Last year was an absolutely fantastic year for gaming, but as the years pass, it might only be remembered for one monumental development: HD motion control gaming. With the release of the Microsoft Kinect and PlayStation Move, motion control gaming has hit its peak, or a new low, depending on who you ask. The gaming community may be dismissive of it, but make no mistake: motion control gaming is going full steam ahead, well into 2011, and we may very well see it define this year as well, with nothing to stop it in its ugly, casual-friendly tracks.
…or is that really the case? Because deep within the gaming recesses, there’s a movement that’s slowly been gaining momentum for a good few years now, almost unbeknownst to the mainstream. It peeked its head out in 2008 and briefly made some waves, only to shy away in 2009. But, in 2010, it finally grew the balls to get out from its hiding place, don a nice outfit, and finally show gamers that, yes, it is here, it is real, and it is available.
This “it” is the indie renaissance, and you better believe that in 2011, it’ll don a large trenchcoat with nothing underneath and flash the entire gaming industry proudly, with absolutely no inhibitions whatsoever.
Every indie game sympathizer says “this is the year for indies!” year after year after year, so this isn’t exactly a new development, but thanks to last year, 2011 really does seem like the year that indie games finally come out of their shadow and break the stigma that they’re not “real” games. In 2010, we got quite possibly the largest surge of quality indie games that could not only compete with full retail games, but also received a surprisingly ample amount of recognition from both media outlets and gamers. Games like Recettear and Amnesia: The Dark Descent came out to gushing reviews and, in typical indie fashion, had modest releases, but word-of-mouth and consant whoring out by legitimate gaming outlets have resulted in over 100,000 and 200,000 copies downloaded, respectively. It may not sound like much compared to bajillion sellers like Call of Duty: Black Ops, but it’s a monumental step in the right direction for indies, and gives other independent developers hope that they can succeed just as well.
And then there’s Minecraft. The gaming phenom from Markus “Notch” Persson was first introduced to the public in 2009, but it really started to gain massive momentum last year, with Notch making over one million dollars in digital sales alone. The kicker? They have yet to have a final release; the game just recently went into beta not even a month ago, and perhaps won’t even be a “complete” game until much later in the year. That’s not to say the game is unfinished either; Minecraft is a fantastic blend of a life sim, puzzler, and survival horror all wrapped into a neat little package that looks suspiciously like a first person version of Harvest Moon, if Harvest Moon were set in the LEGO universe. You’d think the hype would die down after the initial craze this past summer, but word-of-mouth grows stronger and stronger each day for the little Java-based Swedish game, and it doesn’t look like there’s an end in sight anytime soon.
But of course, sales aren’t going to be everything, and as solid as these games are, they won’t win the major awards, or even garner any consideration for game of the year honors. It’s a good thing then, that 2010 actually had an indie game that was not only universally acclaimed, but also got the end of the year distinction it truly deserved. If you hadn’t guessed it by now, that game would be Team Meat’s modern platforming classic, Super Meat Boy. With arguably the best level design in any game released last year, and a benchmark of content unrivaled by even full retail console games, Super Meat Boy proved to everyone that a game didn’t have to be $50 or $60 to warrant serious consideration for game of the year honors. While most indie fans already knew that a $10, $15 game could be just as good, or even better, than games worth more than five times that amount, Super Meat Boy truly exemplified that to the general gaming public, as evidenced in it appearing in most Game of the Year lists across all gaming media, large and small. In a sense, Team Meat is the Pixar of the gaming industry. Thanks to Pixar, the Academy now recognizes that animated feature films can indeed compete with “real” movies for Best Picture, and have accordingly nominated animated films numerous times for Best Picture nods to prove so. Whether that happens for indie games in the future still remains to be seen, but there’s no denying that Super Meat Boy is a significant turning point for the industry.
Fortunately, this year looks like it might somehow surpass last year in terms of high profile, highly anticipated, excellent indie releases. There’s quite a a few games that have a very real possibility of taking the championship belt from Super Meat Boy and running with it even further. The one game poised to take the crown is Retro City Rampage, a love letter to games past and present, featuring a hodge podge of retro homages, gameplay mechanics, and the same kind of charm and humor that won gamers over with Super Meat Boy. In terms of sheer hype, the game that everyone’s talking about and dying to play is SpyParty, a two-player espionage game that makes the multiplayer of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood feel downright prehistoric. You also can’t forget about Fez, the revolutionary dimension-shifting platformer that’s finally set to release after delays pushed it from 2010 to this year.
And then you have the indies that are lesser known for now, but will be sure to receive more press as the months pass. This includes games like the stylish Monaco, the co-op class-based heist game that came out of nowhere to win the Grand Prize at the 2010 Independent Games Festival Awards. The Witness, Jonathan Blow’s highly anticipated follow-up to Braid, is currently scheduled for a late 2011 release, and we’re still cloudy on the details. However, with the mastermind behind a game like Braid, it’s sure to have some intriguing, creative ideas driving it.
I’m only scratching the surface too. There’s still sequels like Torchlight 2 and a follow-up to the balls-wacky Octodad, more high-profile games like Double Fine’s Stacking and Introversion’s foray into heist games, Subversion, and many more. Hell, Minecraft might even hit final release status by the end of the year and finally show us what we can truly do in that vast expanse. And there’s always, always indie games with ridiculous concepts that come out of nowhere and take hold of gamers as well. It’s not even a month into the new year and we already have a solid new game from Nifflas of Knytt fame in NightSky, and people have already discovered the newest “WTFOMG AMAZING” game nugget in the Fract Beta, a first person puzzler in the same vein as Myst.
So don’t be a stranger if you see or hear a lot more about indie games and their greatness this year. The hype is real, it’s to be embraced, and if the corporate gaming industry doesn’t evolve soon, it may very well be overshadowed by the rapidly burgeoning, refreshingly creative indie movement. When you see that trench-coated, uninhibited bastard roll up in front of you and disrobe, don’t be shocked to see that it has some beautiful ginormous balls that you actually want to witness, worship, and idolize.