The Belvedere Journal
The Rise of Indie Video Games
Without the watchful eye of a monolithic company deciding what will and won't sell, independent game producers are free to let their minds run wild and unleash some seriously memorable and creative games.
When you think of video game companies, you could be forgiven for thinking that behemoths like Sony, Nintendo, Capcom and Sega are so huge that they leave little room for competition. Yet even within this billion dollar industry, there's room for the little guy. Over the last decade, profits from indie games have boomed. Without the watchful eye of a monolithic company deciding what will and won't sell, independent game producers are free to let their minds run wild and unleash some seriously memorable and creative games.
Undertale, Untitled Goose Game, Doki Doki Literature club, Super Meat Boy, A Night In The Woods, Shovel Knight: Though these names might not mean much to the outsider, they are huge in the gaming world. Undertale alone currently has over 4 million players on indie gaming platform Steam. But the best thing is that all these games were created by a small team, of even just one person. None of these games would ever have got off the drawing board within a gaming conglomerate, meaning they resemble the work of cinema auteurs - visionary artists honing a singular vision.
Take Undertale for example, that game was made mainly by one developer, Toby Fox, along with the assistance of a few other people. In case you haven’t heard of it, it’s a beautiful game about humans and monsters, with a strong philosophical take on good and evil as well as brilliant obliterations of the fourth wall. Undertale became a hit overnight, gathering a vast cult following as well as scoring Toby many opportunities to work on huge titles, such as making a music track for Pokemon: Sword and Pokemon: Shield.
A game like Undertale would’ve never flown past the pitch meeting in a cooperate setting, but since Toby was working independently, he could do what he wanted and use what he wanted.
There are much more indie games out there, ones that are weirder, more obscure and harder to find. With software like RPG maker and gamemaker, it’s become possible for anyone to make their own game. With this software, works of art like LISA, Yume Nikki, Ib, Mad Father, Purple, Smile For Me, among others have been able to share the mad inner workings of indie developers with an idea and a passionate drive.
Smile for me is one underrated indie game that I personally believe everyone should experience. It’s a puzzle and logic game with the focal mechanic being that you can nod or shake your head by moving your mouse, this is how you navigate dialogue. It’s themes include the ideas about happiness, different peoples plights, abuse and redemption. It has a beautiful art style that you could never find in any triple A title, and it’s characters are both wonderfully quirky and painfully tragic
Personally though, if there’s any indie game or set of games you should absolutely play, it’s Yume Nikki and it’s mob of fan-games that created a huge yet largely unrecognised cult following of talent and prowess. Yume Nikki itself is a weird game, with no dialogue, or even text. It’s about dreams, and you spend the game wandering through the main characters dreams, trying to piece things together about her, if there even are things to piece together. Exploring, collecting cosmetics, watching this other world go by. It’s eerie yet calming atmosphere and lack of coherence makes for a very popular game.
I mentioned Yume Nikki has fan-games. It does, a lot of them. A simple format such as exploring ones raw subconscious creates a universal experience, one that many people would want to contribute to, either with their own dreams or the dreams of a character of their own. One such game is .flow, said as ‘Dot Flow’. Created by lol, a Japanese horror indie dev, .flow is a beautiful and horrifying exploration game mechanically identical to Yume Nikki, about exploring a young girls nightmares, and piecing up her story through these nightmare horror trips of sleep
The game explores themes of single parenthood, trafficking, violence in schools, terminal illness and the idea of rusting away. The protagonists name, Sabitsuki, even translates into ‘Rusted’. Unlike Yume Nikki, there’s a story to be found within the hellscape that is Sabitsuki’s dreams, and it’s absolutely worth experiencing.
Yume Nikki and .flow work because they had one mind behind each of them. Minds that were not restrained by needing to make what is profitable. They make a game that they want people to relate to, and people certainly did. They created followings of people that relate that discuss, create, and drive their passion home because of these wonderful games.
If you’re looking for something to add to your steam library, your computer files, your PlayStation library, give an indie game a go. If nothing else, it supports the wonderful minds behind them.