– by Brendan Reid, Editor –
Many see game development as a long, arduous process. In many cases, this is true, and a great deal of AAA game development requires massive teams of artists and programmers and near countless man-hours to accomplish. However, this does not always have to be the case. The tools are now available for a single developer to create a game entirely on their own, provided they have the patience they need to stay true to their visions. Here are the five best games created by a solo developer, proof that great things can be accomplished when you put your mind to it.
5. Mike Bithell – Thomas Was Alone
Thomas Was Alone is a game that elegantly shows how games don’t need to be complicated to be enjoyable. Inspired by modernism and the cubist art of Piet Mondrian, Thomas Was Alone is a puzzle platformer developed solely by Mike Bithell. In the game, you control many different coloured shapes, all given unique personalities by narrator Danny Wallace, who is best known for his book Yes Man (the one that inspired the Jim Carrey movie) and his voice work in Assassin’s Creed. The initial concept for Thomas Was Alone was created by Bithell during a “game-jam,” an event where developers get together and work to create a functioning game within a short period of time, usually 24-72 hours. Bithell liked his game-jam creation so much that he refined it and released it first as a Flash based browser game in 2010, then on PC, Mac, and PS3 in the years that followed.
4. Brian Provinciano – Retro City Rampage
There has never been a greater homage to 8-bit games then Brian Provinciano’s Retro City Rampage. As a hobby, Proviciano constructed a new development kit for the NES system, and created advanced software tools that allowed him to overcome to limitations of the well-aged system. Retro City Rampage initially began as an 8-bit Grand Theft Auto III remake, but once he got started, Provinciano realized he wanted to make the game his own and switched development to the PC. He worked independently on the design, coding and art, and late in development hired a few composers and pixel artists. The resulting product was a raucous open world romp through a stylized 8-bit world, one that paid comedic homage to 80’s and 90’s culture, as well as the games and movies of the time. Retro City Rampage received unanimously positive reviews, and its sequel Hawaii Shakedown is currently in the works.
3. Lucas Pope – Papers, Please
From a design standpoint, Papers, Please is very straightforward, but the story it tells is anything but. Described as a “dystopian document thriller,” Papers, Please puts you in the shoes of a border inspector, where you must inspect the documents of people coming into the fictional country of Arstotzka. The majority of the game requires you to sift through papers, but the simplistic visuals are augmented by a thought provoking gameplay experience. Through the documents you must decide whether an immigrant a criminal or not, and can choose to accept bribes or be a firm hand. The decisions you make have lasting repercussions. What you do effects your relations with other countries, and war can break out if you are not careful. The game forces you to deal with many unique moral dilemmas, and has twenty scripted endings. Lucas Pope is the creative mastermind behind it all, and opted to leave his position at Naughty Dog to develop his own games. Papers, Please is his first, and was inspired greatly by his own immigration experiences. He is of to a great start, as the game was well received by critics and gamers alike, and has earned multiple awards.
2. Thomas Happ – Axiom Verge
Axiom Verge is a spectacular creation. Its massive world, atmospheric music and power-ups were all designed and programmed by Thomas Happ alone, though it feels as though he had an entire team behind him. No stranger to game development, Happ has worked on titles such as the Tiger Woods PGA Tour series and NFL Street, but Axiom Verge was his first foray into side-scrolling action exploration genre. It was an experiment that worked, and many have called it, somewhat jokingly, the best Metroid game since Metroid Prime. Axiom Verge is a game that wears its influences on its sleeve, and delivers the “Metroidvania” experience we’ve all been craving for years. Pay close attention, Nintendo!
1. Markus Persson – Minecraft
Minecraft is a game that has achieved worldwide acclaim, and is surely the most financially successful game made by a single man. Minecraft was the brainchild of Markus Persson, who was working at King Entertainment, the developer of Candy Crush, before his breakthrough hit. He built the game as a hobby and shared it through online indie forums, and was amazed by how popular it became. The game revolves around adventuring to collect resources and building whatever you choose with them, and has near endless creative potential. The shocking success of the game inspired him to leave King Entertainment to form his own development company, Mojang. After this move Minecraft truly took off, and went on to sell a staggering 10 million copies in 2011 alone. Such success has elevated Persson to the stratosphere of high-end game development, but he has remained humble, and openly expresses his disdain for massive gaming conglomerates and the hyper-rich lifestyle.
Brendan is an avid gamer and music enthusiast. He can often be found hiking through the woods, looking for reckless adventures to embark on.