course, people continued. The PC was largely left out of much of it, however, due to the relatively high cost of disks and its general perception of not being a gaming machine. In the UK, the main indie scene in the ’80s was on cassette based 8-bit systems like the ZX Spectrum, with publishers happily accepting almost any old tat, recording it to a tape, sticking it in a box, and selling it for a few pounds at newsagents, game stores, and anywhere else that would take copies. They were cheap, sometimes cheerful, and allowed for endearing weirdness like 1985’s Don’t Buy This—a compilation of the five worst games sent to publisher Firebird.

It would be many years before most indie PC games could get that kind of placement. Instead, there was shareware. The concept dates back to the 1970s, though it was popularized by PC-Write creator Bob Wallace in 1982. Rather than having a central distributor like a regular published game, users were encouraged to copy software and pass it along. If they liked it, they’d then send the creator a check to unlock the full thing or get more of it. 

In the case of Apogee Software, and indeed what became known as the Apogee model, a game might have three parts. The first one would be free, and free to share, the other two commercial and only for registered purchasers to enjoy. (Not that anyone really listened, as the vast, vast numbers of pirated copies of Doom probably shows better than anything.)

The beauty of the system was that anyone could distribute these games, with the rule being that while you weren’t allowed to sell the shareware version, you could charge for materials. That meant games could appear on magazine cover disks and later CDs. They could be on any university server or dial-up BBS or services like Compuserve and AOL. If you wanted a relatively full choice however, you often needed to send off for them. Whole companies were set up to sell just the trial versions, sending out printed catalogues of their stock and charging by the disk. 

By the mid-90s of course the popularity of CD had rendered this relatively pointless, with ‘1000 Games!’ CDs available in supermarkets and bookstores and anywhere else there might be an audience, rarely mentioning the part about them being glorified demos. Much like on Steam today, at this point most smaller games got lost. Still, as a player, it was an almost inexhaustible feast.

Not every game could be Wolfenstein 3D and promise a fight with Robot Hitler if you paid

As crazy as sending off a check to get a game might seem, it worked. In a few cases, registered shareware games even made the jump to boxed products in stores, though that was relatively rare. Either way, shareware was hardly a license to print money for most, but it supported many a developer throughout the '90s and made others their fortunes. Epic MegaGames began with the text-based RPG ZZT before becoming the company that made Unreal. Duke Nukem began as a very simple 2D side-scroller, notable mostly for oddities like the main character wearing pink and just wanting to save the world so that he could get back to watching Oprah, but nevertheless blossomed into Duke Nukem 3D before publicly wilting into Duke Nukem Forever. 

And there were many more stars too, regularly appearing in new games or simply popular ones that kept showing up, like Skunny the squirrel and his awful platforming (and ultimately karting adventures), Last Half of Darkness, and Hugo’s House of Horrors, much beloved by magazine and compilation editors for its extremely pretty first screen, and never mind that it was all made of clip art and every other room in the game was barely MS Paint-level scribbles.

The alternative industry

Shareware's big draw for players was, inevitably, free games. The downside of the Apogee model and others that erred on the generous side was that a whole episode was often enough—especially as that’s where the developer’s best work tended to be. Compare for instance the deservedly beloved shareware episode of Commander Keen: Goodbye, Galaxy! where you run around a beautiful, varied planet, with the dull space adventure of its commercial sequel. Not every game could be Wolfenstein 3D and promise a fight with Robot Hitler if you paid.

Less cynically though, shareware gave many genres their home. The PC was typically seen as a business machine, with its commercial successes often adventures, RPGs and other slower and more cerebral offerings. There were platformers and beat-em-ups and similar, but they were usually poor conversions from other platforms at best, with few worth taking a risk on. 

If the PC ever had a mascot platformer , it was Commander Keen. The shareware version of Goodbye, Galaxy! was his finest hour.

Shareware removed that risk factor for customers, while letting developers show off. The original Commander Keen, while simplistic to modern eyes, was proof that the PC could do console-style scrolling, even if it wouldn’t be until 1994’s Jazz Jackrabbit that anyone could seriously claim to be doing convincing 16-bit console-style arcade action and visuals. (Even then it wasn’t a very strong claim, but luckily by this point the PC had Doom and so didn’t care.)

This led to a flurry of games you really couldn’t get elsewhere, or that were in very short supply on the shelves, from vertical shooters like Major Stryker, Raptor, and Tyrian, to fighting games like One Must Fall, to quirky top-down RPGs like God of Thunder, and racing games like Wacky Wheels. It offered a great split. When you wanted a deep, polished experience, you had the commercial game market. For action fun, there was shareware, not least because when we did get big games like Street Fighter II, they tended to stink. Shareware supported the industry through much of the '90s.

The high cost of indie

By the mid-90s though, there was a problem. Commercial games began rapidly outstripping what bedroom teams could do, both in terms of technology and complexity of content. While there were engines available, they were mostly poor quality, with nothing like Unity on the market and the likes of Quake and Unreal costing far too much for anyone but other companies to license.

If you wanted to play with that kind of technology, you were looking at making mods instead. This was the era that gave us the likes of Team Fortress (1996) and Defense of the Ancients (2003), but also where the indie scene became largely forgotten. This wasn't helped by the fact that indie had essentially no place on consoles at all, despite a few nods over the years like Sony’s Yaroze console, a development PlayStation aimed at hobbyists released in 1997. The PC saw its own push towards home development with tools like Blitz Basic/BlitzMAX (2000) and Dark Basic (also 2000), with the goal of inspiring a new generation of bedroom coders. However, despite selling reasonably well, none of them gained much traction or saw many releases.

Jeff Vogel s Spiderweb Software has been making RPGs since the '90s. They look simple, but fans keep coming back for their depth.

The indie scene as a whole ceased to be a big player in the market—which isn’t to say that it vanished. Introversion’s Uplink for instance was a big hit in 2001. Jeff Vogel’s Spiderweb Software started releasing old-school RPGs like Exile and Geneforge in 1995. PopCap began in 2000, becoming the giant of casual games like Bejeweled, Peggle, Bookworm Adventures, Plants Vs. Zombies, and Chuzzle—not bad for a company that was originally called ‘Sexy Action Cool’ and planned to make its debut with a strip poker game. 

And of course, there are other notable exceptions, such as Jeff Minter, who never stopped making his psychedelic shooters both for himself and others. However, it wasn’t until 2004 when Steam nailed digital distribution that the market had a chance to explode and offer a real chance of going it alone.

The turning point

Steam wasn’t the first digital distribution system, and at its launch it wasn’t even popular, with Valve forcing it on players for both Half-Life 2 and Counter-Strike. However, it was the first major attempt that nailed the details, like being able to download your games on any computer you owned rather than having them locked to just one, and being able to do so perpetually, rather than simply for a year, as was the case with most of the competition. 

The results spoke for themselves. When Valve was a lot pickier, and being backed by a publisher was a distinct advantage to getting onto the system, any developer who managed to get onto Steam effectively received a license to print money. Farther afield, though games not on Steam were at a distinct disadvantage, the legitimisation of digital distribution as a concept certainly raised most boats.

And with all this came something just as important: the indie game ecosystem. With money to be made and developers flocking to indie for all sorts of reasons (being tired of the big companies, wanting to make a go of an independent project) it became viable to create tools and systems to help make the scene. Game Maker for instance, and Unity and Flash. Today, would-be indie developers have the tools to go head-to-head with even the biggest studios, albeit typically on a smaller scale, as well as explore more cost-effective options like pixel art and procedural 3D, while services like Kickstarter and Fig offer a way of seeking funding without immediately selling out. 

This also opened the definition of ‘indie’ even further, with companies seriously able to consider going it alone, without a publisher. Not everyone could be Double Fine, raising $3.5 million for Broken Age, but many have had huge successes—Pillars of Eternity pulling just under $4 million, the Bard’s Tale getting $1.5 million and in the height of Kickstarter fever, even Leisure Suit Larry creator Al Lowe managing to raise $650,000 for a remake of the first game.

Cave Story was one of the first games to get people talking about indie releases, beyond Flash games and the like.

It’s at this point that the word 'indie' really catches on. Again, it’s not that it was never used, but until this point the scene wasn’t big and important enough to warrant a position as basically a shadow industry in its own right. The release of Cave Story in 2004 was where people really started talking in those terms, with Indie Game: The Movie in 2012 cementing this, highlighting three of the most successful titles of the time—Braid, Fez and Super Meat Boy. 

Microsoft embracing the scene via Xbox Live Indie Games played its part, as did their XNA development system, and attempts to make a big deal out of indie launches during its "Indie Game Uprising" events between 2010 and 2012. 

Elsewhere, the IGF (Independent Games Festival) launched in 1999 was also going from strength to strength, drawing more attention to the likes of Darwinia, Monaco and Crayon Physics Deluxe. We also saw more overtly indie friendly portals like itch.io, and the Humble Indie Bundle, offering new marketplaces and ways of selling games—even if many later bundles proved a dead-end.

Perhaps most excitingly, it’s now that we start to see whole genres and styles largely associated with the indie market either flourish or come into existence, not least the ‘walking simulator’—games primarily about exploring a space and a story through environmental detail and voiceover. The first big name here was Dear Esther, a free mod released in 2008 and later remade in 2012, with later examples including Gone Home, Firewatch, and Everyone’s Gone To The Rapture.

Braid helped prove that indie games could be artistic works of love, equal to any commercial release.

There’s also the pixel-art aesthetic of games like VVVVVV, Super Meat Boy, and the original Spelunky, and for many old-school gamers, a return to brutal old-school difficulty. And somehow I doubt we need to say much about Minecraft. (It’s been quite popular, and influential.) Classic point-and-click adventures also saw a resurgence outside of Germany, largely spearheaded by the Adventure Game Studio creation engine and the success of Wadjet Eye Games’ The Blackwell Legacy, Gemini Rue, Technobabylon, and the upcoming Unavowed.

But it’s of course reductive to pick specific genres. The joy of indie games is that as long as the money can be raised somehow, a passionate team can take on more or less whatever they like, free of publisher interference or perceived wisdom, allowing for arty games like Limbo and Bastion (distributed by Warner Bros, but only as a publishing partner), throwbacks to lost genres like Legend of Grimrock, exploratory pieces like The Stanley Parable and The Beginner’s Guide, or completely new concepts like Superhot, where time only moves when you do, and the ferociously complex Kerbal Space Program, where difficulty really is a matter of rocket science.

The downside is that as ever, it’s not enough to simply make a game. An indie title buffeted with word of mouth can sell millions, but far more are doomed to languish largely unplayed and discussed in the depths of Steam’s increasing piles or other services’ far less traveled shelves. The initial gold rush is very much over. Still, plenty of gold remains. It’s impossible to predict what game will be the next Spelunky, the next Minecraft, the next Undertale, or the next Super Meat Boy, but absolutely no risk at all to bet that whatever it is, it’s already on its way.

Bastion - kid_zomb
Pyre is out now on Steam! We really hope you'll enjoy it if you decide to give it a shot!

Pyre is a party-based RPG in which you lead a band of exiles to freedom through ancient competitions spread across a vast, mystical purgatory. It features our biggest-ever single-player campaign with its large ensemble cast of characters, as well as a two-player local Versus Mode you can play against a friend or CPU opponent, with 20+ playable characters.

Learn more about the game on Pyre's Steam page or our web site!
Bastion - kid_zomb
We have some very exciting news to share: Our next game, Pyre, will launch this summer on July 25, 2017, here on Steam!

You can pre-purchase the game (and its soundtrack, featuring 90 minutes of new music from Darren Korb) and get 10% off the $19.99 retail price.

Pyre is a party-based RPG in which you lead a band of exiles to freedom through ancient competitions spread across a vast, mystical purgatory. It features our biggest-ever single-player campaign with its large ensemble cast of characters, as well as a two-player local Versus Mode you can play against a friend or CPU opponent, with 20+ playable characters.

Learn more about the game on our Steam page or our web site!
Bastion - Valve
Today's Deal: Save 75% on Bastion!*

Look for the deals each day on the front page of Steam. Or follow us on twitter or Facebook for instant notifications wherever you are!

*Offer ends Monday at 10AM Pacific Time
Bastion

Bastion grabbed my heart exactly one minute and 30 seconds after it started, reads the first line of PC Gamer s 2011 Bastion review, which is a feeling that never left me until the game s end. The action-RPG is now (somehow) five years old but still stands as one of my all time favourites which is why I think you should check it out this weekend via Steam s Supergiant Games Anniversary Sale.

Although hard at work on its next venture Pyre which Tom described as like The Oregon Trail mixed with Rocket League Supergiant will spend this weekend celebrating Bastion s fifth birthday. Both it and and its genre-similar sibling Transistor are subject to an 80 percent discount. Transistor didn t quite hit the same highs as its forerunner, but wowed with its vivid hand-drawn cyberpunk world and cool time-freeze combat mechanic.

The price reduction means you can grab Bastion for 2.19/$2.99/2,99 , and Transistor for 2.99/$3.99/3,79 . Should you wish to pick up the Supergiant Collection which includes both games and their official soundtracks that ll set you back 6.98/$9.86/9,68 . All offers run from now until Monday 6pm BST/10am PT.

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