The year of the indie game

2011’s best games and lamest developer tactics

By Chris O'Neal 12/22/2011

The end is near! Don’t worry, this isn’t another apocalypse write-up. Rather, this is the season for reminiscing about what was and what shall never be remembered again. Say, remember pogs? Those were cool. What will the world remember from the year 2011 (that isn’t in pog form)? Maybe a slew of better-than-decent video games or the bickering of gamers worldwide as the new anti-piracy regime stepped up? Probably a mixture of the two.


Let’s get the best of the year out of the way first, which is something you’ve come to expect from every end-of-the-year article.


Deus Ex: Human Revolution was not only a feat of storytelling, but also a prime example of just how possible it is for developers to incorporate choice into game play. A player could come as close as possible to becoming Robocop with a few choice upgrades that would make him nearly invincible, while quieter, more selective gamers could choose to kill not a single soul — leaving only the bosses as casualties in a complete play-through.


Catherine, a beguiling puzzler wrapped in mystery, sex and Japanese anime stylin’, won over hearts and minds by being utterly bizarre. As Vincent, a relatively white-bread everyman, one could decide whether or not to marry, cheat or, eventually, die. The crux of the game came in the form of nightmares in which Vincent, as a sheep, was forced to climb a stairway of ever-changing and-falling blocks. This part-puzzle, part-social deconstruction, stood out as a bold release in a market saturated by war simulations and linear RPGs.


Am I forgetting something? Was there another game that was talked about by everyone for months and then, even after release, was the subject of countless arguments and web comics? Oh, yes, how could I forget?


The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword! Talk about anticipation. No other game in the history of games can generate as much squealing among fans than the Zelda series. With Skyward Sword, gone are the cutesy anthropomorphic characters. Skyward Sword, as with others in the series, will be remembered as being one of, if not the, best, game of 2011.


In a year that also gave us Batman: Arkham City, Professor Layton and the Last Specter, Portal 2, Bastion and Dark Souls, it’s a wonder that any of us saw sunlight, and yet we live on, pleasantly soaked in vitamin D.


Am I missing something?


You take the good, you take the bad, you take the rest and then you have the facts of the industry. The yang of the bounty of yin this year must be EA and its attempt at usurping gaming freedoms across the board as well as a lack of imagination, rehashes and exorbitant add-on pricing. For these reasons and more, 2011 should be considered the year of the indie game.


At IndieCade, the annual gathering of independent developers from around the world in Culver City, innovation was had in the form of table-top trips to the afterlife (Black Bottom Parade) and astronaut clones (The Swapper). If the event taught us anything other than that wearing an IndieCade badge makes you look cool, it’s that the big studios should be reminded upon whose toes they step – there are a multitude of options available for gamers that don’t require selling your soul to play.


Oh, I’ve remembered. Of course. Skyrim was also made in 2011. Are you happy now?


Money leaps from our coffers like adolescent birds on the verge of flight, never to return. Do we choose our games, or do the games choose us? This year has given us nothing if not consciousness of the industry thriving only because we allow it to be. As with Spider-Man, we too harness great power, and with it comes great . . . well, you know. Make 2012 the year of reclamation.

Chris O’Neal would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for those meddling elves. Follow him on Twitter @AgentONeal.

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