Video games are everywhere. There’s no denying it. Whereas in the past they were limited to arcade machines and tacky home consoles, they now can be played on your computer to your own phone (if you want to have something to do while you take a dump). Their graphics have evolved beyond just two pixels, and gameplay has become more complex and diverse. People now have numerous options on what they want to play, from first-person shooters dominated by angry Russian kids who always say something about your mom, to role-playing games that allow you to make choices that are morally questionable at best, downright evil at worst, to simple platformers where you get from point A to point B (What? Not every game is a power fantasy).
Of course, much like music and movies, there are a bunch of hipsters who say that modern mainstream games are nothing more than overpriced mediocre trash filled with microtransactions and glitches, so they create their own games, with blackjack and hookers! Thus, the indie game market was created. Don’t want to buy the latest Super Call of Warcraft? Search the Internet and look for games made by small game studios that will surely satisfy your very specific game preference. But for some games, however, the “small studio” that created the game only consists of one person and maybe a friend or two. Some of these games actually turn out to be very successful, and a few are even *gasp*, household names! Here is a list of video games all made by a single person (or at least a small group of people). Keep in mind that this list is in no particular order.
10-Minecraft by Markus Persson.
I mean, is it really fair to make a list about successful games made by a single person and not mention Minecraft? You know, the game that just so happens to be one of the best-selling video games of all time? Though the game is now massive and Mojang, the Swedish studio behind the game, is no longer a small team of freelance developers, Minecraft still owes its origins to being a passion project made by a single amateur developer.
Though the game has changed over time, with numerous updates adding various features over time, the core of the game is still the same. You start the game, which creates a blocky world that is entirely procedurally generated (meaning each world you create is different from the last one). There are no objectives. What you do in this world is all up to you. You can wander around exploring the beautiful landscape, punch trees with your bare hands, discover what crafting is, use the wood to create tools to dig more blocks with, kill animals for food, dig some more, wait ‘till sundown, realize that nighttime in this game is a quick way to die fast, get killed by monsters, respawn, dig a hole in the ground and wait until sunrise, build a house, and so much more. As you survive, you start to familiarize yourself with the world that you live in, and before long, you will start building mansions and slaughtering monsters left and right like a seasoned veteran, as you gather more resources and become the master of this new world that you found yourself in.
If you just want to build and not worry about resources or death, create a game with Creative Mode and fly around building whatever comes to mind. If you get lonely, you could always switch to Multiplayer and invite friends over, or even join other servers. The only thing that limits what you can do in this game is your own imagination. With its simple yet charming graphics and the ability for players to express their creativity, its no wonder that Minecraft went from a niche title to a massive juggernaut.
9- Undertale by Toby Fox.
Imagine a classic rpg. You are a hero who goes in an adventure to brave dungeons, fight monsters through turn based combat and gain experience points while at it. Well, imagine a game sort of like that, only that you don’t have to kill anyone. That was the premise of a game that Toby Fox pitched on Kickstarter, which exceedingly surpassed its original $50,000 goal. Thus, Undertale was born.
In this game, you play as child that falls into a mountain and ends up in an underground civilization of monsters. Unlike most rpgs, however, these monsters are real people, with feelings, relationships, hopes, and dreams. Unfortunately, they need your soul in order to break the barrier that keeps them sealed in the underground, and it’s up to you to either change their views on humans or confirm it. They attack you through a bullet hell-esque sequence where your character’s soul has to dodge the incoming projectiles, and instead of using combat abilities, you make small talk, crack jokes, or even flirt with them (“Why, I think you are quite ravishing, Mr. Gelatinous Blob of Slime.”)
As you progress through the game, you start to encounter various interesting characters with distinct personalities and memorable dialogue. Notable characters include Sans, the skeleton who loves to tell puns, Alphys, the anime-loving scientist, and Toriel, the motherly goat lady.
The game was praised by critics for its hilarious dialogue, memorable and likable characters, and its absolutely killer music. With a passionate and dedicated fandom, it’s unlikely this game will be forgotten.
8- Five Nights at Freddy’s by Scott Cawthon.
It’s time to get spoopy. You don’t like things spoopy? Well, that’s too bad because this game is a horror game, so expect some scares and goose bumps on your skin as you read this entry in fear! (Except not really)
Developer Scott Cawthon was down on his luck. His latest game, Chipper and Sons Lumber Co., was lambasted by reviewers, who compared the character models in the game to creepy animatronics. These harsh reviews, however, gave him inspiration. “You know what?” he said hypothetically. “Why don’t I make a game about creepy animatronics?” And thus, Five Nights at Freddy’s was born.
There are many sequels in this game series, so for the sake of simplicity let’s talk about the original. You play as an underpaid security guard named Mike Schmidt, who gets a job at a Chuck-E-Cheese knock-off called Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, where kids go to have birthdays, play the games, eat the cheap pizza, and run away screaming from the creepy band playing animatronic animals. On your first day, you get called by the previous security guard, who gives you instructions on what to do. Watch the cameras, monitor the hallways, watch out for the killer animatronics, make sure every- wait, what?
Yeah, turns out the robot band likes to wonder around at night so they don’t lock up or something, and if they see you, they just so happen to think that you are an animatronic without a costume on, and will try to force one on you (which is a lot worse than it sounds).
Your only defenses are the two doors to your office, and those take up power. Run out of power, and you’re easy pickings, so watch those cameras and hope to whatever deity you pray to that you make it to 6 p.m. And the worst part is, you’ve got to do this for, you guessed it, five nights.
The game is pretty solid for an indie horror game. The animatronics moving around constantly keep you at the edge of your seat, as you have to memorize the various patterns the animatronics take in order to close the doors on time and not get killed. The disturbing ambience and creepy lore behind the restaurant doesn’t help either. Eventually, the game blew up, sequels were made (fun fact: the newest game is a PS5 release), and the lore of the series became increasingly more convoluted. To think that this extremely popular horror franchise started as a response to negative criticism…
7- Stardew Valley by Eric Baroune.
Are you tired of the trappings of big city life? Do you miss the simple joys of living on a farm away from any major signs of civilization? Oh, you don’t because you never grew up on a farm? Well, you will in this neat little farming simulator.
Your grandpa is dead. That sucks. However, upon his deathbed, he bequeathed you his house and farmlands. Tired of working in horrendous office jobs for corporate overlords, your custom character sets out to Stardew Valley, a tranquil landscape right out of a postcard.
What to do next? Well, for starters, you can improve your house and its surroundings. Next, you can go around town and meet new people, and also go into the mines to kill the various monsters that lurk down there for things that will help you to improve your farm and grow new things. Also, take a look around town, and talk to the various people that live there, and form bonds and relationships with them.
It’s a simple premise that can be very time engaging. The main appeal of the game is just to sit back and let your things grow. Also while you are at it, learn all there is to know about the valley and the people who live there, and get to know their personalities and motivations, perhaps even settle down with one. There are no high stakes here, just you living out a tranquil life out on the countryside.
6- Dwarf Fortress by Tarn Adams.
This is a more obscure game, but still one that is severely underrated when talking about indie games. After all, this game was one of the inspirations for Minecraft, and was featured in the Museum of Modern Arts.
So, what is Dwarf Fortress? Well, on the surface level, it’s a construction and management sim that can also be played as a rougelike rpg, complete with ASCII graphics (you see, back in the old days, people didn’t exactly need fancy graphics to play their games. All you really needed to represent characters and backgrounds were just a few squiggles and a single letter). However, there is so much more to the game than that, and it wouldn’t do it justice to describe it.
To play the game, just like Minecraft, you need to create a world. However, the game doesn’t just generate a world. It will also proceed to generate around 250 years of history on default. Yes, history. While you wait for the world to load, an entire history of a world is being shaped. Civilizations rise, wars are fought, books are written, monsters are slain. By the end of generation, you could have a history of a world as rich as Tolkien’s Middle Earth. After that, you pick one out of two modes. Either pick Fortress Mode, where you lead a settlement of dwarves into glory, or Adventure Mode, where you create a character and set off to explore the world that has been generated. And the most amazing part is all of this content can be experienced absolutely for free! If you want to, you can go to the official website and download the game right now.
But don’t let the free price tag lower your guard. Though you do not pay money to play the game, you do pay your patience, tolerance, and sanity. Dwarf Fortress is notoriously difficult for new players, with user-unfriendly interfaces, steep learning curves (tutorials are for scrubs!), and unforgiving gameplay. If you want to play Fortress Mode, you have to accept the fact that no matter how much you try, your fortress will eventually collapse, and your people will die, whether it be out of starvation, invasions from goblins, monsters that lurk deep in the caves, or your own citizens’ stupidity. You can only prolong your inevitable demise, and to do so, you must learn the many functions and features that come with Fortress Mode, all of which are rather intimidating to learn for a first-time player. If you give up and decide to play Adventure Mode, just a heads up: it’s not any easier. You can create a buff and angry killing machine that can annihilate everything in sight, but know that there will always be something stronger than you, or even worse, an enemy you thought to be harmless manages to land a lucky hit. After that, you can only helplessly watch as the character you worked so hard on to create gets ripped to shreds. So don’t get cocky when you are doing all right; something will go wrong.
Regardless of its difficulty, Dwarf Fortress is a game that everyone should check out, if not for the game itself then for its complex programming. If you do decide to play the game itself however, remember this phrase: “Losing is Fun.”
5- Kenshi by Chris Hunt.
Not as difficult as Dwarf Fortress, but still very challenging. Kenshi is an isometric role-playing game that takes place in the world of… well, Kenshi, an alien planet that has suffered some kind of apocalypse. Civilization is scarce, most of the animals (and some of the people) want to eat you, and death is a common and accepted part of everyday living. This is where you come in. Your character can be a Greenlander (a human), a Scorchlander (humans with glowing eyes and pitch dark skin), a Hiver (bugmen), a Shek (humanoids with horns who most definitely don’t live in swamps), or a Skeleton (robots with misleading names). Unlike many games, however, you are not all that special. Sure, you can choose your background, but you start off the same as everybody else. Your attacks are weak, your health is no larger than an average bandit’s, and you will probably spend most of your early game hiding from everything. You can recruit other people into your party (you can directly control party members in here) and hope that your little team of misfits will at least stall that pack of bonedogs before they finish you off.
However, the best part about Kenshi is that it allows your characters to work your way on to the top. The game firmly believes that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. If you lose your health, you don’t die, per say, just lose consciousness (unless you suffer heavy bleeding or an animal starts eating you alive). Provided nothing happens to you while in that state, you will regain it (or just have your party members heal you). The more you do something, the better you become at it. With patience and hard work, you can now efficiently fight bandits with your own two hands or be so sneaky that enemies won’t feel your presence even as you stand breathing behind them.
There are no true objectives in Kenshi. You can either join a faction and turn the tides of war in their favor, or you can start your own city armed with forgotten technology from ancient science books. You can be a saint who helps the poor and the downtrodden, or you can start your own slave trade and help contribute to the ongoing slave market. Whether your character is a human, a robot, or a bugman, the choices you make are all up to you. Will you be just another vagabond scraping by just to survive, or will you be a force that will change the wasteland forever? With a unique alien world unlike any other in fiction, this game is another underrated classic.
4- Space Station 13 by Exadv1 (real name unknown).
Space Station 13 has relatively simple graphics, yet has controls and commands that are so complex and varied that it’s entirely possible to punch someone when you only meant to hug them. You are a resident of a space station that has to take jobs and professions to keep the station up and running, all while dealing with ludicrous and downright absurd situations on a daily basis.
Space Station 13 is a multiplayer game, but it is unique in that there is no “main” game. Each server you play on has their own history, their own gameplay, their own professions and classes. No one officially “owns” this game, as its source code was stolen and leaked online, giving us the current state of the game.
Out of all the games on this list, this one is the most difficult to get into. Not only the controls are difficult to learn, every single profession in a space station is fully fleshed out and is considered as equally important as the other, from a chemical mixing scientist to the lowly janitor. If you don’t do your job correctly, you will get yelled at by your fellow crewmembers. Oh, and each server’s job list is wildly different, so good luck!
If you do memorize the game however, it can be really fun due to the sheer amount of ridiculous things that you can do. If you want to saw off your own hands and sew pizza on them, you can do that. You can implant ticking bombs inside of people through surgery. You can revive the dead, only to have the experiment botched and have them come back as a skeleton. You can put butts on top of robots and have an entire army of them patrol the station (this is actually a thing on one of the servers). You could also just be a clown who causes chaos aboard the station for the hell of it (yes, clown is a legitimate profession in this game).
It’s hard, it’s unpredictable, it’s chaotic, but it also can be fun because of those things. Playing this game is not recommended, but it’s definitely worth looking into.
3- Braid by Jonathan David Blow.
If there is an accurate description of what Braid is about, it would be “Mario meets Prince of Persia”. The game is about Tim, who goes on a journey to save a princess from a monster, though such a simple plot is peppered in with various textboxes that go all philosophical and explain Tim’s relationship with the princess and whatnot. Each world he goes to evokes various themes from his relationship such as forgiveness, desire, and emotion.
In the game itself, at first glace it seems like a run-of-the-mill platformer, where you jump over obstacles, collect collectables, and stomp on enemies that are definitely not goombas. But then, you very quickly start to encounter situations that are normally impossible to navigate in for a normal platformer, such as large gaps you can’t jump past. That’s where the time mechanic comes in. Unlike Mario, Tim can move through time, and fast forward and rewind through situations, even after death he can rewind! Normally that gap would be un-jumpable, but then you notice that an enemy just waddled off the cliff on the other side, so now you can rewind time until the enemy doesn’t fall off, and jump on him as he does, and you’re now on the other edge.
Each world has a unique gimmick that involves time, such as a world where moving to the right moves time forward, while moving to the left reverses it. Other than that, there’s not much to say about it. The artsyle is fantastic, the music is great if a little bit pretentious (constant violins and pianos that are perfect for discussing the deeper depths of the human psyche), and the game is just plain charming, as it takes a simple platforming game where you move from A to B and adds a little twist to it.
2- Papers, Please by Lucas Pope.
You even wonder what working immigration officer would be like? Well, wonder no more, as Pope brings you the game of Papers, Please, where you document various immigrants arriving in the glorious country of Arstozka.
Arztozka, a country that’s clearly inspired by Eastern-European communist regimes, has just ended a war with the neighboring country of Kolechia, and because of this, a massive surge of immigrants has arrived at the country. In here, you, a humble border inspector, come in. The game starts off simple, with you just stamping passports and making sure they aren’t expired. However, as days go on, the Ministry of Admission starts giving you more and more things to worry about, such as work passes, vaccinations, and making sure people don’t have weapons smuggled in their coats. To make it worse, each day is short, so you need to let in as many people as possible and not screw it up in order to make as much money as possible, which you need to pay your rent and support your family (yes, you have a family, which you have to feed!)
To make it even worse, approving and denying entry becomes even harder in later days. You could deny someone entry, but then they give you a sob story about their family needing to see them inside the border, or they just give you extra money for you to let them in. The guards will pay you extra money to detain people regardless whether or not they are actually criminals, and that’s not to mention whether or not you want to support an underground resistance that wants to overthrow the government. As one of the guardsmen puts it, the border you’re in is more eventful than the actual war.
Papers, Please is a wonderful game that has a compelling story and fast-paced gameplay that requires memorization of certain patterns. Pope himself traveled to a lot of countries, so this game is basically a memory of the various things border inspectors have to go through, and teaches a lesson on how someone as insignificant as a border guard could potentially change the course of history with the times of people he lets in.
1- Tetris by Alexey Pajintov
Does this one even need explanation?
You sort multicolored blocks so the blocks can disappear. Fill up the grid with too many blocks and you lose the game. Sort the block by their color while listening to the Russian music in the background.
So simple, yet the most popular game in the world because of that simplicity.