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.

Michelle Starr
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
1 of 27 thatgamecompany


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.

Platform: PlayStation 3

2 of 27 Christine Love

Analogue: A Hate Story

Christine Love -- writer, programmer, director

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.

Platform: Linux; Mac; Windows

3 of 27 Anna Anthropy


Anna Anthropy -- solo project

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 brought her.

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.

Platform: Browser

4 of 27 Emily Short

Blood & Laurels

Emily Short -- solo project

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.

Platform: iOS

5 of 27 Claudia Bille Straede

Blackwell's Asylum

Claudia Bille Straede -- director

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.

Platform: Mac; Windows

6 of 27 The Fullbright Company

Gone Home

Karla Zimonja -- co-creator, co-writer, artist

Kate Craig -- environment artist

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.

Platform: Linux; Mac; Windows

7 of 27 Krillbite

Among the Sleep

Karoline Aske -- Artist

Alexandra Skimmeland -- programmer

Tina Alfredsen -- 2D artist

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.

Platform: Linux; Mac; Windows

8 of 27 Coilworks


Poi Poi Chen -- co-founder, concept artist

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.

Platform: Windows

9 of 27 Positech Games


Mitu Khandaker -- solo project

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.

Platform: Linux; Mac; Windows

10 of 27 Kitfox Games

Shattered Planet

Tanya Short -- Creative Director

Montreal-based studio Kitfox Games launched with a bang with Shattered Planet. 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 excellent debut.

You can read our interview with Tanya Short here.

Platform: Android; iOS; coming soon to PC

11 of 27 Lorena Casanova

Super Tower Rush

Lorena Casanova -- programmer

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.

Platform: Windows

12 of 27 Sophie Houlden

Rose & Time

Sophie Houlden -- everything except music

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.

Platform: Linux; Mac; Windows; Ouya

13 of 27 Stirfire Studios

Freedom Fall

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.

Platform: Android; iOS; Mac; Windows

14 of 27 Twinbeard Studios

Frog Fractions

Rachel Sala -- artist

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.

Platform: Browser

15 of 27 Tale of Tales

The Path

Auriea Harvey -- designer, co-director

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.

Don't forget to check out Tale of Tales' Kickstarter for its upcoming game Sunset.

Platform: Mac; Windows

16 of 27 Erin Robinson

Little Girl in Underland

Erin Robinson -- creator

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.

Platform: Windows

17 of 27 Damian Sommer and Emily Carroll

The Yawhg

Emily Carroll -- artist

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 their players."

Platform: Windows

18 of 27 Lunar Software


Jemma Hughes -- art and design

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.

Platform: TBA

19 of 27 Modern Dream

The Typing of the Dead: Overkill

Helana Santos -- programmer

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.

Platform: Windows

20 of 27 Zoe Quinn and Patrick Lindsey

Depression Quest

Zoe Quinn -- co-writer, programmer, design, photography

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.

Platform: Browser

21 of 27 Andi McClure

Become a Great Artist in Just 10 Seconds

Andi McClure -- programmer

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.

Platform: Mac; Windows

22 of 27 Redefinition Games

The Very Organized Thief

Elise LeBlanc -- writer, artist

The 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?

Platform: Browser (Unity); Linux; Mac; Windows

23 of 27 The Arcane Kids


Sylvia Forrest -- artist

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 pleasure.

Platform: Mac; Windows

24 of 27 Paulina Pabis


Paulina Pabis -- creator

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.

Platform: Android; iOS; Linux; Mac; Windows

25 of 27 We Are Müesli

Cave! Cave! Deus Videt

Claudia Molinari -- visual design

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.

Platform: Linux; Mac; Windows

26 of 27 State of Play Games


Katherine Bidwell -- co-creator

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.

Platform: iOS; Mac; Windows

27 of 27 Nyam Nyam


Jennifer Schneidereit -- co-founder, co-creator

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.

You can read our full review of Tengami here.

Platform: iOS; Mac and PC coming soon

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