Independent, low-budget movies changed Hollywood. Niche cable shows revolutionized television. Digital music toppled record labels. But for decades, console video games have remained overwhelmingly corporate—dominated by safe franchise sequels (Madden, Pokémon, Halo) and sponsored by three gatekeeping corporations (Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft). Until now. Over the last couple of years, the cost of developing games with lush graphics and soundtracks has plummeted—and since the major gaming consoles are all connected to the Internet, distribution and advertising expenses are nearly nonexistent. Game designers can now post their games on Nintendo’s WiiWare service, Sony’s PlayStation Network, Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade, or Apple’s iPhone application store for instant downloading. The result? Unshackled from the blockbuster-or-bust mentality of the big corporations, these indie designers are ushering in a new golden age of smart, beautiful, and really weird games. Like the downloadable PlayStation game PixelJunk Eden (above), a game from Kyoto’s Q-Games studio that feels more like a Paper Rad art installation than the latest Mario Bros. Below, we’ve selected four more of our favorites.
Sony PS3, spring 2009
Thatgamecompany, founded by two USC M.F.A.’s in 2006 and famous for the microorganism-simulating game flOw, describes this title as “Zen gaming.” You tilt your controller to make a tiny flower petal swoosh through mesmerizing 3-D landscapes: first a field, then a city.
Sony PS3 and PSP
M. C. Escher meets Lemmings: Sony developers Tatsuya Suzuki and Jun Fujiki’s elegant, black-and-white game is based on twisting visual perspective: Tilt your view correctly and your stick-man walks safely to his goal. Tilt your view the wrong way and he falls to his death.
World of Goo
2D Boy’s indie designers Ron Carmel and Kyle Gabler do most of their work in Bay Area coffee shops—and they love goo. To play their game, use the Wii remote to assemble gelatinous blobs into bridges and towers, allowing “Goo Balls” safe passage. Realistic physics and funny sound effects make up for the nonsensical objective.
Originally developed by Dutch art students, this game is a conceptual stunt with a ridiculously fun hook: The I.N.K.T. Corporation has sucked all the fun and color out of Chroma City; now it’s a black-and-white canvas for you to color with your paint blob.