Leading ladies: Amazing indie games made by women (pictures)
If you want to find the most cutting-edge, artistic and conceptually interesting games, indie is where it's at -- and it has a growing pool of talented women.
Robin Hunicke -- producer
It's probably safe to say that Journey, produced by Robin
Hunicke, is a game like no other. You are travelling through the desert, trying
to reach a mountain. As you play, you will be randomly connected to other
players, to whom you cannot speak but can offer assistance. Ultimately, though,
you will have to leave them behind. Mostly, it's a game about the wonder of
discovery, and its stunning visuals and haunting music create an experience
that is truly beautiful.
Hunicke has since left developer thatgamecompany to co-found
Funomena, which is currently working on
its very first game.
It's the year 3100 AD. Six hundred years ago, when humanity
was first attempting to establish an interstellar colony, the first-generation
ship, the Mugunghwa, mysteriously vanished -- and now, just as mysteriously, it
has reappeared. As the investigator, you are charged with discovering what
happened to the society that evolved on-board the Mugunghwa, and why they are
now all dead. The game plays out in text -- a visual novel -- with you accessing
the logs and diaries with the help of two AI avatars that survived the
disaster. Analogue: A Hate Story is based
in a Korean era in which men rule and women obey, and it's crafted in such a
way that forces you to examine those roles, yet is still laden with plenty of
drama and nastiness. The sequel, Hate Plus, can be found here.
Anna Anthropy, AKA Auntie Pixelante, has made a lot of Flash
games, and we love them. They're raunchy, hilarious and delightfully subversive
(also NSFW, if that wasn't implied). Our pick for this list, though, is a game
that Anthropy released last year about undergoing hormone displacement therapy.
Where dys4ia excels is communication: by acting out scenarios such as shaving,
taking pills and avoiding mirrors, you get to understand Anthropy's experience
of displacement, alienation and isolation, from both the world around her and
her own body -- and the sense of finally belonging in her body that the therapy
Of course, if that's not quite gameish enough for you,
there's always Mighty Jill Off,
a crazy-difficult BDSM-themed 2D platformer about a submissive trying to return
to her dom.
If you're going to talk about interactive fiction, it would
be a gross oversight not to mention Emily Short, who is one of the most
influential authors in the genre. Not only has she helped develop new software
for IF developers, and fostered and supplied invaluable resources to new
creators, she has also penned a number of works herself. Her most recent game, Blood & Laurels, is set in the ancient Roman empire, where you, a
historian, receive news that could drastically alter the fate of the empire --
if it doesn't kill you first.
Created in just six weeks, Blackwell's Asylum is an unsettling
sort of game. It's based on the experiences of journalist Nellie Bly, who in 1887 faked insanity to infiltrate the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island in
New York City's East River. You take the role of Bly herself, who's trying to
escape the asylum and its doctors and sedatives. Bly's fear is manifested in
the very environment: foggy corridors, walls warping and twisting, washed in
sickly green, playing off the "insanity meter" horror mechanic.
There are few games as
divisive as Gone Home.
On the one hand, critics adore it. On the other, gamers seem to have hated it;
on Metacritic, it
netted itself a critic rating of 86, and a user rating of 5.4. We suspect that
this is because Gone Home flagrantly defies the usual expectations about video
games. It looks like a first-person survival horror, and plays a little -- but
not a lot -- like a point-and-click adventure. There are very few, if any,
puzzles to be solved, and nothing to kill; Gone Home is about discovering a
story, not being its hero. Moreover, that story is not the usual kind of story
-- a gently unfolded bildungsroman about a teenage girl in the 1990s.
You've never seen a first-person survival horror quite like Among the Sleep. It takes place in a
house -- and in what a two-year-old child might understand the world to be. As
you roam the house at night, an unnamed horror stalks you and your teddy. It's
a tale that powerfully demonstrates the fears of a small child and how events
that might seem inconsequential to grown-ups can turn into monsters.
In floating ruins above the clouds, you need to defy the
laws of physics to avoid fatal hazards -- a high-speed parkour battle of life
and death. This is Cloudbuilt,
taking place in a gorgeously stylised, mysterious world, where all that matters
is how fast and how precisely you can move.
PhD researcher Mitu Khandaker's Redshirt is a light-hearted game based
on the idea "What if Star Trek had Facebook?" It will see you trying
to progress through the ranks of a space crew, from a lowly disposable
red-shirted member, by building your social network on Spacebook. Every day,
you have to interact with friends, making sure you use your allotted number of
Spacebook actions to your best advantage -- because you don't want that red
shirt to make you a red smear on the surface of a hostile planet.
Montreal-based studio Kitfox Games launched with a bang with
The procedural death labyrinth takes place in a sci-fi setting that sees you
exploring a broken planet, collecting information on its inhabitants for the
Galactic Union. Each time your clone dies, though, you lose all your gear and
have to start again — so there's enough tension to keep things interesting, and
it has done a brilliant job of making sure the IAP isn't manipulative. It's an
One summer, my three siblings and I spent the entire
holidays taking turns at chicken pox. There wasn't a lot we could do with
ourselves, so we clustered around the keyboard of our PC, playing Gauntlet off
a 5.25-inch floppy. Super Tower Rush is trying to bring that back: two players, one keyboard and a
lot of key mashing. Made by Lorena Casanova (programming) and André Marí
Coppola (graphics and music), the aim is to get to the bottom of the tower
before your opponent, setting off traps to slow them down while avoiding them
yourself. If you don't have real-life friends to play with, don't worry; it has
online and single-player modes, too.
Sophie Houlden is one busy developer, with a whole list of
games, both purchasable and free, available on her website (and you should go check them out -- we spent a
little too long playing with Swift Stitch). First, though, we reckon you should
take a look at Rose & Time, a stealth-based puzzle game with time travel. Rose is trying to
travel back through time with red crystals, but each time she jumps, she runs
into herself from just moments before. The aim is to keep a paradox from
occurring; first, by controlling Rose's actions from a few moments before, so
that she won't see future Rose, then by navigating future Rose around past
Rose. It gets very tricky and trippy as you try to out-think yourself.
Lisa Rye -- creative
director, art, story, level design
Perth-based artist Lisa Rye enjoyed working on games, but
wanted to move away from working on other people's ideas and develop her own. Freedom Fall was born from a
prototype Rye put together using Construct.
It sees you imprisoned in a tower by a mad princess, trying to find your way
down to freedom while dodging her horrendous death traps, and reading her crazy
story scrawled in graffiti on the tower walls.
Frog Fractions was created by a chap named Jim Crawford of
Twinbeard Studios, with art by a rather wonderful lady called Rachel Sala. We
don't really know what Frog Fractions is about. You're a little frog who has to slurp up bugs with your
tongue to keep them from eating your fruit. You can then use the fruit to
purchase upgrades for your frog, such as a stickier tongue and a dragon to ride
around on. It doesn't really teach you anything about fractions. It does have a
frog. It's... genius.
Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn of Tale of Tales have been working together
since 2003, producing the kind of game that is usually filed under the
"art" category -- gorgeous, interactive works that are about
exploration and introspection rather than smashing things up.
Based on Little
Red Riding Hood, The Path is a
short horror game about six sisters leaving their city apartment one by one to
go to grandmother's house. Whether they stay on the path or stray into the
forest — and what they will find there — is entirely up to the player. But the
farther you stray, the more spookily dangerous the world will become.
Erin Robinson's Gravity Ghost, inspired by star collecting in Mario Galaxy, is one game we're very
much looking forward to. While you wait, though, Robinson has made some pretty
awesome indie games over the years. Little Girl in Underland, made for the The Independent Gaming Source's bootleg demakes competition,
is kind of like what if American McGee's Alice had been absorbed by Cold
War-era Soviet Russia, only something like 18 times more silly and hilarious.
Emily Carroll is, hands down, one of our favourite ever
webcomic artists. If you've not read His Face All Red and Margot's Room, you
need to get that sorted out pronto. When she joined forces with Damian Sommer
to create art on The Yawhg, we won't lie
-- we preordered it on the spot.
"The Yawhg is a one- to four-player
choose-your-own-adventure game that randomises a unique story every time you
play. The evil Yawhg is returning. How will the town's locals lead their lives
in the meanwhile, and what will they do when the dreaded Yawhg finally arrives?
The fate of a community hinges on the characters' actions, and the decisions of
Alas, we have no idea when Routine is coming. Currently in alpha,
it's being made by three-person team Lunar Software: Aaron Foster, formerly of
Eurocom, his partner Jemma Hughes and developer Pete Dissler. It sees you alone
on a moon base, trying to find out what happened to its mysteriously absent
inhabitants, but you're being hunted by the thing responsible, and when it
catches you, it's game over. It looks terrifyingly brilliant.
Modern Dream --
comprising Ollie Clarke, programmer Helana Santos and composer Chris Randle --
has produced three games to date, and is working on a fourth. Both of its earlier games are
worth checking out (and it's free to do so, although they'd like you to donate
to charity if you can afford it), but we particularly enjoyed The Typing of the Dead: Overkill, a ludicrously entertaining first-person zombie-slayer, where how
well you fare against the undead is determined by how quickly and accurately
you can type out words and phrases.
There aren't many games out there like text-based game Depression Quest by Zoe Quinn and
Patrick Lindsey, with music by Isaac Shankler. There are no monsters to beat -- not in the usual sense. It walks you through the life of someone struggling
with intense depression, letting you choose paths to take, but with some really
interesting mechanics. The static meter at the bottom of each page is an
indicator of how depressed you are, but what we found truly striking is that
the deeper your depression, the fewer options you have to choose from, with action
choices simply crossed out — just like in real life, the deeper you go, the
harder it is to even try to get out. It's beautifully communicative, and a game
that everyone needs to play.
Created for Ludum Dare 27 by Andi McClure and Michael Brough
(theme: 10 seconds), Become a Great Artist in Just 10 Seconds probably, well, won't make you a great
artist -- but if you like glitch art and games that let you muck about doing
whatever you like (within its scope, of course), it's pretty good fun. Each of
the keys on your keyboard is a different tool in your glitch art toolkit, and
figuring out which is which -- and then how to make pictures with them -- is
like rediscovering powder paint for the first time.
Very Organized Thief is like a cross between a first-person stealth game
and hidden object. You, the thief, have a list of items you need to find in the
dark house. Once you have located and "borrowed" all the items, you
need to make your escape -- all without getting caught. It's surprisingly tense
as you sneak about with your light, listening for the footsteps that signal
someone nearby. Do you ransack the house for speed or leave everything as you
found it to avoid detection?
Student project Zineth
may remind you of Jet Set Radio Future, a cel-shaded skate-based game " meant
to celebrate speed, movement, and twitter". As you zip around the
psychedelic landscapes, you can complete missions delivered to you via your
cell phone -- and even play a mini-game with cats in it. We love the brightly
coloured futuristic environments, and zooming around in the world is a pure
There's nothing quite like the feeling of having to complete
an objective before you get caught. Eyes
sees you sneaking through a darkened house while the wind howls outside, searching
for bags of money to steal. The problem: the house is haunted, and the ghost is
none too happy about having her stuff nicked. You have to wander from room to
room, searching for loot (and eyes, which let you see in the dark) and
listening out for audio cues; when the sound starts to spook it up, it's time
to hide your head to avoid seeing the ghost and going mad.
Cave! Cave! Deus Videt by designer Claudia Molinari and writer Matteo Pozzi (Beware!
Beware! God is watching), created for and winner of the Bosch Art Game competition
last year, is (unsurprisingly) an exploration of the work of Hieronymus Bosch;
more specifically, the Triptych of Temptation of St Anthony. The visual novel follows Hoodie, a geeky loner
on a school trip to a museum who feels a strange connection to the painting.
When a stranger appears offering him a choice of two objects, Hoodie can choose
to learn about life in the artist's time -- or about the seven deadly sins as
depicted in the painting by closely examining the figures therein.
If you can't tell from the other games on this list, we love
a game that thinks outside the box. Lume
by Katherine Bidwell and Luke Whittaker is one such, a cute little
point-and-click adventure starring a little girl visiting her granddad -- but
his power has failed and he's nowhere to be found. The aim, of course, is to
find him -- and to light the house back up. Where it's spectacular is the
environments -- all real, hand-made paper dioramas filmed in HD, with
fascinating paper-based puzzles.
If you like games that are as much about atmosphere and art
as they are about gameplay, Tengami
should be on your list. Based on pop-up books and set in a sort of mythical
feudal Japan, it sees you exploring a gorgeous paper world, solving puzzles
based on the mechanics of pop-up books: pulling tabs and folding pages to
explore the world and find the fallen cherry blossom to return it to its tree.
The narrative isn't especially deep, but sometimes an exercise in aesthetic
wonder is enough in and of itself.