We live in a golden age of independent games, so startup developers are all over the place. But like those contests you hear about all the time, gaming is an industry many will enter and few will win.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Some of the most impressive games around have come from small teams just starting out. Below, we look at five games that were made by up-and-coming developers. Some of the games sealed their reputations, while others were a stepping stone to the greatness to come.
1. Super Meat Boy
If you want to see the amount of work dedicated developers put into making games, watch Indie Game: The Movie, a documentary that tracks four independent game developers as they assemble the games of their dreams. One pair covered in the movie is Team Meat, a duo who wanted to make a fast paced side-scrolling platformer. The movie shows them living frugally and working insanely long hours to perfect the game, getting the controls and level designs just right.
When launch day arrives, you can practically feel their anxiety. They’ve put everything in their lives on hold to make this game, and they have no idea if it will be a resounding success or a crippling failure. It’s surprisingly gripping stuff, and it gives a firsthand look into how the sausage gets made, so to speak.
As for Super Meat Boy itself? It turned out to be one of the best platformers of all time. You play as a character made of raw meat whose girlfriend has been captured (not unlike Princess Peach in every Mario game). You navigate incredibly challenging levels filled with spikes, saw blades, enemies, and even piles of salt in order to get her back. It requires quick reflexes and lots of practice, but perseverance is rewarded. Helping matters along, you have unlimited lives and you respond quickly when you die.
Super Meat Boy is the kind of game any startup developer would be delighted to have on its résumé.
Not only is Tetris the granddaddy of all puzzle games, but it was made by a single person. And it was the first game he ever made. Talk about innate talent.
The mastermind behind Tetris is Alexey Pajitnov, a Russian computer engineer who whipped up the endlessly entertaining game in his spare time while working at the Soviet Academy of Sciences.
Tetris, as we all know, was a massive hit that eventually allowed Pajitnov to go into game development full time. He moved to the United States in 1991 and has been working on puzzle games ever since, including the Super Nintendo game Yoshi’s Cookie and Xbox 360’s Hexic HD.
Before Insomniac Games cooked up brilliant titles like Ratchet & Clank, Spyro the Dragon, and Resistance, it kicked things off with 1996’s Disruptor, a first-person shooter for the original PlayStation.
Like many games around that time, Disruptor was made in the style of Doom. It managed to stand out thanks in large part to its use of “psionics,” special psychic attacks that augment your arsenal of weaponry. It also featured an engaging story with clever writing and likable characters, which made it much better in that department than just about any other shooter back then.
Even if Disruptor wasn’t a totally revolutionary game, it proved that the sprightly young startup Insomniac had the stuff to keep making games. That’s a good thing, because the world is a better place with games like Ratchet & Clank and Sunset Overdrive in it.
Not all startups are little guys. In 2010, Activision fired two of the top managers at its development studio Infinity Ward, the makers of the enormously popular Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series. Those execs, Jason West and Vince Zampella, went on to start a new studio called Respawn Entertainment. Respawn’s debut game was Titanfall, an online shooter based on parkour-like acrobatics and gigantic mechs.
Clearly Respawn isn’t a typical startup, thanks to its big-name co-founders and the flood of money it received from Electronic Arts, the company that published Titanfall. But rest assured you’ll be hearing more about Respawn, as Titanfall was a big enough success that a sequel is in the works.
The first game developed by Valve Corporation was Half-Life, a game that had major effects on the way first-person shooters deliver their narratives. Prior to the game’s 1996 release, most FPSes featured cutscenes between levels to let the player know what was going on. The upstart developer Valve decided to go a different way with Half-Life. You experience the entire game, story and all, from the main character’s perspective, with you controlling his actions the entire time.
While Valve was young at the time of the game’s release, the company would go on to pump out brilliant games like Portal, Dota 2, and Half-Life 2 — not to mention Steam, the most important PC gaming platform in history. Not bad for a scrappy little startup.
We know there are plenty of other great games. Be sure to comment or tweet and let us know which startup-made games you enjoyed most.
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- The 7 Best Wii U Video Games Released So Far
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